Courtesy Reuters

COIN of the Realm

Is There a Future for Counterinsurgency?

Purchase Review

The invasion of Iraq began on March 19, 2003, and it took only three weeks for the U.S. military to defeat Saddam Hussein's army. But even during those heady days, there were ominous signs of things to come. "The enemy we're fighting is a bit different from the one we war-gamed against," Lieutenant General William Wallace, the army's V Corps commander, told The New York Times a week into the conflict. The first U.S. combat fatality was a marine shot at point-blank range by men driving a civilian pickup truck. The first suicide car bombing of a U.S. checkpoint occurred ten days into the war.

Soon after Saddam's regime fell, the occupation began to falter, and a virulent Sunni insurgency took hold. The U.S. military was caught flatfooted. The army and the Marine Corps had not substantially updated their counterinsurgency doctrine since the 1980s, choosing, in the wake of the Vietnam War, to "forget" counterinsurgency and focus instead on preparing for World War III. The blitzkrieg victory in the 1991 Gulf War reinforced this conventional bias, and deployments in Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans in the 1990s were denigrated as "military operations other than war."

An interim army counterinsurgency manual was released in October 2004, a year and a half after the start of the war, but it was an intellectually sterile document. Work on a much-needed revision did not begin until a year later, when two of the military's most respected commanders, Lieutenant Generals David Petraeus and James Mattis, took charge of the process. Petraeus, now the four-star commanding general of all U.S. forces in Iraq, was then the commander of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and Mattis held a parallel position at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Virginia. The writing team they assembled included many of the best and the brightest within the army and the Marine Corps; Conrad Crane, the director of the army's Military History Institute, was

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