The COINdinistas

Who knows everthing there is to know and more about counterinsurgency and its current role in U.S. military strategy? These guys.


Pushed and prodded by a wonky group of Ph.D.s, the U.S. military has in the last year decisively embraced a Big Idea: counterinsurgency. Not everyone in uniform is a fan, but David Petraeus and the other generals in charge of America’s wars are solidly behind it. Here are the brains behind counterinsurgency’s rise from forgotten doctrine to the centerpiece of the world’s most powerful military:

1. Gen. David Petraeus

The face of the 2007-08 "surge" in Iraq and  now chief of Central Command. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is gonna try the same in Afghanistan, but "King David" rules this roost. ‘Nuff said?

2. John Nagl

Writer on Petraeus’s counterinsurgency manual, now beats the coin drum from the outside as president of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). But it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in a top Pentagon slot within a year or two.

3. David Kilcullen

The Crocodile Dundee of counterinsurgency. Former Australian infantryman with a Ph.D. in anthropology, and one of the most quotable people on the planet. His book The Accidental Guerrilla helped shape the year’s debates; he worked to steer the former Bush administration toward coin from the inside.

4. Janine Davidson

The Pentagon insider in this crowd. Former Air Force pilot now sitting at the adult table in the policy shop of the secretary of defense.

5. Dave Dilegge

Editor of Small Wars Journal. This is the town square of counterinsurgency, avidly read by everyone from four-star generals to captains on the ground in Iraq.

6. Andrew Exum

Abu Muqawama blogger; with Nagl, another colleague of mine at CNAS; and co-author of "Triage," an influential policy paper on Afghanistan. A former Army Ranger who is doing a Ph.D. on Lebanese militias, and in his spare time has been known to play paintball against Hezbollah — no joke.

7. Stephen Biddle

Council on Foreign Relations. A latecomer to the coin debate who has written insightfully about both Iraq and Afghanistan. Like Exum, advised McChrystal on Afghanistan strategy.

8. Andrew Krepinevich

Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Penned the classic The Army and Vietnam, about the failure of the Army to apply counterinsurgency in Iraq; wrote an influential Foreign Affairs article on the Iraq war and counterinsurgency.

9. Kalev "Gunner" Sepp

Assistant professor, Naval Postgraduate School. Like Krepinevich, an Army officer who ruined his career by getting a Ph.D. at Harvard. Fought in El Salvador and kept his COIN powder dry for years until someone was ready to listen.

10. Col. Gian Gentile

West Point professor who commanded a unit in Iraq. The skunk at the coin party who constantly points out flaws in the groupthink. Paints with a broad brush, but absolutely necessary to the debate.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1