The Evolution and Importance of Army/Marine Corps Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency
by Lt. Colonel John A. Nagl
Although there were lonely voices arguing that the Army needed to focus on counterinsurgency in the wake of the Cold War—Dan Bolger, Eliot Cohen, and Steve Metz chief among them—the sad fact is that when an insurgency began in Iraq in the late summer of 2003, the Army was unprepared to fight it. The American Army of 2003 was organized, designed, trained, and equipped to defeat another conventional army; indeed, it had no peer in that arena. It was, however, unprepared for an enemy who understood that it could not hope to defeat the U.S. Army on a conventional battlefield, and who therefore chose to wage war against America from the shadows.
The story of how the Army found itself less than ready to fight an insurgency goes back to the Army’s unwillingness to internalize and build upon the lessons of Vietnam. Chief of Staff of the Army General Peter Schoomaker has written that in Vietnam, “The U.S. Army, predisposed to fight a conventional enemy that fought using conventional tactics, overpowered innovative ideas from within the Army and from outside it. As a result, the U.S. Army was not as effective at learning as it should have been, and its failures in Vietnam had grave implications for both the Army and the nation.” Former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army General Jack Keane concurs, recently noting that in Iraq, “We put an Army on the battlefield that I had been a part of for 37 years. It doesn’t have any doctrine, nor was it educated and trained, to deal with an insurgency . . . After the Vietnam War, we purged ourselves of everything that had to do with irregular warfare or insurgency, because it had to do with how we lost that war. In hindsight, that was a bad decision.”
Population security is the first requirement of success in counterinsurgency, but it is not sufficient. Economic development, good governance, and the provision of essential services, all occurring within a matrix of effective information operations, must all improve simultaneously and steadily over a long period of time if America’s determined insurgent enemies are to be defeated.
All elements of the United States government—and those of her allies in this Long War that has been well described as a “Global Counterinsurgency” campaign—must be integrated into the effort to build stable and secure societies that can secure their own borders and do not provide safe haven for terrorists. Recognizing this fact—a recognition spurred by the development of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual—the Department of State hosted an interagency counterinsurgency conference in Washington, D.C., in September 2006.
That conference in turn built a consensus behind the need for an interagency counterinsurgency manual. It promises to result in significant changes to the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the other agencies of the U.S. government that have such an important role to play in stabilizing troubled countries around the globe.
Of the many books that were influential in the writing of Field Manual 3-24, perhaps none was as important as David Galula’s Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice.
Galula, a French Army officer who drew many valuable lessons from his service in France’s unsuccessful campaign against Algerian insurgents, was a strong advocate of counterinsurgency doctrine. He wrote, “If the individual members of the organizations were of the same mind, if every organization worked according to a standard pattern, the problem would be solved. Is this not precisely what a coherent, well-understood, and accepted doctrine would tend to achieve?”