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The American way of war includes mass, power, and the use of sophisticated smart weapons. However, large main force engagements that characterized conflict in World War II, Korea, and Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom in the Middle East have become the exceptions in American warfare. Since the American Revolution, the Army has conducted stability operations, which have included counterinsurgency operations. Over the past half-century alone, the Army gained considerable experience in fighting insurgents in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Philippines), Latin America (Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua), Africa (Somalia), Southwest Asia (Afghanistan), and now the Middle East (Iraq). Dealing with counterinsurgency since the Vietnam War has fallen largely on SOF; however, conventional forces have frequently come into contact with insurgent forces that seek to neutralize the inherent advantages of size, weaponry, and conventional force TTP. Insurgents use a combination of actions that include terror, assassination, kidnapping, murder, guerrilla tactics such as ambushes, booby traps, and improvised explosive devices aimed at US and multinational forces, the host country's leaders, and ordinary citizens.

The stunning victory over Saddam Hussein's army in 2003 validated US conventional force TTP, but the ensuing aftermath of instability has caused review of lessons from the Army's historical experience and those of the other services and multinational partners. One of the key recurring lessons is that the United States cannot win other countries' wars for them, but can certainly help legitimate foreign governments overcome attempts to overthrow them. US forces can assist a country confronted by an insurgency by providing a safe and secure environment at the local level and continuously building on the incremental success.

The impetus for this FMI came from the Iraq insurgency and the realization that engagements in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) would likely use counterinsurgency TTPs. Consequently this FMI reviews what we know about counterinsurgency and explains the fundamentals of military operations in a counterinsurgency environment.


Counterinsurgency is those military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency (JP 1-02). It is an offensive approach involving all elements of national power; it can take place across the range of operations and spectrum of conflict. It supports and influences an HN's IDAD program. It includes strategic and operational planning; intelligence development and analysis; training; materiel, technical, and organizational assistance; advice; infrastructure development; tactical-level operations; and many elements of PSYOP. Generally, the preferred methods of support are through assistance and development programs. Leaders must consider the roles of military, intelligence, diplomatic, law enforcement, information, finance, and economic elements (MIDLIFE) in counterinsurgency.


Indirect support emphasizes the principles of HN self-sufficiency and builds strong national infrastructures through economic and military capabilities. It includes security assistance, joint and multinational exercises, and exchange programs. Direct support (not involving combat operations) involves the use of US forces providing direct assistance to the HN civilian populace or military. These are joint-or service-funded, do not usually involve the transfer of arms and equipment, and do not usually include training local military forces. Direct support (not involving combat operations) includes civil-military operations, intelligence and communications sharing, and logistics. Direct support (involving combat operations) introduces the use of US combat forces into counterinsurgency operations. The use of combat forces is a presidential decision and serves only as a temporary or provisional solution until HN forces are able to stabilize the situation and provide security for the populace.


Regional combatant commanders are responsible for conducting (planning, preparing, executing, and assessing) military operations in their areas of responsibility in support of counterinsurgency. Close coordination with the US ambassador or diplomatic representative and country team within supported HNs is essential in order to build an effective regional counterinsurgency program.


Commanders consider longer-term strategic and operational effects of all US assistance efforts before executing counterinsurgency operations. They tailor military support of counterinsurgency operations to the environment and the specific needs of the supported HN and understand that a basic premise of counterinsurgency is that the ultimate responsibility rests with the HN. Regional combatant commanders may develop theater strategies or campaign plans that support the CJCS taskings. Regardless of how commanders may tailor the planning process, military activities in support of counterinsurgency requirements are integrated into concepts and plans at the operational and tactical levels.


Counterinsurgency operations are often conducted in a joint environment. Army commanders and leaders should be familiar with joint planning procedures.

The five phases of joint deliberate planning procedures and considerations are initiation, concept development and review, plan development, plan review, and supporting plans. The initiation phase begins with the combatant commander's receipt of planning guidance from CJCS. Concept development and review includes a mission analysis that looks at threats to HN stability; the HN social, economic, and political environment; analysis of assigned tasks; and development of a mission statement. Plan development includes coordination with the US ambassador and country team as well as understanding legal authorizations, and restrictions. Planning considerations include HN sovereignty and legitimacy, third-country interests, use of force, long-term planning, maximizing intelligence capability, unity of effort, tailoring counterinsurgency operations to the needs and environment of the HN, ROE, economy of force measures, and criteria of success. Plan review entails coordination with senior, subordinate, and adjacent commands, and supporting agencies (USAID, CIA, and others). Supporting plans are then developed by the agencies and organizations mentioned in the plan. These supporting plans include a greater level of detail and focus on how and when the support is provided. Several areas deserve special attention when discussing employment of forces in counterinsurgency operations: cultural expertise, intelligence support; psychological impact; SOF; public information programs; logistic support; operations security, and, lessons learned.


The primary mission for combatant commanders and other joint force commanders is to prepare for war and, if engaged in war, to terminate it on terms favorable to the United States. Commanders consider the use of SOF when employing combat forces in support of counterinsurgency. Other considerations are maintaining close coordination with the HN IDAD organization; establishing transition points; maintaining a joint, interagency and multinational focus; identifying and integrating intelligence, logistics, and other combat support means in US combat operations; conducting offensive operations when necessary to protect personnel and resources, or to restore or establish order; reviewing human rights considerations; following the ROE; preventing indiscriminate use of force; maintaining the US interagency intelligence network; and integrating with other counterinsurgency programs. The command and control relationships established for the combat operation will be modified based on the political, social, and military environment of the area. Sustainment of US forces is essential to success. Political sensitivities and concerns for HN legitimacy and minimum US presence change the complexion of sustaining operations in the counterinsurgency environment.

There are three direct operations critical to supporting counterinsurgency: CMO, combat operations, and IO. CMO span a very broad area in counterinsurgency and include activities such as civil affairs, PSYOP, humanitarian assistance, support to civil administration, and military civic action across the range of military operations. Using CMO to support military activities in a counterinsurgency program enhances preventive measures, reconstruction efforts, and combat operations in support of efforts to stabilize and rebuild a HN. Combat operations are developed to neutralize the insurgent and, together with population and resources control measures, establish an environment within which political, social, and economic progress is possible. IO integrate all aspects of information to support and enhance the elements of combat power, with the goal of dominating the battlespace at the right time, at the right place, and with the right weapons or resources.


Training of HN forces must be consistent with national goals. Leaders ensure that individuals and units training HN forces receive instruction in the following: area and cultural orientation; language training; standards of conduct; integration of intelligence development, collection, and analysis to support counterinsurgency programs; coordinating relationships and actions with other US government agencies; legal guidelines; ROE; and tactical-level force protection training. Training must prepare HN forces for military operations, to include institutional and unit training. The training must also be designed to support a mix of personnel ranging from language-trained and culturally focused SOF to those totally untrained in the specific area where the counterinsurgency program is executed.


Counterinsurgency missions must achieve the end state established by the President. All leaders keep in mind the purpose of their operations and the criteria of success used to assess them. Achieving success in counterinsurgency operations involves accomplishing the following tasks:
Protect the population.
Establish local political institutions.
Reinforce local governments.
Eliminate insurgent capabilities.
Exploit information from local sources.

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