Phoenix Rises Again: HUMINT Lessons for Counterinsurgency Operations

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Today's lessons from military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have given rise to the question of how to best develop counterinsurgency strategies that will integrate Human Intelligence (HUMINT) approaches designed to achieve the established objectives. Vietnam demonstrates that this is not a new question. There were then, as there are now, operational-level seams in the fields of HUMINT and counterinsurgency approaches which must be stitched together. This paper will examine the lessons of counterinsurgency in Vietnam and suggest as its thesis that today's doctrine must enhance the conventional tenets of the Joint HUMINT and Counterintelligence (J2X) role by incorporating an aggressive strategy for synchronizing tribal and indigenous human intelligence. To redefine U.S. counterinsurgency operations, we must leverage human networks at the operational-level of war. This tribal-indigenous thread is an important nexus of military and political networks. The military HUMINT mission calls for a confluence of management with indigenous security forces, while simultaneously building and moderating tribal networks. Accordingly, this will provide greater equilibrium between the need for security and the needs of the people within an insurgency. In the absence of a CORDS or Phoenix-like interagency approach to counterinsurgency, it remains crucial that the J2X role be expanded to synchronize tribal interactions and indigenous security forces to close this operational-level HUMINT gap.

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In counterinsurgency, agent networks are double-edged swords. They are useful tools for degrading insurgent influence and protecting the population. However, they also endanger the population in some ways, as we have seen with mass executions of suspected agents and agent misdirection of raids. Identifying how/why this occurs is critical for developing intelligence practices to more effectively implement COIN strategies. This exploratory study uses three recent counterinsurgency cases – for which significant secondary open-source agent network documentation is available – to identify, describe, organize and analyse patterns of noncombatant-targeted violence associated with human intelligence networks. Identified cases of noncombatant-targeted violence in Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the – Israeli–Palestinian conflict are used to develop a theoretical framework that models intelligence-related violence incentivization, which also draws from theoretical literature on human intelligence, civil war violence, police states, community policing, and the sociology of betrayal.
In their 1995 The Generals' War, Michael R. Gordon and Retired Marine Lieutenant General Bernard E. Trainor severely criticized the planning and conduct of Operation Desert Storm, throwing cold water on the American military's orgy of self-congratulation. Today their account remains the best overall narrative, especially at the political and strategic level, of that conflict. Twelve years later President George W. Bush again launched the might of American power against Iraq and, again, Gordon and Trainor are presenting a less than flattering analysis of American military operations. The authors bring a wealth of expertise and ability to their craft. Gordon and Trainor have covered military affairs for the New York Times since 1985. As in the previous volume, the authors' goal was to write a contemporary history of the conflict emphasizing the planning process and linking it to policy, strategy, generalship, and fighting. Gordon's "embedding" with several senior commands during the war and Trainor's access to policymakers and retired and active officers aided the process of gathering information and gaining a perspective on the conflict. The authors interviewed hundreds of key participants, reviewed a wide range of documents, and visited the sites of most of the campaign's battles. The result is a thorough analysis which led the authors to several unwelcome observations on the war. First, the Secretary of Defense and senior officers misread the nature of the enemy and put too much faith in modern technology. The American military was simply not flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances on the battlefield and the senior military organization was often dysfunctional. Finally, the administration exhibited a fatal flaw in its disdain for the nation building that most thoughtful observers knew would follow anticipated victory. All of these problems, which Gordon and Trainor demonstrate in exceptional detail, contributed to the current insurgency in Iraq. The result was serious damage to our relations with our friends and hope to the nation's enemies abroad. One should not, however, expect that this is simply an exercise in analysis. The writing is vivid and exciting and one feels they are stuck in the windstorm, fighting with the 3-7 Cavalry at Samawah, or riding in the "thunder run" with the 1-64 Armor into downtown Baghdad. This is guns and bugles at its best and some of the chapters rival battle stories told anywhere. While the authors have serious differences with the military's senior leadership, they are obviously proud of the soldiers' and marines' fighting ability. The result is as insightful and complete an account of this war, up to December 2005, as will be written for many years. It is the essential source for understanding the war up to the beginning of the insurgency and should be read by everyone interested in policy, strategy, and modern military affairs. As with their previous history of the 1991 war, Cobra II will remain the standard early history of this conflict for years to come.
PROJECT NUMBER 5e. TASK NUMBER Paper Advisor (if Any): Dr. Mackubin Thomas Owens 5f
  • S Christopher
  • P Costa
AUTHOR(S) Colonel Christopher P. Costa, USA 5d. PROJECT NUMBER 5e. TASK NUMBER Paper Advisor (if Any): Dr. Mackubin Thomas Owens 5f. WORK UNIT NUMBER