Case Study: "I'll Do It My Way"


Intel Enabler
Verified SOF
Sep 9, 2006
Loosely based on a recent article in my local paper:

You're in command of an Army unit in Afghanistan. Part of your unit's overall campaign strategy, dictated from GEN Petraeus on down, involves pursuing a counterinsurgency, or COIN program. You find out through the NCO support chain that one of your subordinate commanders does not support the COIN concept, to the point where he has directed his subordinates to not even use the term in his presence. This commander instead prefers a more "kinetic" counter-guerilla approach, and his unit has the record for the most enemy KIA- and most friendly KIA and WIA (i.e. losses suffered by the unit, not blue-on-blue fratricide).

The commander in question controls some of the most volatile battlespace in Afghanistan. The unit's OPTEMPO remains high, but so do the number of complaints from local Afghans and Afghan officials.

What action, if any, do you take in this situation?
Well I was going to get into a personal visit by myself or senior NCO to see how effective the unit's operations are, gage the individual situation and make a decision based on that.

But... As this has been dictated from high and this is a COIN campaign, the commander in question would get summoned and told rather harshly to get in line and obey his orders of he will be removed from command immediately.

Orders are orders.

The end, back to work.
Assuming the information is sufficiently reliable and not just one persons whining. As a commander you would need to step into the situation and try to resolve the problem. Whether you agree with the overall mission focus you have a duty to carry out the commanders intent. You also have a duty to ensure your subordinate commands do the same and if there not following the program then the situation needs to be addressed. What specifically needs to be done, that is hard to say because there are so many details that would come into consideration before you could decide on a specific course of action.

The problem with contradicting the commanders intent, if you don't agree with the strategy, is your actions are helping to undermine the very policy you think is failing. It's one thing to be opposed to a strategy why doing everything in your power to make it work but you cross the line when your action directly undermine the commanders strategy.

It's a situation found in both the military and the civilian world. There is always someone who thinks they know better then everyone else. There was an old saying my Dad told me when I was growing up, "one Old Shit will wipe out a 100 Attaboy's". I bet if you asked a 100 Iraqi how many schools did the US build in Iraq they wouldn't know the answer but you ask them about Abu Ghraib they would all instantly know what you were talking about. That's the problem when you have individuals running there own program. One mistake will do so much more damage then a 100 good deeds.
Being someone who doesn’t believe in COIN and think it’s the dumbest concept that has ever found its way in a military manual, I would probably promote the commander…. }:-)

However if I was Gen Petraeus (the dude who wrote the COIN manual) I would be pretty unhappy and immediately remove this commander and send him packing. However there are some issues to look at, how effective is this commander and his unit, how many enemy KIA are being produced as a result of this commander, and most of all how is this commanders efforts supporting the outcome of my strategy.

I think one of the biggest problems I see with some of the command decisions that are made, is a lack of tactical and operational level understanding at the strategic/strategy level. It’s real easy to make up so new tactics and put them in a book and pass them out, it’s a little more difficult to make those tactics actually affective. Sometimes General officers need to go on a few patrols and see how well their tactics really work, before they make those tactics the rule of the land… :2c:
Being someone who doesn’t believe in COIN and think it’s the dumbest concept that has ever found its way in a military manual, I would probably promote the commander…. }:-)

COIN is quite real.....our version of it is not.

And why do we fall for Mara's case studies? :D
COIN is quite real.....our version of it is not.

And why do we fall for Mara's case studies? :D

LMAO I don't know, its like he has magic trickery of topics where he know's I will respond with blahhhhhhhhh.

I will agree that an insurgency can be countered, but the official COIN doctrine I do not agree with at all. I am no COIN specialist and I know most of the SF types here will tell me how dumb I am, and they may very well be right. But my personal experience with COIN has been painful and frustrating to a point that I don’t even want it as a thought in my head.

CT-UW I think is the correct doctrine to utilize for the current theater of operations. Outside of that, Iraq made me a big supporter of maneuver warfare and I think that the conventional force should apply a major focus in two areas.
1. Counter Terrorism on large scale targeting, attacking and then withdrawing with EPW’s, Intel, or moving to the next target. I think more focus on this type of mission and more use of the CT doctrine will prove to be more fruitful then conventional forces in use of COIN. Example: Paki’s have large scale AQ, would it not be nice to have BCT’s that could perform 72 hour ops to root out the AQ, collect what we can, kill what we can and then bug out before being caught up in “contingency operations” or support ops.

2. Maneuver Warfare in developing faster speed and more precision fires. Being able to do what we did in the invasion of Iraq but faster and more precise. Developing the force into a fast light moving Army that can rapidly move across any battle field terrain and then apply accurate fires to crush enemy forces. Example: being able to move through Afghanistan rapidly crossing Iran eastern territory and accurately killing everything on the way to Tehran and being able to do so in hours vs days.
With all that being said, Mara I am sorry for the high jack and I'll stay out of your case study. ;) }:-)
Being someone who doesn’t believe in COIN and think it’s the dumbest concept that has ever found its way in a military manual

COIN is very real and the only viable way to defeat an insurgency short of genocidal warfare that I know of.

