AN Security

The application of COIN against foreign states

In Uncategorized on December 13, 2009 at 7:24 pm

What would be the most succesful way to employ elements of COIN into a conflict with a foreign state? 

The question is whether counterintelligence should be used to guide the course of a conflict, national defense strategy or joint forces operations and not complement a military action. COIN is an intelligence war and could go very much hand in hand with foreign policy and in the future, wars will have to be fought more in that capacity. The posture of the US Forces should be to completely shift from conventional warfare to COIN as the rule rather than the exception. The enemy employs terrorism, kidnapping, guerrilla tactics on its own population mostly, which is usually the perception that insurgencies are fighting for a common cause, they have been documented in history as being just as brutal and oppressive as those they wish to eject from their countries.

The war in Iraq set the stage for change in conducting COIN operations in that future wars would have to be fought as intelligence-driven conflicts that required a more adaptive strategy for winning shorter conflicts rather than the conventional long-war. The AQI functions mostly now as intra-national criminal organization than a political or religious movement and the Taliban in Afghanistan has risen to the stature of a shadow state, seriously shifting the need for a more adaptive strategy. The cases for Algeria, where the FLN had practically wiped out a large section of the Muslim population, posing a great security threat to the citizens and other atrocities so we are talking about insurgency as the favorite approach of the enemy knowingly applying their attacks on our standardized methodology.

It is in the conventional doctrine that we are faced with the problem of asymmetrical warfare; not surprisingly, the chosen strategy of the current threat from Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations is that they are in the fight to demoralize and weaken the more powerful, better armed and trained military force by constantly engaging us usually in their own turf, making use of HUMINT from the local population, conduct psychological operations and even feed our perceived and real defeats to the media. This is hardly an overnight success. The enemy knows that we fight good conventional conflicts and that we hang on to standard doctrine even in the face of changing fighting posture. They use unlimited resources and whatever way is necessary to keep the other side out of balance. The Army’s approach to COIN became more organized and focused in 2006 and clearly defined the role of intelligence in this type of operation.

Technically, the structure of intelligence support is based on the communication between the intelligence and the operational entities. As in the British COIN model in Northern Ireland, combat troops actively collect intelligence from every human contact they encounter and ideally would report their findings, creating a flow of information that is constantly being updated at each end. The US Army recognizes now that COIN is an intelligence war, and this intelligence is better obtained from people within the environment.

The pre-deployment assessment is another part of the COIN doctrine and preparation and planning for these operations are key elements needed in training personnel and field commanders on what lies ahead. Basic factors that are examined are type of environment and effects of operations and type of threat and countermeasures. The methodology varies from place to place and guidelines are contained within the doctrine and other field manuals. Also, the pre-deployment assessment involves the study and analysis of the local culture, politics, economy, security and the insurgency’s possible tactics that will impact operations.

Old concepts with new purpose

We are keeping up with the trends and delivering countermeasures but what is the practicality in doing that? Not only thinking about the unexpected, we should train in diverse scenarios long before deployment and these scenarios must be researched and prepared with a formal curriculum in mind for field commanders and a modified version for troops regardless of their position and specialty.

The scenarios should be designed to cover alternate futures (when things go wrong), not when things go according to plan.

Effects-based versus Rapid-Dominance operations

Shanahan speaks of intelligence sources and information arriving at a centralized entity then analyzed and disseminated to ground units. Rapid-dominance (Shock and awe) is based more on the acquisition of technological advantages over the enemy forces and by analyzing its capabilities in order to use against them however as we are faced with changing trends in the composition of the intelligence battle space. The intelligence collected from all aspects of that country’s infrastructure, economy, society, religion and military capability and rule of law should help identify targets according to their tactical importance that is designed to elicit the desired political outcome to weaken the insurgency. The problem is that shock and awe does not account for collateral damage (unintended consequences), creating unforeseen and undesirable outcomes that could affect the overall strategic success of the operation. This type of operation can also create a set of environmental conditions in country not factored in during the planning phase and US forces would have to prepare for the probability of a change in course. I believe that there should be some form of rehearsal of various tactics, whether it is civil unrest or a notional political groups gone rogue, the scenarios must be felt and practiced just to get a feel for different situations.

