Thursday, December 8, 2016

Is the Selection of General Mattis a Signal for Us to Expect a Continuation of COIN Philosophy?

History can either be a Schoolmaster or a Mistress. It depends on the intent of the reader. It also depends on what the reader considers sacrosanct. We all tend to hold certain things as so inviolable as to make objective questioning that might breach that privately held trust, unacceptable.

This is all fine when the only thing that might be defiled is our personal conscience or even the feelings of another.

But when the thing or person questioned, has power and the ability to send men and women, who have selflessly granted those certain powers unfettered access unto death, those things and people thought to be untouchable, must be questioned. 

When President Elect Trump announced, he was selecting General Mattis as his Secretary of Defense I was simultaneously elated and troubled;

I will not apologize for applauding the selection of a Marine Corps General to the highest influential position for the Military especially given Mattis’s demonstrated love for Marines, and the Corps. At the same time, I reserve the right to criticize what I believe to be the single most destructive decision made in the past 15 years of war; the decision to shift from a Hunt and Kill strategy to the historically failed, Counter Insurgency Operation (COIN).

This move from the violent – and effective, hunt and kill strategy to COIN really made national headlines following the second Battle of Fallujah. The Media and certain Political types were quick to credit General Petraeus’s institution of COIN strictures in the years that followed, for pacifying Al Anbar Province but the truth is, it was most certainly the surge of US uniforms that forced the Insurgents to displace.

It is astonishing that Military Leaders, including Mattis and Petraeus would so willingly adopt a strategy that history teaches us, has not been successful in its 76 years as a formal battlefield doctrine. It has failed to produce the intended result in every single application while simultaneously producing a grotesque and vaulted pile of body bags filled with the lifeless bodies of America’s Best, who were tricked into believing that America’s civilian government and her upper echelon military staff actually cared about a successful, and victorious conclusion to the wars that ended their lives.

It is a damnable truth, that Marines and all American War Fighters win every battle we enjoin, and that the political and upper military strategists manage to lose the wars. 

This, is the true legacy of COIN warfare.

All the major conflicts we have witnessed since the publication of the Small Wars Manual in 1940 and with the notable exclusion of World War II which was not governed by this insanity, have failed to produce a Victor or a repentant enemy.

Following World War II, there were several major shifts in the geo-political landscape, the first being the establishment of the United Nations. The Charter literally placed a perverted choice before each member Nation; accept the Charter, or retain complete National autonomy.

Many will argue with this assessment but in truth, a Nation and its leadership cannot serve two masters; the National people it represents or its allegiance to an outside entity which does not share the concerns of that Nation. The UN was the Orwellian concept made manifest and placed all member nations on notice that the needs of the “world”, outweighed the needs of the individual nations. While that concept may play well on the big screen depicting non-existent alien beings and a fanciful future galactic societal construct, it is a pitiful and treacherous way for a Nation’s Leader to treat the people he has sworn to protect.

The second major shift following World War II, was a general move away from colonization. Britain and France would be the first to experience the difficulties of navigating through the messy business of maintaining peace in their respective territories while being pressured by the UN to relinquish control of those territories to the indigenous peoples. Those existential pressures were exacerbated by both the French and British populations who were growing weary of war.

What precipitated these shifts, was a shared revulsion at the prospect of a third world war. All parties were determined to never see another global conflict like World War I or II. The 1940’s Small Wars Manual became the source document for what would become known, alternately as the Counter Insurgency Operation, Police Action or Peacekeeping Operation. These efforts identify three main elements within the Battle Space; a fledgling but legitimate government, a besieged civilian population and an unwanted insurgent element.

The grand powers-that-be, would determine if a Nation was experiencing an insurgency that rose beyond what its Law Enforcement agencies could contain and then offer assistance to that Nation – or that Nation could request help from the world community. The Military deployed to aid that Nation really acts more as an international police force than a conventional military even though, its members, are trained as hunter/killers.

Insistence on inserting the Armed Forces of your Nation into a country that is experiencing a hostile insurgency requires agreement between the besieged nation and the nation providing the military aid and just a little bit of arrogance and insanity.

No nation seeks to do battle – even limited battle unless it can be shown that the problem presents an existential threat to its own security. And given that every single COIN Op effort has failed since the formalized, modern expression of COIN in 1940, it is impossible to understand the justification to commit to yet one more incursion within its strictures.

We have seen several notable examples of the institution of COIN since 1940; The Malayan Emergency, the Indochina War(s), The US in Vietnam, the Korean War, Somalia, Bosnia, the Russians in Afghanistan, the US in Afghanistan post June 2009 and Iraq. As I write this piece, we are witnessing another slow build-up of US troops in Iraq, and on the Syrian border, presumably, to expel ISIS.

The Malayan Emergency – 1948 - 1960

The British found themselves embroiled in Malaysia from 1948 – 1960 to dislodge some 2500 Chinese Communist insurgents who crossed the Thai border into Malay at the behest of Mao Tse Tung. Those 2500 Guerillas, exploited the dwindling economy in Malay; stirring up feelings of resentment amongst the expatriated Chinese living in the largely pluralistic Malay. This was but one of many efforts by the Chinese Communists to spread their philosophy throughout the region.

