21 Dec 2010 @ 10:50 PM 




Did you find that any of the countries/services/types of units took to your training more readily? Do we have a disconnect across the whole spectrum, or are there pockets of willingness to adapt? Were the Brits more accepting of your methods than the US Army, or the Marines? How about the SF and airborne units?

My experience with State employees in Anbar was very similar. Lots of overpaid PhD contractors and political appointees who were grossly unprepared for the challenges they faced. Most seemed more interested in the money and writing their next thesis. With a few exceptions, we gained better results from officers and SNCOs with limited knowledge of a subject but open minds and positive attitudes.

That’s a great way to start the rest of the story. Of course, there a hundred topics in the overview of it all that bear deeper discussion, but that would be overwhelming for a single blog post. Later on those.

Yes, there were those who were more receptive. Many more, although the impression was constant that there were those who agreed with the attack dogs of intransigence but simply could not bring themselves to vocalize it. It was usually those who perceived themselves as alpha dogs who spoke loudly and often. Most often, but not always, they were combat arms field grade officers or Sergeants Major. That did not mean that every Infantry Lieutenant Colonel was going to be oppositional. Not at all. But those who were oppositional were often combat arms field grades. Probably 8 of 10 combat arms Sergeants Major sat through the course looking as if they were being force-fed a bowl of freshly microwaved cat dookie.

Our NCO Corps is miserably uneducated in COIN and, as such, is left out of a good portion of the fight except the actual fighting.

There were surprises, though. Civilians who wanted to focus on restrictive rules of engagement, combat arms officers (in many classes) who could discuss the finer points of COIN in detail (those who had educated themselves were not oppositional). There were trends, but no hard and fast rules as to who was going to be a challenge and who was going to bring the conversation in the classroom… or the field… to new heights. Some of the hardest to work with were actually those who were partially read, mostly articles and a few academic papers, and thought they had it all sussed.

Among the rest, there were those who found it complicated and frustrating, often those who liked empirical processes. They struggled and seemed concerned with failure at the practical exercises. Often those folks left with an appreciation for the processes designed to help with a highly creative effort. There were also those who had language difficulties and were challenged to keep up, much less engage as much as they would have liked.

By far, though, the greatest percentage of attendees had worked hard to get to the course and were eager to learn and open-minded about the material. They worked hard, focused well, brought their previous experience to bear and engaged in thoughtful conversation. In addition to particularly professional combat arms officers, non-combat arms branched officers and combat arms officers from branches like Artillery were eager to learn. They had fewer paradigms to break and more open minds. Many were being tossed into roles which did not precisely fit their branch or occupational specialties and therefore were just looking for education on how to handle the situation they were being thrown into.

The attitudes of partner nation military members was something of a mixed bag. There was often an underlying current of resentment as to why they were being taught American COIN doctrine. Sometimes the question was actually raised. The real answer was that the school is designed to be an Afghan school when all is said and done. It will be absorbed into the Afghan Defense University. There was an Afghan co-director. Success in bringing the Afghan staff along is another story, but we were teaching the doctrine that the Afghans had officially adopted. There is an Afghan version of FM 3-24, and it is based directly on FM 3-24, nearly word-for-word. Some of our partner countries still have no officially published doctrine for counterinsurgency. Others, like the French, have had COIN doctrine for quite awhile and perceive themselves to be more than adequate practitioners as it is. The British and Australians were particularly keen to learn the doctrine. The Brits in particular have taken to COIN with vigor, and having produced their own doctrine relatively recently, are eager to discuss principles.

A year ago, I would have said that the Marine Corps outstrips the Army in its overall grasp of COIN. As a service, this still may be true. But, there are still differences between units. The MEF that arrived in the summer of 2010 appeared to be much less interested in COIN than the unit that preceded it. One Battalion Gunner told me that his unit had received no COIN training to speak of, but did train the task of “Assault” to the battalion level prior to deployment. He immediately followed this information by proudly displaying the new hollowpoint ammunition that each Marine in his battalion had been issued six full magazines of. The Marines do have COIN trainers at Twenty Nine Palms, however.