Effects-based operations are implemented with a wider scope of warfare in mind employing psychological operations, analyzing the same environmental elements as mentioned above. Basically this approach involves theoretical scenarios based on a set of factors which create a set of conditions and an outcome. This is a formulaic approach but one that should be integrated into a wider scope of operations and in conjunction with the shock-based approach but that cannot be done unless there is a consolidation of personnel and equipment that are designed to be highly deployable and fully functional in itself and answerable to the centralized, larger joint forces effort. There are some detractors of this approach though, who do not believe the methods go according to the art of warfare which drives the adaptation of enemy tactics and follow a too restrictive set of rules but where one leaves the equation the other one picks up (scientific/logical which answers the intangible events).

There is a need to cover strategic gaps in this type of operation so as to not cause more harm to structures and other areas of a country where the local population normally depends on and that is factored into the planning phase of any COIN operation. If there is a specific operational threat, a key insurgent element present in areas where innocents are present then the question must be asked; is this target valuable enough to strike and risk civilian losses? This is the type of thinking that will either turn the initial conflict into a war of attrition or it could go the other direction with a swift harassment of insurgent groups that will eventually affect and reduce the severity of their operations.

  • The milk factory bombing in Iraq during the Gulf War and of the media and public fallout; we should expect the enemy to know that asset is valuable and thus make it even more so by introducing other factors that will benefit their cause (place human shields or allow an attack on local population even though an attack is imminent).


For this and other gaps in strategy a more comprehensive approach is needed, perhaps one that is not in itself well accepted by those who follow strict Army doctrine but one that would require supplemental forces to balance out the operation.

Police forces for the most part train with the worst case scenario as do swat teams and QRF teams. I see no problem in adapting such training to a larger scale, to include the intelligence, language, tactical, and other personnel as part of a pre-stability team that can deploy as part of elite units conducting covert operations. The idea is for the teams to conduct the situational assessments that go to the combat units and report their findings to the joint forces command. This is sort of like the surveillance techniques used in Northern Ireland of undercover personnel sending live information to be entered into the centralized police/military database.

I would not be popular with my approach but I would begin with a covert effort to destabilize the targeted country similarly to what the CIA/SOG teams did in Vietnam. In countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where initially there were difficulties in engaging the local population due to civil unrest – the combination of covert forces backing up a police force could accelerate improvements in the security of the areas targeted. Following military incursion would be a civilian constabulary which will quickly take over law enforcement responsibilities along with the local authorities once the battle space is safe. There would be a period of transition then advisors will conduct training while the locals and begin collaborating on patrols, border and population control and allow for the bulk of military forces to drop back and re-deploy to other areas as required by the order of battle. Failures to handle civil unrest early on in the war could have been avoided with solid intelligence as of the state of police forces, local attitudes, human rights abuses and other issues that eventually fed the situation, spinning it out of  control:

  • What happened in Iraq was not that Coalition Forces were insufficient in numbers (Perito) but that military forces had not been prepared or trained to conduct law enforcement duties
  • The suggestion to the US government that an active three-tier police force composed of international police officers
  • Failures in controlling the rise of crime were related to geography, population concentrations within Central Baghdad


For intelligence elements the two key subcomponents to maintain are critical friendly force information and priority intelligence requirements, the collection, sorting and dissemination of intelligence and pre-stability teams collecting this intelligence would help shape the course of an armed conflict involving asymmetric warfare perhaps as it develops in real time.

Choose three counterintelligence operations and discuss and analyze lessons learned from successes or failures of these operations.


Good intelligence begins at the beginning, and I know this is an oversimplification of the term but if we examine the French position in the conflict, it had ample opportunities to rectify the oppressive environment that Algerians had to live in since it became a French province in 1870 and were the driving force behind the uprising. The French had lost face both in World War II and in Indochina and Algerians, already on the verge of revolution, felt disenfranchised from the rest of Algerian/French society.

