The Failure of Counterinsurgency: Why Hearts and Minds Are Seldom Won

The Failure of Counterinsurgency: Why Hearts and Minds Are Seldom Won

The Failure of Counterinsurgency: Why Hearts and Minds Are Seldom Won

The Failure of Counterinsurgency: Why Hearts and Minds Are Seldom Won


This book examines the implications of counterinsurgency warfare for U.S. defense policy and makes the compelling argument that the United States' default position on counterinsurgency wars should be to avoid them.

• Examines a wider breadth of historical cases than other books on counterinsurgency, allowing for more accurate assessments and conclusions about the efficacy of COIN based on the lessons learned across history

• Presents research-based evidence that the Unites States should get involved in counterinsurgency warfare only in the rare cases in which U.S. vital interests are at stake

• Provides thought-provoking discussion of the domestic negative effects resulting from overseas counterinsurgency operations

• Questions the effectiveness of COIN strategy by utilizing numerous historical examples covered throughout the book

• Covers major instances of COIN warfare in history, including the French in Algeria and Indochina, the British in Malaysia and Afghanistan, the United States in Vietnam and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and numerous others

• Appeals to readers and students of military history, strategy, and defense


Unlike conventional wars between nation-states—with both sides wearing uniforms and using heavy weapons, such as tanks, artillery, fixed-wing aircraft, and ships—fighting nonuniformed guerrillas in an insurgency that blend back into the civilian population is often a much different and more difficult task. Agile guerrillas often use hit-and-run tactics against isolated or locally inferior counterinsurgency (COIN) units. Insurgents, unlike terrorists, do try to hold ground but will usually retreat or blend back into the civilian population when confronted by superior COIN forces. Also, forces fighting an insurgency often rely less on heavy weapons and mechanized forces and more on infantry and special forces on the ground and helicopters in the air.

After the less-than-stellar outcomes of COIN wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a debate broke out in the U.S. military about whether expensive, troop-heavy, time-intensive efforts to win over local populations by nation building is dead. Even the proponents of so-called COIN warfare admit that the costs and risks are high. Opponents maintain that an effective national strategy should minimize the blood and treasure expended to achieve policy aims and that a classic COIN approach, to attempt to win the “hearts and minds” of people in foreign countries, does not measure up. Opponents believe that although COIN can sometimes succeed, it is rarely worth the high costs or long time frames to realize even some results. For example, John Nagl—a former adviser to General David Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and author of a frequently cited writing on COIN warfare—admitted . . .

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