Special Forces typically believe themselves to be natural counterinsurgents due to Special Forces training. We didn’t get a ton of them at the school house as students, but did find ourselves in contact with them frequently, especially concerning local defense-type initiatives, which they were becoming very active with. They are professionals and engage in COIN very pragmatically. Afghan Commandos, on the other hand, were frequent students and presenters at the CTC-A, I’m sure at the behest of their SF mentors and trainers. Afghan Commandos are well-trained and professional. They are thinking warriors who can explain complex concepts in detail. The Special Forces have obviously done a very good job of selecting and training them. Afghans in general pick up on COIN very readily because it makes perfect sense to them. It fits with what they know about their society and its needs much better than either the old Eastern Bloc tactics or the AirLand that Americans initially taught them. The Special Forces of Australia, New Zealand, Italy and France are also frequent students at the courses and all are among the “easy students” who are informed, engaged and communicative.

Civilians are a mixed bag. Generally well-educated, they come from many different backgrounds. Of course, the term, “civilian” is very broad and included journalists. It was always interesting to have journalists at the school. Some were doing stories on the school itself, while others were just trying to learn about the doctrine. Other journalists were invited but never attended. Michael Yon refused an invitation to attend because, “Time is money.”

The civilians were from many countries, but most were Americans. Many USAID employees and contractors attended, along with HTS (Human Terrain System), IGO (International Government Organizations), academics and various Afghan and partner nation government agencies. We began to recognize quickly that there were challenges. For instance, we talk about lethal and non-lethal targeting in program design for COIN, and many civilians took exception to this. When we focused on non-lethal targeting, they still found the term to be offensive. When a guy in a uniform says, “targeting,” we it obviously means putting steel on target. We have no problem being a “target audience” or being part of a “target market,” which are actually more akin to what we are talking about with non-lethal targeting. But, civilians still struggled with the term. Many were good sports, but many were truly uncomfortable with the uniformed personnel and our military comportment. This remained a challenge, and each class would hear its share of objections and expressions of offended sensibilities.

Military students, for their part, found the civilians to be an odd bunch. The prejudice was definitely a two-way street.

One oft-expressed sentiment was an expression of relief that Americans finally “got it.” This was most often expressed by Afghans, civilians and partner nation military. Many had witnessed our JDAM “COIN” just a year or two prior.

Attending the course and sharing close quarters and work actually seemed to help break down the barriers of nations and military vs civilians, along with another interesting phenomenon which repeated itself over and over again over the course of many CLC’s. The lights came on. Between day three and day four of the course, it all jelled. End of day reviews completed by students changed in tone and substance. Conversations exploded. Concepts began to be applied, and exercises began take on a whole new look. Often, those who had come in with oppositional attitudes became engaged and communicative. It was interesting to observe and the cycle repeated itself every CLC. The student who made it through the course with no change was actually a rare exception.

While this tendency was mildly encouraging, it was other developments that were to ultimately to bring a more buoyant spirit to the deployment.


Responses to this post » (6 Total)

  1. JV says:


    Thanks for the response. I’m not surprised by your observations, and my experience was similar. I especially agreed with your comments on branch officers. I was in Iraq with MEF Civil Affairs, which was sourced from an artillery battalion and augmented with reservists and IMAs from the Army and Navy. We worked closely with the PRT and EPRTs to the point that we consolidated into what was essentially one unit halfway through deployment.

    CA is so different from the artillery mission that you have to throw everything out and start over. Sure, there are commonalities in patrol techniques and individual skills, but making an 0811 cannon crew leader into a pay agent/patrol leader/project manager/interpreter handler is a long way from firing for effect. I think the 03 community retains so much commonality with their standard mission set that adding COIN techniques is seen as more of an additional tactical option than a complete change in operation. It’s harder to subtly change the way you do the same things you’ve always done than to start over fresh. Especially when success is measured by not doing what used to be considered the crowning achievement of your mission, ie, destroying the enemy.