From the beginning, the French government should have known that it was about to face a terrible crisis. Tired of promises of just treatment and inclusion into French society, the Algerian pro-independence movement took off in a violent way more than once but it was after the uprising of May 1945, where demonstrators rampaged through towns, and the growing violence spread quickly, ending in the killing over 100 Europeans and wounding just as many, that the movement was only about to get worse. The French at that point mitigated the uprising with an even more violent military response, raking villages and killing many times over the rate of casualties from the 1945 attack. To the French the November attack was deemed a pathetic attempt to shake the pied noir influence in local politics and believed it was an isolated case of tribal rivalries due to the area where the attacks were carried out (Millen). Though the attack was a military failure, it set the stage for further escalation as the FLN political body would later on forge a stronger coalition in other provinces and give the French forces a run for their money.

Political appeasement of the pied noir by the mainland French fostered the environment of many social wrongs such as the election fraud committed in 1948, civil and legal status inequalities of land distribution and the denial of French citizenship to native Algerians. By the time the small ALN insurgent attack of 1954 was launched the French had already miscalculated the potential for escalation of hostilities. Their arrogance kept them from recognizing that the treatment of Algerians in their own land would culminate into more violence they would not be prepared to handle. This was very bad intelligence in that the situation could have been prevented and the level of violence and civil disobedience controlled more effectively had the government effected some basic changes in its policies, but too many political factions were at play to allow that.

The French created the situation by:

  1. They isolated Algerians from the ruling elite, limiting access to government positions
  2. Failure to profile the pied noir once they split into a counterinsurgency and neutralize it
  3. Did not recognize the potential for violent up rise as part of their history and could have prepared a better strategy
  4. French forces fighting doctrine changed to fit perceived ideological objectives rather than follow conventional doctrine, causing long-lasting damage to their image


In the absence of a better plan, the French, with only about 3,000 troops in country and only one Airborne Division to augment security, they were handling the situation improperly. Within six months the French forces were augmented to about 200,000 and were exceedingly more violent in response to every act of harassment perpetrated by the FLN. The mass arrests, torture and other acts of repression simply drove the Algerian population into joining the FLN. Interestingly though, if we were to compare the Algerian movement with the VCI, the FLN used some of the same violent and coercive tactics, fear and terrorism against its own people in order to gain financial support for operations. The FLN had become an even more dangerous entity that victimized fellow Muslims, about 80% of the population in the first two years of the conflict and the French failed to provide a secure environment for all citizens under its charge. The government had spearheaded a series of weapons bans mainly aimed at Algerians – for fear of further uprisings – but in the end the very thing that could have helped the local population defend itself was taken away from them. At that point the pied noir organized and deployed its own branch forces (ultras) to fight the FLN, clearly, the intelligence and rules of engagement were ineffective in stopping an insurgent problem. There was no compromise or promise of social and political reform; a more logical approach to stop hostilities, in that France skipped all other steps leading to resolution opting for war. If the French were to prevail in Algeria and later on at home, they would have had to change their approach in dealing with the increasingly cruel insurgents. In this case, poor intelligence and lack of a profile of the insurgent/pro-independence movement in Algeria allowed for the situation to escalate.

The French lost face with the local Algerians who would not support them in regaining their defense and security and could not or would not try to control the ultras movement through political reform. The population had neither side to count on for their safety creating an unstable state. Intelligence failures also included the lack of understanding of the FLN/ALN leadership, most of the insurgent commanders had fought as French in previous conflicts and were decorated veterans, a fact that French forces should have factored in; that their enemy had been one of their own and were knowledgeable of French Army strategic and operational tactics. The use of torture became institutionalized (unofficially) and though effective at the tactical level and over the short-term this practice was ill-fated from the start. One belief was that since the army was dealing with an insurgent threat and not a conventional threat then the use of torture was justified and the French chose torture over other less violent techniques for obtaining information.

French intelligence successes

At some point the French had to learn how they would clean up the mess they had made. By increasing boots on the ground and through persistent fighting in the rough terrain troops performed well. The larger number of troops paired with the use of the quadrillage system accomplished the surgical strikes necessary to weaken the insurgency but then the problem of downsizing some troops to send to the Suez War dealt a morale and strategic blow to the French offensive and setting back any gains they had made in lowering FLN combat elements (Millen). Clearly their intelligence capability would have to improve. Fighting in two war fronts was not the best policy. Not until Charles de Gaulle took power in 1958 did France finally conceded that the best way to stop the insurgent movement was to begin work on giving Algerians a chance at attaining self-determination. France was weak politically from before hostilities first appeared in the picture and this weakness had to be corrected quickly. But going back to the use of the quadrillage is that though many critics would consider this approach cruel and over the top, considering the circumstances, if the French were to regain control of the country, then the application of the system was a very apt choice.

