Center for Strategic Communication

The latest in the series of COIN interviews by Octavian Manea:

COIN and Other Four-Letter Words: Interview with AfPak Hand Major Fernando Lujan 

OM:  In early 2009, I made a tour of a few DC think tanks.  At the time everybody was talking about COIN. Why did COIN become a dirty word, today? Why do you still believe in COIN doctrine?

FL:  Well, frankly I get a bit nervous whenever I hear the words “believe” and “doctrine” in the same sentence… the same way I get nervous when I hear people refer to the current counterinsurgency manual, FM 3-24, as “the good book.”  The counterinsurgency manual should never be dogma, never be seen as some sort of universal solution.  The manual was an attempt to change the culture of the Army at a time when we desperately needed it.  It was written by a group of very smart people who tried to include some lessons from Cold War-era insurgencies, but let’s not fool ourselves–it was written in extremis, for forces struggling through their rotations in Iraq from 2006-2010.  It did a pretty good job helping those units.. and it serves as a decent framework for one type of counterinsurgency effort–the resource intensive, ‘boots heavy’ sort that we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 But we should not lose sight of the fact that this type of massive COIN effort is only one extreme of a long continuum of policy options, undertaken when the situation in both countries had already deteriorated so much that major reinforcement became the ‘least bad’ choice in the minds of our civilian leaders.  If we want to keep COIN from becoming a ‘dirty word,’ as you say, we need to make this distinction clear, and leave room for alternate, smaller footprint models.  The next version of the doctrine should not just pull lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan–but also from Colombia, the Philippines, El Salvador, the Sahel, and the myriad of other places we’ve been involved in over the past decades.  To the credit of the Army and Marines, Ft. Leavenworth is in the midst of rewriting the manual as we speak–but it remains to be seen what kind of message the final product will send.  Will we have a cookie cutter model with the five standard lines of effort, built around heavy resources and a 5,000-man brigade combat team or will we have a manual that offers a broad toolkit of different approaches–some civilian-led or embassy ‘country team’ based, some more heavily reliant on targeting and offshore training or 3rd party actors, et cetera.  Knowing what we know about land wars in Asia, I’d personally much rather see the latter…..

Read the rest here.