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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 7/10/10

What Exactly Is COIN?

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Since Defense Department figures show that COIN is costing American taxpayers approximately $5B/month in Iraq and Afghanistan, it behooves Americans to have intimate knowledge of what COIN is. Well, first of all, it is a misnomer. Second, it is an unproven strategic theory. And three, so far its use as an Americanstrategic principle has proven to be a dismal failure in three wars, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And four, its use by other world powers, Great Britain and France predominantly in the 19th and 20th centuries, has resulted in equally dismal success stories, meaning there are none.

COIN is a misnomer. That does not require any special intelligence, but it does require one to use one's reliable Webster Dictionary. COIN is an acronym for counterinsurgency. Insurgency is defined by Webster as an "insurrection against an existing government, usually one's own." Resistance is defined by Webster as"an underground organization composed of groups of private individuals working as an opposition force in a conquered country to overthrow the occupying power, usually by acts of sabotage, guerrilla warfare, etc." Once again, it does not take a genius to figure out that U.S. forces are an occupying power in Iraq, and that U.S.-led NATO forces commanded by an American general is an occupying force in Afghanistan. Ergo, those forces fighting occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan are not insurgents, but resistance fighters.

Now there we have a P.R. problem. No doubt insurgents, a notch above or below terrorists on the threat scale (depending on one's point of view), are bad guys, but resistance fighters?. In our own Revolutionary War citizen soldiers, merchants, clerks, farmers, seamen, fathers, mothers, daughters, and sons took up arms against George III and his armies. They became resistance fighters and, glory be, they won. The French Resistance against Nazi Germany is legendary. Contrary to nasty insurgents, resistance fighters are the good guys, if not heroes. Getting back to Iraq and Afghanistan, counter-resistance is a really bad term and will not garner many votes in Congress or in the eyes of the American public. A counter-resistance strategy is reminiscent of both the Nazi empire and the Soviet Union. But it is what it is. U.S. forces are implanted on foreign soil in Iraq and Afghanistan on bases that give new meaning to the term,fortress. They are virtual American cities in those lands. We are an occupier in those two sovereign nations, and those who wish us leave are not insurgents. They are members of a resistance movement, plain and simple.

Before we move on to what COIN actually is, the reader is reminded of its cataclysmic failure in Vietnam while using the colloquial term,"winning hearts and minds." Vietnam is the second longest war in our history. It cost the lives of 58,267 American troops, 303,644 were wounded. 1,100,000 Viet Cong and NVA soldiers were killed while the ARVN (South Vietnamese army) suffered 266,000 killed in action. Estimates of civilians killed directly by hostile action vary, but 2,000,000 in both Vietnams is as good a guess as any other words, a lot. According to CBS, the war cost $686B in 2008 dollars. We lost. In April 1975, NVA forces captured Saigon, and North and South Vietnam simply became (Communist) Vietnam with Hanoi as its capital. From 1971 to 1974 I was a Marine officer. I still feel the chagrin and curse the COIN strategy with blasphemy that would never make it past OEN's "kind" censors.

Iraq is America's third longest war. Unfortunately, the clock is still ticking. It began on March 19, 2003, and continues to this day, seven years, four months later. Here again COIN is the operating strategic theory. Put a different way, after killing an estimated one million Iraqi civilians, causing thousands upon thousands of Iraqi refugees while destroying Iraq's infrastructure and economy the goal here is to win the hearts of Iraqis. I don't think so. Unfortunately, because the MSM no longer bothers to say much about Iraq because the flow of body bags returning to the U.S. has been marginalized, many Americans think Iraq is all but over. There may even be some who think we have won the war. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The war in Iraq is far from over. As a result of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Iraq, American military forces have withdrawn from Iraq's cities, leaving the Iraqi Army and police to secure Iraq's most dangerous places, her city streets. American troops are now ensconced on their powerful military bases. A sand gnat can't approach the perimeter of these bases without being detected. An experienced resistance force commander with limited financial resources and weaponry will always demur from charging such an impenetrable fortress. The commander would seek more lucrative and vulnerable targets as American troops languish on their bases while being virtually useless, targets like government buildings,Iraqi army bases and recruiting centers, Iraqi police headquarters and their recruiting centers, and other sensitive areas, highways, bridges, oil infrastructure, etc. Guess what, that is exactly what they are doing as we speak under the umbrella of a MSM blackout to American viewers. In the meantime the government in Baghdad is in chaos. Elections were held in March. Iraq has yet to form a government due to rivalries, hatreds, corruption, politics, and God knows what else. The resistance movement in Iraq is taking full advantage of the vacuum while being under the radar of the American public. Victory there, under the auspices of COIN, is an unachievable goal. Over 4,400 Americans have been killed in Iraq, over 30,000 wounded. The cost of the war in Iraq is over $730B and counting.

The war in Afghanistan, in its ninth year, is now America's longest war. With COIN being the operational strategy still again intuitive readers might begin to see a trend, an ominous trend, a trend that embodies failure by its very definition and wars without end. Coalition dead as of July 7 stands at 1908, but there is an alarming pattern. The war began in October 2001. The worst year for fatalities was 2009, 521 killed. 2010 promises to be even worse. Already 340 have been killed and the Kandahar offensive which will be quite deadly has been postponed to early fall. At 102 June 2010 was the worst month of the war in terms of NATO fatalities.Worse, contrary to earlier projections that envisioned offensive action by coalition forces by now, it is abundantly clear that it is not we who are on the offensive. The Taliban, which is stronger than ever, are on the offensive. They are so bold now that they are attacking America's strongest bases. This is progress? No, this is COIN. The cost of the war in Afghanistan is over $282B and counting.

To closely examine COIN one must go by the book, thee book, Field Manual 3-24, the soldiers' guide to counterinsurgency operations. The book was written by none other than General David Petraeus, the general who was demoted from CENTCOM commander to become commander, NATO forces, Afghanistan, after the Stanley A. McChrystal debacle. Formerly, Petraeus was McChrystal's boss. The key points of FM 3-24 are shown below. For the sake of brevity, I will not comment on each one. It is assumed the reader is savvy on the topic of our current wars and that the futility of each point is self-evident. However, I will admit that I will be sorely tempted. Temptation will be somewhat relieved by the use of emphasis and brackets.

1-4. Long-term success in COIN depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the government's rule [which government].

1-10. For the reasons just mentioned, maintaining security in an unstable environment requires vast resources, whether host nation, U.S., or multinational.

1-30. Protracted conflicts favor insurgents, and no approach makes better use of that asymmetry than the protracted popular war.

1-113. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government.

1-116. Six possible indicators of legitimacy that can be used to analyze threats to stability include the following:

The ability to provide security for the populace (including protection from internal and external threats).
Selection of leaders at a frequency and in a manner considered just and fair by a substantial majority of the populace.
A high level of popular participation in or support for political processes.
A culturally acceptable level of corruption.
A culturally acceptable level and rate of political, economic, and social development.
A high level of regime acceptance by major social institutions.

1-121. Unity of effort must be present at every echelon of a COIN operation.

1-131. The cornerstone of any COIN effort is establishing security for the civilian populace.You are joking, of course, General. Darn, I promised.

1-134. Insurgencies are protracted by nature. Thus, COIN operations always demand considerable expenditures of time and resources. Well, we sure as hell know that to be true. Gosh darnit, I did it again. Sorry.

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I am the author of two novels, "The Bode Testament" and "Impeachment." I am also a columnist who keeps a wary eye on other columnists and the failures of the MSM (mainstream media). I was born in Minnesota, and, to this day, I love the Vikings (more...)
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