COIN and Emergent Networks

Go over to Blackfive and check out Grim’s post on ‘The Gravity Well’ it’s great stuff … and dammit, Grim!! This blog is for serious theoretical COIN stuff. Blackfive is for hoo-ah-ing and talking about whiskey and manly things. Get that straight, will you?

Seriously, a post I wish I’d written and that you should definitely read. That right there’s the path to victory, folks…

17 thoughts on “COIN and Emergent Networks”

  1. Thanks for the tip to the Grim treatise on COIN, AL. Outstanding piece, using a very useful metaphor.


    We knew that was just disinformation. Speak Puppies but carry a Big Stick. (Shtick?) Something like that. Great piece.

  2. I’ll put my drunken commentary and opinions up against all the anal-yzing you guys do.

    I don’t know why I would do that, but some sort of futile, meaningless threat seemed called for.

    Hoo-ah my ass, you marginally-reformed hippy.

    Man I’m kinda passsive-aggressive huh? Must be low blood sugar, hey rum is made from sugar. Mmmmmm rum.


    Uncle J

  3. Ever had Barbancourt? I was raised with the notion that as opposed to drugs, drinking was for boring losers (don’t ask…) until I discovered good brandy, good rum, good wine, and good whiskey, in that order.

    Sounds like a pretty fun evening, actually…


  4. That’s MR. “marginally-reformed hippy” to you, fella…Damn, need to go to the backup CD’s and find the picture of me at Gunsite in 2000 – long hair, ‘Fast Girl’ t-shirt, .308 Savage Scout – the FBI agents at the dining tables were just seriously confused…


  5. “*This* blog is for serious theoretical COIN stuff.”

    Well, I love you guys, but *the blog* for serious theoretical COIN stuff is “Small Wars Journal Blog”: You should add it to your blog roll. How serious? Lt. Col. (Aus.) David Kilcullen, Ph.D., Senior Counter-Insurgency Advisor to the Commanding General, Multi-National Force Iraq (Gen. David H. Petraeus, Ph.D.).

    bq. Small Wars Journal is a private site. It is run by Small Wars Journal, LLC, a private company formed in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Its principals are Dave Dilegge (Editor-in-Chief) and Bill Nagle (Publisher). We do this in our spare time, because we want to. McDonald’s pays more. But we’d rather work to advance our noble profession than try to super-size your order or interest you in a delicious hot apple pie. If and when you’re not flipping burgers, please join us.

  6. Interesting Grim but I disagree with many COIN assumptions. The first being that America or any other Western Nation will support it.

    The evidence is that we won’t. Period. Full stop. The only successful modern Western COIN operations took place when the Media was far more conservative and smaller, i.e. Smedly Butler’s “Gangster for Capitalism” operations. The Media will simply not allow any Western Force to conduct COIN, openly rooting for the enemy and breaking the political will at home to conduct those types of operations.

    Instead we must go back to the old model of short wars, decisive encounters, and killing massive amounts of the enemy to destroy any ability to resist or any appetite for continued confrontation.

    Kill all the yellow and red nodes, or enough that they stop fighting. The US Grant / Curtis LeMay frontal assault strategy. Then cut off the ability of the green and blue nodes to re-inforce the center of mass by cutting infrastructure, destroying wealth, and generally leaving in place isolated garrisons unable to act. The Sherman strategy.

    This would entail: national mobilization, a whacking great military, killing entire cities that oppose us, and anyone in the battlefield, with heavy press/media restrictions and cutting communications, financial, and other networks.

    I would much prefer the COIN model than the utter slaughter sure to come in the traditional way of waging war, but Lefties won that political battle, so it’s no use at all talking about it. It will never happen.

  7. Jim,

    I was a little bemused by the suggestion at B5 that we needed a 20-million man military, given that we can’t even get the government to pay for the one we have. Leave aside the political question of whose fault it is. Whoever’s fault it is, we’ve got “operations in Iraq that have begun to grind to a halt”: because the political tension is keeping the funding from happening.

    With that said, I don’t think covert/clandestine operations are in much danger from the media or others. The NYT has managed to reveal several secret programs they thought would be embarrassing to the Bush administration; as far as I can tell, that’s had nothing whatever to do with the collapse of support for Iraq/Afghanistan. Americans seem to approve broadly of covert/clandestine attacks on terrorists, and they think CIA officers transporting them secretly to hidden prisons is exactly what _should_ be happening.

    What they don’t like is to be made to feel guilty every day, by seeing bombing news stories and kids slaughtered in the streets. What they don’t seem to get is that it’s really their horror that is the enemy’s main weapon; and if that weapon works as desired, others will adopt it in the future.