The FLN/ALN was moving into villages and recruiting locals into their ranks so quickly that their numbers simply were growing exponentially, thus justifying this approach. Once the main body of the FLN was driven out and the borders sealed, then the work could begin in eradicating those pockets of resistance. The weak political base of the French government forced the military into that same mindset as they struggled to cover the leadership gap. It was a dangerous trend that led the French straight to disaster and the foundation for civil rights abuses and other atrocities. One thing is to apply a drastic option to quell further threats and neutralize them and another would be to continue long after population control was secured so at some point if pacification was to take place then hostilities would have to decrease. One element shared by all sides was that the population was not being protected. It was either the FLN or the French who either perpetrated abuse and torture, alienating the population as well as other fringe groups (ultras). Popular support was lacking and this was the area where the French would have to build solid intelligence on the population and begin working on establishing credibility.

France had a serious image problem and its deployment of the SAS (Special Administrative Sections) into each quadrant were designed to establish a better connection with the population, basically to function as civil affairs units to provide services to citizens and finally they trained and supplied local security forces which would over time help in establishing security for each community. None of these projects could be accomplished without human intelligence sources. The use of aggressive interrogation techniques, including the practice of torture, though highly effective in acquiring fast intelligence to deliver to tactical units, would come back to haunt the French. In the Algerian conflict, the use of torture served as further antagonism. French forces were smart in recognizing that by using the local population they could collect better intelligence and not limited to simply doing this but also re-establishing some form of identification system in the population.

The FLN had systematically invaded many villages, taken the population hostage and stripped citizens of all identify documents as to further confuse government forces. Good intelligence practices such as restoring some form of identification system to citizens and issued cards, units on the ground were better able to track people, identify those who would be good sources and identify any FLN elements within these hamlets. Intelligence-driven operations were a success in the field, helped eradicate the FLN from Algeria to manageable levels and militarily the conflict was under control. Pacification efforts were on the way but by then the main objective – to retain Algeria under French control – was lost and in the end negotiations with the FLN was the only viable option for ending the hostilities so intelligence successes were positive but costly and bittersweet as they came about as a reactive countermeasure.



NIST concept is good in that team member composition is adjusted to that particular mission however, the joint operations would have to be centralized just as was the case with Phoenix in Vietnam, in that there was the driving force of one agency large and experienced enough to make it happen. Deployed military joint commands do well with other countries’ armed forces only to encounter the organizational language issue; who sets the standards of work for all parties and has oversight in their management is the question. The CIA in my estimation did well and was the appropriate driving force in Phoenix, with a well-established native support system of local government and native security forces, volunteer militias, etc. and personnel qualifications in these cultures would be needed as part of these teams. Of all the cases studied I have to say Phoenix was the most successful in its objective to one, help the Vietnamese government fight the Communist threat from the north and two, ease the country into pacification leading to independence from foreign military intervention. One point of contention is the effectiveness of covert operations and intelligence by the CIA compared to the Army’s SOG operations. I believe that the main problem both entities encountered was not necessarily related to how they conducted operations but rather a matter of centralization of their efforts and also the waning of political support back home. Naturally the US government wanted to wage covert war on the north without declaring war and also as a quiet way of changing or influencing political change in Vietnam. One major flaw of intelligence though was the lack of notion or vision that the North Vietnamese would not be apt to the task of researching and constantly working on countermeasures to every covert intrusion performed by US forces and its allies.

