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COIN is Dead, Long Live the COIN

When the U.S. Army and Marine Corps released their Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Counterinsurgency, in 2006, key military leaders and civilian advisers promised a different kind of warfare. Written as Iraq crumbled, the manual institutionalized key tactical and operational methods that were geared to fighting against irregular armed foes, rather than the maneuver warfare most of the U.S. military had preferred.The new theory was based around several key principles, including proportionate and precise use of force to minimize civilian casualties, separating insurgent groups from local populations, protecting populations from the insurgents, the importance of intelligence-led operations, civil-military unity of effort, and security under the rule of law.

Some of these methods had already been practiced in Iraq by innovative commanders, but Gen. David Petraeus, who oversaw the process of writing FM 3-24 and later went on to command U.S. forces in the country, was key to their institutionalization and broad implementation in the context of an overall theater-level strategy.

As President Barack Obama decided to “surge” forces into Afghanistan in late 2009, former Joint Special Operations Command head Gen.Stanley McChrystal was tasked to follow the Petraeus playbook in Afghanistan.When he was relieved, Petraeus, the man many saw as having helped bring stability to Iraq, was called upon to do it again in Afghanistan. However,success has eluded the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which has been unable to translate operational progress into strategic success. A number of triumphant obituaries for counterinsurgency have since emerged, as it becomes clear that the campaign in Afghanistan is failing to deliver on its promises.

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