Academic journal article Military Review

Anatomy of a Successful COIN Operation: OEF-Philippines and Indirect Approach

Academic journal article Military Review

Anatomy of a Successful COIN Operation: OEF-Philippines and Indirect Approach

Article excerpt

Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen and defended by its citizens.

--President George W. Bush

THE TERRORIST ATTACKS of 9/11 have ushered in a new era of counterinsurgency to deal with Al-Qaeda-linked insurgent and terrorist organizations. The U.S. military's initial success in Afghanistan, as impressive as it was, forced the enemy to adapt. To survive, Al-Qaeda has transformed itself into a flatter, more cellular organization that seeks to outsource much of its work. (1) Thus, insurgency has become an Al-Qaeda priority in terms of rhetoric, recruitment, and spending. (2) The connection between terrorism and insurgency is now well established, and in fact there is tremendous overlap between the two. (3)

The U.S. military, though, is struggling to adapt to protracted, insurgent-type warfare. America's affinity for high-tech conventional conflict and quick, kinetic, unilateral solutions that avoid contact with the local populace has slowed its response to this complex form of conflict. (4) How, then, can the U.S. military tailor a more efficient, more effective approach to future military efforts against Al-Qaeda-linked groups around the globe? Specifically, how can the U.S. military implement a sustainable, low-visibility approach that is politically acceptable to our current and future partners, and that can help change the moderate Muslim community's perception of U.S. operations in the War on Terrorism (WOT)?

The history of insurgent conflict during the Philippines Insurrection (1899-1902), Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), and Hukbalahap Rebellion (1946-1954) shows that successful COIN operations are protracted efforts that rely heavily on indigenous security forces. (5) Therefore, the U.S. WOT strategy should emphasize working indirectly "through, by, and with" indigenous forces and building their capacity to conduct effective operations against common enemies.

The Unilateral Approach

As free societies gain ground around the world, the U.S. military is going to be increasingly restricted in terms of how it operates. An age of democracy means an age of frustratingly narrow rules of engagement. That is because fledgling democratic governments, besieged by young and aggressive local media, will find it politically difficult--if not impossible--to allow American troops on their soil to engage in direct action.

--Robert Kaplan (6)

The current COIN campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have demonstrated that unilateral U.S. military operations can be ineffective and even counterproductive to the democratic institutions we are trying to establish. To reduce our footprint in Iraq, our top priority now is to stand up Iraqi security forces to take over the fight against insurgents. These forces must prevail if Iraq is to achieve and maintain long-term stability.

A large foreign military presence or occupation force in any country undermines the legitimacy of the host-nation government in the eyes of its citizens and the international community. As we now know, large U.S. occupation forces in Islamic regions can create problems for us. A senior British military officer who served in Iraq has remarked that the U.S. Army there has acted much like "fuel on a smoldering fire"; he suggests that this is "as much owing to their presence as their actions." (7) If he is right and our mere presence can be counterproductive, then a tailored, low-visibility approach that plays well in the moderate Muslim community and is politically acceptable to our potential WOT partners makes sound strategic sense.


Osama bin Laden has made the presence of U.S. forces in the Middle East a rallying point for global jihad by a new generation of Muslim holy warriors. (8) Just as the war in Afghanistan against the Soviets created the leaders of today's global terrorist network, so Iraq has the potential to produce far more dangerous second- and third-order effects. …

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