By 1960, the British and their Malayan counterparts had suffered some 4271 dead and wounded with another 2400 civilians killed and 810 missing. The result, was the British giving up Malaysia which they had controlled for some 135 years. The relationship between the Malayan people and the British was truly symbiotic with British owning the plantations and hiring the Malayans. The society flourished. By 1967, the Insurgency was rekindled and troubled Malaysia until 1989.

The First Indochina War – 1946 - 1954

While the British were mired in Malay, the French were having their own troubles in what became, North Vietnam. An anti-French insurgency formed, instigated by the Chinese and led by the newly constituted Viet Minh. Further aggravating the situation was an influx of arms by the United States and Russia. By the 1st of August in 1954, the French had suffered a resounding defeat at Dien Bien Phu and racked up 76,000 Dead, 64,000 Wounded, 40,000 Captured and their Vietnamese counterparts had lost another 59,000 Dead and Wounded. The result? The French were forced to withdraw from the region with no resolution.

The Vietnam War – 1954 - 1975

The United States entered the region following the Geneva Accord in July of 1954 and we stayed embroiled in a largely unpopular and frustrating conflict until our shameful and final Operation of the war, Operation Frequent Wind; a massive Helicopter evacuation of some 7,000 personnel – American and Vietnamese collaborators from throughout South Vietnam and from the very roof of the US Embassy, in Saigon, 29-30 April 1975. This was 21 years after we took over from the French.

Our Cost? 58,315 Dead and another 304,000 wounded. The aggregate totals of other friendly nations who supported the effort are, 750,000 Dead and another 1,185,000 Wounded.

The Result? After a combined total of 29 years of combat via COIN, the Chinese Communists had their way, and the mission to keep Vietnam a Democracy – Failed!

The Korean War – 1950 - 1953

The Korean War was the UN’s first foray into battle and they chose to do it within the COIN paradigm.  The Mission was again, to keep South Korea Free.

By the end of that conflict, the United States had suffered 37,000 Dead and another 104,000 Wounded. The aggregate total of other friendly nations who participated are, 1,217,000 Dead.

The Result? South Korea remained free by Armistice; but at what cost? To this day, there are United States Service members standing guard on the 38th parallel and we will, into the unforeseen future. South Koreans are largely living in house arrest and continually threatened by a mad man raised by another mad man, who is quietly supported by his Communist neighbor, China.

The other dubious and failed efforts at COIN include Russia’s attempt in Afghanistan from 1979-1989 yielded them 84,000 Dead, Wounded and Missing without a single thing to show for their trouble.

Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and a growing commitment to the circumstances in Syria have done little more than activate a beehive of terrorists while creating even more friction with Russia and Islamic regimes in the area.


Years ago I was instructed to never offer a criticism without a solution and I have endeavored to live up to that rule ever since. So here is my vision of how combat and our exposure to the Battle Space should look:

1.    If you have an enemy that needs to be killed; kill him! Hunt him down with ferocity and unyielding determination. Deliver him such a level of unrelenting violence that his children’s, children will tell tales of the carnage you leave behind!

2.    If a Host Nation reaches out for help with an insurgency, it should be impressed upon them that every Mother’s Son of the indigenous population had best be personally invested in the effort to the point of death. The old axiom “Freedom isn’t Free”, is not just for America’s Sons and Daughters who serve in the polluted sands of the Middle East – it is for all who dare claim they want freedom!

3.    When you have the enemy bottled up like we had the ideological murderous Taliban in Tora Bora in 2001, finish the job! We could easily have killed everything in the region with FA Ordnance and simply left the sandy nation of Afghanistan the very next day and with a stiff warning, rather than spending the next 15 years floundering through the insanity of COIN and filling another 4,500 body bags plus, with American Warriors and years of broken promises!

I don’t know what the future holds and I certainly cannot say with certainty how General Mattis will advise President elect Trump in future considered campaigns. But he has shown a robust support for the Counter Insurgency Operation and an uncomfortable admiration for Islamists who inhabit the Nations we have been operating in. We have knowledge of the perverted practices of a troubling percentage of Afghan men who abuse their Bacha Boys; of devout Muslim men who brutalize and torture women and little girls. Those Generals who held Command in Afghanistan saw fit to follow COIN theory to the letter and turned a blind eye to those vile practices while ordering United States Marines to remove their protective glasses so “the people could see their eyes”.

Field Grade Officers who had the mission of meeting with village leaders were also ordered to remove their protective armor and leave it outside the meeting house along with their weapons; all in a misguided effort to win the hearts of a people whose hearts belong to a religious system that orders them to kill Infidels.

There has been a presumption of guilt and a legion of JAG Officers, giddy at the prospect of trying War Fighters for infractions of the artificially applied nonsensical rules promulgated by a strategy that is self destructive.

I do know, President Elect Trump, likes to win and by his own words, doesn’t like a loser.

I wonder if he is prepared to go toe-to-toe with some of his advisors who see the world differently? I hope so because, the American War Fighter has a right to expect his Leaders to make decisions that give him the best opportunity for victory – and life!

Semper Fidelis;

John Bernard