  8. W/ apologies to Defense and the national interest this is what is needed to make a black hole. This level of political honesty is lacking on both ends of the political sprectrum here:
    How did the British do it? Van Creveld puts it best:

    First, unlike President Bush in 2001, the British did not declare war, which would have removed a whole series of legal constraints and put the entire conflict on a new footing. Instead, from beginning to end the problem was treated as a criminal one…

    Note that, in contrast to what we hear from the Bush administration and the U.S. military, van Creveld sees the removal of restrictions on what troops can do as a disadvantage. He understands that in Fourth Generation war, the counter-intuitive is often correct.

    Second, much of the day-to-day work was left to the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary). Its members, having been locally recruited and assigned lengthy stays at their posts, knew the area better than anyone else. Accordingly, they were often able to discriminate among the various factions inside the IRA as well as between terrorists and others…

    Third, never again (after Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972, when British troops fired into a crowd and killed thirteen people) did British troops fire indiscriminately into marching or rioting crowds

    Fourth, and in marked contrast with most other counterinsurgents from the Germans in Yugoslavia to the Americans in Vietnam and elsewhere, not once in the entire struggle did the army bring in heavy weapons such as tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, or aircraft to repulse attacks and inflict retaliation…

    Fifth, never once did the British inflict collective punishment such as curfews, the cutting off of electricity and water, demolishing houses, destroying entire neighborhoods. . . As far as humanly possible, the police and the army posed as the protectors of the population, not its tormentors. In this way they were able to prevent the uprising from spreading.

    Sixth and most important of all, by and large both the RUC and the army stayed within the framework of the law. . .From (1972) on, the British refrained from arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and illegal killings…

    The most important insight of all, though, (came) over dinner in Geneva in 1995. My partner on that occasion was a British colonel, regiment of paratroopers, who had done several tours of duty in Northern Ireland. What he said can be summed up as follows…

    the struggle in Northern Ireland had cost the United Kingdom three thousand casualties in dead alone. Of the three thousand, about seventeen hundred were civilians….of the remaining, a thousand were British soldiers. No more than three hundred were terrorists, a ratio of three to one. Speaking very softly, he said: And that is why we are still there.

    When the U.S. armed forces understand and accept this, there will be some hope in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Until then, there is none.

  9. An interesting idea, and should be considered. However, i think one problem is that in many ways our connections to ME leaders have weakend their standing among many radical muslim groups. For example: Musharaff and Maliki. So we have to be careful in how we support these groups without comprimising their ‘social standing’.

    _Kill all the yellow and red nodes, or enough that they stop fighting._

    If only the world were so simple. The problem is, (again) that we’re dealing with a much more complicated system. To those nodes, add about a million gray nodes. These are people that are related to terrorists as family, friends and some random relationships (ie neighbor, baker, buys food at the same store etc). And then you have another million or so dots that are next to all of those dots, becoming progressively more white as you more farther away from the terrorists. In the end, the bed is basically covered in white balls.

    This is my guess of what a ‘modern’ middle east city looks like. Now, these balls don’t have much impact on the terrorist ‘gravity well’ (I’m thinking ping-pong balls here) But they do obscure a clear picture of where the gravity wells are, and which connections are real, and which are imaginary.

    This is, of course, intentional. Making an agressive move, almost requires the killing of white balls that are peripheral to your real targets. Then, this action is used as propaganda to expand the balls on the fringes to the grey & white balls on the peripheral. yes, the radicals will have lost a critical ‘well’, but it may also have gained ‘mass’ as a result. This is part of the problem we’re seeing in Iraq today.

  10. “So we have to be careful in how we support these groups without comprimising their ‘social standing’.”

    That’s entirely correct. One thing that you can do, though, is raise their prestige within the community by responding to their complaints. If NU stages a protest against a US policy, for example, we could send someone to talk to them about it, and maybe even negotiate an accomodation. At least, we can show the community that NU is capable of getting our attention, and getting results with us.

    That kind of thing allows NU both to keep its social standing — it continues to be seen as an effective way of fighting American influence for those who feel America is a baleful presence — while raising its prestige.

    You want these greens and blues to think: ‘Al Qaeda doesn’t get results; its actions bring down US anger and wrath and interference; but NU can make them behave without all this trouble.’ Well, then, if you’re an anti-American guy from rural Indonesia, which one do you want to belong to?

  11. Grim —

    A 20 million man military IMHO guarantees political support. It’s easy for Dems to play games with withdrawing funding which they are doing (essentially refusing to send any bill and without overtly doing so force withdrawal which will be successful).

    The Media and Dems and the rest could not afford to work against the military objectives if we had a national mobilization. That’s the whole point. We can certainly afford it, just other things will have to go and taxes will have to go up for a while.

    At no time and no place has COIN ever been successful politically at home in Western Nations. In Algeria the French Left killed it. In Britain it’s been hamstrung against the IRA. In Spain it’s been cut apart politically against ETA.

    The Harvard Study about the media backing Hezbollah against Israel makes my point. ONLY by a national mobilization that forces directly a binary choice: the mass of the people or the enemy can the Media be forced to stop siding with the enemy.

