Counterinsurgency Concepts: What We Learned in Iraq

We have learned a great deal about counterinsurgency operations in recent years. And in this article, I will highlight some of the most important lessons we have distilled from our experiences in Iraq, in particular.

In late 2006, violence in Iraq was spiraling out of control. The overall situation was grim. In the midst of this horrific violence, the US Army and US Marine Corps published a field manual on counterinsurgency operations, incorporating lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in the conduct of past counterinsurgency campaigns. The drafting of the manual represented a focus on a field largely ignored by the US military in the decades after the Vietnam War, with the exception of periodic discussion of so-called 'low-intensity conflict' during our activities in Central America in the mid-1980s.

As we carried out the so-called 'surge' to quell the violence in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, we implemented many of the counterinsurgency concepts in the new manual, achieving significant progress and validating a number of the key concepts along the way. Indeed, we now find ourselves – and the Iraqi people – in a much better place than two years ago, with progress on all fronts – security, economic and political. Although that progress remains fragile, and although innumerable challenges remain, the gains achieved in Iraq have been considerable.

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