Jump to content

A Third COIN Course of Action


Recommended Posts

Small Wars Journal:

Lieutenant Colonel Adam Strickland

A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq (Yale Library of Military History)
Mark Moyar (Author), Donald Kagan (Foreword), Frederick Kagan (Foreword)

Years from now, local economists and civic leaders may well curse the name Dr. Mark Moyar for the irreparable harm he did to the local Washington, DC economy in 2009-2010, and blame him for creating the conditions necessary to finally inhibit the unfettered flow of government money to local defense corporations asserting special skills or knowledge applicable to counterinsurgency. Over the past decade, thousands of retired and former military professionals have created new-identities for themselves as counterinsurgency or counterterrorism experts around the Metro DC area regardless of their lack of experience, training, or education in those fields. This re-branding created financial and professional opportunities that were only possible due to the absence of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism knowledge within the Department of Defense and individual military branches in the period immediately before and after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001; thus, we in the military have no one to blame but ourselves. Thankfully, after hundreds of books and thousands of articles produced by self-proclaimed counterinsurgency experts, that were truly more akin to travel monologues detailing individual lessons learned during extensive periods in-theater ranging from 10 days in Kabul or Baghdad to a 12 months combat deployment in which the author was fortunate if he ever left the immediate 5 miles around his Forward-Operating-Base, we finally have a book worthy of careful examination and an all-important second-read.

Dr Moyar's A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq is that book, and is a "must-read" for any military professional or serious student of national security policy, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, or operational art. By distancing himself from self-professed experts capable only of regurgitating thoughts and assertions made earlier and better by the counterinsurgency trinity of Sir Robert Thompson, General Sir Frank Kitson, and LtCol David Galula, Moyar has done the impossible and provided a third course of action to all counterinsurgency professionals and practitioners mired in the population-centric versus enemy-centric debate. Yes - there is a third option; and yes, this means that those lecturing us idiots that it is all about the people, may have to stop and think what that actually means prior to saying it. In A Question of Command, Dr Moyar makes a true contribution to the continuing counterinsurgency debate by asserting that a leader-centric approach may have the same if not greater efficacy than a population-centric or enemy-centric approach. What does this assertion mean in practical terms? It means that our intelligence and analytical personnel and systems must be capable of identifying these leaders within the target society or organization, as well as understand the extent of their influence and reach, and what possible futures will result upon their absence or removal. It means that within our own manpower system we need to develop a process to refine normative career paths, routine command-cycles, and personal & unit combat rotations in order to identify and exploit those leaders with the necessary counterinsurgency aptitude. Most importantly, it means that we need to re-educate our military forces and civilian DoD leadership in order to create a shared understanding of a leader-centric approach and its implications.


Although the book is less than 300 pages in total length, Dr Moyar is able to dedicate 40 pages to explaining leader-centric warfare to include recommendations for utilization, while also providing 240 pages of context through the use of nine case studies. I am aware that some have criticized his failure to include their favorite case-study, and that others with 7-12 months experience in Afghanistan do not share his conclusions. Those who offer either critique are missing the point - people/leaders matter most! If you desire to criticize his conclusion that counterinsurgency requires a specialized skill set and aptitude not shared by all military leaders then please understand that you are in fact arguing that General Westmoreland was just as capable and effective as General Abrams, that General Sanchez was just as capable and effective as General Petraeus, and that President Lincoln could have been replaced at anytime without consequence. The facts don't support this conclusion.


Lieutenant Colonel Adam Strickland is a Marine Infantry Officer with previous combat tours in Iraq. During his last tour, he engaged daily with former insurgents, members of the former regime, and civic leaders as part of Marine counterinsurgency efforts in Anbar Province, Iraq. He is a graduate of USMC Command and Staff College, the School of Advanced Warfighting, and MIT’s National Security Studies Seminar XXI Program. He is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in 2011 in support of continuing USMC counterinsurgency efforts.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • 1701280721
  • Create New...