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Chapter 3
Counterinsurgency Operations



3-33. The primary objective of counterinsurgency operations is to neutralize the insurgents and, together with population and resource control measures, establish a secure environment within which political, social, and economic progress is possible. Counterinsurgency operations include US, HN, and multinational forces. Planning includes all three, and the conduct of operations must include close coordination among the forces of the various nations involved.


3-34. The key to success is effective and actionable intelligence at the local level. Many insurgents are "local boys" swept up in the excitement of the moment. Others are outsiders, easily identified by the locals. In either case, when insurgents overplay their hand and place the community at risk, it is likely local personnel will identify these insurgents to the authorities. This information may lead to the development of sound intelligence, enabling commanders to focus operations toward specific objectives.

3-35. Planning, preparing, executing, and assessing counterinsurgency operations adhere to several fundamentals. While many apply to conventional operations, others are counterinsurgency-specific. Figure 3-1 (page 3-9) is a leader's guide to support both offensive and defensive operations and reflects the fundamentals of counterinsurgency.


3-36. The use of HN forces is essential to developing a stable society, one that looks to the HN government for long-term security. Whenever practicable, HN security forces operate in conjunction with US and multinational forces, and assume the major burden in operations when capable of so doing. The security forces in counterinsurgency consist of the civil police, paramilitary (also called the militia), and military. The elements of the security force work in concert to--

  • Secure, protect, and separate the population from the insurgents.
  • Neutralize and defeat the insurgent forces.

3-37. The first line of defense for the government is its police forces, which may be organized either locally or nationally. In either case, their action must be well coordinated with the overall counterinsurgency operations. The first objective of the police is to identify and destroy the illegal infrastructure of the insurgent organization. Police intelligence identifies and locates leaders, penetration agents, intelligence and propaganda agents, terrorists, and recruiters. The police arrest them using the minimum force necessary.


3-38. There are two types of offensive operations employed against insurgent forces. The first is at the local level where US forces (SOF or trainers) work with local authorities to find, fix, and destroy local insurgents who seek to exert control in the communities, cities, and regions. These forces are normally small but well armed. Examples of this type insurgent force include the Viet Cong in South Vietnam, the FMLN in El Salvador, and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Chechnya. They move freely within the population and use raids, ambushes, and small hit-and-run attacks intended to drive out occupation forces or destabilize established authorities. The second type of offensive operation is conducted by regular army formations of the HN or multinational forces against main force insurgent units. An example of this type of insurgent force is the NVA that infiltrated into South Vietnam.

  • Concentrate on elimination of the insurgents, not on terrain objectives.
  • Maintain the offensive in all kinds of weather (for example, do not bog down during the rainy season--limited offensive operations are preferable to passive measures).
  • Provide guidelines for allocation of counterinsurgency forces.
  • Get counterinsurgency forces out of garrisons, cities, and towns; off the roads and trails into the environment of the insurgents.
  • Plan for and use all resources (both regular and special units).
  • Avoid establishment of semipermanent patrol bases laden with artillery and supplies that tend to tie down the force. (Pay special attention to prevent mobile units from becoming fixed.)
  • Emphasize secrecy and surprise.
  • Plans should provide for--
    • Effective and secure communications.
    • Constant indoctrination of the individual Soldier.
    • Variation of methods and the use of unorthodox tactics and techniques to avoid establishing patterns.
  • Emphasize that command and staff action should include--
    • Centralized planning of small-scale decentralized tactical operations.
    • Emphasis on unity of command.
    • Training programs that stress developing the offensive spirit, physical stamina, and a desire to seek out the insurgents and destroy them.
    • Extensive contingency planning for employment of reserve forces.
  • Detailed coordination of the intelligence collection effort accomplished by--
  • Coordination with civil and paramilitary intelligence nets.
  • Creating informer nets with the local population.
  • Interrogation of prisoners and suspects.
  • Detailed planning and coordination of activities with civilian officials in any AO where the civilian population is concerned.
  • Incorporation and monitoring of military civic action into the operational plan by--
    • Planning for and augmenting a plan of military civic action, propaganda, and population control to recover population under insurgent influence.
    • Requesting and distributing supplies for resettlement of population.
    • Training paramilitary forces for security operations and ensuring continuous support for these forces.
    • Detailed integration of combat support and combat service support functions (especially aerial supply) into all tactical planning.
    • Judicious application of the minimum destruction concept in view of the overriding requirements to minimize alienating the population. (For example, bringing artillery or air power to bear on a village from which sniper fire was received may neutralize insurgent action but will alienate the civilian population as a result of casualties among noncombatants.)
    • Consideration of the use of all means of mobility, to include aircraft, tracked and wheeled vehicles, boats, animals, and porters.
  • Providing for the rapid collection and dissemination of all available information and intelligence so that counterinsurgency forces can take immediate action to destroy fast moving insurgents.