    The Media, Dems, Entertainment figures, the Left, etc. all recoil in horror against Gitmo, against detaining terrorists, against anything other than treating terror and terrorists like common criminals. It’s “torture” and against the Geneva Conventions and “Bush is the real terrorist.” The Media/Left/Dems fundamentally sides with the enemy and always will because they share the enemy’s hatred of America and the ordinary American.

    The Media/Dems/Left tells America every day that “we” are the cause of all the violence, that “we” cause the bombing, that “we” are the enemy and the “heroic” Al Qaeda / Taliban etc. are the good guys. The only way to stop that politically is to re-fight WWII where even the suggestion of that when almost all men are serving in combat or combat related positions would get a Dem or Media bubble head lynched. No one was pro-Japanese or Nazi after Dec. 7th.

    The essential problem is political, and therefore the solution is political. Ugly but true.

    Alchemist: we had no compunctions about incinerating 200,000 Japanese in the Tokyo firebombing raids. It’s certainly doable. Grant and the other Union Generals killed about 40% of men 17-40 in the South. Sherman destroyed property and wealth. The South just quit. They stopped fighting. Germany lost about the same percentage of men that age, and their property was in ruins. Inflict total defeat and people stop fighting. Experience has shown it doesn’t matter if you kill a lot of “white balls” … only show that your forces will kill, kill without compunction, and keep on killing till the fighting stops. Sherman said war is brutal, no use reforming it, simply get it over as quickly as possible.

    Grim IMHO Sherman was right, trying to appease or win hearts and minds only makes things far worse.

  12. The problem comes in the lack of “state-sponsored agencies”. Japan was “the enemy”, although civilian casualties are atrocious, they supported the war and were actively contributing to it. When the bomb gets dropped on their city, even though they’re civilians, I’m sure they still realized that the war had come home. The Japanese were very knowledgable on the effects of war, and I’m sure the people realized the only way to stop it was to force the goverment to surrender.

    In most of the ME, people are just there. They’re not really allied with anyone. Yet, when a bomb goes off killing friends and family, they’re more likely to believe the people that they’ve known they’re whole life than the people who dropped a bomb from 10,000 feet, who they’ve never seen in their life. Additionally, they’re is no simple surrender in the middle east. Take Iraq for example: They’re are somewhere between 5-10 major militias currently operating, and somewhere between 10-200 insurgency/criminal/religous groups that are striking out. Speaking out may quell one group, but they’re are several others in its place who may cause new violence, or see you as a dangeous free-thinker.

    The best bet for individual survival: Find the demon you know, get them to protect you. If the US army could have accomplished that goal, we could have saved Iraq. But now the milias are in charge, and they are more dependable protection (ie better informed, in more local places at the same time, can strike with less warning) than US troops. Sad but true.

  13. I think I’ve expressed my thoughts on Sherman once before in these pages, so I’ll spare you hearing it a second time.

    I don’t, however, believe that it’s fair to say that Sherman proves that ‘hearts and minds’ doesn’t work. For one thing, it’s not like Sherman replaced a ‘hearts and minds’ strategy that was failing. What he replaced was a general who was failing, and had gotten his head handed to him at Chickamagua. The idea of invading Georgia wasn’t new — that’s what they’d been trying to do when they got mauled.

    Second, Sherman wasn’t fighting a counterinsurgency. He was fighting a formal, Second-Generation war. The counterinsurgency didn’t occur until after the end of the Civil War; at which point the Federal military governments did indeed find themselves dealing with a deadly guerrilla and insurgent movement. The Reconstruction period is where you should be looking for analogies.

    The Federal government won, by the way, the COIN in the South. They did this in two ways:

    1) By accepting and working with, rather than trying to replace, local institutions. As long as they were attempting to radically change Southern constitutions and government forms, they failed to secure a peace. It was when they stepped back and permitted what the South called “the Redemption” that peace began to be possible. The South was allowed to rewrite its constitutions, and elect the leaders that suited its people.

    The analogy to the war in Iraq is working with the tribes in Anbar, rather than trying to replace the tribal structures with some other form of government. This is true for both us and al Qaeda, by the way — one of the reasons that the Anbar tribes are lining up with us increasingly is that al Qaeda in Iraq keeps trying to institute Taliban-style rule when it has had power. This disrupts the tribal structure far more than we do, and it’s cost them support.

    2) The destruction of the KKK was chiefly accomplished by Federal law. It was the courts, not the military governments, that succeeded in breaking it. Law is a powerful tool, which is why putting such effort into the Iraqi police and courts is important.

    Point (1) above, however, was indispensable. Once people were no longer furious, they were less likely to be drawn into the KKK. Once they saw that the law would and could pursue the KKK, they were drawn away from it. And once they saw that the law would treat KKK members fairly, not responding to tyranny and lynching with tyranny lynching, but instead with fair trials, they were drawn away from the KKK.

    That’s how Reconstruction — the American COIN — was won.

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