Best Defense

Before you bury COIN, here are some thoughts to put in the time capsule with it

My old friend Marine Col. (ret.) Gary Anderson writes from somewhere overseas that, “No poor dumb son of a bitch ever won a counterinsurgency by sitting on his FOB. He won it by making the other poor dumb son of a bitch sit on his FOB.” Meanwhile, here is a guest column on COIN issues: ...

AnnieGreenSprings/Flickr
AnnieGreenSprings/Flickr

My old friend Marine Col. (ret.) Gary Anderson writes from somewhere overseas that, “No poor dumb son of a bitch ever won a counterinsurgency by sitting on his FOB. He won it by making the other poor dumb son of a bitch sit on his FOB.”

Meanwhile, here is a guest column on COIN issues:

By “Ford Prefect”

Best Defense asylum for COIN bitter-enders

I know and respect Col. Gian Gentile from our years teaching at USMA and afterwards.  I think he’s off on this — just like the uber-COIN pundits of the 2004-2007 era were as well. There were a few people (John Nagl and some others come to mind) that were thinking about COIN in the decade prior to 9/11 — they were very few, and very far between.  Others piled on the COIN train as it left the station, and tend to be the first to jump off as soon as it stops.  Just an observation. 

COIN should not be an organizational “design tool” to build the U.S. armed forces around.  It is a method of conflict — with its own doctrine, tactics and strategy — that is applied when it is needed.  Conventional, armored ground warfare is much the same. As is sub-surface, surface, cyber, and so on.  The key point is to maintain a cadre of competent NCOs and Officers capable of doing those missions when needed.  How many Coast Guardsmen are competent in ASW? My bet is less than 10. But if the Coasties ever get the mission, those 10 guys/gals will be worth their weight in gold.   

COIN is not “dead” — it isn’t something that can die.  It will exist as long as you send your armed forces to deal with populations outside of fighting their organized armies.  COIN isn’t counter-terrorism; the former is a military mission, the latter at its core a law enforcement mission.  CT will continue on as long as terrorism is a tool of a weak adversary; the same with COIN. 

The real question, I think, is how to we keep enough folks around to serve as a cadre for those ‘esoteric’ missions (like COIN, but also including tactical nuclear warfare, amphibious operations, mass airborne operations and so on) while doing what the Nation expects the armed forces to do — provide the ‘common defense’ of the Republic.  Smart reorganization, with a clear understanding of possible future missions, is the key, not dancing on the grave of COIN.

“Ford Prefect” is hitchhiking around Afghanistan. Or sitting in the cubicle to your right. Feeling lucky, punk? Well do ya?

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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