David Kilcullen offers a commentary on the US Coin Strategy. “Understanding Current Operations in Iraq”

COIN operations will soon be underway. A “Surge” is a term that just describes force deployments, not strategies for those forces. The US prepared the field over the past months and will now implement the new strategy.


These operations are qualitatively different from what we have done before. Our concept is to knock over several insurgent safe havens simultaneously, in order to prevent terrorists relocating their infrastructure from one to another, and to create an operational synergy between what we’re doing in Baghdad and what’s happening outside. Unlike on previous occasions, we don’t plan to leave these areas once they’re secured.

Once US/Iraqi forces clear the insurgent and terrorist zones, they will secure the population through police and intelligence work.

When we speak of “clearing” an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation. If we don’t get every enemy cell in the initial operation, that’s OK. The point of the operations is to lift the pall of fear from population groups that have been intimidated and exploited by terrorists to date, then win them over and work with them in partnership to clean out the cells that remain – as has happened in Al Anbar Province and can happen elsewhere in Iraq as well.

The “terrain” we are clearing is human terrain, not physical terrain. It is about marginalizing al Qa’ida, Shi’a extremist militias, and the other terrorist groups from the population they prey on. This is why claims that “80% of AQ leadership have fled” don’t overly disturb us: the aim is not to kill every last AQ leader, but rather to drive them off the population and keep them off, so that we can work with the community to prevent their return.

This is a population-centric strategy to deny the enemy human resources.
As Kilcullen points out, insurgents are fluid and they can evade COIN forces. Enemy-Centric tactics alone won’t work.
The insurgent weakness is their reliance on the population. Insurgent ecologies give them ability to regenerate lost resources and gain political power and momentum.

The enemy is fluid but the population is fixed. COIN strategies target the population in order to deny insurgent access to their resource base.

The goal isn’t to win hearts and minds. That’s not America’s job. The US prefer groups like the Anbari Tribes do the hearts and mind stuff. The military just wants intel so it can shoot the bad guys and go home. The Tribes and Iraqi Government will do the long-term political and economic development.

In essence, this is the Police strategy. Criminals disguise themselves and hide in the general population. Police respond by securing the law-abiding citizens. This prevents criminals from recruiting new members and stealing money from citizens. Citizens provide intelligence about criminal locations in their neighborhood. Officers then use enemy-centric tactics to engage the criminal agents.

You can visual the concept of the strategy this way. Both Insurgent and COIN forces are graphed as a Pareto distribution. And individual Node (k) has access to resources needed to fight its opponent. The population holds this resource

If COIN forces secure and hold the population, their access to resources increase. This counts intelligence, tribal police officers, etc. This amplifies the size and power of its Pareto distribution.

It also weakens Insurgent forces. Their individual access to resources decrease. They lose ability to hide from COIN forces and lose space to move in. The tail ends of its Pareto distribution are cut off.

With these conditions in a differential game, the effect is cumulative over multiple turns. The pressure is on the Iraqi insurgency to halt and reverse the COIN progress so far.