To be honest I don't know US Military COIN and am a little surprised to hear there is one, unless we are just talking about the BS restrictions placed on the troops but I'd venture to say that has less to do with COIN than PC bullshit in the modern world.

COIN is all about kicking ass, but doing it smartly where you won't piss the locals off so much that they join the bad guys and thereby turn the insurgency into an unstoppable popular uprising.

I will try to find something for you to read on a very successful COIN campaign by the SAS in the Oman in the 70's.
Being someone who doesn’t believe in COIN and think it’s the dumbest concept that has ever found its way in a military manual, I would probably promote the commander…. }:-)

Having worked COIN before it was a popular term - El Salvador and Nicaragua (both sides of the "coin"), I think you need to do a little more works, when properly executed. It's not a job for the regular Army, it's a job for SF..... I think they call it FID ;) But that's not as sexy as DA.

As for the commander in Mara's intial post....I would call him in and "bring him to Jesus," after I explained to him just exactly what "commander's intent" means. Then I'd kick him in the balls and give him ONE chance to show that he understood what I meant. But, I'm just an old SGM........

And BTW, Petraeus got credit for the COIN manual, but a guy named LTC John Nagl did most of the work. Look him up....."Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife." That's the title of his book, and, a quote from Lawrence of Arabia, one of the guys who invented insurgency ops.

You can't conduct COIN without knowing how insurgents operate. Read Lawrence, Che Guevara and Sun Tsu. And, now, Nagl.
In an effort to not further high jack Mara’s thread I am opening another thread for the COIN discussion, I know better than to argue COIN with some of you but what the hell.
I would head down myself and talk to him face to face, get a feel for what that particular unit is up against, maybe go out on a patrol and see the ground first hand.
How I interpret the commanders intent is sometimes different to how Cpl X does. Meeting the commanders intent is not a case of crossing out lines on an OPORD. Situations change and you need to ask yourself what would you commander want you to do on the ground now. That is why we get sent to all those flash leadership courses, to learn to think on our feet.

I'm not there, maybe a kinetic approach is what is called for. Force is not counter productive if you are killing the right people, but you have to temper the stick with a bit of carrot for the locals as well. A lot of the time commanders are choked by decisions being made somewhere far far away when the approach they are told to take is not the right one for their AO. I would be very hesitant to about going to that commander guns blazing, I would ask him why he his using this approach instead of the one dictated. A troop who buys into your plan and believes in what you are trying to achieve is going to be a lot more proactive than the one who is only following orders to the letter. Maybe he needs more support like a HUMINT or CMA team. Removing him from command is going to severely fuck his unit up, especially if they support what he is doing.

The biggest problem with implementing COIN is it is not something formal where we can say "X has happened, do Y". The Military likes simple solutions you can read in a book and then apply on the ground just like on "insert school here". mind you I am a dumb grunt who doesn't really bother to think above patrol, section level so take all this with a grain of salt.
Here's the story that inspired this case study:

A couple of excerpts:

When a Stryker brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord arrived in Afghanistan last year, its leader, Col. Harry Tunnell, openly sneered at the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency strategy. The old-school commander barred his officers from even mentioning the term and told shocked U.S. and NATO officials that he was uninterested in winning the trust of the Afghan people.

Instead, he said, his soldiers from the 5th (Stryker) Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division would simply hunt and kill as many Taliban fighters as possible, as dictated by the brigade’s motto, “Strike and Destroy.”
What resulted was a year of tough fighting in territory fiercely defended by the Taliban. The brigade also carried home a dark legacy that threatens to overshadow its hard-won victories and sacrifices on the battlefield. In some of the gravest war-crime charges to arise from the Afghan conflict, five soldiers have been accused of killing unarmed Afghan men, apparently for sport, and desecrating their corpses.
Seven other platoon members have been charged with other crimes, including smoking hashish – which some soldiers said happened on a near-daily basis – and assaulting an informant.

in February 2009, while the brigade was undergoing mission rehearsal exercises in California, evaluators warned Tunnell that his open disdain for counterinsurgency would cause troubles in Afghanistan, but the brigade commander ignored them, said Richard Demaree, a retired lieutenant colonel who served as a battalion commander for the 5th Stryker Brigade.
“Everybody was astonished he has this war-fighting philosophy toward Iraq or Afghanistan that was totally out of sync with the Army,” Demaree said.
Tunnell, who served in Iraq and was badly wounded there, was a devotee of counter-guerrilla strategy, which places more emphasis on raids and other aggressive tactics but had been rejected as a doctrine by the Army in the aftermath of the Iraq insurgency. According to Demaree, Tunnell barred his soldiers from using the term COIN, shorthand for counterinsurgency.

Again, this is a breaking story and none of the facts have been verified by an investigation or a courts-martial. However, if the brigade commander did in fact reject the fundamental strategy that we're utilizing in Afghanistan, it's hard to see how he could effectively command his brigade and weave it into his commander's intent. Additionally, it has been my experience that when the leaders at the top scoff at the rules and expectations of their leaders, the subordinates in that unit have a habit of doing the same. Normally it doesn't get to the extreme that is alleged in this case, but it almost always causes problems with the commander of a unit goes publicly "rogue." If you are a leader, and you have a problem with the policy handed down to you, you can 1) try to get the policy changed; 2) shut up and color (i.e. execute the policy); 3) quit, if you feel that strongly about it. It sets a bad example to your troops if you go against your boss in public, if that's what actually happened in this case.

