Best Defense

The Army and COIN: You’re on your own, commander

Longtime readers will remember Adam Silverman, who advised the Army in Iraq and has contributed to Best Defense in the past. He was provoked to check in again by the recent discussion here of the institutional Army’s attitude toward counterinsurgency. It is good to have you back, Adam. By Adam Silverman Occasional Best Defense contributor  ...

ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images
ALI YUSSEF/AFP/Getty Images

Longtime readers will remember Adam Silverman, who advised the Army in Iraq and has contributed to Best Defense in the past. He was provoked to check in again by the recent discussion here of the institutional Army’s attitude toward counterinsurgency.

It is good to have you back, Adam.

By Adam Silverman
Occasional Best Defense contributor 

The impression I’ve developed is that those who are good at COIN, like your correspondent "Hunter" or LTC Nagl or the 2BCT/1AD commander and staff, as well as our battalion commanders and staffs that I worked with, are good at this because they made sure to make themselves that way — and the guys I worked with were an armor brigade!

I was at my BCT’s CTC rotation, we attached with them for the training so that my team could both learn to work with a BCT staff as an HTT (and we were fortunate that the BCT CDR and his Corps’ DCG were both impressed enough to personally request us from HTS so we deployed with them instead of who we were originally slotted to deploy with) and to work as an HTT, they did very good, and there was an emphasis on COIN, but I’ve only ever been to one CTC rotation at one location (JMRC in Germany), so I can’t really say if it applies to NTC or JRTC in the US.

I think the real issue here is that the field manual is issued, the COIN Center at FT Leavenworth holds its workshops and does its stuff, but until professorships at the service academies, war colleges, and defense university campuses are systematically created to address the specific topics that you are inquiring about, then the institutionalization and the learning is most likely to be on the informal rather than formal side. If COIN, or perhaps the larger and more inclusive areas of irregular and asymmetrical warfare, are as important as the last several years lead many to believe, then one would expect to see specific lines created on the teaching side, as well as the operational side, with those folks who are knowledgeable moving from practitioner to professor and perhaps back again. As someone who peruses the ‘professor’ postings at USAJobs to see what is out there I can tell you that no such positions have been advertised! Moreover, keyword searches using COIN, counterinsurgency, irregular warfare, and asymmetrical warfare produce at most one or two lines academic or otherwise — across the entire federal listing of positions civilian and military!

As to whose fault it is, that’s harder to assess. If TRADOC has complete control of Army training, then one could argue that the failure to institutionalize this lies there. I would argue, though, that the truth is closer to this being a business as usual concept regarding something perceived as a fad: General Petraeus and COIN are the flavor of the month now, but once Iraq winds down for us and explodes for the Iraqis after our drawdown and Afghanistan drags on and gets more of a mess, will it still be an appetizing taste? Past history shows that it won’t be. That leaves the real question as: how much can GEN Petraeus’ influence change the dynamic?

Adam L. Silverman, PhD served as the Socio-cultural advisor for the 2BCT/1AD and Field Social Scientist and Team Lead for HTT 1Z6 from October 2007 through October 2008. His views are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the 2BCT/1AD and/or the US Army.

 

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 ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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