Secrecy News

Army Counterinsurgency Doctrine Charts a New Course

The U.S. Army has completed a long-awaited new manual (large pdf) presenting military doctrine on counterinsurgency. It is the first revision of counterinsurgency doctrine in twenty years.

In several respects, the new doctrine implicitly repudiates the Bush Administration’s approach to the war in Iraq.

“Conducting a successful counterinsurgency campaign requires a flexible, adaptive force led by agile, well-informed, culturally astute leaders,” the foreword states.

The new manual emphasizes the importance of planning for post-conflict stabilization, and it stresses the limited utility of conventional military operations.

“The military forces that successfully defeat insurgencies are usually those able to overcome their institutional inclination to wage conventional war against insurgents.”

A copy of the new 282 page unclassified manual was obtained by Secrecy News.

See “Counterinsurgency,” U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24, December 15, 2006 (12.9 MB PDF).

0 thoughts on “Army Counterinsurgency Doctrine Charts a New Course

  1. Mr. Aftergood,

    I read with interest your article dated today on the new counterinsurgency field manual that we made “public” and in fact have on our web site at where you no doubt ‘obtained a copy.’ This manual was in production for about two years and is not and was not intended to counter any current or future policy as you indicate in your article. This document is also not specific to Iraq or Afghanistan. If you understand the basis of doctrine, then you know that our doctrine is geared to be used anywhere our Army might deploy.

    I believe your article is a bit disingenuous in its coverage and not completely up front with your readership. Why don’t you also put up our press release (pdf) announcing the manual which can also be found on our web site.

    Thank you for your consideration.


    COL, US Army
    Chief, Strategic Communication
    Combined Arms Center
    Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas 66027

  2. Thank you for the comment. It seems to me that the prescriptions of the new manual are implicitly at odds with recent policy even if they were not intended to be. I obtained the manual (and an earlier internal draft last summer) independently, not from the Leavenworth site. Had I known that you were making it publicly available — which I appreciate — I would not have made a point of our “obtaining” it. A link to your press release is included in your comment above, as requested.

  3. Mr. Aftergood,

    Your comments lead me to believe there’s a misunderstanding here. Policy and doctrine are two different entities; they’re an apples-to-oranges comparison.

    Policy is direction and/or instruction; it states what is to be accomplished in a specific theater at a specific time and encompasses all US agencies. Doctrine provides warfighting principles that the military uses to guide the planning and conduct of the “military piece” of policy.

    Policy may require the military to deviate from doctrine due in most cases to political considerations. Doctrine is authoritative but not directive; if one deviates from doctrine it should be for a good reason. In that sense, doctrine is not written to be a response to policy, and should not be interpreted in that fashion, as COL Boylan states. It would be more accurate to say that “policy requires a departure from doctrine.”

    Arguments about policy and doctrine happen all the time and at every level of the military. Here’s another example: Air combat doctrine recommends taking missile shots beyond visual range. But policy set by the National Command Authority, and codified in the Theater Rules of Engagement, may require a visual ID on any suspected hostile before attacking. It would be inaccurate to state that Air Combat Doctrine “implicitly repudiates” the administration’s policy of obtaining VID before shooting. Military advisors to the President/SecDef present their recommendations, derived from doctrine. If resulting policy decisions require deviating from doctrine, the military salutes smartly and carries out their orders.

    Deviating from doctrine means you increase the risk of your operation, and should plan accordingly. In my example, political concerns about international reaction to an accidental shootdown led to a policy of visual identification, which increases the risk to airmen involved in air combat. Such risks can be managed through tactics, techniques, and procedures.

    Of course, the key difference between the FM 3-24 and my example is the fact that in the present case, policy has preceded (a revision to) doctrine. Look at it this way: If the military wanted to bring about a shift in Iraq COIN policy, would they do so by re-writing doctrine publications, given their limited specificity and non-binding nature? (I doubt it, although I’m not privy to machinations at that level.) That’s why we have a Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is far more likely that the revision came about simply because we have been learning a lot of lessons about COIN lately, after a 30-year lull, and face a near certainty that such operations will be ongoing for a long time to come – and in other theaters as well.

    Finally, doctrine is not secret, nor is it a secret that policy and doctrine can be “at odds” in this or any other case; thus it’s unclear to me why this topic appears under the “Government Secrecy” category.

  4. Thank you BoomerVF14 for the informative comment. I accept your point that I did not properly distinguish between policy and doctrine, and that conflicts between the two are not necessarily surprising or unexpected.

    You are also correct that the latest manual is not a secret, and I have acknowledged that in another posting.

    But it is not categorically true that “doctrine is not secret.” There are numerous doctrinal documents that are either classified or controlled or hard for a member of the public to locate.

    One new unclassified Army doctrinal document that I would like to obtain is Field Manual Interim FMI 2-22.9. Can you help ? I would welcome a copy at [email protected].

  5. Let’s remember that counterinsurgency war no matter how you describe it is war by uniformed military against civilians — and thus inherently a war crime.
    Arguing over the details is a distraction. This manual is about how to kill civilians more effectively and how to make Americans think you are not. The real points we must all recognize is that if the US were occupied by a foreign military, we would all become insurgents and we would know that we were right and that our struggle against an occupation was just and moral. The same rule applies to Iraq. Those who fight and kill insurgents are murderers. This manual is whitewashing of murder.

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