If the situation unfolded like the newspapers make it out, and if I were in charge of the brigade commander, I would sit down with him, hear him out on his point of view. If I found his counter-guerrilla strategy superior to the counter-insurgency strategy, I would take that under advisement. In the mean time, I would inform him that COIN is the strategy directed by the commander of ISAF, we're here to support that strategy, and if he couldn't support it, I would relieve him from command. I would also look at ways to create a COIN training program to make sure everyone understood the strategy and could implement it in accordance with the commander's intent.
Organizations rise and fall on leadership. FM 7-8 even spelled it out for Rifle Platoon Leaders:
He is responsible for all that the platoon does or fails to do.

The commander is either on board with the policy or he's looking for a new job.
So the Col lead his brigade for an entire deployment contrary to stated policy and no one senior to him in his chain of command bothered to check in on the brigade and it's operations?

Was there a report made from the evaluations done in CA before the brigade deployed? I'd be very surprised to learn a brigade could waltz through without paperwork going to someone to sign off saying everything is GTG.
No mention was made in any report, written or verbal about the Col's attitude to policy for the campaign he was about to embark on?

No one junior in rank to him, namely his Bn COs (Demaree) thought there was an issue with also going against policy?

The brigade SGM?


Sounds like a systemic failure as well as what the Col did and didn't do.

Pardus' post jogged my memory a little, so I did a little digging. You may remember this blurb (page 4-5) from an infamous Rolling Stone article:
In March, McChrystal traveled to Combat Outpost JFM – a small encampment on the outskirts of Kandahar – to confront such accusations from the troops directly. It was a typically bold move by the general. Only two days earlier, he had received an e-mail from Israel Arroyo, a 25-year-old staff sergeant who asked McChrystal to go on a mission with his unit. "I am writing because it was said you don't care about the troops and have made it harder to defend ourselves," Arroyo wrote.

One wonders if some of the tension within that BDE is because the Commander and McC had two different plans. While pure speculation, I can almost see the BDE CDR making off-handed remarks to the troops or their leaders about McC's strategy if he was so openly hostile to it.

Then you have this:
It has also caused the soldiers at the tip of the spear that the United States hurled into the Arghandab to accuse their battalion and brigade commanders of not following the guidance of senior coalition commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal to adopt a “population-centric” counterinsurgency approach. And now, reeling from the deaths of their comrades and the removal of their company commander, the troops have been ordered out of the Arghandab, a move they say feels like a defeat.

The battalion had spent much of the previous two years training for combat, but preparing for the wrong theater — until February, when it got orders for Afghanistan, 1-17 was scheduled to deploy to Iraq.

However, 1-17 soldiers said their training, which had been focused on highly “kinetic” urban warfare drills such as room clearing, did not change much to accommodate the change in mission. “The COIN-intensive fight here … isn’t so much what we trained on,” said 1st Lt. Kevin Turnblom, Charlie Company’s fire support officer.

Even as early as Jan of this year there were reported problems. Did anyone look at this unit or did ISAF just shrug it off?
David Kilcullen also makes an interesting case for it too, and how it has been successful.
It's easy to say you're doing one thing and actually do something else when the majority of your interaction with higher is through VTC, especially if you are producing an end result that is still in line with the commander's intent.

A little harder to get away with it in the current example, besides being completely wrong.
I will put a side my views on the strategy and throw out some thoughts in regards to this BCT and their commander.

Brigade Commanders have a lot more leeway than some may think, even though they are normally under a division command in recent years BCT’s have operated completely independently. Part of the new modular Army was to develop Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) that could be completely independent of a Division/Corps and be deployed in remote areas with their own supporting assets. This gives a BCT Cdr an ability to make a lot more call’s at his level rather than needing to run it up the chain. This also puts a heavy responsibility on the Cdr to be able to accomplish a mission using someone else’s strategy that may not have a full grasp on what is going on in that BCT Cdr’s battle space.

Another issue to be brought up here is the training/strategy focus of the BCT or its parent Division. If this BCT is at home preparing to race across a battle field and kill the entire enemy and the BCT strategy while CONUS is to run in and kick some ass, than they are going to operate that way while deployed. No matter how much pep talk or NTC/JRTC rotations they do, they will fight as they train and strategies to do. This gets as deep as the core of every units SOP’s from Btn down to the Squad level (movement to contact, actions on contact & fires and maneuvers). If a unit is being trained to be a fast lethal force, and every part of who they are is to run down the enemy and kill them, then that is exactly what they will do.

As for this particular commander I don’t know enough of what all that he did and what was the actual situation in his battle space, so I would probably have to give the same response as everyone else in that I would have a sit down with him and see what’s what. I would like to think that we would not get all pissy at a US Army officer for hunting down the enemy and killing them, but in today’s day and age that may be asking for too much…