News: Counterinsurgency expert visits Fort Bliss
Story by Staff Sgt. Mike Norris
FORT BLISS, Texas - Merriam-Webster defines insurgency as: “a condition of revolt against a government that is less that an organized revolution and that is not recognized as belligerency.”
In Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. Forces have had to battle insurgencies with an asymmetric style of warfare while winning the trust of the local people.
Soldiers assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division’s Security Force Assistance Adviser Teams participated in a professional development lecture form Dr. John Nagl at the Centennial Banquet and Conference Center on East Fort Bliss April 27.
Nagl, a retired lieutenant colonel who literally wrote the books on counterinsurgency, gave the lecture to better prepare soldiers for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
“I hope I’m able to provide an understanding of the strategic situation,” said Nagl. “And also help them understand were the counterinsurgency doctrines came from, and why it’s important they understand it.”
In 1997, Dr. John Nagl wrote his first book about counterinsurgency, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife. His book recorded the lessons learned from Malaya and Vietnam concerning counterinsurgency.
The idea that U.S. forces might have to fight an insurgency came to him after his deployment to Operation Desert Storm.
“After Desert Storm my conclusion was, we were so good at the tank-on-tank type of war that no one was going to fight us that way anymore,” he said.
At the time when Nagl approached publishers to publish his book, which was his dissertation for his PhD, no one would publish it. It was believed that America did not fight this type of war anymore.
It wasn’t until 2002, after the attacks on 9/11, and our entry in to Afghanistan, that his book was published.
Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife was republished in 2005 and lessons learned by Nagl during his deployment to Iraq were added. The most notable change was the addition of a forward titled, Spilling Soup on Myself.
“The principles are the same, the implementation is far harder than I thought,” said Nagl. “I knew I needed to build a police force that was close to the population and values that protect the population.
Actually doing that is really, really, hard”
Because of his experience in counterinsurgency, Nagl was part of the writing team that produced the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Head of the team was Gen. David H. Petraeus, who took command of Iraq shortly after the manual was published in December 2006.
“Gen. Petraeus spent a full year running through counterinsurgency in his head; thinking about what he wanted to do if he got the chance to command in Iraq,” said Nagl. “When he got that chance, he was very well prepared intellectually.”
Petraeus was able to implement the counterinsurgency field manual in Iraq during the “surge.”
“The situation turned around dramatically during the course of his [Petraeus] command there,” said Nagl.
Nagl advocates that everyone going to Afghanistan should read the counterinsurgency manual.
Every soldier in the Army should read at least the first and the fifth chapter, which defines insurgency, counterinsurgency, gives the principles and paradoxes of counterinsurgency, and how to implement it, he said.
He believes it is important that every soldier, down to the lowest level, know why he must act morally and honestly. They have to gain the trust of the local people and set the example for the Afghani army and police force.
“It takes officers, sergeants, and soldiers who understand the big picture, but also understand the importance of building relationships,” he said. “Across cultures, that is very hard.”
Nagl knows first-hand the sacrifices and difficulties that the Army has and continues to face, and will continue to act as an advocate in Washington for the U.S. Armed Forces.
‘’The nation is very proud of this Army, they have fought two very difficult wars in this decade and remain committed to public service, it is still an organization that mothers and fathers are proud to send their sons and daughters too.’’