  • Figure 3-1. Leader's Checklist for Counterinsurgency Operations

    Platoons are assigned AOs, with one platoon
    in reserve. Platoons teach locals how to protect
    their communities. Squads run training
    Figure 3-2. Company AO

    3-39. Small units handle local counterinsurgency operations most effectively. These small units are usually company sized, operating within a community or group of communities to find, fix, and destroy the insurgents. When these companies are habitually associated with a particular community, they can develop the intelligence necessary to identify and destroy the insurgents. Harassment operations may assist in locating and fixing insurgents. Operations of this type will prevent insurgents from resting and reorganizing, will inflict casualties, aid in gaining detailed knowledge of the AO, and cause insurgents to expend their limited resources. When an insurgent force has been located, every attempt to encircle the force should be made, even if piecemeal deployment is required. Normally, such operations require that the counterinsurgency force be much larger than the insurgent force (see FM 90-8). Company commanders can call on support from their next higher headquarters that also maintains a company reserve element. (See Figure 3-2.)

    3-40. The American way of war has been to substitute firepower for manpower. As a result, US forces have frequently resorted to firepower in the form of artillery or air any time they make contact. This creates two negatives in a counterinsurgency. First, massive firepower causes collateral damage, thereby frequently driving the locals into the arms of the insurgents. Second, it allows insurgents to break contact after having inflicted casualties on friendly forces. A more effective method is to attack with ground forces to gain and maintain contact, with the goal of completely destroying the insurgent force. This tactic dictates that military forces become skilled in pursuits. The unit that makes the initial contact with the insurgent force requires rapid augmentation to maintain pressure against the fleeing force, envelop it, and destroy it. These augmentation (reaction) forces should be given the highest priority for use of available transport.


    3-41. The pursuit force is organized into two elements, the direct pressure force and the encircling forces (includes blocking forces). The direct pressure force pursues and maintains constant offensive pressure on the enemy force as it withdraws. The encircling forces, employing superior mobility (preferably by using airmobile or airborne forces), conduct local envelopments (single or double) to cut off insurgent forces and destroy them (see FM 3-90).


    3-42. Area ambush is an effective offensive counterinsurgency technique. The area ambush consists of a primary ambush element that triggers the ambush and smaller supporting ambush groups that cover all likely routes of withdrawal. Once the ambush is triggered, the smaller ambush groups open fire as the insurgent force attempts to withdraw (see FM 3-90).


    3-43. Defense is oriented on the location of the community or installation rather than upon the most favorable terrain. Since defense of the specific community or installation is paramount, plans for withdrawal to rearward positions are focused on retaining control of the community or installation.

    3-44. Security and surveillance measures are coordinated for 24-hour operations. The provisions for perimeter defense are particularly applicable in defense of communities or installations against insurgent attack when regular counterinsurgency forces are conducting the defense. When using local paramilitary forces, training must instill the necessary confidence and ability to provide an effective defense for a community under attack until supporting forces are delivered or until reinforcements arrive.

    3-45. By prearranged SOPs--to include communications, forces, and fire support--larger communities and the surrounding smaller ones mutually assist in the defense of one another until other support or reinforcements arrive. In areas where offensive operations have been conducted to eliminate insurgent control of the population, regular military forces are required to temporarily assume responsibility for security/defense of a liberated community until adequate local defenders can be trained and equipped.


    3-46. For planning for security of column movement, see Chapter 6.


    3-47. All air and ground fire support elements within range of the route of the mounted column take measures to ensure close and continuous fire support. Fire planning, to include registration, must be as complete as time allows. Continuous communications are essential to establish positive control in order to clear airspace and apply effects.

    3-48. Individual and unit SOPs for maneuver as responsive action and counterambush reaction include the following:

    • Pre-positioning of security elements along the route.
    • Possible use of airmobile hunter-killer teams.
    • Assistance available from friendly units occupying positions along or adjacent to the route.


    3-49. Security for movement when dismounted presents several considerations that are different from security for mounted columns. These include the following:

    • Secrecy that may preclude air cover.
    • Restrictions on registration of artillery and the inability to plan targets when the route cannot be determined in advance.
    • Flank security is easier for dismounted movement, particularly if ground or air transportation can be used to position security elements.
    • Silent movement of dismounted columns, particularly at night, can allow security elements to locate ambush forces.
    • Extended formations that allow part of the column to be in position to maneuver against an ambush force that strikes a different part of the column.


    3-50. The clear and hold operation focuses the three primary counterinsurgency programs (CMO, combat operations, and IO), supported by intelligence and psychological operations on a specific geographical or administrative area or portions thereof. The tactics and techniques used to conduct clear and hold operations are discussed throughout this manual. The clear and hold operation is executed in a specific high priority area experiencing overt insurgency and has the following objectives:

    • Creation of a secure physical and psychological environment.
    • Establishing firm government control of the population and the area.
    • Gaining willing support of the population and their participation in the governmental programs for countering insurgency.