    You didn’t mention the impact of reservists, maybe because you didn’t recognize them as such, but I think they are a resource we fail to use to their potential. We had quite a few reservists in the mix. While a couple of the highest ranking ones were more of an impediment than a force multiplier, the rest brought many advantages. Some were actual CA Marines who had been there and done it already. Others had civilian skills outside their MOS that proved very useful, eg, a SSgt who was a city planner worked in Governance, another SSgt who was a state rep worked with the local government, and a GySgt who grew up on a farm worked in Agriculture. The Gunny prevented a disaster quite a few times by injecting common sense into some advanced academic discussions of farming that proved that the “duty experts” provided by State had never actually worked on a farm. Another advantage was that the reservists were able to work with the civilians with a little more tact than most of the active duty. While the reserves easily picked up the military tasks with some training, the active folks couldn’t adapt their mindset to work with civilians as easily.

    The military asks every reservist to update their civilian employment every year, but doesn’t use the information to find experts when necessary. For example, we had an active duty naval officer with a degree from Annapolis in civil engineering who monitored water distribution infrastructure, even though his normal job was driving ships. Meanwhile, my community back home has a Water Dept supervisor who is a Navy Reserve Chief who can’t get deployed despite numerous requests. I wonder if we could be getting more out of our reserves and national guard if we looked at their civilian skills more broadly, especially the senior NCOs and field grades. The next best thing to reservists was civilians with military experience, we had a few of those in the PRTs and they were good to go.

    I hope that I didn’t bounce off too far on a tangent for you on the reserve issue, but I’d like to hear if you have an opinion on the subject, and if you think it would make a difference in how we do COIN.

  2. Max in Paris says:

    When General Petraeus came last month to talk to students and academics at the intitute for the study of political science (Sciences Po) in Paris, he told them the most usefull and important thing to handle and carry out his job was the time he spent at Princeton and West Point, that is his college background. This because what you learn in college is culture, curiosity, and how to work hard and efficiently.
    But not everybody is going to college and most high educated poeple don’t join the military and more are not even interested in the military.
    The whole military people come from civil society, which is not informed about the military exept by news journalists and Holywood. This is not to bring any intelectuals in the military.
    Then when the guy join the military, like anywhere else he still have to work hard and be determined to make himself a good positon. This is why many guys leave or let themself slip on “hellfirering” slope, the easy “heroic” way, not needing hard work or open mind, nor curiosity, nor intellectual chalenge.
    Anyway you can only deal with those who join the army, and not those not joining. So you need to consider in the building of principles men like they are , not what you would like them to be. No army is made of elite, well-educated, hardworking men, but of medium-average men. The best army is the one able to train and turn them into good-average soldiers, knowing for each rank and each unit the limits of what you can ask them. Plus the pregnant culture of western militaries (and probably the russian too), especielly the us army is the cold war culture of massive fire and massive destruction.
    So do you think COIN fit all the US army. Should the army reset a new army culture from boot camp? Can the army be the college of the soldier? Can a COIN war be won by a regular army? Can a COIN army -necessarily smaller- win a COIN war?
    I wander off the subject for my genuine question is what is you background prior the military. You obviously master the writting and language, are you self-educated, have you been to college.
    I understand from what you said in your firt posts -all the nice things you said about the french- that you are a senior NCO. Are all us nco’s like you (in this case the war will be over soon), or are you an officer. I try to figure out who you are, what you exactly do, and what you can actualy achieve in this big military and political gear. Do you feel a few people like you make a difference.

  3. Max in Paris says:

    Please be lenient about my english spelling

  4. WOTN says:

    Forgot to say in the other 2: Glad to see you back Ole Blue!

  5. OldSoldier54 says:

    Oh, man. You had me going there for a little bit! I pray for good to come out of this, I don’t know what else to do.

    I’m glad you’re home and in one piece.

  6. elf` says:

    I’ve lost the faith in everything but my Bros (and Sis’s).

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