Oslo Files on defence and security no. 5/2007
Title: Finally Easting Soup with a Knife? A Historical Perspective on the US Army's 2006 Counterinsurgency Doctrine
Author: Olof Kronvall
In 2006, the US Army adopted a new counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, Field Manual 3-24. The doctrine establishes new guidelines for conducting operations such as those currently taking place in Afghanistan and Iraq, where its validity is being tested. It is also a turning point in the US Army’s doctrinal approach to such operations as it fully embraces the “small war” approach to COIN.
Earlier post-Vietnam Army doctrine has had an ambivalent view of the small war approach, which is contrary to the Army’s traditional preference for fighting big-scale, conventional wars. While earlier post-Vietnam COIN doctrines have used the conflicts in Vietnam and El Salvador as models, FM 3-24 takes into account many other possible forms of insurgency as well. It also recognizes more clearly the key role of popular legitimacy and accepts a potentially much more extensive degree of Army involvement. Furthermore, FM 3-24 wholeheartedly argues that political concerns should take precedence over strictly military ones when applying force. COIN operations are viewed as a long-term commitment.
The doctrine may help to fill a gap in US military capabilities, but this ultimately requires a change in the Army’s mindset and in US national strategic culture.