In the midst of fighting an amorphous war on terror focused in the Middle East, scholars and soldiers alike have debated endlessly on the role of counterinsurgency, or COIN, and its role in the way Americans fight war. One school of thought believes that COIN has become more of an overarching strategy than a relied upon tactic, and that this specialization of military capability could thus damage our ability to wage conventional war. The opposition believes that COIN is the "graduate level" of fighting wars. It seems that while COIN can prove efficient in achieving certain wartime goals, it should remain as more of a tactic than a progression of warfare when faced with different adversaries.
Gian Gentile suggests that the tactic of COIN has been utilized as a strategy fighting insurgency. He claims that an open reliance on FM 3-24 has geared the army to specialize in what should be a tactic of war. He warns that creating an army built to defeat one enemy will hamper the ability to counter a different opposition. For example, Israel developed their military to fight one single conventional foe, resulting in a large scale inability to fight the Hezbollah.
It's true that COIN has become a large focus for our military in both training and practice. The military used to have soldiers read The Defense of Duffer's Drift as a teaching tool. A new version of the book, The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa, was published that modernized The Defense of Duffer's Drift in a way. The 'updated' copy focused on COIN operations and the teachings learned from that to instruct troops.
Justin Lynch agrees that an over-investment of COIN may prove disastrous if in conflict with a conventional force, but he asserts the necessity and usefulness of the tactic. Even Nagl, who created the FM3-24 manual, agrees that COIN does not need to be the sole focus of the military, but instead, it needs to be a tool that should be continually redesigned based upon the geography and culture of the fighting. He does also state that conventional tactics should be taught in order to avoid the mentality that you should train to fight the last war.
I argue that COIN is necessary to utilize as a tactic in fighting unconventional foes; however, we should learn from Israel's mistakes and make sure conventional warfare is taught and practiced, especially with more conventional threats looming in America's horizon.
Photo Credit: The U.S. Army