December 20, 2006

Counterinsurgency Manual: Lessons Learned?

Counterinsurgency Manual: Lessons Learned?

Checkpoint diagram

FMI 3-07.22 military checkpoint diagram

During our show on The Classroom Lessons of Iraq, Chris mentioned that we’re reading the Counterinsurgency Manual, officially titled Field Manual No. 3-24 (pdf). In FM 3-24 the Department of the Army has compiled the written record of lessons from previous wars, now updated for Iraq. I started out reading Field Manual-Interim 3-07.22 (pdf), a shorter (182-page) draft of the Counterinsurgency Manual, published in 2004. A passage about the role of the host nation’s security forces jumped out:

Tactically, security forces eliminate insurgent leadership, cadre, and combatants, through death and capture, by co-opting individual members, or by forcing insurgents to leave the area. This is analogous to separating the fish from the sea. The local populations (that also provide the insurgent mass base) are then secure and able to engage in normal activities.

FMI 3-07.22 (pdf) section 1-36, October 1, 2004.

I then cracked open the 241-page final draft of the FM 3-24 (pdf). The paragraph doesn’t appear. Instead, the first chapter is twice as long, covering such points as “Legitimacy is the Main Objective,” “Unity of Effort is Essential,” “Political Factors are Primary,” and “Isolate Insurgents from Their Cause and Support.”

It is easier to cut an insurgency off and let it die than to kill every insurgent. Attempting to kill every insurgent is normally impossible. It can also be counterproductive, generating popular resentment, creating martyrs that motivate new recruits, and producing cycles of revenge. Dynamic insurgencies also replace losses quickly. A skillful counterinsurgent cuts off the sources of that recuperative power. Some can be reduced by redressing the social, political, and economic grievances that fuel the insurgency. Physical support can be cut off by population control or border security. International or local legal action might be required to limit financial support. As the host government increases its own legitimacy, the people begin to more actively assist it, eventually marginalizing and stigmatizing insurgents to the point where their legitimacy is destroyed. Victory is gained not when this isolation is achieved, but when it is permanently maintained by and with the active support of the populace.

FM 3-24 (Final Draft) section 1-105, June 2006.

Lesson learned?

Related Content


  • Potter

    How awful.

    Instead I recommend George Packer’s excellent article in the New Yorker: Knowing the Enemy.

  • loki

    Potter, Thanks for mentioning the New Yorker article. Also, Neal Sheehan’s book on Viet Nam. Mao’s “On Protracted Warefare.” Che’s Manual for Guerrela Warfare and the Gen Giap/Robert MacNamara book.

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    “Victory is gained not when this isolation is achieved, but when it is permanently maintained by and with the active support of the populace.”

    This appears closer to pacification than “victory”. They are related with respect to the task, but not synomous.

  • OliverCranglesParrot

    er, synomous should be synonymous…

  • crabbydog

    “This appears closer to pacification than “victory”. They are related with respect to the task, but not synomous. ”

    Victory is essentially what you choose to define it as. Victory is all about the achivement of objectives, and its is most readily achieved when the objectives are realistic.

    Our real objective in fighting terrorism is not the death or defeat of terrorists per se, but the protection of our society and way of life. So in Afghanistan we should not be worried about killing Taliban, or defeating Taliban, but rather ensuring that Al Qaeda or a similar mob do not gain any kind of base or power there. A Taliban government would not matter if it was sufficiently cowed as to keep al qaeda under control.

  • Tom B

    Counterinsurgency is practiced in every large American city every day of every year… The ‘guerrillas’ are called gangs. These gangs are dependent on the silence of the populace in their neighborhoods, and they support themselves by extortion, theft, and ‘illegal commerce’. These gangs have turf battles over their ‘hoods’, just as insurgents do in Mogadishu or in Baghdad or in rural Afghanistan. — America’s domestic ‘counter-insurgency forces’ are known as ‘the police.’ Their battle is low-intensity, but never ending. As overseas, the secret of controlling American gangs involves good intelligence, isolating and imprisoning key individuals, etc, etc, etc. — It is CRAZY that everyone seems to be ‘discovering’ counter-insurgency! The techniques are as close as every American city’s police superintendent! What is even more amazing is that American counter-insurgency efforts overseas never seem to face the fact that Americans can’t speak the same language as the folks they are supposedly working among. Imagine an all-Arabic police force with NO English language facility trying to police Chicago. It is NUTS! Or so it seems to me…..

  • Pingback: instructions for lessons learned()