Army Unveils Counter-Insurgency Manual

The U.S. Army releases its new field manual on fighting counter-insurgencies, a work two years in the making. It's the first new manual on counter-insurgency in 20 years. Lt. Col. John Nagl, author of a book on counter-insurgency techniques, discusses the manual with Alex Chadwick.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In addition to saying farewell to the defense secretary today, the U.S. military introduces a new field manual on counterinsurgency wars. Those are the irregular, often messy conflicts against guerilla forces that can last for years. This new manual was prepared over the last two years. It reflects lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We're joined by Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl. He's a counterinsurgency expert. He trains teams that help Iraqi forces and he was a contributing editor to the new manual. He's with us from Fort Riley in Kansas.

Colonel, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Colonel JOHN NAGL (Author, "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife"): Thank you, Alex. Good to be with you.

CHADWICK: Could you give our listeners an example of a basic lesson from this manual?

Col. NAGL: This manual starts off with a quotation actually that a Special Forces officer serving in Iraq e-mailed me last year. Counterinsurgency is not just thinking man's warfare. It is the graduate level of war.

And this book recognizes the extraordinary difficulty and complexity of counterinsurgency and tries to help the Army and the Marine Corps develop a comprehensive way for thinking about the problems inherent in counterinsurgency, the use of not just military force, which is essential, but also helps us think about how to use politics and diplomacy and economic development in the management of information, all to help us in the goal of stabilizing a government and destabilizing and de-emphasizing and taking support away from the insurgency that threatens the security of that government.

CHADWICK: Part of what you write about here in this manual and elsewhere on the subject of counterinsurgency is how counterintuitive these lessons are; that is, the kinds of things that a layman might expect a military unit to do don't work or produce exactly the opposite results of what you intend.

Col. NAGL: Exactly right. And perhaps the most popular part of this field manual is going to be the paradoxes of counterinsurgency operations. So we point out that sometimes the more force you use, the less effective it is. And this is the problem of creating more insurgents, adding strength to the insurgency by your actions that are attempting to weaken it.

So a military operation that achieves a great success, that takes out the target of the operation, that captures or kills a team leader, a cell leader who's creating IEDs, doesn't help and in fact hurts if there is a collateral damage in that raid that ends up creating another dozen insurgents and three more IED cells. So we have to be very conscious of the second and third order effects of all of our operations. And sometimes in counterinsurgency, doing nothing is the best reaction.

CHADWICK: I'll just note that from what I read, the military absorbed a lot of counterinsurgency lessons from Vietnam, but then didn't apply them anymore after a while. Why weren't our officers ready for what has developed in Iraq?

Col. NAGL: There was a sense in the Army, but also in the nation, that Vietnam was a bad war, and that to the extent possible we weren't going to fight insurgencies anymore. They did not play to the comparative strengths of America or of the American military, which is enormously successful in what we call phase three operations, the actions taken to destroy an enemy army in the field.

What we failed to grasp fully, I think, in the years after Vietnam and all the way through Desert Storm, which I fought in, and perhaps even in the 1990s, as the Cold War ended and the world really changed, was that winning phase three is essential, destroying the enemy's army and Armed Forces in the field is essential, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't then create a government and a political situation in that country that prevents the conditions from arising again.

CHADWICK: Colonel, is this new manual too late for Iraq?

Col. NAGL: Absolutely not. Defeating an insurgency has on average taken a decade or more. We are just coming up on four years into a fight in Iraq that history suggests is going to take at least another four or five years to win. We have in this book captured some of the best practices of counterinsurgency from what the best units are doing on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We've incorporated all of those lessons into this book and we are feeding them back into the field continuously. So we believe that this book and the thinking behind it has already had an impact on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will continue to influence the way the Army thinks about and approaches warfare for many years to come.

CHADWICK: Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl. He's a contributing editor to the Army's new field manual on counterinsurgency. He also wrote the book "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife," which is about counterinsurgency. He's now training U.S. Army advisers to serve in Iraq at Fort Riley, Kansas.

Colonel Nagl, thank you.

Col. NAGL: Thank you, Alex.

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