The concern for me would be the same as today; that we go into these smaller conflicts hoping conditions on the ground do not change and the standard operational doctrine does not have to be adapted to the new set of rules. It took the CIA enough time to learn this lesson, not to say their operations were not effective militarily but if they were to be truly successful in the final objective of returning Vietnam to its people then more than just covert ops, a long-term plan of change, would have to be in effect. I think that this changed when the Army took over operations, and I know that initially SOG was doing its best to outshine the CIA but eventually it was evident that even with tactical victories the US had to learn to mind the overall strategic success of any operation. Clearly, after dropping covert elements which kept disappearing from sight based little evidence of reaching their objective cost lives and certainly gave the North Vietnamese a greater advantage. The North Vietnamese held the upper hand strategically because their intelligence scope spanned the US order of battle, they were well-versed in CIA tactics they learned in fighting in China and knew that the US has a habit of sticking to what works rather than trying to match or outsmart its enemies. That and their closed society offered a greater challenge for the US in deciphering what their next move was or even if they were aware of the covert operations run by the CIA followed by SOG.

It was almost a shot in the dark and hoping for hope itself. After placement of covert elements on the ground there was the question of whether to tap into local HUMINT by the teams or total isolation, conduct harassment operations and destroy military and some economic targets (though it was later realized that there was not much of an economy to attack after all), while stirring political movements. The change from CIA-dominated operations to military covert operations the need for establishing solid human contacts was paramount to ensuring success in Vietnam though the rivalries borne of this strategy change shows how intelligence and counterinsurgency operations were more of a reactive learning curve and obvious failures were continuously nurtured instead of re-evaluated for inconsistencies such as the problem of captured teams; clearly conditions appeared to be too ideal at times and should have given the CIA notice that the North Vietnamese were way ahead of the game. Ultimately, the winning hand would have been to strengthen the local human assets to counteract the North’s resilient and adaptive counterintelligence efforts.

Northern Ireland 

British intelligence was without doubt very effective in gaining the tactical and operational advantage against the IRA. Their methodology was the swift infiltration of Irish groups, the employment of military personnel as spies, from finding personnel who spoke with the right accents and had solid cover stories to gain the local population’s confidence shows the British moved quickly to establish control of the situation.

Just as in other examples we’ve studied, the British had to contend with more involved political and social dynamics on the ground and even more conflicts from within these groups. The Catholic and Protestant sides were not exactly traveling in a straight line; each side had been just as effectively segmented from the mainstream thinking of how to attain the desired outcome and just as influential to the course of the conflict. The most de-stabilizing factor in this conflict came from those groups which infiltrated their own cause with the purpose of effecting change through violent methods.


Some elements in this movement were against following grass-roots initiatives that involved dialogue and negotiation between its own people. While many wanted to seek true solutions to their problems, other factions wanted to spur on a civil war as a means leading to change so one side of the Catholic population were more militant in their thinking of how to deal with possible fringe groups which were effectively derailing efforts to arrive at peaceful solutions. The unification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland was another catalyst for the Catholic Irish fight against Protestant domination.


The same problem was growing within the Protestant population in their fear that the Catholics would attain equal status. This group was well-integrated into all things British and willing to fight to preserve their way of life and affiliation to British rule.

British intelligence used inventive and bold counterinsurgency techniques to gain the tactical advantage and in spite of the bad reputation they got from their handling of the sectarian violence with increased military presence combined with a larger police force on the ground. This is a good example of their learning from the Malaysian emergency in dealing with local authorities and local people in understanding that it was just as important as having a large military presence. The only difference between the two conflicts is that resettlement was not employed (if one can consider spiriting IRA operatives away for interrogation re-settlement)  though certain parts of Northern Ireland were quite the rough neighborhoods and usually those people locked themselves away from the rest of the population, making infiltration difficult for local authorities to pull off. I suppose their isolation could be considered a type of resettlement but one where the British did not enjoy control over. That is where the inventiveness in their counterinsurgency strategies came into play.

  • How covert ops would be viewed by public opinion or affect the peace process
  • Not knowing what was actually going on politically and socially enough to measure the amount of force to be used and how
  • Giving the insurgency tactical advantage through poorly designed strategies


The PIRA, the most dangerous branch of the insurgency in Northern Ireland, carried out some of the most brutal terrorist campaigns outside their country, successfully targeting British interests all over Europe, which was a serious threat to their national security. Even with their extensive experience in COIN operations, the British had to move quickly and fix the intelligence deficiencies they were suffering from at the beginning of the conflict before losing control of the overall campaign. The conflict went from sectarian violence to full-blown domestic terrorism with overseas covert operations however the British took on the task and adapted its approach to the conflict with great adaptive and resilient measures that ensured their success. The idea was naturally to slow or paralyzed PIRA operations and the method they used to garner all of their resources can be divided into the following phases:

Intelligence was lacking initially because local law enforcement was not large or prepared enough to handle the situation, forcing the British government to introduce the military element into the equation and even then, the Army had to take charge of local intelligence efforts and eventually the consolidation of all police and intelligence agencies became a necessity they were apt to realize. One of the most important initiatives was to begin collecting political intelligence, something that could have been employed effectively before the fact but I see that many lessons must be learned through trial and error and this is no different. The coordination and centralization of the multi-agency efforts may have taken years but once all players began to speak to each other then intelligence could flow to where it was needed.

Using Kitson’s principles of counterinsurgency operations, a balanced combination of traditional intelligence gathering methods, involving the local law enforcement and exploiting low-level intelligence sources to supplement information gaps proved successful in this conflict. What I found interesting is the every soldier a collector philosophy. This made each person knowledgeable enough in his/her area to discriminate good from bad information, sort to the best of their ability and return it to a centralized entity for analysis and application. The law enforcement/beat cop example is very relevant in explaining how important it is to involve every ground troop or local police elements in the collection process and build their own sources which would then be submitted to that central entity making the collectors, regardless of their main role, specialized observers within their AO. What Kitson learned to exploit during these conflicts was the nature of insurgent groups which tend to be decentralized and fragmented; a method that would not work as well with conventional armed forces.

Their de-briefing after patrols is an old practice that enhances the collection effort. Police do this before and after their shifts for good reason; in law enforcement we collect, build and share street crime and activities trends. Patrols share information during meal breaks and off duty; this is a great practice in piecing as Jackson suggests. There was no substitute to HUMINT, plain and simple and the British Army also knew it had to change its approach toward the locals and made a greater effort to clean up its image. Good examples of insurgencies growing away from the local population’s support are Algeria, where the FLN turned to any tactic or action which would help them gain tactical advantage, often oppressing and abusing the locals and this alone one would think should have contributed to the French cause but more work was needed before that happened.

The Algerians still did not feel supported by the French until the Special Administrative Sections (SAS) were deployed which enabled the French Army and local government to begin rebuilding and integrating the Muslim population that had been caught in the crossfire. Cooperation from the Chinese in Malaysia suffered from the same image problems so it was a good move for the British to train its people to be more educated in dealing with the public with more self control and professionalism than before. This helped Britain fight off bad publicity as good image changes shed more light on the PIRA activities, possibly reversing public support.

Basic operations such as checkpoints, observation posts, dossiers/face books, undercover patrols are some of the few methods used for surveillance. The use of technology was adapted to local law enforcement standards which was a better approach in adapting it to their local needs rather than utilizing it for its original purpose and tracking devices contributed greatly in mapping transportation, operatives’ movement and operational patterns within the PIRA. Military units still continued to carry out their roles within the scope of their missions but with expanded strategic and tactical coordination than at the beginning of the conflict. The British became very apt to continue to move intelligence and update it by the minute with police or military elements (undercover) feeding the information back through their chain and the information being updated in their system so information sharing issues were eventually worked out to function more efficiently. Their intelligence collation effort was a great investment that paid off over the long-term since even the smallest piece of information was entered into their database system and basically there was no such thing as worthless information.


Alderson, Alexander, US COIN Doctrine and Practice, Parameters, 2007-2008

US Army Field Manual 3-24 Counterinsurgency, 2006

Conboy, Kenneth & Andrade, Dale, Spies and Commandos, How America lost the Secret War in North Vietnam, 2000

Grau, Lester, Guerillas, Terrorists and Intelligence Analysis, Military Review, August 2004

Jackson, Brian, Counterinsurgency Intelligence in a Long War, The British Experience in Northern Ireland, Military Review, 2007

Intelligence Support to Joint Operations, A common perspective, US Joint Forces Command Newsletter, 2006,

Perito, Robert, US Police in Peace and Stability Operations, United States Institute of Peace,, 2007

Ruby, Tomislav, Effects-based Operations: More Important Than Ever, Parameters, 2008


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