    3-51. Clear and hold operations should expand outward from a secure base, such as an urban industrial complex whose population supports the government effort and where military forces are in firm control. No area or its population that has been subjected to the intensive organizational efforts of a subversive insurgent organization can be won back until-- A commander responsible for the clear and hold operation is allocated military forces clearly superior to the insurgent force known and suspected to be in the area or immediately available in an adjacent area. Sufficient nonmilitary resources are allocated to effectively carry out all necessary environmental improvement and population and resources control operations within the area. The insurgent has been cleared from the area. The insurgent hard-core organization and its support structure has been neutralized or eliminated. A governmental organization, to which the local population gives willing support, has been established to replace that of the insurgents.


    3-52. The clear and hold operation is characterized by execution of four generally overlapping stages: preparation, clearing, holding, and consolidation.

    Preparatory Stage

    3-53. Inventory, assessment, and planning are conducted during this stage, and are characterized by the following major actions:

    • Selection and delineation of a specific area to undergo clear and hold operations
    • Designation of chain of command and formulation of a concept of operations.
    • Collection of data and information on the AO (area assessment).
    • Estimate of resource requirements, both military and nonmilitary.
    • Preparation of a clear and hold operation plan. During preparation of the plan, consideration to many factors will be given, including the following:
      • Emergency legislation to provide a legal basis for population and resource control measures and the legal use of armed forces.
      • Key points that may require establishing static defense posts.
      • Police and paramilitary force requirements and organization.
      • Coordination, to include provisions for joint training and operations involving military, police, paramilitary, intelligence, psychological, and civilian administrative agencies and forces.
    • Psychological preparation of the population of adjacent areas to explain the necessity for these operations.
      • Deny the insurgent organization the capability to function in the area.
      • Establish the physical presence of government military and population and resources control forces throughout the area.
      • Establish firm security in the area under the protective shield of government forces.
    Clearing Stage

    3-54. The clearing stage can be initiated by a clear in zone or cordon and search operation to either disperse or force reaction by major insurgent elements within the AO. Once this has been accomplished, units employ a combination of offensive small unit operations, such as area saturation patrolling, area ambushes, and other techniques.

    3-55. Repressive actions and retribution against the general population in the area must not be condoned. A characteristic of all counterinsurgency operations is firm and impartial treatment whenever and wherever possible, since often it will be impossible to identify the insurgent at the onset of operations.

    3-56. Population and resource control forces introduce surveillance and restrictive control measures as necessary.

    Holding Stage

    3-57. Operations during this phase are designed to--

    • Establish firm government control over the area and the population.
    • Develop a local capability for area security.
    • Establish a government political apparatus to replace the insurgent apparatus.
    • Develop a dependable network of informants.

    3-58. Major actions occurring during this phase include--

    • Designating and allocating area-oriented, regular military forces to continue offensive military operations in the area. Other regular military forces that participated in clearing stage actions are now released or are assigned to carrying out other parts of the counterinsurgency effort in the area.
    • Introduction of elements of other agencies of the government, as the area achieves a more secure status, to begin carrying out environmental improvement programs. Resources to support these agencies and their operations should be introduced, as needed, at this time.
    • Thorough population screening to determine insurgent elements and to uncover local leadership.
    • Area surveys, assisted by local leadership, to determine resources and precise and current needs of the area and its people.
    • Motivation of population, by such actions as environmental improvements, designed to psychologically condition the population and induce them to participate in the reconstruction of the area and in the defense of their area.
    • Government support to those willing to participate in reconstruction, based upon their needs and upon the principle of self-help, wherever possible, and willingness to defend what they accomplish.
    • Training of local paramilitary forces, including arming and involving them in one or more successful operations against insurgents.
    • Establishing a communications system tying the area into a larger secure communications system.
    • Progressive efforts--such as formation of youth clubs, participation of the population in electing local leadership, participation in community-sponsored environmental improvement and other projects--to develop national consciousness and rapport between the population and its government.
    Consolidation Stage

    3-59. During this stage all activities of the clear and hold operation are expanded and accelerated with the objectives of--

    • Turning primary responsibility for local security and government over to the local population as soon as they are capable of accepting such responsibility.
    • Maintaining complete security. Continuing the reconstruction effort with support being provided, as necessary, from local or government resources, or a combination thereof.
    • Continuing development of national consciousness and the local political base willingly supported by and participated in by the local population.
    • The redeployment of the bulk of the area-oriented counterinsurgent force to carry out operations in adjacent or other high priority areas occurs during this phase. However, redeployment must not take place until local paramilitary forces are capable of providing local security. Further, a general reserve force is constituted to respond swiftly to insurgent attacks that are beyond the capability of local or regional forces. A national-level reserve force--such as airmobile, airborne, or marine units--may be made available to provide assistance.


    3-60. The attainment of clear and hold operations objectives requires a considerable expenditure of resources and time. Leader and their HN counterparts must be prepared for a longterm effort. Based upon experiences in insurgency-stricken areas in which clear and hold or similar type operations have been conducted, several years may be required to achieve complete and enduring success.

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