Debating counterinsurgency doctrine

NY Times:

At West Point, Split on a Doctrine of War

Faculty at the United States Military Academy, above, are debating the effectiveness of the counterinsurgency strategy used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Counterinsurgency strategy requires strategic patients with no withdrawal deadlines.  While we can decide whether to fight, if the enemy adopts insurgency warfare which involves raids and retreats, to win we will have to use counterinsurgency warfare.  There is little doubt that it worked in Iraq up until Obama withdrew our forces.  It has also worked in Afghanistan in the limited application allowed by Obama.  He failed to send an adequate number of troops to pacify the whole country so we were limited to certain provinces.

The average length of time historically to win a counterinsurgency war is about 11 years , although the one in Colombia has been going on about 40 years.  These wars take a lot of manpower because you have to have an adequate force to space ratio.  The persistence of weapons like drones have acted as force multipliers doing jobs it would have taken many troops to do such as covering routes the enemy uses to move to contact and then retreat.

Of course we should teach counterinsurgency warfare.  Most of our potential enemies plan to use it against us if we get into a conflict with them.  If you are not willing to engage the enemy in a way to defeat his insurgency then don't go to war with him.  That was our attitude toward Islamic terrorist for decades until 9-11 gave us no choice.  What we found was that not responding to attacks invited more of them.

Some have suggested a switch to "counter terror" warfare where we raid enemy sanctuaries and try to decapitate his leadership.  This type of warfare might work if the enemy is more centralized.  We have been trying a variation of it in Afghanistan using special ops to take out Taliban leaders.  It has disrupted the enemy command and control and aided the success of the counterinsurgency operations, but it is not clear to me it will win a war.  In fact, I think it could not do it alone.  It would certainly require strong indigenous forces on our side to the protect the people.


We also need to teach combined arms operations against enemies who want to engage us with combat persisting warfare.  It is also called traditional warfare.  It is where adversaries stay in contact with each other until one is defeated.  These wars are won by using infantry supported by armor and air power used in coordinated attacks.

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