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American Forces Press Service

Contributing Writer Discusses Counterinsurgency Manual

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2007 – A contributor to the Counterinsurgency Field Manual yesterday discussed the doctrine that codifies how the U.S. military can most effectively conduct asymmetric warfare.

The doctrine, officially titled U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24 and Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-33.5, is a unique joint effort published in December 2006 by the two branches to help military and civilian operators face challenges posed by insurgencies that blend with civilian populations.

“In order to win that kind of war, in order to create security and stability in that environment, you cannot kill or capture your way to success,” said Army Lt. Col. John A Nagl, a member of the writing team that penned the manual.

“What you have to do to defeat that kind of insurgency, to borrow Mao (Zedong’s) phrase, is you have to drain the swamp: that is, decrease the number of people who support the ends of the insurgency,” he said. “And the way you do that is by increasing the number of people who support the government and the coalition.”

From September 2003 through September 2004, Nagl served as operations officer of 1st Battalion, 34th Armor, in Khalidiyah, Iraq, a city between Ramadi and Fallujah in Anbar province, then one of the country’s most contentious regions.

Nagl said the insurgency there comprised one half of 1 percent of the population, equaling roughly 300 people who “actively wanted to kill us.” The soldier’s tank battalion task force numbered some 800, he said. By conventional logic, the conflict should have resulted in an unequivocal Army victory, but “those 300 were swimming in a sea of people,” Nagl said.

The field manual emphasizes the roles of other U.S. government agencies in separating insurgents from civilians. It underscores that among such elements, a “unity of effort” -- the title of the manual’s second chapter -- is vital in waging a successful counterinsurgency.

“All elements of the United States government … must be integrated into the effort to build stable and secure societies that can secure their own borders and do not provide safe havens for terrorists,” according to the field manual’s foreword, written by Nagl, who now commands 1st Battalion, 34th Armor, at Fort Riley, Kan.

Nagl said the demand for codified doctrine was sorely needed by a U.S. military more prepared for conventional than asymmetric warfare. “It is not unfair to say that in 2003 most Army officers likely knew more about the U.S. Civil War than they did about counterinsurgency,” the foreword says.

The notion that U.S. forces were not thoroughly trained in counterinsurgency strategy was echoed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in a speech Oct. 10.

“Consider that in 1985 the core curriculum for the Army's 10-month Command and General Staff College assigned 30 hours -- about four days -- for what was is now called low-intensity conflict,” Gates told the audience at the Association of the U.S. Army conference.

“This approach may have seemed validated by ultimate victory in the Cold War and the triumph of Desert Storm,” he said, “but it left the service unprepared to deal with the operations that followed in Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, and more recently Afghanistan and Iraq, the consequences and costs of which we are still struggling with today.”

Gates called the counterinsurgency manual a milestone and added that the value of its tenets have been validated by recent progress in Iraq.

The manual was the culmination of efforts by a diverse group that includes academics, human rights advocates, representatives from journalism and non-governmental organizations, and top military strategists, including then-Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, now a four-star general and the commander of Multinational Force Iraq.

By all accounts, the 419-page field manual has been widely embraced. Not only was the manual downloaded more than 2 million times within two months of its release, but copies have even been discovered on Jihadi Web sites and in Taliban training camps in Pakistan.

Last year, the State Department hosted an interagency counterinsurgency conference that built a consensus behind the need for an interagency counterinsurgency manual, according to the field manual. In addition, the French government has expressed interest in partnering with the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany in a multilateral effort to frame counterinsurgency guidelines in an international context.

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