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Counterinsurgency After Afghanistan: A Concept in Crisis

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Journal Article

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National Defense University Fort Lesley J. McNair United States

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Six years have passed since the publication of Field Manual FM 324, Counterinsurgency. Embraced by sections of the military and civilian defense community seeking a fresh approach to the conflict in Iraq, the new field manual gained a political significance and profile unlike previous doctrinal publications. When General David Petraeus was able to incorporate some of the manuals core precepts into the new U.S. strategy for Iraq, and casualties and instability in Iraq declined over the following few years, both counterinsurgency doctrine and the people associated with it gained unprecedented influence. Since then, the buzz that counterinsurgency acquired has worn offfor several reasons. Most fundamentally, there is widespread frustration over the attempt to use counterinsurgency doctrine to stabilize Afghanistan. Second, there are now several counternarratives to the popular notion that U.S. counterinsurgency theory pulled Iraq back from the brink key here is that local factors, not U.S. inputs, explain what happened during the period that Americans like to call the surge. Third, large-scale and protracted military operations to build nations, unify states, and establish legitimate and competent governments are undertakings that, even if workable, run counter to the fiscal realities facing the West today. In the end, the critics pile on, counterinsurgency is nave in its assumptions, unworkable in its requirements, and arrogant in its unfounded claims of prior success. Based on the rise and decline of counterinsurgency over the past few years, this article seeks to assess the utility of this concept and its future as a defense priority and area of research.1 It concludes that the discussion of counterinsurgency is marred by the polarizing effects of the term itself, which have encouraged a bandwagon effect, both in favor of and now in opposition to the term.

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  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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