Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Politics and Current Events

John Nagl on the surge and the strain

jacket imageIn an op-ed published in last Sunday’s Washington Post Lt. Colonel John A. Nagl, author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam and contributor to the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, draws on his hands-on knowledge of counterinsurgency operations to deliver an insightful analysis of current U.S. strategy in the Middle East. While praising the success of last year’s “surge” Nagl warns that it may still be a bit “too soon to take a victory lap.” Nagl writes:

The “surge” of five brigades and the extension of Army combat tours in Iraq from 12 to 15 months has strained the Army to the breaking point. Neither the Army nor the Marine Corps has a reserve of ground troops to handle other crises. Meanwhile, the Taliban is regaining strength in Afghanistan and the lawless border regions of Pakistan,… and the foreseeable consequences of a hasty U.S. withdrawal from Iraq… could easily reverse last year’s gains and provide a new home for terrorism in the Middle East.
The best short-term solution is rapidly expanding the Iraqi and Afghan security forces to hold towns cleared by U.S. forces. Local forces, stiffened by foreign advisers, have historically been the keys to success in counterinsurgency warfare. As such, I’ve been among the serving officers and veterans who’ve urged the U.S. Army to create a standing Adviser Corps.
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But even greatly expanding and institutionalizing the role of advisers cannot win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Insurgencies are ultimately inspired by ideas, and defeating the Iraqi insurgency will require a counter-narrative—backed up by robust economic development, a solid and committed government in Baghdad, and providing the Iraqi people with basic services such as water, electricity and (above all) security. As such, the single most important step the United States could take toward victory is re-creating an information agency to discredit our enemies’ narratives and amplify those of our allies.

Read more Nagl in his new preface to Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, or see his foreword to the The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, “The Evolution and Importance of Army/Marine Corps Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency