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FM 3-24
MCWP 3-33.5
INSURGENCIES AND
COUNTERING
INSURGENCIES

MAY 2014

DISTRIBUTION RESTRICTION:

Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.

HEADQUARTERS, DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY

FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5, C1
Headquarters
Department of the Army
Washington, DC, 2 June 2014

Change No. 1

Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies
1.

Change 1 to FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5, 13 May 2014, amends text as necessary.

2.

A plus sign (+) marks new material.

3.

FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5, 13 May 2014, is changed as follows:

Remove Old Pages

Insert New Pages

pages 1-13 through 1-14

pages 1-13 through 1-14

pages 2-3 through 2-4

pages 2-3 through 2-4

pages 4-1 through 4-2

pages 4-1 through 4-2

pages 4-5 through 4-6

pages 4-5 through 4-6

pages 4-11 through 4-12

pages 4-11 through 4-12

pages 7-5 through 7-10

pages 7-5 through 7-10

4.

File this transmittal sheet in front of the publication for reference purposes.

DISTRUBUTION RESTRICTION: Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.

FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5, C1
2 June 2014

By Order of the Secretary of the Army:

RAYMOND T. ODIERNO
General, United States Army
Chief of Staff
Official:

GERALD B. O’KEEFE
Administrative Assistant to the
Secretary of the Army
1414902

BY DIRECTION OF THE COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS:

DISTRIBUTION:
Active Army, Army National Guard, and U.S. Army Reserve: To be distributed in accordance with the
initial distribution number 121724, requirements for FM 3-24.
Marine Corps: PCN 143 000124 00

This publication is available at Army Knowledge Online
(https://armypubs.us.army.mil/doctrine/index.html).
To receive publishing updates, please subscribe at
http://www.apd.army.mil/AdminPubs/new_subscribe.asp

*FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5
Field Manual
No.3-24
Marine Corps Warfighting Publication
No. 3-33.5

Headquarters
Department of the Army
Washington, DC
Headquarters
Marine Corps Combat Development Command
Department of the Navy
Headquarters
United States Marine Corps
Washington, DC
13 May 2014

Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies
Contents
Page

PREFACE...............................................................................................................v
INTRODUCTION ..................................................................................................vii

PART ONE

STRATEGIC AND OPERATIONAL CONTEXT

Chapter 1

UNDERSTANDING THE STRATEGIC CONTEXT............................................ 1-1
United States’ Strategy and Policy to Counter an Insurgency ........................... 1-4
Land Forces and the Range of Military Operations ............................................ 1-6
Legitimacy and Control ....................................................................................... 1-8
Understanding Unified Action ........................................................................... 1-10
Strategic Principles ........................................................................................... 1-19

Chapter 2

UNDERSTANDING AN OPERATIONAL ENVIRONMENT ............................... 2-1
Demographic and Urbanization Trends.............................................................. 2-1
The Operational Variables .................................................................................. 2-2
The Mission Variables and Civil Considerations .............................................. 2-10

Chapter 3

CULTURE........................................................................................................... 3-1
Understanding Culture........................................................................................ 3-1
Assessing a Cultural Situation ............................................................................ 3-2
Organizing to Understand Culture ...................................................................... 3-4

Distribution Restriction: Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.
*This publication supersedes FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5, dated 15 December 2006.
Marine Corps PCN: 143 000124 00
i

Contents

PART TWO

INSURGENCIES

Chapter 4

INSURGENCY PREREQUISITES AND FUNDAMENTALS .............................. 4-1
Intrastate War...................................................................................................... 4-1
Insurgency Prerequisites .................................................................................... 4-3
Insurgency Fundamentals ................................................................................... 4-5
Other Analytical Frameworks ............................................................................ 4-22

Chapter 5

INSURGENCY THREAT CHARACTERISTICS ................................................. 5-1
Disposition and Activities .................................................................................... 5-1
Support Activities ................................................................................................ 5-3
Associated Threats ............................................................................................. 5-5

PART THREE COUNTERINSURGENCIES
Chapter 6

MISSION COMMAND AND COMMAND AND CONTROL ................................ 6-1
Command in Counterinsurgency ........................................................................ 6-1
Headquarters Use In Counterinsurgency ........................................................... 6-4
Conventional Forces and Special Operations Forces Synchronization .............. 6-5

Chapter 7

PLANNING FOR COUNTERING INSURGENCIES ........................................... 7-1
Conceptual Planning ........................................................................................... 7-4
Transitions......................................................................................................... 7-10
Operational Considerations .............................................................................. 7-12
Information Operations ..................................................................................... 7-18

Chapter 8

INTELLIGENCE .................................................................................................. 8-1
Intelligence Fundamentals .................................................................................. 8-2
All-Source Intelligence ........................................................................................ 8-3
Human Intelligence ............................................................................................. 8-4

Chapter 9

DIRECT APPROACHES TO COUNTER AN INSURGENCY ............................ 9-1
Shape-Clear-Hold-Build-Transition Framework .................................................. 9-1
Other Direct Enablers ....................................................................................... 9-11

Chapter 10

INDIRECT METHODS FOR COUNTERING INSURGENCIES........................ 10-1
Nation Assistance and Security Cooperation ................................................... 10-1
Generational Engagement ................................................................................ 10-2
Negotiation and Diplomacy ............................................................................... 10-4
Identify, Separate, Isolate, Influence, and Reintegrate ..................................... 10-6
Other Indirect Enablers ................................................................................... 10-10

Chapter 11

WORKING WITH HOST-NATION FORCES .................................................... 11-1
Assessing and Developing a Host-Nation Force .............................................. 11-2
Relationships..................................................................................................... 11-6
Security Cooperation Planning ......................................................................... 11-8

Chapter 12

ASSESSMENTS ............................................................................................... 12-1
Assessment Frameworks .................................................................................. 12-1
Assessment Methods ........................................................................................ 12-2
Assessment Considerations ............................................................................. 12-2
Developing Measurement Criteria .................................................................... 12-3

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FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5

13 May 2014

Contents

Chapter 13

LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS ............................................................................ 13-1
Authority to Assist A Foreign Government ....................................................... 13-1
Rules of Engagement ....................................................................................... 13-2
Law of War ....................................................................................................... 13-2
Non-International Armed Conflict ..................................................................... 13-7
Detention and Interrogation .............................................................................. 13-8
Enforcing Discipline of U.S. Forces ................................................................ 13-10
Training and Equipping Foreign Forces ......................................................... 13-11
Commander’s Emergency Response Program .............................................. 13-12
Claims and Solatia.......................................................................................... 13-13
Establishing the Rule of Law .......................................................................... 13-13
SOURCE NOTES .......................................................................... Source Notes-1
GLOSSARY .......................................................................................... Glossary-1
REFERENCES .................................................................................. References-1
INDEX .......................................................................................................... Index-1

Figures
Figure 1-1. Country team command relationships ............................................................... 1-17
Figure 4-1. Conflict resolution model ................................................................................... 4-15
Figure 4-2. Organizational elements of an insurgency ......................................................... 4-16
Figure 4-3. Networked insurgencies ..................................................................................... 4-18
Figure 4-4. Examples of dyads ............................................................................................. 4-19
Figure 4-5. Examples of dyad networks ............................................................................... 4-21
Figure 4-6. Example of changes to tactics based on density shift ....................................... 4-22
Figure 7-1. Design concept .................................................................................................... 7-5
Figure 7-2. Sample of individual lines of effort ....................................................................... 7-9
Figure 9-1. The capability spectrum of counterinsurgency conflict ........................................ 9-5
Figure 9-2. Example of a possible transition framework ...................................................... 9-11
Figure 10-1. Generational engagement ............................................................................... 10-2
Figure 10-2. Negotiation and diplomacy............................................................................... 10-5
Figure 11-1. Host-nation security force meter ...................................................................... 11-5
Figure 11-2. Counterinsurgency command relationships ..................................................... 11-6
Figure 11-3. Country planning .............................................................................................. 11-9
Figure 11-4. Phases of building a host-nation security force ............................................. 11-11
Figure 13-1. Provisions binding high contracting parties ..................................................... 13-8

Tables
Table 1-1. Ends, ways, means, and risk in countering an insurgency ................................... 1-5
Table 2-1. Interrelated dimensions of the information environment ....................................... 2-8

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FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5

iii

Contents

Table 11-1. Developing a host-nation security force ........................................................... 11-1
Table 11-2. Host-nation contributions ................................................................................ 11-13
Table 13-1. Extract of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 ................................................ 13-9

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13 May 2014

Preface
Field Manual (FM) 3-24/ Marine Corps Warfighting Publication (MCWP) 3-33.5 provides doctrine for Army
and Marine units that are countering an insurgency. It provides a doctrinal foundation for counterinsurgency.
FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 is a guide for units fighting or training for counterinsurgency operations.
The principal audience for FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 is battalion, brigade, and regimental commanders and their
staffs. Commanders and staffs of Army and Marine Corps headquarters serving as joint task force or
multinational headquarters should also refer to applicable joint or multinational doctrine concerning the range of
military operations and joint or multinational forces. Trainers and educators throughout the Army and Marine
Corps will also use this publication.
Commanders, staffs, and subordinates ensure their decisions and actions comply with applicable United States
(U.S.), international, and, in some cases, host-nation laws and regulations. Commanders at all levels ensure their
Soldiers operate in accordance with the law of war and the rules of engagement. (See FM 27-10.)
FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 implements standardization agreement (STANAG) 2611.
FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 uses joint terms where applicable. Selected joint, Army, and Marine Corps terms and
definitions appear in both the glossary and the text. For terms and their definitions shown in the text, the term is
italicized and the number of the proponent publication follows the definition.
FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 applies to the United States Marine Corps, the Active Army, Army National
Guard/Army National Guard of the United States, and United States Army Reserve unless otherwise stated.
The proponent of FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 is the United States Army Combined Arms Center. The preparing
agency is the Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate, United States Army Combined Arms Center. Send
comments and recommendations on a DA Form 2028 (Recommended Changes to Publications and Blank
Forms) to Commander, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, ATTN: ATZL-MCK-D
(FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5), 300 McPherson Avenue, Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027-2337; by e-mail to
usarmy.leavenworth.mccoe.mbx.cadd-org-mailbox@mail.mil; or submit an electronic DA Form 2028.

13 May 2014

FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5

v

Preface

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
“Al-Sahawa: An Awakening in Al Qaim.” Dr. William Knarr. The Combating Terrorism Exchange Journal.
Copyright © 2013. Institute for Defense Analyses. Reproduced with permission of the Institute for Defense
Analyses, Alexandria, Virginia.
“If a Tactic Works in This Province, it Might Not Work in The Next: The Case of the Dan Aw Patan District,
Afghanistan, 2010.” Combat Studies Institute. Unpublished article. 2013. Reproduced with permission of the
Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
“Intelligence and the Shining Path.” Christopher Paul. Unpublished article. 2013. RAND National Defense
Research Institute. Reproduced with permission of the RAND Corporation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“Laos, 1959-1975.” Christopher Paul. Paths to Victory: Detailed Insurgency Case Studies. Copyright © 2013.
RAND National Defense Research Institute. Reproduced with permission of the RAND Corporation,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“Philippines (Huk Rebellion) 1946-1956.” Molly Dunigan. Paths to Victory: Detailed Insurgency Case Studies.
Copyright © 2013. RAND National Defense Research Institute. Reproduced with permission of the RAND
Corporation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“Regimental Command in Counterinsurgency.” Brigadier General W. Blake Crowe, United States Marine
Corps. Counterinsurgency Leadership in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Beyond. 2011. Marine Corps University Press.
Reproduced with permission of the Marine Corps University Press, Quantico, Virginia.
“Security Cooperation in El Salvador.” Christopher Paul. Unpublished article. 2013. RAND National Defense
Research Institute. Reproduced with permission of the RAND Corporation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“South Vietnam, 1960-1975” Christopher Paul. Paths to Victory: Detailed Insurgency Case Studies. Copyright
© 2013. RAND National Defense Research Institute. Reproduced with permission of the RAND Corporation,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“Sri Lanka, 1976-2009.” Colin P. Clarke. Paths to Victory: Detailed Insurgency Case Studies. Copyright ©
2013. RAND National Defense Research Institute. Reproduced with permission of the RAND Corporation,
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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13 May 2014

Introduction
The 2006 version of FM 3-24/ MCWP 3-33.5, Counterinsurgency, filled an important doctrinal gap at a
time when U.S. forces were engaged in counterinsurgency operations. This version of
FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 builds on that important manual. This field manual provides doctrine that frames
counterinsurgency within the context of the range of military operations and provides a framework for the
different ways land forces could counter an insurgency. Understanding insurgencies and the operational
environment in which they exist, the ways in which the U.S. will attempt to counter insurgencies, and how
commanders synchronize their efforts to achieve end states is at the core of what this manual provides to
both the Army and the Marine Corps.
This version is organized differently than the 2006 version. The new title, Insurgencies and Countering
Insurgencies, provides insight into the thinking behind the organization. Overall, FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 is
divided into three parts. Part one provides strategic and operational context, part two provides the doctrine
for understanding insurgencies, and part three provides doctrine for defeating an insurgency. In short,
FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 is organized to provide the context of a problem, the problem, and possible
solutions.
Part one, the “Strategic and Operational Context,” provides a framework for understanding the environment
where a counterinsurgency exists. Part one consists of chapters one through three.
Part two, “Insurgencies,” provides a doctrinal framework for understanding an insurgency. Part two
consists of chapters four and five.
Part three, “Counterinsurgencies,” describes how to plan and execute operations to enable a host nation to
defeat an insurgency.
Chapter 1, “Understanding the Strategic Context,” answers the questions of how and why U.S. forces might
get involved in a counterinsurgency. Chapter 1 highlights that there are many different ways U.S. forces
could counter an insurgency and that there are a range of various contexts in which an insurgency can
occur. Commanders and staffs must understand the conditions in which an insurgency occurs and the
overall strategy for countering that insurgency so they can effectively support it.
Chapter 2, “Understanding an Operational Environment,” provides context for an operational environment
where an insurgency might be occurring.
Chapter 3, “Culture,” describes the role of culture in counterinsurgency operations. Understanding culture
is essential in any effort to support a counterinsurgency effort. Culture is of unique importance in
understanding an operational environment.
Chapter 4, “Insurgency Prerequisites and Fundamentals,” provides doctrine for understanding the
prerequisites of an insurgency and the root causes that allow an insurgency to keep and gain legitimacy. It
than provides a framework for understanding the strategic decisions an insurgency might make and eight
dynamics for analyzing any particular insurgency.
Chapter 5, “Insurgency Threat Characteristics,” provides doctrine for understanding the threat
characteristics of an insurgency.
Chapter 6, “Command and Control and Mission Command,” provides doctrine for executing command and
control under the philosophy of mission command. In a counterinsurgency effort, many units may perform
many different tasks in decentralized operations. Understanding decentralized operations and ensuring
these units are meeting the overall commander’s intent is essential for successful counterinsurgency
operations.
Chapter 7, “Planning and Operational Considerations,” provides guidance on how commanders and staffs
can work from conceptual planning to detailed planning in counterinsurgency operations. It also provides

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vii

Introduction

important operational considerations, such as attack the network, that are essential in counterinsurgency
operations.
Chapter 8, “Intelligence,” provides considerations for intelligence in counterinsurgency. Because
understanding the environment is essential in counterinsurgency, intelligence facilities successful
operations.
Chapter 9, “Direct Approaches to Counter an Insurgency,” provides guidance on how the Army and the
Marine Corps directly counter an insurgency at the operational and tactical level. The operational
philosophy behind the direct approach is shape-clear-hold-build-transition. If tactical units are directly
interfacing with a society, they will perform shape-clear-hold-build-transition. In addition to guiding U.S.
forces’ actions, shape-clear-hold-build-transition also provides a framework for understanding host-nation
actions. If U.S. forces have to be the primary counterinsurgency force until the host nation can deploy its
forces, shape-clear-hold-build-transition provides an effective operational approach.
Chapter 10, “Indirect Methods for Countering Insurgencies,” provides a framework for working with and
through a host nation. While the U.S. may provide the primary counterinsurgent forces, it may also work
indirectly through the host nation. There are also important indirect enablers.
Chapter 11, “Working with Host-Nation Forces,” provides a foundation for understanding how security
cooperation efforts are integrated into a counterinsurgency effort. Whether U.S. forces are, for a time, the
primary counterinsurgent forces or they are working indirectly through a host nation, enabling the host
nation through security cooperation activities is essential.
Chapter 12, “Assessments,” provides doctrine for understanding how a counterinsurgency environment
changes and determining if counterinsurgent actions are having an effect on achieving the desired end state.
Continued assessments are fundamental to understanding how an environment is evolving and reframing
the basic problems commanders and staffs are facing.
Chapter 13, “Legal Considerations” provides some legal considerations that are important for commanders
and staffs to consider in all counterinsurgency operations.
FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 provides doctrine on how to understand a counterinsurgency environment,
determine the counterinsurgency problem, and plan and execute operations in that environment. It provides
guidance to commanders and staffs facing the unique challenges of countering an insurgency. This field
manual is one manual in a larger doctrinal library that commanders and staffs need to understand in order
to be effective in countering an insurgency. Any effort to counter an insurgency must be built on broad
professional competence.
The Army uses the term intelligence preparation of the battlefield while the Marine Corps uses the term
intelligence preparation of the battlespace. Both Services use the same definition for these terms. This
manual uses the term intelligence preparation of the battlefield/battlespace to align with
FM 2-01.3/MCRP 2-3A.

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13 May 2014

PART ONE

Strategic and Operational Context
When the United States (U.S.) conducts or supports counterinsurgency operations, it
does so in a unique strategic and operational environment. While this is true for all
operations, this is of particular importance when the U.S. is countering an
insurgency. Tactical actions often have strategic effects in a counterinsurgency. This
makes it essential to understand both the strategic and operational context when
countering an insurgency. In this manual, part one provides an overview for
commanders and staff to understand the environment and context of an insurgency
and the decision to counter that insurgency. Chapter 1 provides the strategic context
of a counterinsurgency. When the U.S. becomes involved in a counterinsurgency,
policy and strategic decisions affect operations. Chapter 2 provides an overview of
an operational environment and operational variables. In a counterinsurgency, there
are unique considerations that operators and planners consider. Of particular
importance in a counterinsurgency is culture. Chapter 3 provides an in-depth
overview of culture and its relationship to counterinsurgency.

Chapter 1

Understanding the Strategic Context
1-1. Any decision by the President to commit United States (U.S.) forces must be understood within the
larger sphere of U.S. policy. Soldiers and Marines must first understand the strategic context that the U.S.
is acting in to best plan, prepare, conduct, and assess a counterinsurgency operation to protect national
interests. Countering an insurgency should incorporate previous or continuing security cooperation efforts
and other activities, U.S. and host-nation objectives, and U.S. and host-nation whole-of-government efforts
to address the root causes of the conflict. (For more information on root causes, see paragraphs 4-14
through 4-22.) Despite its irregular nature and generally less intense level of combat, counterinsurgency
may be just as critical to U.S. vital interests as conventional warfare.
1-2. Irregular warfare is a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence
over the relevant population(s) (JP 1). Irregular warfare favors indirect approaches, though it may employ
the full range of military and other capacities in order to erode an adversary’s power, influence, and will.
Because of its irregular nature, U.S. involvement in a counterinsurgency demands a whole-of-government
approach. Defeating an insurgency requires a blend of both civilian and military efforts that address both
assisting the host-nation government in defeating the insurgents on the battlefield and enabling the host
nation in addressing the root causes of the insurgency. Moreover, after large scale combat or in an
ungoverned space, there may not be a functioning host-nation government. In those cases, U.S. forces must
work with population groups in the area and enable them to build governmental capacity. In either case,
U.S. civilian and military participants in counterinsurgency cannot compensate for lack of will, acceptance
of corruption, or counterproductive behavior on the part of the supported government or the population.
1-3. Insurgency in the most basic form is a struggle for control and influence, generally from a position of
relative weakness, outside existing state institutions. Insurgencies can exist apart from or before, during, or
after a conventional conflict. Elements of a population often grow dissatisfied with the status quo. When a

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1-1

Chapter 1

population or groups in a population are willing to fight to change the conditions to their favor, using both
violent and nonviolent means to affect a change in the prevailing authority, they often initiate an
insurgency. An insurgency is the organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify, or challenge
political control of a region. Insurgency can also refer to the group itself (JP 3-24). Counterinsurgency is
comprehensive civilian and military efforts designed to simultaneously defeat and contain insurgency and
address its root causes (JP 3-24). Warfare remains a clash of interests and will between organized groups
characterized by the use of force. In conventional warfare, there are clear determinants of victory.
However, achieving victory for an insurgent may depend less on defeating an armed opponent and more on
a group’s ability to garner support for its political interests (often ideologically based) and to generate
enough violence to achieve political consequences.
1-4. Counterinsurgency is not a substitute for strategy. When counterinsurgents attempt to defeat an
insurgency, they perform a range of diverse methods intended to counter an insurgency. Commanders must
effectively arrange these diverse methods in time and space to accomplish strategic objectives. The U.S.
can use a range of methods to aid a host nation or group in defeating an insurgency. The various
combinations of these methods with different levels of resourcing provide the U.S. with a wide range of
strategic options to defeat an insurgency. The strategy to counter an insurgency is determined by the ends
the U.S. wishes to achieve, the ways it wishes to achieve those ends, and the resources or means it uses to
enable those ways. (See paragraphs 1-10 through 1-13 for more information on strategy.)
1-5. There is a spectrum of involvement in countering an insurgency. The U.S. could enable a host nation
by not providing forces that are directly involved in securing the population or attacking the insurgents. For
example, the U.S. could provide training or intelligence support to a host nation. Moreover, even if the U.S.
is directly involved in defeating the insurgency, its primary role can be only to enable a host nation. A host
nation may be capable of providing civil control and security. The U.S. commander can integrate a force
into the host-nation’s efforts that provides a force to perform direct action or fires provided by airpower or
field artillery. U.S. involvement can range from a modest and supporting commitment to a major ground
force commitment that may, for a time, take the role of primary counterinsurgent force while host-nation
forces become better able to take on that role themselves.
1-6. Ideally, the host nation is the primary actor in defeating an insurgency. Even in an insurgency that
occurs in a country with a nonfunctioning central government or after a major conflict, the host nation must
eventually provide a solution that is culturally acceptable to its society and meets U.S. policy goals. The
conclusion of any counterinsurgency effort is primarily dependent on the host nation and the people who
reside in that nation. Ultimately, every society has to provide solutions to its own problems. As such, one of
the Army and Marine Corps’ primary roles in counterinsurgency is to enable the host nation.
1-7. A counterinsurgency can occur as part of a major combat operation, but it often occurs without a
major conflict. For example, an external threat may sponsor an insurgency, and this could be part of an
effort to attain other strategic objectives. As such, the objectives of a counterinsurgency must be contextual
to that insurgency. Creating objectives that are relevant to a particular insurgency is essential to defeating
that insurgency. Effective counterinsurgency requires clearly defined and obtainable objectives that result
in an end state acceptable to the host-nation government, the populace, and the governments providing
forces. When the U.S. directly involves itself in a counterinsurgency, stability may be essential. Although
all tasks executed to establish the conditions to reach a desired end state are significant, stability operations
may be critical in a counterinsurgency. (The Army understands all operations are made up of offensive,
defensive, and stability tasks. See ADRP 3-07 and FM 3-07 for more information on operations focused on
stability.)
1-8. The military role should be coordinated with the other instruments of national power that include
diplomatic, informational, and economic parts. The Army and Marine Corps are only part of the
instruments of national power that the U.S. can use to counter an insurgency. At times, they may be used in
a supporting role. For example, Soldiers and Marines may be withdrawn from active counterinsurgency
efforts while the U.S. uses other instruments of national power as the primary enablers of a host nation. In
such cases, the Army and Marine Corps may play a supporting role by performing security cooperation
tasks.
1-9. The Laos insurgency highlights the unique nature of an insurgency. This insurgency took place in the
context of Vietnam. Here, internal groups with various interests and outside groups from North Vietnam

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FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5

13 May 2014

Understanding the Strategic Context

and the U.S. created a unique context for the Laos insurgency. Moreover, the corrupt and ineffective host
government was not able to wage its own counterinsurgency campaign effectively. To effectively counter
the insurgency in Laos, the U.S. needed an operational approach that would work in that environment, if a
successful operational approach were possible. Unfortunately, U.S. forces failed to create an effective
strategy to counter the insurgency in Laos. Thus, the U.S. government failed to find the needed ways and
means to meet the policy goal.

The Laos Insurgency
Lamented as “the forgotten war,” the insurgency in Laos was heavily
influenced (and often overshadowed) by the conflict in neighboring Vietnam. A victim
of geography, half-hearted fighting between the different factions in Laos may well
have worked itself out in a lasting compromise if not for pressure from North
Vietnamese communists to control areas of Laos for the infiltration of men and
materiel into South Vietnam (along the Ho Chi Min trail) and U.S. efforts to oppose
communist presence and influence.
Beginning in earnest in 1959, fighting pitted variously rightist Royal Lao
forces supported by Hmong guerillas against the leftist Pathet Lao (indigenous
communists) and their North Vietnamese supporters. These participants were at
times joined by other players, including U.S. advisors, Filipino troops, U.S. air power,
Thai commandos and artillery formations, as well as “neutralist” Lao forces. During
the period of conflict, Laos was underdeveloped in every way, including its
government, its economy, and its military. The government and military were corrupt
and ineffective and the economy was wholly dependent on outside support.
As the United States became more invested in Vietnam, it also increased
support to Laos; by the end of 1955, the U.S. provided 100% of the Lao military
budget. North Vietnamese backers of the Pathet Lao sought to grow that force,
supporting a significant recruiting campaign and sending many of the recruits to
North Vietnam for schooling and training. This led to greater investment by the U.S.
in materiel and training for government forces, and included, beginning in 1957,
efforts to arm Hmong guerillas, who would play an important role later in the conflict.
Vietnamese interest in Laos was primarily in securing the so called
“panhandle” region, through which the Ho Chi Min trail allowed the North Vietnamese
to infiltrate men and materiel into South Vietnam. A secondary consideration was the
support of a fellow communist movement (the Pathet Lao). Once fighting began in
1959, the Vietnamese used government chaos to their benefit, increasing attacks on
government forces and expanding the territory under their influence or control. During
this period, many attacks took the form of North Vietnamese Army regulars attacking
and overwhelming a position, and then letting their Pathet Lao allies occupy the area
and claim the victory, thus at least paying lip service to maintaining the neutralization
of Laos.
These North Vietnamese Army-led attacks and several attempted
counterattacks by Royal Laotian Forces against Pathet Lao positions revealed the
gross incompetence of the government’s regular forces. This lack of capability
stemmed from several sources, including a half-hearted martial tradition in general, a
preoccupation with profiteering and political games by the senior leadership, lack of
efforts by the French who were responsible for their training until late 1958, and a
fundamental lack of motivation. Despite the vigorous efforts of U.S. trainers and
millions of dollars in materiel throughout the course of the conflict, Royal Lao Forces
would never become a consequential fighting force. In this phase, the only effective
forces on the government side were the Hmong tribesmen, trained and provisioned
by the Central Intelligence Agency and fighting as guerillas.
International pressure (from the United States as well as from China and
Russia preferring to avoid unnecessarily provoking the United States) and support
(from the United States and other allies) prevented the complete collapse of the
government of Laos in 1962 and pushed for neutralization through a coalition

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government. The North Vietnamese were content to allow negotiations to take place,
as they had succeeded in securing what they needed: the Ho Chi Min trail. After
months of wrangling, 1962 finally saw another Geneva agreement, this time for a
neutralized Laos with a coalition government representing the three major factions:
the rightists, the leftists, and the neutralists. Part of the neutralization agreement
included the removal of foreign forces from Laos. While U.S. and allied personnel
who had been fighting on the side of the Royal Lao Government were withdrawn from
the country, very few of the substantial number of North Vietnamese Army forces
withdrew. Nor did the Central Intelligence Agency cease its work with the Hmong.
The new coalition government proved shaky. Turmoil again rocked the Lao
government with continued political maneuvering by greedy generals and a string of
coups. Military region commanders ran their zones like private fiefdoms, rarely
dispatching their troops outside the Mekong River valley. A series of spectacular
failures by the Royal Lao forces all but ensured those forces would never seek to
take the initiative and act in other than a strictly defensive capacity again. Between
1964 and 1968, the conflict was primarily between the U.S.-supported paramilitaries
(backed by U.S. airpower), and the Pathet Lao. The cycle of dry season and wet
season, each favoring one side or the other, saw very modest back and forth
movement between the two primarily irregular forces, with little change from year to
year. That all changed in 1969. The communist dry season offensive of 1968 did not
end with the onset of the rainy season, and gains were substantial. In early 1970, the
communists seized a provincial capital for the first time, and later that year they
seized another.
In the now traditional way, Hmong guerillas counterattacked. However, after
nearly a decade of war, the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret army was nearly
fought out. Fighting against superior numbers of regular troops, the Hmong became
more and more reliant on U.S. airpower and on support from Thai artillery. Bombing
in southern Laos expanded such that by 1971, it was more extensive than bombing
in South Vietnam and Cambodia combined.
The communist dry season offensive that started in December of 1971
brought extraordinary pressure on the government. For the first time, North
Vietnamese Army forces used significant armor, as well as large tube artillery. The
Hmong were battered and quickly thrown back. After another year of significant
communist gains, the Lao government and its international supporters once again
sought a ceasefire.
By the time of the 1973 ceasefire and neutralization, the government of
Laos controlled little more than the capital and the Mekong river valley, and that only
by virtue of the Hmong and U.S. airpower. With the withdrawal of U.S. support (both
airpower and funding) in 1973, the Hmong were demobilized and the Lao
government was left to its fate, which was to fall relatively quickly to the communists.

UNITED STATES’ STRATEGY AND POLICY TO COUNTER AN
INSURGENCY
1-10. When and how the U.S. government provides assistance to other states to counter an insurgency is a
question of policy and strategy. Commanders and staffs should understand that the U.S. can respond with a
range of measures, many of which do not directly involve U.S. forces securing the population or
performing offensive operations, in a counterinsurgency. This manual provides the reader with information
on how counterinsurgents may organize tactical tasks in time and space to reach an end state. It cannot and
should not be the only reference to conduct counterinsurgency operations for someone who wishes to fully
understand the policy tools available to the U.S. to aid a host nation in fighting a counterinsurgency. (See
JP 3-24, Allied Joint Publication 3.4.4, and the U.S. Government Guide to Counterinsurgency for more
information on counterinsurgency policy tools.)

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1-11. Effective counterinsurgency operations require an understanding of the military profession. The tasks
counterinsurgents perform in countering an insurgency are not unique. It is the organization of these tasks
in time and space that is unique. For example, geographic combatant commanders employ theater strategy
to align and shape efforts, resources, and tasks to support strategic goals and prepare for conflict and
contingencies in their region. In support of this goal, theater strategies normally emphasize security
cooperation activities, building partner capacity and force posture, and preparing for contingencies and
other tasks those are not unique to counterinsurgency operations. For example, a unit can perform security
cooperation tasks in support or not in support of countering an insurgency. (See FM 3-22 for more
information on security cooperation tasks.) Those units that carry out security cooperation tasks to support
a counterinsurgency should understand security cooperation and the tasks they are performing and
teaching. Moreover, they should understand how these tasks are used in defeating an insurgency. Soldiers
and Marines must start from a foundation of professional knowledge and competence to have a framework
for understanding and aiding a host nation in defeating an insurgency. Whether a unit is directly performing
the tasks to defeat an insurgency or indirectly supporting a host nation, this manual provides a doctrinal
framework for counterinsurgency operations. However, to be effective, Soldiers and Marines must be
professionally competent. This is the foundation in understanding another nation’s or group’s actions to
defeat an insurgency and in providing aid to that nation or group. (See ADRP 1 for more information on
professional competence.)
1-12. Political leaders and commanders must have a dialogue to decide the optimal strategy to meet the
security needs of the U.S and states or groups the U.S. supports. Different capabilities provide different
choices that offer different costs and risks. U.S. strategy is defined by how it combines these capabilities
(the ways), resources them (the means), and its willingness to accept risk in attaining its policy goals.
Commanders inform political leaders about the prospects for victory and the different costs and risks of
various options, and political leaders weigh these costs and risks against their importance to U.S. national
interests. Once U.S. policymakers have determined the goals (the ends) of the U.S., the military evaluates
operational approaches to conduct counterinsurgency efforts depending on the ends, ways, means, and
acceptable risk. The joint force provides a range of capabilities that it integrates into the overall strategy.
For example, in a functioning state that is facing an insurgency, the joint force may employ a range of
security cooperation tools. Moreover, other tools fall outside of security cooperation, such as direct action
and counter threat financing, that the U.S. can integrate into the mix of ways that it will use to defeat or
contain an insurgency. The U.S. government integrates the various instruments of national power to create
a range of strategic options, of which military involvement is only one part. (For a further discussion on
strategy, see MCDP 1-1.) (See table 1-1.)
Table 1-1. Ends, ways, means, and risk in countering an insurgency
Ends

Ways

Defeat or contain an
insurgency.

Direct methods
(See chapter 9.)

Support strategic goals
and end state defined by
policy makers.

Indirect methods
(See chapter 10.)

Means

Unified action



Military force.
Other
governmental
capabilities

Risk

Determined by a
mismatch in the
ends, ways, and
means.

1-13. An operational approach is a description of the broad actions the force must take to transform
current conditions into those desired at end state (JP 3-0). The commander may use direct or indirect
approaches to counter threats. Commanders may find their operational approach is mainly direct, indirect,
or a mixture of both. The approach is the manner in which a commander contends with a center of gravity.
A direct approach attacks the enemy’s center of gravity or principal strength by applying combat power
directly against it. An indirect approach attacks the enemy’s center of gravity by applying combat power
against a series of decisive points that lead to the defeat of the center of gravity while avoiding the enemy
strength. Commanders may use a single direct or indirect approach or, more likely, may employ a
combination of approaches to counter an insurgency and its influence. Additionally, the emphasis on or
combination of approaches may have to evolve as the security situation and insurgent networks evolve. The
commander’s intent and the approach(es) the commander selects will drive the methods used by
counterinsurgents. These methods may be direct or indirect. Approaches and methods must be nested and

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clearly linked, since they often involve support from diplomatic, economic, and informational efforts by
non-military forces. (See chapter 9 for more information on direct methods and chapter 10 for more
information on indirect methods. See JP 5-0 for more information on direct and indirect approaches.)

LAND FORCES AND THE RANGE OF MILITARY OPERATIONS
1-14. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps can prevent or defeat an insurgency across the range of military
operations. This is true if an insurgency starts in the context of a major combat operation or if it starts
during peace. Across the range of military operations and in accordance with U.S. strategy, U.S. land forces
take actions and set priorities to shape an environment to reduce the possibility of insurgencies. In some
instances an operational environment and its related variables are unstable or fragile and hostile actions
against a host-nation government begin. In this environment, the U.S. may make a decision to use some
type of military capability. Commanders must understand the effects that the actions and priorities of the
U.S. force have on an operational environment. When acting in this environment, commanders must have
situational understanding of the environment and the effects of U.S. actions in that environment. This
influences how the commander attempts to shape the environment. An insurgency can also occur in the
context of another conflict. For example, during major combat operations, land forces must take actions to
prevent insurgencies from occurring during operations and once the opposing conventional force is
defeated. While an insurgency is only a possibility in a major combat operation, it could occur during major
operations or afterwards. Commanders and staffs must assess the possibility of an insurgency in any
operational environment and take actions to prevent one from occurring. These actions can include a range
of stability operations and security cooperation activities. (See ADRP 3-07 for more information on
stability operations and FM 3-22 for more information on security cooperation.)
1-15. The circumstances of U.S. involvement in a counterinsurgency are important in understanding the
operational and tactical actions of U.S. forces. The type and scale of involvement, whether the Army and
Marine Corps are involved temporarily as the primary counterinsurgent forces or are providing modest
indirect and direct support to a counterinsurgency effort, will be determined by the circumstances of U.S.
involvement. U.S. forces participate at the direction of the President, based on national security interests.
One example circumstance is the collapse of a fragile state in a geographically strategic area. Even if U.S.
land forces are not in place when the government collapses, the President may deploy land forces to
counter an insurgency and restore stability. The use of indirect capabilities in a failed state is complex
because the commander often has to work with groups outside of the legitimately constituted government.
Building capacity and enabling existing capabilities is difficult when a state lacks functional institutions.
Because these areas lack state institutions to provide various governmental functions to include security
forces, large scale direct involvement is often resource intensive. The U.S. can use smaller direct
capabilities to support groups outside the legitimately constituted government, but this also adds to
uncertainty and strategic risk.
1-16. U.S. forces can participate at the request of a government that seeks to counter an insurgency in its
country with assistance from the U.S. When a requesting government is capable and functioning, the U.S.
can offer a wide range of capabilities. Having a capable government changes the relationship between ends,
ways, and means. A capable government could require fewer resources to intervene, or it could only require
indirect and direct enablers in order to be successful. However, as with any involvement to counter an
insurgency, often unforeseen risks could lead to greater U.S. involvement.
1-17. U.S. involvement can also occur in a country where there are ongoing security cooperation activities.
If the U.S. is performing security cooperation activities in a country and an insurgency develops, continued
security cooperation efforts could result in U.S. involvement in a host nation’s counterinsurgency efforts.
Efforts to train and equip host-nation forces will likely be seen as U.S. involvement by both the insurgents
and the international community. Moreover, U.S. forces could also transition to direct involvement in an
insurgency. Whatever the degree of involvement, a clear policy decision should be made to include the
development of a national strategy.
1-18. Insurgencies could also be part of large scale combat or fueled by a regional or global adversary. In a
protracted large scale operation, an insurgency often develops in controlled areas with populations
sympathetic to the enemy. As such, planning for prevention of an insurgency and integrating stability
operations into a prolonged operation is essential. If an insurgency develops, it will require resources to

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defeat the insurgents. This will reduce the resources available to defeat the enemy in large-scale combat. In
addition, an adversary can fuel an insurgency in a host nation to undermine U.S. interests. In this case, the
insurgency is part of an adversary’s overall strategy and policy. (See FM 3-05, chapter 2, for more
information on unconventional warfare. It provides a U.S. perspective on enabling an insurgency.)
1-19. An insurgency can also occur at the conclusion of a large scale combat operation when an organized
movement seeks to challenge the authority of the U.S. and its partners. The organized movement may be
remnants of the defeated force or an opportunistic movement that seeks to obtain power using a
political-military challenge to the existing authority. In either case, U.S. land forces, along with other
unified action partners, must be prepared at all stages of conventional warfare to assess the capability of an
insurgency occurring either during the conflict or after hostilities cease. Soldiers and Marines must also
recognize that the presence of U.S. forces in the region can lead to the conditions for an insurgency. U.S.
land forces can help to prevent an insurgency from occurring in the manner in which they conduct
conventional warfare and in the conduct of post-conflict operations. Should prevention fail, U.S. forces will
be exponentially more successful in countering an insurgency if they shape the environment during and
immediately following conventional warfare for an effective transition to counterinsurgency.
1-20. In the military operations, U.S. forces can prevent an insurgency from occurring in large scale
combat operations by integrating stability operations. If an insurgency does begin, U.S. forces can shape its
formation and make it easier to defeat. U.S. land forces can also prevent an insurgency from occurring in
peacetime through security cooperation activities and other capabilities that support the host nation or other
groups. If there is an insurgency, the U.S. can integrate a number of capabilities into an overall operational
approach to defeat that insurgency.
1-21. From the U.S. land forces’ perspective, insurgencies range along a spectrum depending on the scale
of effort and resources the Army and Marine Corps must take to counter them. In a worst-case scenario, an
extremely capable insurgency that has a significant impact on the population exists in a failed state region
in which there is little or no host-nation government capability. The U.S. may have to commit significant
combat power to offset the momentum of the insurgency. While the U.S. can avoid using land forces in
direct combat, the use of other capabilities will often support groups that are not the recognized
government. In such cases, the U.S. would be enabling one group to gain control over the state. For
example, the U.S. could equip groups within a state and empower them to take control over an area. While
the initial cost may be lower, this course of action is fraught with possible unintended consequences. The
group that counterinsurgents enable, which is essentially another insurgency, may act in ways that are
counter to U.S. interests once it gains control of the area. On the other hand, direct involvement could be
extremely costly and provoke a wider conflict. If the U.S. operates in a failed state to defeat an insurgency,
it must create a policy and strategy that matches its goals and the resources that it is willing to spend.
Moreover, it must be willing to accept a large degree of uncertainty and strategic risk.
1-22. The best-case scenario is when the host nation has the capability to defeat an insurgency and the U.S.
plays only a supporting role in enabling the insurgencies’ defeat with equipment, training, or intelligence.
A middle case occurs when a functional state has an insurgency in a remote area where the host-nation
government cannot exert complete control. The existing insurgency is not a challenge to the continued
authority of the host-nation government, but it may seek to gain control of a specific region or area. This
type of scenario can require much fewer resources for U.S. land forces to counter the insurgency than the
worst-case scenario. Since the capacity of the host-nation security forces exists to contain the insurgency to
a specific region or area, the U.S. can integrate a number of capabilities into the host government’s efforts
to increase the effectiveness and capabilities of the host nation. While every insurgency is unique, this basic
framework offers the U.S. the opportunity to achieve policy goals while spending fewer resources and
offering less uncertainty and risk. However, as with any conflict, unintended consequences can change the
insurgency and increase the cost and uncertainty of U.S. involvement.
1-23. In all cases, specific national policies govern U.S. land forces’ actions to counter an insurgency. An
insurgency’s goals and actions are influenced by the conditions the insurgency develops in. An
insurgency’s objectives are not exclusive to the condition of the state, but each can occur anywhere along
the range of state conditions. However, the operational environment an insurgency develops in will affect
how it understands its goals and will affect its actions (See chapter 2 for more information on an

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operational environment and section II for more information on understanding the actions of an
insurgency).
1-24. There may be multiple insurgencies in an operational environment. A networked insurgency may
have conflicting goals within its organization and its actions are not controlled by a command structure.
These insurgencies can have links to other insurgencies or criminal organizations. Networked insurgencies
might divide or combine with groups. In such cases it is difficult to analyze an insurgency or insurgencies if
they are treated as monolithic actors. Instead, counterinsurgents must understand the dynamics within the
insurgency or multiple insurgencies. (See paragraphs 4-88 through 4-103 for more information on
networked insurgencies.)
1-25. Victory in a counterinsurgency may not be as clear as winning in a conventional conflict. U.S.
national ends determine the criteria for success, regardless of how the U.S. land force is deployed to
conduct counterinsurgency operations. As it applies to U.S. national objectives, success in an insurgency
often depends on developing host-nation capacity to contain, reduce, and defeat the insurgency without
requiring direct U.S. involvement. In a counterinsurgency, the host nation often determines the criteria for
success. U.S. counterinsurgents should avoid judging host-nation criteria based on their own cultural
expectations. Achieving success may depend less on defeating the armed element of the insurgency and
more on the ability to legitimize host-nation institutions to the populace. Short and mid-term success in
counterinsurgency may be developing a host-nation government that has sufficient capability to secure
itself and address an insurgency on its own. This success allows the U.S. to continue to support the host
nation through a long-term relationship that addresses that nation’s legitimacy. Success includes enabling
the development of resiliency within the host-nation population and host-nation institutions to sustain the
ability to counter the insurgency in the future and prevent the conditions in the area from allowing an
insurgency to gain strength. Achieving the conditions for success may require a mix of application of force,
information operations, cultural acceptance, and building capacity and competency within host-nation
institutions. Counterinsurgents may either persuade the people to support the government or dissuade them
from supporting the insurgents. What capabilities the U.S. uses to counter an insurgency is dependent on
the context of that insurgency and U.S. national interests.
1-26. U.S. forces should expect that the host-nation government will have its own interests that may not
coincide with U.S. national interests. It may not be willing to undertake the political changes necessary to
address the root causes of the insurgency. The commitment of U.S. forces may depend upon the degree to
which U.S. policy makers consider the affected government to be receptive to assistance, advice, and
reform. How Soldiers and Marines are employed will also require a clear determination by national
decisionmakers as to what post-conflict commitments by military and civilian organizations will be
required. Outside counterinsurgents, however, can never fully compensate for lack of will, incapacity, or
counterproductive behavior on the part of the supported government. If a government is unambiguously
committed to the defeat of insurgency, it is more likely to defeat it, regardless of the actions (or
commitment level) of an outside supporter.

LEGITIMACY AND CONTROL
1-27. Legitimacy, the acceptance of an authority by a society, and control are the central issues in
insurgencies and counterinsurgencies. This is true however the U.S. enables a host nation to defeat an
insurgency. The population of a particular society determines who has legitimacy to establish the rules and
the government for that society. A population’s values and cultural norms will determine who that society
perceives as a legitimate authority. Both the insurgency and the host nation attempt to control the
population by some mixture of consent and coercion. Insurgents use all available tools, including political
(diplomatic), informational (including appeals to religious, ethnic, historical, national, class, political, tribal
or ideological beliefs), and social, military, and economic tools to overthrow or undermine an existing
authority. Likewise, the host nation will use all available tools to maintain acceptance of its authority. This
authority may be an established government or an interim governing body. It may be a generally accepted
social order. Control of a population, however, may not be the end state desired by an insurgent. A criminal
enterprise might seek to undermine existing political power in order to enable it to continue its criminal
activities or insurgents could seek political power in order to impose an ideological (or religious) system on
an unwilling population. In counterinsurgencies, if the affected government wants to end the insurgency, it

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should use all instruments of its national power to prove its legitimacy, to defeat the insurgency, and to
reduce the likelihood of another crisis emerging.
1-28. Legitimacy is essential to understanding the political variable in an insurgency. Who a population
accepts as legitimate is dependent on the norms and values within that particular population. Legitimacy
can change as a society evolves and groups or individuals change their conceptualization of who they are
and what authority they accept. Sometimes large changes, such as the American War of Independence or
the unification of Germany in 1871, create a change in group identity and accepted authority. Sometimes
group identity changes by slow evolution, as is the case with the European Union. However, at the core,
who a group accepts as providing legitimate authority to govern their actions is that group’s legitimate
authority. (See paragraphs 2-16 through 2-19 for information on the political variable.)
1-29. Legitimacy provides willing acceptance of authority and thus requires fewer resources to enforce its
authority than illegitimacy. Most populations are controlled through a combination of consent and coercion.
The host-nation government generally needs some level of legitimacy among the population in order to
retain power. This provides some level of consent. Legitimacy is an indicator of the extent to which
systems of authority, decisions, and conduct are accepted by the local population. Political legitimacy of a
government determines the degree to which the population will voluntarily or passively comply with the
decisions and rules issued by a governing authority. Legitimacy determines the transaction costs of political
and governmental power. Low legitimacy may breed contempt on the part of the population and may
require extensive prodding and incentives by the government to secure compliance of the population; high
legitimacy generally invites compliance by the population and therefore requires less effort by the
government to ensure compliance. An illegitimate government’s only method of controlling its population
is coercion, which can be resource intensive. A legitimate government has to use coercion for policing
power, but its population, in general, sees the rules and directions of its government as intrinsically correct.
A population will follow a legitimate government’s rules and norms passively, and those who break those
rules or norms are disapproved of by the society. Who the population sees as a legitimate authority is a
central issue of a counterinsurgency.
1-30. All population groups are controlled by some combination of consent and coercion. Some
governments may use a range of coercive methods to control the population. Coercive methods can damage
legitimacy if the methods cannot be justified under the values and norms of the population. However,
counterinsurgents should not think of coercion and consent as counter forces to one another. If coercive
acts by the government or insurgency are justifiable under the norms and values of the population, those
acts do not necessarily undermine the legitimacy of the government or host nation. Acts by both the
government and the insurgency must be viewed from the perspective of the population experiencing those
acts and not from an outside perspective that will bring its own bias to viewing actions of the host
government or insurgency.
1-31. The struggle for legitimacy with the population is typically a central issue of an insurgency. The
insurgency will attack the legitimacy of the host-nation government while attempting to develop its own
credibility with the population. The host-nation government should reduce the credibility of the insurgency
while strengthening its own legitimacy. A government that is seen as legitimate magnifies the resources
and capabilities needed to defeat an insurgency and allows the host nation to concentrate finite resources on
targeting the insurgency. However, legitimacy is a condition perceived by the population. Who the
population sees as legitimate will be determined by that population’s norms and values. For example, if a
population does not see outside forces as legitimate, this can undermine the legitimacy of the host-nation
government trying to counter an insurgency.
1-32. The legitimacy of the host-nation government is achieved because the population accepts its
authority and how it governs can be justified in terms of the population’s beliefs. It is not enough for the
host-nation government to be simply seen as effective and credible. The governmental structure must be
justifiable to the population and that justification must be based on the population’s norms and values. In
some situations, providing effective governance may be essential to establish legitimacy among the
population. However, this is not a uniform rule. The key is that legitimacy is ultimately decided in the
minds of the population. Counterinsurgents must understand how the population will perceive a
government. A host nation that is less efficient but perceived as legitimate by the population will be more

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effective than an efficient host-nation government that cannot be justified by the values and norms of the
population.
1-33. Even if a population does not see an insurgency or a government as legitimate, control can be
established effectively by coercion. Many states and insurgencies have used domestic intelligence
apparatus or other means to control every aspect of their populations. Illegitimate governments often use
distrust and divisions within a population to effectively control a society. Moreover, a population is not
monolithic. It is made up of many groups and subgroups. In many autocratic regimes, various groups
within a population have a vested interest in continuing the current government, even if it is repressive.
Likewise, an insurgency might receive support from elements within the population, even if it is repressive
and uses coercive methods. Legitimacy must be seen from the different perspectives of the different groups
within a society.

UNDERSTANDING UNIFIED ACTION
1-34. Once the U.S. decides to become involved in a counterinsurgency, all instruments of national power
provide the U.S. important capabilities to defeat an insurgency. Unified action is essential for all types of
involvement in any counterinsurgency. Unified action is the synchronization, coordination, and/or
integration of the activities of governmental and nongovernmental entities with military operations to
achieve unity of effort (JP 1). Paragraphs 1-34 through 1-76 provide commanders and staffs with an
understanding of how civilian agencies and military departments and forces synchronize and integrate their
operations to achieve unity of effort. Paragraphs 1-41 through 1-48 explain both a whole-of-government
and a comprehensive approach to defeat insurgencies and achieve U.S. and host-nation objectives.
Paragraphs 1-59 through 1-76 also explain the roles of intergovernmental, nongovernmental, multinational
forces, private sector organizations, and host-nation government and host-nation forces in
counterinsurgency.
1-35. Unified action must be integrated into the overall host-nation efforts. The focus of U.S. efforts is to
support the host nation’s internal defense and development. Internal defense and development is the full
range of measures taken by a nation to promote its growth and protect itself from subversion, lawlessness,
insurgency, terrorism, and other threats to its security (JP 3-22). Internal defense and development focuses
on building viable institutions that respond to the needs of society. Security cooperation activities must
work with and support a nation’s own internal defense and development programs. Within the context of
counterinsurgency, commanders and staffs must understand and support a host nation’s internal defense
and development strategy. In the long run, the host nation, and not the U.S., will either defeat or be
defeated by the insurgency. Supporting a host nation’s internal defense and development plan is one of the
more effective ways in which the U.S. enables a host nation to defeat an insurgency. (See JP 3-22 for more
information on internal defense and development.)

ETHICAL APPLICATION OF LANDPOWER IN UNIFIED ACTION
1-36. Army and Marine Corps leaders should clearly understand how adherence to a professional ethic
provides the moral basis for unified action and how it becomes a force multiplier in all operations. The
actions of Army and Marine Corps professionals are framed by the disciplined, ethical application of force.
This is the foundation for unified action. Effective, ethical leaders must communicate to their Soldiers and
Marines that American values affect every aspect of how U.S. forces fight and win a counterinsurgency.
This instills in them the concept of honorable service and builds esprit de corps, two essential
characteristics of the military profession, while enhancing resilience and preventing or reducing moral
injuries to Soldiers and Marines. Unified action requires the judicious use of lethal force balanced with
restraint and tempered by professional judgment. Combat in counterinsurgency often obligates leaders,
Soldiers, and Marines to apply force in a precise manner to accomplish the mission without causing
unnecessary loss of life or suffering. To maintain U.S. legitimacy, to ensure international credibility, and to
safeguard the U.S., Soldiers and Marines cannot afford to misuse the lethal power provided to them by the
U.S. government.
1-37. Soldiers and Marines are not permitted to use force disproportionately or indiscriminately. Typically,
more force reduces tactical risk in the short term. But in counterinsurgency, the more force that is used, the
less effective it can be. It is more likely that counterinsurgents will achieve an end state by protecting a

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population, not the counterinsurgency force. When military forces remain in secure compounds, they lose
touch with the situation, appear to be indifferent to the population, simplify enemy intelligence operations,
or appear afraid to engage the insurgents. In effect, they concede the initiative to the insurgents. To be
successful, counterinsurgency forces must work with and share risks with the host-nation forces and the
population. Soldiers and Marines must accept some risk to minimize harm to noncombatants. Accepting
prudent risk is an essential part of the warrior ethos and an obligation of honorable service.
1-38. Leaders must accept ambiguity and risk, which are inherent to decentralized operations. The
presence of a local population within which insurgents may disappear creates a high degree of ambiguity.
Operationally adaptable leaders observe the rapidly changing situation, identify its key characteristics,
determine what has to be done in consultation with subordinates and host-nation forces, and determine the
best method to accomplish the mission. They must assess and accept prudent risk, and they must adjust
rapidly as conditions change. They must be able to shift operational tasks from capacity building to combat
and back again in days, or even hours. Alert junior leaders recognize the dynamic context of a tactical
situation and can use their professional judgment to apply informed lethal and non-lethal force to achieve
the commander’s intent. Any use of force generates a series of reactions. The general rule for the use of
force for the counterinsurgents is “do not create more enemies than you eliminate with your action.” The
more force is applied, the greater the chance of collateral damage and mistakes. There will be times when
an overwhelming effort is necessary to destroy or intimidate an opponent and reassure the populace.
However, counterinsurgency forces should calculate carefully the type and amount of force to be applied
and who wields it for any operation. Using force precisely and discriminately strengthens the rule of law
that needs to be established in the host nation. Normally, counterinsurgency forces can use escalation of
force procedures to minimize unnecessary loss of life or suffering. These procedures are especially
appropriate during an operation in which the counterinsurgent security force interacts with the local
population. All interactions between security forces and the population directly impact legitimacy. (See
chapter 13 for legal information on the use of force).
1-39. Who wields force is also important. If the police have a reasonable reputation for competence and
impartiality, it may be better for them to execute urban raids than military forces because the population is
more likely to view their application of force as legitimate. This is true even if the police are not as well
armed or as capable as military forces. Local circumstances, however, affect this decision. For example, if
the police are seen as part of an ethnic or sectarian group oppressing the general population, their use may
be counterproductive. (See chapter 10 regarding the development of host-nation security forces and chapter
12 regarding assessing counterinsurgency operations. For further discussions on use of force, see chapter
13.)
1-40. The environments where counterinsurgency operations exist can be much more ethically complex
than those associated with conventional conflicts. Many leadership and ethical imperatives are prominent
and, in some cases, unique to counterinsurgency. The dynamic and ambiguous environment of modern
counterinsurgency places a premium on leadership at every level, from sergeant to general. Application of
decentralized authority and decisionmaking is more prevalent in counterinsurgency than other types of
military operations. Combat in a counterinsurgency is frequently a small-unit leader’s fight; however,
senior leaders set the conditions and the tone for all actions by subordinates. Today’s Soldiers and Marines
must rapidly adapt cognitively and emotionally to the perplexing challenges of counterinsurgency and
master new competencies in dynamic contexts. Those in leadership positions must provide the moral
compass for their subordinates as they navigate this complex environment. Underscoring these imperatives
is the fact that exercising leadership in the midst of ambiguity requires intense, discretionary professional
judgment. Army and Marine Corps leaders are expected to demonstrate their competence, character, and
commitment to their professional ethic. All leaders must continually reconcile mission effectiveness,
ethical standards, and thoughtful stewardship of the nation’s precious resources—human and material—in
the pursuit of national aims. Leaders must link tactical actions to strategic objectives and to the host
nation’s essential political goals. U.S. forces must use the combat multiplier of seeking and maintaining the
moral high ground in a counterinsurgency. Doing so guarantees maintaining trust with the American people
and upholds the ideals of the profession of arms.

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A WHOLE-OF-GOVERNMENT EFFORT
1-41. Accomplishing U.S. policy objectives in any conflict requires government expertise and resources
outside of the Department of Defense (DOD). Policy objectives, especially during a conflict, require a
whole-of-government effort. A whole-of-government approach integrates the collaborative efforts of the
departments and agencies of the U.S. government to achieve unity of effort toward a shared goal. A
whole-of-government effort is vital to achieving the balance of resources, capabilities, and activities that
reinforce progress made by one of the instruments of national power while enabling success among the
others. It relies on coordination among the agencies of the U.S. government, including DOD, to ensure that
the full range of available capabilities are used, synchronized, and applied to a given policy objective.
Government agencies usually agree upon relationships and authorities in a memorandum of agreement or
understanding. Military commanders exercise only the authority outlined in these agreements and are often
directed by another agency. The terms in these documents may form the basis for establishing some form
of relationship between commanders and agency chiefs. When unity of command is not possible,
commanders strive to achieve unity of effort. Often, the interpersonal relationships that commanders
establish with their interagency partners are essential.
1-42. A whole-of-government effort incorporates all of the capabilities of the U.S. government to achieve
U.S. national objectives. In many counterinsurgencies, for example, political objectives include assisting
the host nation with managing the nonmilitary aspects of the insurgency. Therefore, these political
objectives include eliminating the root causes of the insurgency. However, counterinsurgency commanders
and planners must understand that, in the end, societies must address their own root causes of insurgency.
Imposing major reforms may result in unintended consequences. Enabling a host nation to address the
insurgency’s root causes increases its chances of defeating it. In dealing with the sorts of complex
socio-cultural problems that counterinsurgents frequently face, “host-nation good enough” is normally
better than what the U.S. would consider perfect, if it meets U.S. objectives.
1-43. A primary challenge for integrating civilian and military efforts into a whole-of-government effort is
the differing capabilities, capacities, cultures, objectives, and approaches in civilian agencies compared to
those of military forces. A successful whole-of-government effort requires that all actors—

Are represented, integrated, and actively involved in the process.

Share an understanding of the situation and problem to be resolved.

Strive for unity of effort toward achieving a common goal.

Integrate and synchronize capabilities and activities.

Collectively determine the resources, capabilities, and activities necessary to achieve their goal.
1-44. The importance of the commander’s personal involvement in building interorganizational trust,
understanding, mutual respect, and friendships cannot be overstated. If organizational leaders do not set the
appropriate tone and establish the necessary climate, the best whole-of-government plan will fail.
1-45. A clear understanding of the desired end state and national objectives should infuse all efforts,
regardless of the agencies or individuals charged with their execution. Given the primacy of political
considerations, military forces often support civilian efforts. However, the nature of counterinsurgency
operations means that lead responsibility often shifts among military, civilian, and host-nation authorities.
In other words, as the U.S. shifts its policy and strategy, different agencies take on different roles during an
operation. Different or changing relationships with the host nation may also drive shifts in lead
responsibility between different authorities. Military leaders prepare to assume local leadership for
counterinsurgency efforts if civilian leadership is unavailable or cannot access the area.
1-46. U.S. land forces conducting counterinsurgency operations must recognize the legal authority of the
Department of State, their chief country team, and the chief of mission. The chief of mission, who is
normally the ambassador, is the principal officer in charge of a diplomatic facility of the U.S. The country
team is the senior, in-country, U.S. coordinating and supervising body. Commanders ensure that they gain
an understanding of the purposes, goals, and restrictions under which their interagency partners are
operating. Without such an understanding, the military and nonmilitary efforts may frustrate and interfere
with one another because the military and civilian organizations are functioning under separate statutory
obligations that may lead to conflicting guidance and direction.

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COMPREHENSIVE EFFORT
1-47. A comprehensive effort, at a minimum, incorporates all the capabilities of U.S and host-nation
governments, and may include intergovernmental and regional organizations, and nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs) to address the root causes of the insurgency, in conjunction with military operations
aimed at the insurgents themselves. This is difficult because many organizations will be operating in the
same area, some conducting combat operations and others using non-lethal methods such as education
programs and humanitarian assistance. Each organization will have different perspectives or interests.
Foreign area officers may be essential in ensuring these various organization work in a comprehensive
effort. Some organizations that may be part of a comprehensive effort are—

Other governments’ agencies.

Multinational forces.

Multinational corporations and contractors.

Intergovernmental organizations, such as the United Nations.

NGOs.

Private sector corporations.

Other organizations that wield diplomatic, informational, and economic power.
1-48. These various organizations may work with, in parallel to, separately from, or counter to U.S.
government and civilian agencies supporting counterinsurgency efforts. Those organizations whose goals
align at least partially with U.S. government goals frequently have capabilities that, if properly
synchronized and coordinated, can be critical to achieving success in counterinsurgency operations.
Aligning U.S. military, NGO, and intergovernmental organization capabilities requires collaboration and
cooperation focused toward a common goal. This can be more difficult than working with other U.S.
government agencies. Where military operations typically demand unity of command, the challenge for
military and civilian leaders is to forge unity of effort among the diverse array of actors involved in a
counterinsurgency. Often, the legal, cultural, and operational requirements prevent direct collaboration
between U.S. land forces and non-U.S. civilian organizations. U.S. forces may encounter NGOs not aligned
with any insurgent faction who are providing humanitarian assistance. These organizations can be neutral
or hostile to U.S. policy goals. Commanders should handle such groups carefully and professionally.
Commanders work to understand the objectives and priorities of each organization. Unity of effort between
U.S. forces and host-nation forces is particularly critical. Understanding these organizations is essential to
understanding the operational environment and shaping effects on organizations that are hostile or neutral
to U.S. policy goals. (See JP 3-08 for more information on NGOs.)

UNITY OF COMMAND AND EFFORT
1-49. Unity of command is the operation of all forces under a single responsible commander who has the
requisite authority to direct and employ those forces in pursuit of a common purpose (JP 3-0). Where
possible, counterinsurgency leaders achieve unity of command by establishing and maintaining formal
command or support relationships. While designated officers will exercise unity of command of military
forces, such relationships will not usually include nonmilitary U.S. government organizations engaged in a
counterinsurgency mission. (See ADRP 5-0 for more information on unity of command.)
1-50. Unity of command of military forces is operationally desirable and important for the military to
establish. However, unity of command is almost impossible to achieve among all of the various actors in a
counterinsurgency. Differing political objectives, national caveats, the legal limitations on the use of force,
and sensitivities about subordinating national forces to those of other states or intergovernmental
organizations often preclude strong command relationships. While agreements that establish a
multinational force provide a legal foundation for determining the scope and limitations on authorities,
responsibilities, command, support, or other relationships, the reality might be less clear. Unity of
command is one of the most sensitive and difficult to resolve issues in a counterinsurgency.
1-51. When unity of command with part or all of the force, including nonmilitary elements, is not possible,
commanders work to achieve unity of effort. Unity of effort is coordination and cooperation toward
common objectives, even if the participants are not necessarily part of the same command or organization,
which is the product of successful unified action (JP 1). In a counterinsurgency operation, an example of

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Chapter 1

unity of effort could be a military commander and a civilian leader ensuring that governance and economic
lines of effort are fully coordinated with military operations. Unity of effort among nationally, culturally,
and organizationally distinct partners is difficult to maintain, given their different layers of command. To
achieve unity of effort requires participants to overcome cultural barriers and set aside parochial agendas. It
also requires that each organization understand the capabilities and limitations of the others.

COORDINATION
1-52. In counterinsurgency operations, coordination efforts should include key participants from the outset.
The joint commander, through the strategic concept, works with the engaged civilian organizations to build
an interagency coordination plan during the joint operation planning process. Subordinate joint force
commanders and Army commanders also build civilian organization participation into their operations
plans. This is essential in integrating other government agencies and NGOs. Within an area of
responsibility and a joint operations area, appropriate decisionmaking structures are established at
combatant command, joint task force headquarters, and tactical levels in order to coordinate and resolve
military, political, and humanitarian issues.
1-53. The complex diplomatic, informational, military, and economic context of insurgency and
counterinsurgency precludes military leaders from exercising unity of command over civilian
organizations—and they should not try to do so. Interagency partners, NGOs, and private organizations
have many interests and agendas that military forces cannot control. In addition, the degree of
independence of local institutions affects their legitimacy to the population. However, military leaders
should make every effort to ensure that counterinsurgency actions are as well integrated as possible, taking
into consideration the distinct mission, need for independence, and security requirements of other
organizations. Coordination between the various actors in a counterinsurgency is essential.
1-54. U.S. government agencies should participate in coordination meetings to ensure integration with
military and host-nation plans. At the joint headquarters level, the commander establishes joint interagency
coordination groups. A joint interagency coordination group provides timely, usable information and
advice from an interagency perspective to the commander. Joint interagency coordination groups share and
integrate information and assist with synchronization, training, and exercises. Joint interagency
coordination groups may include representatives from other federal departments and agencies, state and
local authorities, and liaison officers from other commands and DOD components. The interagency
representatives and liaison officers are the subject matter experts for their respective agencies and
commands. They provide the critical bridge between the commander and interagency organizations. (See
JP 3-08 for more information on joint and interagency coordination.)
1-55. Coordination between NGOs may be difficult or impossible. Direct interaction among various
organizations may be impractical or undesirable because of various goals of NGOs and a NGO’s desire to
be seen by the society as autonomous. The differing goals and fundamental independence of NGOs and
local organizations usually prevent formal relationships governed by command authority. In the absence of
such relationships, military leaders seek to cooperate with other participants to contribute to achieving
counterinsurgency objectives. Informal or less authoritative relationships include coordination and liaison.
Basic awareness and general information sharing may be all that is possible. Nevertheless, NGOs and other
organizations may resist or refuse cooperation because of the appearance of cooperating with military
forces. However, government and internal agencies offer links to the various NGOs so coordination can be
accomplished without directly interacting with NGOs and causing potential security issues for them.
1-56. Commanders are responsible for coordinating the activities of military forces and cooperative
nonmilitary organizations in their areas of operations. To carry out this responsibility, military and civilian
leaders may establish a coordinating structure, such as an area coordination center or civil-military
operations center at each subordinate political level of the host-nation government. Area coordination
centers and civil-military operations centers provide forums for sharing information, conducting
coordination and liaison, and ensuring an effective and efficient division of labor. Active commander
involvement ensures coordination, establishes liaison (formal and informal), and shares information.
Influencing and persuading groups outside a commander’s authority requires skill and subtlety. In some
cases, informal meetings with a civilian group at a civil-military operations center will grow to an informal

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Understanding the Strategic Context

liaison that eventually leads to close cooperation. (See JP 3-22 for more information on coordinating
structures.)
1-57. Leaders ensure the various organizations supporting counterinsurgency operations in each area know
which commander is responsible for the respective areas of operation. Multiple organizations operating
within a land force commander’s area of operations—such as U.S. government, multinational forces, host
nation, interagency organizations, and special operations forces—might increase the risk of fratricide,
insider threats, and civilian casualties and may create tactical and operational gaps that insurgents can
exploit.
1-58. Entities best qualified to accomplish nonmilitary tasks may not always be available. In such cases,
military forces may need to perform those tasks until civilian-led capabilities become available. Within the
Army, civil affairs is the branch ideally organized, trained, and equipped to assist commanders in these
functions. Sometimes forces already have the skills required, and at other times they learn them during
execution. By default, U.S. and multinational military forces often possess the only readily available
capability to meet many of the local population’s fundamental needs. As such, it is important for
commanders to assess the capabilities of their forces and other organizations on the battlefield.

UNIFIED ACTION PARTNERS
1-59. Army and Marine forces conduct counterinsurgency with unified action partners. Unified action
partners are those military forces, governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and elements of the
private sector with whom Army and Marine Corps forces plan, coordinate, synchronize, and integrate
during the conduct of operations. Unified action partners include joint forces and components,
multinational forces, U.S. government agencies and departments, and some intergovernmental and NGOs.
Some important unified action partners in a counterinsurgency are—

Host-nation government and forces.

Joint forces.

Department of State.

Multinational forces.

NGOs.

Other organizations.

Host-Nation Government and Forces
1-60. The essential unified action partner is the host nation and its own forces. The purpose of
counterinsurgency operations, from the viewpoint of the U.S., is to support or enable the host nation to
defeat an insurgency. In the worst case situation, this may require the U.S. becoming the primary
counterinsurgent or working with groups inside a state to build a legitimate government. However, even in
the worse case, the goal is still for the host nation and its forces to defeat an insurgency.

Joint Force
1-61. The maritime component plays a critical role in controlling the seas, which may be vital to isolating
an insurgency, both physically and psychologically. The expeditionary character and versatility of maritime
forces provide an advantage in areas where access is denied or limited. Maritime forces may provide direct
support to a joint task force that does not include combat operations, to include civil-military operations,
logistic support, intelligence, communication sharing, humanitarian relief, maritime civil affairs, and
expeditionary medical aid and training.
1-62. Air forces and capabilities play a vital role in the military contribution to a counterinsurgency. Air
contributions include close air support precision strikes; personnel recovery, air interdiction, intelligence,
surveillance, and reconnaissance, communications, electronic warfare, combat support, and air mobility.

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Chapter 1

Department of State
1-63. The U.S. Department of State is responsible for implementing U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy
efforts and plays a key role in integrating the capabilities of the U.S. The Department of State leads. It also
oversees U.S. government support to counterinsurgency efforts. Several functional bureaus and offices
have substantive roles in the development and execution of counterinsurgency strategy. These offices
include the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs; the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations; the
Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement; the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and
Labor; the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; the Bureau of Intelligence and Research; and
the Legal Advisor’s Office. The Department of State is responsible for diplomatic programs that assist a
host nation with countering an insurgency. In many U.S. military operations—such as governance capacity
building—the Department of State is the U.S. supported element and the military is the supporting element.
1-64. One important capability that the State Department maintains is the civilian response corps. The
civilian response corps maintains active members who are full time responders whose specific job is to
train for, prepare, and staff overseas conflict prevention and stabilization operations. Active members of the
civilian response corps can deploy on a 48-hour notice. The civilian response corps also maintains standby
members. They are current full-time employees of the U.S. government or retirees of the U.S. Foreign
Service. Members in the standby component must be available to deploy within 30 days, for up to 90 days,
with the possibility to extend their deployment. The civilian response corps’ work focuses on six skill sets:
Planning, operations, and management; security and rule of law; diplomacy and governance; essential
services; and force protection.
Country Team
1-65. The country team is the senior, in-country, United States coordinating and supervising body, headed
by the chief of the United States diplomatic mission, and composed of the senior member of each
represented United States department or agency, as desired by the chief of the United States diplomatic
mission (JP 3-07.4). In a foreign country, the chief of mission is the highest U.S. civil authority. The chief
of mission leads the country team and is responsible for integrating U.S. efforts in support of the host
nation. The defense attaché, usually a foreign area officer, will work directly with a county team. The
defense attaché provides important links to the country team for the commander. As permanently
established interagency organizations, country teams represent a priceless counterinsurgency resource.
They often provide significant local knowledge and interaction with the host-nation government and
population. (See figure 1-1 for an illustration of country team command relationships. See JP 3-07.4 for
more information on the country teams.) Some of the government agencies normally represented on a
country team include—

The United States Agency for International Development.

The Department of Justice.

The Department of Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

The Department of Homeland Security.

The Department of Agriculture.

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Understanding the Strategic Context

Figure 1-1. Country team command relationships
1-66. An important enabler for ensuring unity of effort in countering an insurgency, especially when the
U.S. is enabling a host nation with various capabilities, is foreign area officers. These officers can be an
essential link to an embassy’s country team. By virtue of unique language proficiency and cultural and
regional expertise, foreign area officers can be critical in helping to integrate various capabilities into the
host nation’s ongoing efforts. While foreign area officers are often associated with security cooperation
activities, such as foreign military sales, foreign area officers have historically provided essential strategic
thinking and planning necessary to enable a host nation. As core members of the security cooperation
organization and defense attaché office within the embassy country team, foreign area officers serve as key
advisors to ambassadors and combatant commanders. Foreign area officers routinely operate in a
whole-of-government, joint, intergovernmental, and multinational environment. They can be essential in
integrating resources, capabilities, and activities throughout U.S. and multinational agencies to achieve
unity of effort and accomplish national counterinsurgency objectives.
Multinational Forces
1-67. Soldiers and Marines normally function as part of a multinational force, for example, by supporting
the United Nations or as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Each multinational participant
provides capabilities and strengths that U.S. forces may not have. Many other countries’ military forces
provide cultural backgrounds, historical experiences, and other capabilities that can be particularly valuable
to counterinsurgency efforts.

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1-68. Nations join multinational efforts for various reasons. Although the missions of multinational
partners may appear similar to those of the U.S., rules of engagement, host-nation policies, and sensitivities
may differ among partners. U.S. military leaders require a strong cultural and political awareness of other
multinational military partners. Planners must be aware that multinational forces may also require
significant U.S. enabling capabilities such as medical evaluation and logistic support. (See JP 3-16 and the
American, British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand (ABCA) Coalitions Operations Handbook for
more information on multinational partners.)

Nongovernmental Organizations
1-69. A nongovernmental organization is a private, self-governing, not-for-profit organization dedicated to
alleviating human suffering; and/or promoting education, health care, economic development,
environmental protection, human rights, and conflict resolution; and/or encouraging the establishment of
democratic institutions and civil society (JP 3-08). There are several thousand NGOs of many different
types. Organizational charters and their members’ motivations govern their actions. Some NGOs receive at
least part of their funding from national governments or intergovernmental organizations. Some may
become implementing partners according to grants or contracts. For example, the United States Agency for
Internal Development contracts some NGOs to perform certain functions. In these cases, the funding
organization often gains oversight and authority over how to use the funds.
1-70. To ensure their own security and gain access to vulnerable populations in theaters of conflict, most
NGOs maintain neutrality, impartiality, and independence from all sides in a counterinsurgency. These
positions provide NGOs protection against claims of favoritism by the parties to armed conflict and
enhance the credibility and security of these organizations.
1-71. Depending on the degree to which NGOs follow these principles, NGOs may carry out their work
with a very different frame of reference from that of the government. Rather than perceiving their
organization as supporting the overall U.S. or multinational stabilization effort, they may view the situation
from the perspective of the victims of conflict, regardless of their affiliation with belligerent parties. They
may give preference to individuals and communities based on humanitarian need, rather than meeting
operational objectives.
1-72. While NGOs sometimes choose to coordinate their activities with the U.S. government for security,
policy, or funding, often they are reluctant for fear of being associated with the government’s political
goals in conflict. This creates a natural but often unavoidable tension in the relationship. Commander’s ease
this tension through a mutual understanding of respective mandates and a clear delineation of tasks. For
example, some organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, refuse to take armed
escorts in conflict zones, relying instead on their wide recognition as neutral, independent, and impartial
humanitarian actors. Commanders ensure information is available to NGOs to allow them to deconflict
ground and air routes and provide contact information for them to coordinate safe passage in areas with
active air or ground defense measures. At a minimum, air information should be passed through
International Civil Aviation Organization notices to airmen and host-nation aeronautical information
publications.
1-73. Many NGOs may operate in conflict areas long before external military forces arrive. These NGOs
may remain after forces depart. Depending on their mandate, they can support critical host-nation
government functions, or can contribute to the stabilization effort. To the greatest extent possible,
commanders attempt to complement rather than override their capabilities. Commanders strive to build a
complementary, trust-based relationship based on mutual understanding and a clear delineation of
objectives and tasks.

Other Organizations
1-74. An intergovernmental organization is an organization created by a formal agreement between two or
more governments on a global, regional, or functional basis to protect and promote national interests shared
by member states (JP 3-08). Regional organizations like the Organization of American States and European
Union or global organizations such as the United Nations may be involved in some counterinsurgency

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Understanding the Strategic Context

operations. The United Nations, in particular, has many subordinate and affiliated agencies active
worldwide.
1-75. In the private sector, multinational corporations and other businesses often operate in a conflict
environment. At a minimum, commanders should know which companies are present in their area of
operations and where those companies are conducting business. Understanding the overall profit motivation
of these business will help commanders understand their actions in the operational environment.
1-76. When the U.S. government pays contractors, the principle of unity of command should apply.
Commanders should influence contractors’ performance through U.S. government contract supervisors.
Commanders should identify contractors operating in their area of operations and determine the nature of
their contract, accountability mechanisms, and appropriate coordination relationships. (See FM 4-92 for
more information on contractors.)

STRATEGIC PRINCIPLES
1-77. Whatever type of strategy and operational approach that a counterinsurgency takes, several strategic
principles are normally relevant. Whether the U.S. is enabling a host nation with certain capabilities or
directly using its land forces, the principles listed in paragraphs 1-78 through 1-92 are relevant to most
counterinsurgency operations. However, these principles are not meant to be exclusive rules for every
conflict. They are provided for the practitioner and planner as a foundation for how they think about
planning and executing counterinsurgency operations.

LEGITIMACY IS THE MAIN OBJECTIVE
1-78. Fostering development of effective governance by a legitimate government that can provide security
and acts in the best interests of its people may be essential to countering an insurgency. Legitimacy can be
seen as the willing acceptance of a government by its population. Counterinsurgency forces may achieve
this objective by the balanced application of both military and nonmilitary means. Governments rule
through a combination of consent and coercion. Governments that are “legitimate” normally rule with the
consent of the governed; those described as “illegitimate” tend to rely mainly or entirely on coercion.
Citizens of the latter tend to obey the state for fear of the consequences of doing otherwise, rather than
because they voluntarily accept its rule. Legitimacy is a perceived condition by the population that can only
be achieved by host-nation government actions that lead to an acceptance of its primacy by the people. (See
paragraphs 1-27 through 1-33 for more information on legitimacy and control.)

COUNTERINSURGENT FORCES MUST UNDERSTAND THE ENVIRONMENT
1-79. Successful conduct of counterinsurgency operations depends on thoroughly understanding the
society and culture within which they are being conducted. In most counterinsurgency operations in which
foreign forces participate, insurgents hold a distinct advantage in their level of local knowledge. They speak
the language, move easily within the society, and are more likely to understand the population’s interests.
Thus, for foreign forces participating in counterinsurgency operations, they require a greater emphasis on
certain skills, such as language and cultural understanding. Understanding the operational environment
allows the counterinsurgent to identify the conditions which impact the prerequisites for the insurgency and
the root causes that are driving the population to accept the insurgency. Only through understanding the
operational environment can the counterinsurgent plan and execute successful operations to counter the
conditions that allow the insurgency to exist in the first place. Nevertheless, U.S. forces must never assume
they will be welcomed by a local population. They may even be viewed as occupiers. (See chapter 2 for a
discussion on developing an understanding of the operational environment.)

INTELLIGENCE DRIVES OPERATIONS
1-80. Effective counterinsurgency operations are shaped by timely, relevant, tailored, predictive, accurate,
and reliable intelligence, gathered and analyzed at the lowest possible level and disseminated throughout
the force. Without accurate and predictive intelligence, it is often better to not act rather than to act.
Gaining situational understanding before action is often essential in avoiding long term damage to mission
objectives. In environments where commanders do not have situational understanding, the first action they

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should take is to use forces to gain that understanding while not creating unintended and lasting harm to the
mission. (See chapter 11 for more information on intelligence.)
1-81. Because of the dispersed nature of counterinsurgency operations, the actions of counterinsurgency
forces are key generators of intelligence. In counterinsurgency operations, a cycle often develops where
intelligence drives operations, which produces additional intelligence that facilitates subsequent operations.
Reporting by tactical units and civilian agencies is often of greater importance than reporting by specialized
national intelligence assets. These factors, along with the need to generate a favorable tempo (rate of
military operations) drive the requirement to produce and disseminate intelligence at the lowest practical
level. Commanders are responsible for driving the intelligence process.
1-82. Understanding the operational environment extends beyond insurgent combatants and insurgent
leaders. To truly counter an insurgency, counterinsurgents must gather, analyze, and disseminate civil
information pertaining to the population. If legitimacy is the primary principle of counterinsurgency
operations, then identifying what is preventing legitimacy is as important, if not more so, than intelligence
pertaining to enemy actions. Since Army and Marine Corps forces conduct counterinsurgency with unified
action partners, it is vital to separate intelligence and civil information. Some partners, particularly NGOs,
may not exchange information with Army and Marine Corps forces if that information is overtly tied to
intelligence collection. Achieving a common situational understanding with unified action partners will
require exchanging information outside of the intelligence realm.

SECURITY UNDER THE RULE OF LAW IS ESSENTIAL
1-83. Whenever possible, security forces should be provided by the host nation. To establish legitimacy,
the affected government must strive to transition security activities from military authorities to host-nation
law enforcement authorities as quickly as feasible. When insurgents are seen as criminals, they lose public
support. Prior to any transition to full host-nation responsibility, however, the violence level must be
reduced enough for the host-nation counterinsurgency forces to maintain order; otherwise, the host-nation
counterinsurgency forces will be unable to secure the population and the host nation may lose the
legitimacy gained by the transition. U.S. counterinsurgent forces must also understand how the military and
police are viewed by the population and not assume they are always seen as protectors. The goal of a
change to a host-nation security force is an accountable, self-sustaining, capable, and credible force able to
meet the security challenges faced by the host nation and seen as legitimate by the population.
1-84. Security forces use a legal system that conforms to local culture and practices to deal with insurgents
and criminals and that enhances the affected government’s legitimacy. To succeed in countering an
insurgency, the host-nation government must develop its legal and conflict resolution systems, including
police forces, judicial systems, and penal facilities. The legal use of population control measures, including
curfews, movement restrictions, travel permits, registration cards, and biometric census may assist in
identifying the insurgents and protecting the population.

COUNTERINSURGENT FORCES SHOULD PREPARE FOR A LONG-TERM COMMITMENT
1-85. Counterinsurgency operations can be protracted. Though most insurgencies are quickly defeated by
the host nation and its military forces, U.S. involvement normally comes in insurgencies that are not
quickly defeated. Insurgents can become extremely difficult to identify, track, and interdict if they are
effective in acting clandestinely. Insurgencies may persist for many years after the main threat has been
broken. Thus, counterinsurgency operations may demand considerable expenditures of time and resources.
The population must have confidence in the staying power of both the affected government and any
counterinsurgency forces supporting it. The population may prefer the affected government to the
insurgents; however, people do not actively support a government unless they are convinced that the
government has the means, ability, stamina, and will to win. Stabilizing the security situation and
transforming a failed, failing, or ineffectual government into a functional one is an extremely difficult task
that may take an extended period to complete. (See paragraphs 4-70 through 4-75 for information on the
seventh dynamic, phasing and timing.)

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MANAGE INFORMATION AND EXPECTATIONS
1-86. Information and expectations are related; skillful counterinsurgency forces manage both. To limit
discontent and build support, the affected government and any counterinsurgency forces assisting it create
and maintain a realistic set of expectations among the population, friendly military forces, and the
international community. The key tools to accomplish this are information operations through the effective
coordination and synchronization of information related capabilities. Effective counterinsurgency
commanders tell the truth; they refuse to give projections; and they do not promise more than can be
provided. Achieving steady progress toward a set of reasonable expectations can increase the population’s
tolerance for the inevitable inconveniences of ongoing counterinsurgency operations. Where a large foreign
force is present to help establish a regime, this progress can extend the period until foreign forces are
perceived by the population as an army of occupation.
1-87. Effective counterinsurgency forces must ensure that their deeds match their words and both are
consistent with the broader narrative. They should also understand that any action has an information
reaction. Counterinsurgency forces should carefully consider that information reaction’s impact on the
many audiences involved in the conflict and on the sidelines. They should work actively to shape responses
that further their ends. In particular, messages to different audiences must be consistent. In the global
information environment, people in the area of operations can access the internet and satellite television to
determine the messages counterinsurgency forces are sending to the international community. Any
perceived inconsistency reduces credibility and undermines counterinsurgency efforts.

USE THE APPROPRIATE LEVEL OF FORCE
1-88. Any use of force generates a series of reactions. There will be times when an overwhelming effort is
necessary to destroy or intimidate an opponent and reassure the population. However, counterinsurgency
forces, whether they are land, maritime, or air, calculate carefully the type and amount of force to be
applied and who wields it for any operation. Normally, counterinsurgency forces can use escalation of force
procedures to minimize unnecessary loss of life or suffering. These procedures are especially appropriate
during any operation in which the counterinsurgent security force interacts with the local population.
1-89. All interactions between security forces and the population directly impact legitimacy, and if the
counterinsurgent security forces show restraint in the eyes of the population, the entire counterinsurgency
effort is further legitimized. The general rule for the use of force for the counterinsurgents is “do not create
more enemies than you eliminate with your action.” Escalation of force does not limit the right of
self-defense, including the use of deadly force when such force is necessary to defend against a hostile act
or demonstrated hostile intent. However, counterinsurgency forces must be properly trained in such
procedures and, more importantly, in methods of shaping situations so that tactical leaders have to make
fewer split-second, life-or-death decisions.

LEARN AND ADAPT
1-90. An effective counterinsurgency force is a learning organization. Insurgents connected with other
organizations constantly exchange information about their enemy’s vulnerabilities—even with insurgents
in distant theaters. However, skillful counterinsurgency forces can adapt at least as fast as insurgents. Every
unit needs to be able to make observations, draw and apply lessons, and assess results. Commanders must
develop an effective system to circulate best practices throughout their command. Commanders might also
need to seek new policies that authorize or resource necessary changes. Insurgents shift their locations
looking for weak links, so widespread competence is required throughout the counterinsurgency force.

EMPOWER THE LOWEST LEVELS
1-91. Local commanders have the best grasp of their situations, but they require access to or control of the
resources needed to produce timely intelligence, conduct effective tactical operations, and manage
intelligence and civil-military operations. Leaders encourage individual initiatives and facilitate the
learning that must occur at every level. Effective counterinsurgency operations are decentralized, and
higher commanders owe it to their subordinates to push as many capabilities as possible down to their
levels. However, this must be balanced with ensuring that tactical leaders have the situational

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understanding of the wider operational and strategic consequences of their actions. While tactical missions
are essential, commanders ensure that tactical missions support the overall objectives to defeat the
insurgency.

SUPPORT THE HOST NATION
1-92. In the situation of U.S. and multinational forces committed to assisting a host-nation government
with its counterinsurgency strategy, the long-term goal is to leave a government able to stand by itself. In
the end, the host nation has to win on its own. Achieving this requires development of viable local leaders
and institutions. External assistance can help, but host-nation authorities must accept responsibilities to
achieve real victory. Depending upon the condition of the host-nation government (failed, failing, or
viable), a robust whole-of-government approach is critical to enabling that government to accept those
responsibilities. In a failed or failing state, there may be no functioning government or national economy.
The counterinsurgent, therefore, will be forced to create institutions necessary to provide governance and
support economic development. While it may be easier for U.S. military units to conduct operations
themselves, it is better to work to strengthen local forces and institutions and then assist them. Host-nation
governments have the final responsibility to solve their own problems. Eventually all foreign armies are
seen as interlopers or occupiers. The sooner the decisive effort can transition to host-nation institutions
without unacceptable degradation, the better.

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Chapter 2

Understanding an Operational Environment
2-1. Regional and strategic conditions affect United States (U.S.) involvement in opposing an insurgency.
How and why the U.S. becomes involved in an insurgency is important. However, some important strategic
trends can also affect the context of an insurgency. These global trends include demographic changes,
globalization, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, religious extremism, and failed states
leading to an era of persistent conflict. Persistent conflict is the protracted conflict among state, non-state,
and individual actors who are increasingly willing to use violence to achieve their political and ideological
ends. These trends not only affect the likelihood of conflict, but they also affect the capabilities and action
of friendly, threat, neutral, and nonaligned actors.
2-2. Understanding the conditions that may affect the stability of a nation or region assists commanders as
they focus on a specific operational environment to determine the root causes that led to an insurgency.
Whether operating at the operational or tactical level, commanders must understand and anticipate the
effects of their operations and how they fit into the broader mission. The U.S. may enter situations with
long-standing conflicts and established ways of life that have implications beyond the boundaries of a
specific area of operations. Commanders identify relationships within that area that may exert external
influence on other governments that have their own agendas in the region. Commanders also recognize that
in the modern, interconnected world, actions at any level may have far broader impact than intended. This,
coupled with certain global trends, may provoke more insurgencies in the future.

DEMOGRAPHIC AND URBANIZATION TRENDS
2-3. In the future, the world will become more populated and urbanized. Global population will increase
by approximately 1.2 billion people by 2025 with more than a billion new urban dwellers in that time. Most
population growth will occur in the developing world. Population growth, urbanization, and competition
for limited resources in the Middle East, Africa, and South Central Asia will contribute to increased
resource scarcity and may present governance challenges. Climate change combined with increased
population centers in or near coastal environments may challenge the ability of failing and fragile states to
respond to natural disasters. These conditions enhance the possibility of insurgencies in highly populated
developing countries whose governments lack the capacity to provide effective governance, including
security and the rule of law. These trends could lead to failed states and problems that will affect regional
and global security because of globalization.
2-4. Urbanization is the growth of urban areas due to both a population surge and migration. In 1950,
29 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas; by 2050, scientists estimate that 60 percent of the
world’s population will live in urban areas. This rapid growth of urban areas, and the accompanying
crowded conditions with the potential for high unemployment, creates a greater potential that future
insurgencies may arise in urban areas.

GLOBALIZATION
2-5. Globalization is a combination of the technological, economic, social, cultural, and political forces
that are bringing nation-states and the people of the world closer together. Globalization affects an
insurgency by providing a freer flow of arms, information, and money to an insurgent group or insurgents
and allows an insurgency to have a wider strategic effect than in the past. It is easy for ethnic groups or
ideological groups to connect internationally because of globalization. Globalization provides a greater
likelihood that insurgents will have access to outside resources, or that they will try to affect objectives
outside of their local area. Through technology, globalization allows an insurgent to gain access to cyber
electromagnetic tools that could be used to attack any country. It also makes ideologically or religiously
motivated insurgencies more prevalent due to closer contact between traditional and modern societies.

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PROLIFERATION OF WEAPONS
2-6. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and precision weapons will increase the potential
for catastrophic attacks. The threat or use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorist organizations is as
real as it is deadly. Weapons of mass destruction present significant possibilities beyond terrorist actors. If
an insurgent group acquires them, they can allow the insurgent group to pressure the host nation or attack a
target that would have countrywide, regional, or global strategic affects. These weapons can provide an
insurgent group with capabilities unmatched in the history of irregular warfare. The likelihood of an
insurgent group obtaining these weapons has never been higher because of both globalization and the
number of failed states. As ethnic and ideological groups enhance bonds that go beyond state boundaries,
and insurgent groups create vast safe haven areas within failed states, the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction creates new possibilities for insurgencies. Not only will insurgents strive to obtain weapons of
mass destruction, but the continued availability of more precise, cheaper, and more lethal conventional
weapons will make insurgent actions more deadly than in the past. (See FM 3-11/MCWP 3-37.1 for more
information on chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear operations.)

FAILING OR FAILED STATES
2-7. Governments of nation-states face increasingly greater challenges in providing effective support to
their growing populations. The problems of both demographic changes and the pressures of globalization,
corruption, lack of government services, and decaying infrastructure can lead to a failed state. A failed state
can provide insurgent groups safe havens to build their organizations, but it may also hinder their ability to
promulgate their message and actions due to a lack of infrastructure. (See FM 3-07 for a detailed discussion
on a failed state framework.)

THE OPERATIONAL VARIABLES
2-8. An operational environment is a composite of the conditions, circumstances, and influences that
affect the employment of capabilities and bear on the decisions of the commander (JP 3-0). Commanders
and staffs analyze and describe an operational environment in terms of eight interrelated operational
variables: political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure, physical environment, and time.
The operational variables are fundamental to developing a comprehensive understanding of an operational
environment.
2-9. When viewing an operational environment, it is important to identify friendly, neutral, and hostile
actors. However, it is uniquely important in counterinsurgency operations that commanders and staff do not
view these actors as static and unchanging over time. Actors can become more hostile or become less
hostile. It is the interaction between the actors and the changes between their interactions that is important.
The actors have many influences on their actions and those influences help determine if an actor stays the
same, becomes friendlier, or becomes more hostile. (See JP 2-01.3 for more information on an operational
environment.)
2-10. In Iraq's Anbar Province, the eight interrelated operational variables created a unique operational
environment. The al Qaim tribes had different interests, both political and economic, than both the
Americans and al Qaeda. Religion, economic interests, culture, and other variables helped to shape the
actions of everyone in the operational environment. The Marine Corps had to act in this environment and
attempt to shape it. This was a process that required situational understanding and an appreciation for the
unique environment.

The Anbar Province Operational Environment
The Anbar Province’s al Qaim district became increasingly important to Abu
Musab al-Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq after November 2004 when it lost its sanctuary
to the American forces’ offensive in the second battle of Fallujah. The al Qaim district
is located on Iraq’s border with Syria. Although the district represents only 10% of the
Anbar population, the area holds strategic importance due to its location along the
Iraqi/Syrian border as well as the Euphrates River. Al Qaim is and always has been a
lucrative smuggling route for black market goods and served as al Qaeda in Iraq’s

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Understanding an Operational Environment

lifeline to infiltrate Baghdad with foreign fighters, money, and other resources that
fueled the insurgency. With the loss of Fallujah, al Qaim became al Qaeda in Iraq’s
newfound sanctuary.
Al Qaeda in Iraq arrived with offers of partnering with al Qaim’s tribes to
defeat and expel the Americans. They promised the indigenous population money
and other resources for their support. As Muslims and Arabs, al Qaeda in Iraq
members exhorted that it was their obligation, their Jihad, to fight the crusaders. After
all, the Americans, supposedly ignorant of tribal customs, religion, and traditions,
allegedly had disrespected and dishonored the people of al Qaim and a patriotic
resistance had already formed in the district. The tribes of al Qaim saw the al Qaeda
movement as the answer to their problem with the Americans. The tribes, together
with al Qaeda in Iraq, felt that the time was ripe to rid the area of the infidel occupiers.
Al Qaim tribes varied in available resources and were incapable of defeating
the American occupiers on their own. For example, the Albu-Mahal tribe, the
strongest tribe in the area, organized and resourced the Hamza Battalion specifically
to fight the Americans. However, it, along with the other tribal militias, lacked the
weaponry, ammunition, and other equipment to win such a fight on their own. Al
Qaeda in Iraq’s offer was tempting and most of the tribes accepted.
As time went on it became apparent that al Qaeda in Iraq’s offer was
deceptive; this partnership was not what it seemed. Al Qaeda in Iraq provided
weaponry and funding, but in return they demanded to lead the Jihad with the intent
of first destroying and then transforming the social fabric of the tribes and al Qaim. Al
Qaeda in Iraq started by taking over the smuggling routes, skimming large profits and
killing those that resisted. They then imposed a radical form of Sharia on the
community with fanatical punishments for transgressors. Religion was used to justify
al Qaeda in Iraq’s actions, which included marriages to the local women, not allowing
cigarettes, the ban of music and films, and the common intimidation tactic of
beheading those that resisted.
3rd Battalion 6th Marines (3/6) executed Operation IRON FIST the first
week of October, attacking from east to west through the town of Sadah and eastern
Karabila, ultimately stopping at the Emerald Wadi in the center of the al Qaim region.
They built four combat outposts, Chosin, Iwo Jima, Belleau Wood, and Khe Sahn,
and left Marines and Iraqis in place, providing a combined, permanent, persistent,
presence.
The next clearing operation was conducted the first week in November by
3/6 and 2/1 commanded by Regimental Combat Team 2. This operation cleared the
Husaybah, Karabilah, Sadah and Ubaydi areas of all insurgents. Immediately upon
clearing the areas, 3/6 began constructing combat outposts in all of the cities.
By late November 3/6 had constructed 14 combat outposts in the areas
from Husaybah to Ubaydi. Each combat outpost consisted of a U. S. Marine platoon
and an Iraqi Army platoon or company. Those positions completed and reflected
combined, permanent, persistent presence, where the Marines and Iraqi Army lived
together and among the people.
The next step was to engage the people. Mission analysis led to assigning
company areas based on the tribal distribution. The idea was to link a company with
a tribe. This was not an exact science because the tribes were intermingled, but they
did locate companies in areas where a majority of a tribe resided. The next step was
a concerted drive to recruit tribesmen into the police force. The Marines solicited help
from the Sheikhs to nominate men from their tribes, and started developing police
stations near the combat outposts. This would allow the Marines and Iraqi Army
forces to partner with the local police forces in those areas and further engender trust
and confidence from the local people.
Moving goods across the Iraqi and Syrian border was closely connected to
the local economy. Undermining this trade would jeopardize a fragile relationship that
U.S. forces worked hard to develop. In fact, U.S. forces had learned from the sheikhs

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that disruption of trade was one of the major grievances the locals had against al
Qaeda in Iraq. Local tribes agreed to allow U.S. forces to stop and inspect all
vehicles coming into the country to ensure no foreign fighters, money, or weapons
were entering Iraq. The tribes also agreed to help with the inspection. New local
police largely conducted these inspections with the Iraqi Army (with Marines in
overwatch.) The tribes had picked the Iraqi government’s side in the struggle against
al Qaeda in Iraq and wanted to stop foreign fighters, money, and weapons from
entering Iraq as much as the U.S. forces did.
2-11. Understanding is necessary to begin planning the initial development of measures of effectiveness
and performance. The commander must understand what has happened in an operational environment and
determine the nature, scope, and severity of its problems. A situation is usually more complicated than it
seems when the military force first becomes involved. Understanding an operational environment is a
collaborative effort of the unified action partners. These partners may include U.S. government military and
civilian personnel, international civilian and military personnel, and host-nation civilian and military
personnel. To the maximum extent possible, the military force and unified action partners strive to have a
common situational understanding from the beginning of an operation. If the partnering agencies do not
have the same situational understanding, they can quickly find themselves working at odds with each other.
Commanders will rarely have enough time to fully understand an operational environment. Understanding
an operational environment is a continued and iterative process that will continue throughout an operation.
2-12. An area of operations is an operational area defined by the joint force commander for land and
maritime forces that should be large enough to accomplish their missions and protect their forces (JP 3-0).
For land operations, an area of operations includes subordinate areas of operations as well.
2-13. A commander’s area of operations may be relatively static, but people, weapons, commodities, and
information continuously flow through an area of operations. An area of operations can cross physical
structures, such as roads and rivers, and span diverse population groups. Fabricated borders that divide
natural groupings can create problems in understanding an area of operations. For example, cross-border
ties allow insurgents safe havens outside of a tactical unit’s area of operations. Moreover, international
boundaries often divide population groups. The span of an insurgency may be far larger than the defined
area of operations and areas outside the area of operations may be relevant to a commander. For example,
areas outside a commander’s area of operations may provide a safe haven for an insurgency, or an adjacent
state may support an insurgency. In an insurgency, an area of interest may be large.
2-14. The area of interest is that area of concern to the commander, including the area of influence, areas
adjacent thereto, and extending into enemy territory. This area also includes areas occupied by enemy
forces who could jeopardize the accomplishment of the mission (JP 3-0). It is the area in which events
could have significant impact on areas of operations. An area of interest can be large relative to the area of
operations. When defining an area of interest, commanders should consider the operational variables. (See
JP 3-0 for more information on an area of influence.)
2-15. Commanders analyze operational variables to understand the operational environment in which they
are conducting operations. An operational environment is not static; it continues to evolve. Introducing
units into an operational environment causes shifts and changes. As a result, commanders, their respective
staffs, and all Soldiers and Marines must continuously reassess an operational environment for changing
conditions. Moreover, in addition to understanding U.S. interests and desired end states in an environment,
a commander must understand the environment from three additional perspectives: those of the host nation,
the enemy, and the population.

POLITICAL
2-16. The political variable describes the distribution of responsibility and power at all levels of
governance—formally constituted authorities, as well as informal or covert political powers. The
counterinsurgent seeks to understand not just the formal political system, such as political parties and
elected officials, but also the informal systems of political influence, such as ethnic groups and other
centers of power. There is a connection between the political variable and the social variable. For example,

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Understanding an Operational Environment

a tribal grouping or a social caste may directly affect whom that group sees as a legitimate authority in an
area. Moreover, these social groupings can affect the formal power structure. For example, in an electoral
system, groups will often vote as blocs, giving them added political power in that formal system. (See
ADRP 5-0 for more information on the political variable.)
2-17. Often, informal groups such as tribes or local councils are the essential actors in the distribution of
political power, especially at the local level. Political power is the ability to influence behavior. The biggest
influence of behavior is often local groupings that can create a norming effect on a population. Most groups
hold power only because the population accepts that power distribution.
2-18. However, the opposite can also be true and the formal political system can change group identity and
influence the actions of any social group. States can create identity in a population through education and
information. For example, an education program that instills nationalist views in an individual from an
early age can be a powerful tool in shaping a person’s identity and in turn whom that person sees as a
legitimate authority. Group and individual identities are not static, nor is whom a population views as
legitimate static. While groups have internal means to view identity, variables outside the group, including
the host nation, also affect them.
2-19. The commitment and motivation of a host nation to defeat an insurgency is an important motivation.
Governments with more than one of the following traits have tended to lose historically, even when
supported by competent and committed external forces:

Government sponsors or protects unpopular economic and social arrangements or cultural
institutions.

Government is involved in corrupt and arbitrary personalistic rule.

Government operates as a kleptocracy.

Government is controlled by elites with perverse incentives to continue conflict.

Government is economically dependent on external actors.
The harsh reality for counterinsurgents is that some of these negative characteristics are usually present,
and they are key factors in sparking insurgencies in the first place. As a result, the interests of a host-nation
government are often at odds with what the best practices would be to solve its political problems. (See
paragraphs 1-27 through 1-33 for more information on legitimacy and control.)

MILITARY
2-20. The military variable explores the military and paramilitary capabilities of all relevant actors (enemy,
friendly, and neutral) in a given operational environment. For many countries, the army’s predominant
purpose is to be the military force responsible for maintaining external security. However, this is not a
universal rule, and many militaries become involved in internal security and even governance. In some
cases, there is a degree of military control over the government, which then blends the political and military
variables. This can range from a military dictatorship to a praetorian guard type military that periodically
intervenes in the governance of a society. Even in cases where a host nation appears to have complete
objective control over its military forces, these military forces can be an important bureaucratic and
political actor. The interaction between the military and the political structure is important to understanding
this variable’s relationship with the political distribution of power in a society. (See ADRP 5-0 for more
information on the military variable.)
2-21. A host of institutions including police, paramilitary, intelligence, and other organizations can
maintain internal security. Thus, commanders and staffs need to consider them within the military variable.
In many autocratic societies, intelligence agencies provide an essential means of control over a society.
Many societies maintain civil control and civil security by an accepted rule of law and a police force that
enforces the rule of law. In a counterinsurgency, the host nation may use the military or a paramilitary to
defeat an insurgency.
2-22. The military variable includes all forces involved in both internal and external security. U.S.
counterinsurgents must fully understand how the host nation maintains internal and external security.
Moreover, they must understand both neutral and enemy military forces. Neutral military forces are
common in a counterinsurgency, as some states or multinational corporations will employ or contract for

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Chapter 2

limited forces to protect personnel, resources, or infrastructure for their own interests. A peacekeeping
force may be maintaining a position of neutrality in the conflict. There can also be informal groupings of
military power. For example, local gangs, armed militias, and private security agents can be a factor in
local areas.
2-23. Commanders and staffs should analyze friendly, neutral, and enemy forces with both qualitative and
quantitative data. Some aspects to consider include—

Position of forces in national and local governmental structure.

General organization, training, and doctrine.

Economic basis (to include the appropriations system).

Conscription or recruitment systems.

Police role in the nation’s internal security.

Rapport with population.

The impact of other international forces already there or there in the recent past.
These considerations are particularly important with regard to the insurgents. Knowing from what groups
and sources, both within the country of conflict and outside of it, are providing what kinds of support (for
example, financial, personnel, materiel, and provisions) and by what processes or routes is critical.
Insurgencies that continue to meet their tangible support needs are difficult to defeat.
2-24. One enemy force in a counterinsurgency can vary widely from another. Some may be based on
cellular organizations while others may be more hierarchical. Moreover, there may be a wide variance in
enemy capabilities. Some insurgencies may have capabilities to conduct large scale and well coordinated
attacks that may rival the capability of a host nation’s military. Others may have less capability and may
rely on small-unit tactics. (See paragraphs 4-76 through 4-103 for a discussion of the eighth dynamic,
organizational and operational patterns, and see chapter 5 for a further discussion on enemy military
forces.)

ECONOMIC
2-25. The economic variable encompasses individual and group behaviors related to gaining access to,
producing, distributing, and consuming resources. These behaviors determine incentives and disincentives
that encourage or discourage economic decisions. The sum of these individual and group decisions may
determine the production, distribution, and consumption of economic resources. Typically, an economy is
conceptualized as currency, stocks, major commodities, banking, and trade controlled and monitored by the
government. However, informal economies, trade, or economic exchange outside state-controlled or
money-based transactions may be of equal or greater importance than formal economies in understanding
an operational environment. While the world economy continues to grow more interdependent, local
economies remain relatively distinct. These differences significantly influence political choices, including
individuals’ decisions to support or subvert the existing order. When commanders and staffs analyze a local
economy, they consider both governmental policies and the type of local economy.
2-26. Types of economies vary widely. When looking at economic activities, commanders and staffs strive
to understand the relative importance of the various sectors of an economy. Comparing the percentage of
the economy in the public sector versus the private sector provides some understanding of the structure of
the economy. Moreover, the private and public sector can potentially be divided into different sectors based
on type of activities. Agriculture, raw materials, services, and other types of production play an important
role in defining the economy of a local area. It is important to analyze governmental policies. Corruption,
the rule of law, and macroeconomic policy play a role in the structure of a local economy.
2-27. Another important factor in analyzing economic activity is the informal economy. In weak states,
understanding the informal economy is key to providing a full understanding of an operational
environment. The informal economy is those economic interactions and exchanges that are not recognized,
regulated, controlled, or taxed by a state government. In this case, informal does not always equal
illegitimate. For example, a black market is a form of informal economy based on criminal activities such
as racketeering, money laundering, prostitution, drug trafficking, and smuggling. On the other hand,
open-air markets and barter systems are legitimate activities that often contribute to an informal economy.

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In every country there is a balance between formal and informal economies. In successful states, the
informal economy may be relatively small. However, in failing states the informal economy may form the
majority of all economic activities. The local population may depend on informal markets for their most
basic needs. It is difficult but important for counterinsurgents to develop an understanding of these informal
economies (both legitimate and illegitimate.) Because they are outside host-nation government oversight,
insurgents can exploit even legitimate formal economies as a source of funding. The black market, on the
other hand, will most likely be a direct enabler of an insurgency in terms of both funding and logistics.
2-28. The counterinsurgent must consider other informal economies. Most people work, buy, and sell in
this economy, operating outside legal frameworks but not engaging in illicit or criminal activity (except
perhaps for taxation issues). Sensitivity to the rules of an informal economy is one piece of cultural
sensitivity to the population and the host nation in general. Examples of the rules of an informal economy
include the following:

People earn income in non-cash payments such as benefits or goods.

People often use land for decades (or more) through traditional usage rights granted by village
heads and chiefs with no legal title.

People may work without pay (in arrangements such as the traditional divisions of household
and farm labor).
2-29. Economic variables also tie into other elements of a society. For example, ownership or control of
land and debt indicate something about the power structure within a society. Many developing societies
have highly concentrated ownership of land, which can serve as a driver for social conflict and discontent.
Whoever owns land or controls land has the power to use it for economic profit. Maintaining this
ownership or control during an insurgency indicates a degree of power in a society. The same is true of
debt. The ability to collect a debt indicates a degree of power in a society. Land and debt are examples of
how economic factors link into other social factors.
2-30. If a population views economic conditions as unjust, a lack of economic opportunity can be a root
cause of an insurgency. (See paragraphs 4-14 through 4-22 for more information on motives for an
insurgency.) As part of developing an understanding of an operational environment, counterinsurgents
assess the current economic variables, the economic opportunities available to different segments of the
population, and the effect insurgent and counterinsurgent operations are having on the population’s ability
to meet their most basic economic needs. Economic survival, especially in an area where an insurgency is
occurring, is almost as important and as immediate a challenge for households as physical security. For this
reason, leaders at all levels of the counterinsurgency operation (including platoons and companies) need to
assess the impacts of military operations on the following simple elements of the economic welfare of
households and communities:

Income (including the capacity to earn streams of income in future).

Assets and property (used to earn income).

Work (including traditional patterns of unpaid work).
2-31. Commanders strive to understand the economic impact of the unit’s presence in an area. For better or
worse, the presence of an Army or Marine Corps unit affects normal economic incentives and disincentives
for individual behavior. Introducing foreign wealth can have unintended negative consequences. For this
reason, careful thought and planning are needed for a project intended to have local economic impact.
Commanders anticipate the economic impact of their arrival and their continued presence in the area of
operations. Additionally, commanders and staffs carefully weigh the costs and benefits associated with all
economic activity. Some factors to consider are—

Prospects of long-term sustainability.

Possibility of local price inflation.

Disrupting natural incentives (such as farmers leaving fields to work on trash pickup projects).

SOCIAL
2-32. The social variable describes the cultural, religious, and ethnic makeup within an operational
environment and the beliefs, values, customs, and behaviors of society. Understanding the society is

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foundational to understanding the social variable. A society is defined as a population whose members are
subject to the same political authority, occupy a common territory, have a common culture, and share a
sense of identity. However, no society is completely homogeneous. A society usually has a dominant
culture, but it can have secondary cultures. Different societies may share similar cultures, as Canada and
the U.S. do. Societies are not static, but change over time. (For more information on this variable, see
chapter 3 of this publication and ADRP 5-0.)

INFORMATION
2-33. The information variable describes the nature, scope, characteristics, and effects of individuals,
organizations, and systems that collect, process, disseminate, or act on information. The information
environment is the aggregate of individuals, organizations, and systems that collect, process, disseminate,
or act on information (JP 3-13). Understanding the communications systems is important because they
influence international, national, regional, and local audiences. Insurgents often use information and
disinformation to gain credibility and legitimacy with the population, while simultaneously undermining
their opponents. Understanding how people communicate and who influences them on a daily basis is
essential. This is important at all levels. For example, identifying local gathering places is important to
understand or influence the spread of information, rumors, and gossip.
2-34. The information environment is made up of three dimensions: physical, informational, and cognitive.
The cognitive dimension encompasses the mind of the decisionmaker or specific audience and is the
dimension where people think, perceive, visualize, and decide. The informational dimension is the place
where information is collected, processed, stored, disseminated, displayed, and protected with key
components of the content and flow of information. The physical dimension is composed of systems,
human beings (including decisionmakers, leaders, and military forces), and supporting infrastructure that
enable individuals and organizations to create effects conduct operations across air, land, maritime, space
and cyberspace domains across multiple domains. (See table 2-1.)
Table 2-1. Interrelated dimensions of the information environment
Dimension

Cognitive
dimension

Description

Exists in the minds of human beings.

Consists of individual and collective consciousness.

Where information is used to develop perceptions and make decisions.

Significant characteristics include values, beliefs, perceptions, awareness,
and decisionmaking.

Informational
dimension





Created by the interaction of the physical and cognitive dimensions.
Where information is collected, processed, and disseminated.
Significant characteristics are information content and flow.

Physical
dimension





The tangible, real world.
Where the information environment overlaps with the physical world.
Consists of targetable individuals, organizations, information systems, and
the physical networks that connect them.
Significant characteristics include terrain, weather, civilian information
infrastructure, media, populace, and third party organizations.



2-35. The technological advances in communications offer some unique considerations for insurgencies.
For one, international communication is easier than it used to be. This allows insurgencies to communicate
with organizations outside of their physical control. Connecting to diasporas or sympathetic groups could
be vital to an insurgency. With the ability to communicate comes the ability to move resources and funding.
Moreover, communications can be vital in importing weapons or other supplies to an insurgency. Global
communications can be essential in increasing the military capabilities of an insurgency, significantly
increasing the tempo of insurgent operations and their ability to change tactics.
2-36. At the operational and tactical level, communications allow for effective coordination of attacks.
Organizations can communicate by cell phones, by the internet, or a number of other rapid means. This

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allows for coordinated large-scale attacks even by dispersed organizations. (For additional information on
the information environment, see FM 3-13.)

INFRASTRUCTURE
2-37. The infrastructure variable is composed of the facilities (buildings and equipment), personnel, and
services needed for the functioning of a community or society. Societies have different infrastructure needs.
For example, the expectation for hours of available electricity vary widely. Counterinsurgents try to access
infrastructure needs to meet the expectation of the user, not their own expectations.
2-38. Infrastructure is also interrelated with other variables. For example, the development of a highway
system will affect the ability of people to move and interact with others. Creating a society in which
humans can easily move based on economic needs or simple desires greatly increases the variety of groups
a person will meet. These interactions and new relationships can change how a person views the world and
change that person’s values. A communications system, such as a cellular network, can have the same
effect. These systems allow for communications outside of one’s areas and allow the transmission of new
ideas and concepts.
2-39. Commanders and staffs conducting counterinsurgency operations must consider the relationship
between infrastructure and the economic variable. An effective infrastructure can allow for the easy
movement of people, goods, and ideas. Many businesses require infrastructure. While it is true that a local
population may not expect 24 hours of electricity a day, a manufacturing plant may require it. Moreover,
infrastructure such as schools can increase the human capital in an area and drive economic growth.
2-40. Infrastructure also has an effect on the military variable. Host-nation forces can use a good
transportation system, but so can an insurgency. A road system provides a means of transportation for
everyone, not simply the population and government. Moreover, infrastructure may be important for the
population and the government’s role in maintaining civil control and security. An attack on the
infrastructure may undermine the government’s legitimacy in an area. However, the opposite is also true.
An attack on infrastructure may also undermine the insurgency if the population places blame on the
insurgency and turns towards to government.

PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
2-41. The physical environment includes the geography and man-made structures, as well as the climate
and weather, in an area of operations. The physical environment affects the tactics and operations of both
insurgents and counterinsurgents. Extreme conditions, such as in nations in higher elevations, can make
insurgent movements difficult in the winter. The movement and the tactics of any military force will be
affected by the physical environment of its area of operations. A physical environment will influence
insurgency sanctuaries, the ability of an insurgency to hide resources, and the ability of an insurgency to
mass forces. Understanding a physical environment is essential to understanding an insurgency. (See
chapter 4 for further discussion on how a physical environment relates to an insurgency.)
2-42. A physical environment also relates to the other variables. A mountainous, landlocked country will
have a difficult time building the infrastructure needed for large-scale international trade. Moreover, if the
physical environment precludes the ability to easily produce an excess of food, it is difficult to divert much
labor to other enterprises. This can hamper the development of a highly specialized economy. An increase
in food production will often predate a major increase in industrial production.

TIME
2-43. Time describes the timing and duration of activities, events, or conditions within an operational
environment, as well as how various actors in an operational environment perceive the timing and duration.
Time also has an interrelated relationship with other variables. For example, a multinational coalition may
see its efforts in a counterinsurgency as limited by national objectives or by the public pressure. In other
words, outside parties can always leave a counterinsurgency. On the other hand, for the host nation, the
insurgents and the population in the struggle are less constrained by time than a multinational coalition. An

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insurgency may use the time variable to its advantage, while the time variable usually works against an
external counterinsurgent.
2-44. Time can also play a role in the social variable. Ongoing conflicts tax societies. Populations can
become less interested in the nuisance of a conflict and more interested in simple peace. As time passes, a
population may be more interested in who is likely to win an insurgency than the motivation of either side
of the conflict. Counterinsurgents may also see time as working for or against them. (See paragraphs 4-30
through 4-45 for more information on insurgent strategies.)

THE MISSION VARIABLES AND CIVIL CONSIDERATIONS
2-45. Upon receipt of a mission, commanders filter information categorized by the operational variables
into relevant information with respect to the mission. They use the mission variables, in combination with
the operational variables, to refine their understanding of the situation and to visualize, describe, and direct
operations. The mission variables are mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available,
time available, and civil considerations. (See ADRP 5-0 for more information on the mission variables).
Within the mission variables, civil considerations are of unique importance for counterinsurgency. Civil
considerations are the influence of man-made infrastructure, civilian institutions, and activities of the
civilian leaders, populations, and organizations within an area of operations on the conduct of military
operations. Civil considerations comprise six characteristics, expressed in the memory aid ASCOPE: areas,
structures, capabilities, organizations, people, and events. (See FM 2-01.3/MCRP 2-3A for information on
the use of ASCOPE.)
2-46. The commanders’ refinement of information for their mission and their particular area of operations
is essential. ASCOPE can play an important role in the identification of structures or events that will have
an effect in a unit’s area of operations. As such, ASCOPE is an important tool for the unit in determining
important civil considerations in an insurgency. Units within an insurgency use ASCOPE to identify and
continually refine their understanding of the area of operations over time. Commanders and staffs consider
ASCOPE from the perspective of the population, the insurgent, and the counterinsurgent. This is
particularly important for counterinsurgency operations. (See JP 3-57, FM 3-57, MCWP 3-33.1, and ADRP
2-0 for detailed explanations of ASCOPE.)

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Culture
3-1. This chapter addresses culture and its role in a counterinsurgency operational environment. Culture
forms the basis of how people interpret, understand, and respond to events and people around them.
Cultural understanding is critical because who a society considers to be legitimate will often be determined
by culture and norms. Additionally, counterinsurgency operations will likely be conducted as part of a
multinational effort, and understanding the culture of allies and partners is equally critical.
3-2. Insurgents from a local area generally understand local culture, the perspectives of the population,
and the population’s concerns and grievances much better than any foreign military forces understand
them. Therefore, culturally, the insurgent may have an enormous advantage over a foreign military force.
This may not be true if the insurgents are not from the local area. If a military force is to succeed in gaining
support of the population, it must seek to understand the local people and their culture and incorporate the
perspectives and concerns of the population in their plans and operations as well as, if not better than, the
insurgents incorporate them.
3-3. There are many definitions of culture in use by the United States (U.S.) military. As a starting point,
this publication understands culture is a web of meaning shared by members of a particular society or group
within a society.

UNDERSTANDING CULTURE
3-4. To be successful in interacting with the local population to gain information on the enemy, or to
understand their requirements, military members must do more than learn a few basic facts or “do’s and do
nots.” They must understand the way that their actions can change the situation for the local population
(both positively and negatively) and the resulting perceptions of the population towards those actions. To
be successful, commanders and staffs consider four fundamental aspects of culture when planning and
executing military operations:

Culture influences how people view their world.

Culture is holistic.

Culture is learned and shared.

Culture is created by people and can and does change.
3-5. The way that a culture influences how people view their world is referred to as their worldview.
Many people believe they view their world accurately, in a logical, rational, unbiased way. However,
people filter what they see and experience according to their beliefs and worldview. Information and
experiences that do not match what they believe to be true about the world are frequently rejected or
distorted to fit the way they believe the world should work. More than any other factor, culture informs and
influences that worldview. In other words, culture influences perceptions, understandings, and
interpretations of events. Soldiers and Marines need to know that U.S. interpretations of events are often
quite different from the perceptions of these events by other people in an area of operations. If Soldiers and
Marines assume that the local population will perceive actions the way that they do, they are likely to
misjudge their reactions. The U.S. military refers to this pattern of assuming others see events in the same
way the U.S. does as mirror imaging. Mirror imaging is dangerous because it leads Soldiers and Marines
into thinking that their assumptions about a problem and its solution are shared by the population and
multinational partners, rather than employing perspective taking, and looking at the problem from the
population’s perspective.
3-6. Holism is based on the principle that all socio-cultural aspects of human life are interconnected.
While interacting with people in other cultures, Soldiers and Marines may be tempted to say their problems
“are all about [fill in the blank: tribalism, corruption, lack of work ethic, and so on.].” In truth, very few

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counterinsurgency challenges boil down to one simple answer. Politics affects economics. Family structure
affects job choices. Religion affects politics. Every aspect of culture affects every other aspect in some
way, even if indirectly. By acknowledging these interconnections, military members can better assess how
the local population might react to their presence and actions. For instance, when Soldiers and Marines are
not thinking holistically, they may anticipate that closing down a local market will only have an impact on
the local economy. However, after closing the market, it may be that the local reaction seems to be about
religion or tribal concerns instead of economics. Even if Soldiers and Marines do not understand why, they
should be aware that their actions will have unknown second and third order effects. By understanding that
a marketplace is more than a place to exchange goods for money, and that economic conditions may affect
tribal power, the status of religious leaders, and other social conditions, Soldiers and Marines can see a
culture holistically. A holistic perspective helps military members understand the complex
interconnectedness of a culture and avoid being surprised by local reactions to military decisions.
3-7. Culture is learned and shared. Children learn the appropriate way to act in a culture by observing
other people; by being taught accepted values and ways of thinking about the world from their parents,
teachers and others; and by practicing (sharing) what they have learned on a daily basis. This process of
learning a new culture is called socialization. Culture can be learned at any age. Marines and Soldiers, for
example, learn military culture by going through basic training or officer training in their late teens or early
twenties. In fact, these initial training schools recognize their important role in socializing young men and
women into core Marine and Army values. As a result, Marine Corps and Army basic training curriculums
include not only classes on marksmanship, but also classes on ethics and core values. In counterinsurgency
operations, understanding that culture is learned and shared can offer an important operational and tactical
opportunity. Any Marine or Soldier can learn about the culture of the population simply by interacting with
the local people. One of the more successful adaptations of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan
occurred when service members realized they could learn a lot about the local culture quickly by talking to
and observing their interpreters. Their enhanced understanding of the cultures of their areas of operations
enabled them to better negotiate with leaders, to conduct operations that would be successful, and in a
number of cases (such as the al Anbar Awakening), to gain the support and assistance of the population in
fighting an insurgency.
3-8. One of the keys to success (and failure) in dealing with a population in a counterinsurgency operation
is understanding that cultures are not static; they can and do change, often rapidly. During times of conflict,
the usual methods for getting through the day may stop working for the local population, and they may try
adopting new ideas or start highlighting traditional ways of doing things. Alternatively, they may switch
rapidly among a range of possible behaviors. These changes can occur because of a number of factors were
at play, but probably the greatest cause of this during conflict is a rapid decline in security. As security
declines, the threat of attack, rape, and murder forces many changes in society. The rapid decline in the
status and opportunities for women in these countries, therefore, was not merely due to centuries-old tribal
beliefs, but to very real and pragmatic economic and social changes over time. As the cases of Iraq and
Afghanistan illustrate, cultural practices and attitudes are frequently influenced by changes in very real
physical conditions. Since the arrival of a large military, often accompanied by the destruction of physical
property and the erosion of the local economy and security, is undoubtedly an enormous change for the
local population, counterinsurgency planners need to recognize and plan for the impact that their operations
will have upon the people and cultures in an area of operations.

ASSESSING A CULTURAL SITUATION
3-9. Although it may seem that people around the world are extraordinarily different and have little in
common, in reality all human groups interact with their world and each other in some basic, predictable
patterns. The particular details of these patterns may vary. But the underlying patterns will not. Thus, all
people use, manage, and interact with their environments. All groups have some kind of economy for
exchanging goods and services. Every group has a social structure, with differing roles and status among
members. Political behavior can be found in the smallest community. All people have some kind of belief
system, whether based on religion, tradition, narratives, or history. By identifying these patterns wherever
they deploy, Marines and Soldiers will be in a better position to assess the cultural situation and the
influence of their operations upon the local population.

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3-10. All cultures have a unique and interdependent connection with their physical surroundings. The
physical environment (including climate, terrain, and resources) influences the people living in it by
providing a range of possibilities within which they act. People shape their environment by the choices they
make, creating a cultural landscape which reflects their social, cultural, economic, and political attitudes. A
careful reading, or interpretation, of the cultural landscape can provide useful information about the people
who create it, use it, and live in it. A military presence in an area of operations will affect a local population
and its use of the physical environment. For example, Marines and Soldiers may inadvertently divert or
impede access to resources, such as water or food, which in turn may cause real shortages or upset the
balance of power by allowing greater access to these resources by one group and harming another.
Counterinsurgency planners need to anticipate how their operations will impact local populations and their
use of their environment and recognize that since use of the environment is cultural, these impacts may
significantly differ from what might be expected in the U.S.
3-11. All cultures have specific systems for obtaining, producing, and distributing items people need to
survive (for example, food, water, and shelter) or luxuries and material things. This system, which does not
necessarily require money or a banking system, is called the economy of a culture. Frequently, insurgents
use the informal economy to obtain funding and support for their activities. Another aspect of the economic
system that is often overlooked is the concept of reciprocity, which is an exchange between people that
creates a relationship. Although in Western cultures exchange usually involves the exchange of goods and
services of equal monetary value, in other parts of the world exchange may be only partly about what
people expect regarding goods and services and also partly about building working relationships. If
Marines and Soldiers fail to see what the local people expect from the exchange, to include its impact on
interpersonal relationships, it will be hard for them to understand or anticipate people’s behavior.
3-12. In all cultures, people hold differing positions of status and power, often closely related to their roles
in a group. In the military, for example, one’s status and power is based on rank. Depending on a person’s
rank, a person fills different roles in an organization. The way that a group distinguishes among its
members according to their role, status, and power is reflected in its social structure. A person’s position in
the social structure may depend on many factors, including age, gender, class, family name, tribal
membership, ethnicity, religious identity, and even rank. In conflict environments, differing groups (for
example, ethnic, religious, or tribal) may each vie for power, often looking to outside militaries to support
them. In counterinsurgency operations, it is essential that military leaders understand which social groups
have traditionally held power in an area of operations. Otherwise, they are likely to be drawn into power
struggles among competing groups, and possibly even unwittingly end up aiding the insurgents. A concept
central to one’s place in society is that of identity. Identity is a broad term used to describe how people
conceive of themselves and how they are perceived by others. Identity shapes how people view themselves
and the world. Understanding identity is complex because people have multiple identities. In times of
conflict, people may choose to emphasize certain group identities such as nationality or religion, while at
other times different identities, such as one’s profession or gender, may matter more. Social structure and
identity are extremely important concepts for counterinsurgency planners and operators to understand, as
they affect people’s allegiances and influence how groups and individuals will interpret and respond to U.S.
actions.
3-13. In all cultures, people have a system that determines who leads the group and who makes decisions
about its welfare. Although people in the U.S. use an electoral system to select their leaders, this is not the
case in many other countries. In many places around the world, even when the official government is
elected, the local population may not view that government as legitimate or effective. In fact, one of the
primary motivations for people to support an insurgency is their sense that the official or formal
government has failed to provide for their needs. Frequently, insurgents may be providing a “shadow
government” which replaces and competes with the official government in certain parts of the country.
Shadow governments are one example of informal leadership. In most areas of operations, Marines and
Soldiers will find that communities or groups are influenced by a variety of leaders, most of whom are not
part of the government. In some areas, religious leaders may have great influence. In others, people may
look to tribal leaders or respected individuals within their ethnic group. Business leaders and warlords often
have great power and influence too. To be successful in counterinsurgency operations, military members
need to quickly and accurately identify the various community leaders and develop strategies to work with

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Chapter 3

each of them in order to increase government legitimacy. Without support from the various power brokers
in an area of operations, military action is unlikely to gain support from the local population.
3-14. Cultures are characterized by a shared set of beliefs, values, norms and symbols that unite a group.
These beliefs may come from many sources, such as a person’s background, family, education, religion or
history. Understanding the beliefs and values of a local population is critical for effective information
operations. Failure to respect or understand the beliefs of a local population can result in serious hostility
towards military intervention and attacks upon military personnel. Likewise, information operations that
assume the foreign audience shares the same jokes, history, or values that Soldiers and Marines do
frequently fail to deliver messages effectively. To gain an understanding of belief systems,
counterinsurgents read and monitor information available through media or books, and counterinsurgents
talk to people in the culture. Discussing history with local people can be a window into understanding the
way that people in that area define a problem, who they believe caused it, and who they think the heroes
and villains are. Stories, sayings and even poetry can reveal cultural narratives, the shared explanations of
why the world is a certain way. Frequently, advertising appeals to people by using these narratives, as do
effective information operations. Beliefs, however, are not perfectly shared or understood within a group.
There is usually a range of acceptable thoughts and behaviors. This is called variation. For example, in
reading about Islam, Soldiers and Marines may understand that Muslims are supposed to fast during
Ramadan. However, when deployed they might observe seemingly faithful Muslims drinking and eating
during Ramadan. Within U.S. culture, these internal mismatches and contradictions (variations) are often
accepted without much comment. In a cross-cultural interaction, these contradictions can seem jarring or
confusing. Often, working with others in a foreign culture requires the ability to suspend judgment. People
often act and work in ways that may be difficult to accept or understand. However, by recognizing that all
people share some fundamental patterns and seeking to understand and develop military plans and
operations that build upon these patterns, commanders and staffs can effectively work to counter an
insurgency within an area of operations.
3-15. Religion can be a powerful force in shaping beliefs. In many cultures religion and religious leaders
have significant influence over local populations. Religious ideology can incite conflict, but religion can
also be instrumental in stabilizing a culture by using universal religious concepts of justice, healing, and
transformation. Because religion is often an integral part of the values set of a local culture,
counterinsurgents conducting mission preparation and analysis examine the religion in an area of
operations. Religion can also play an important role in creating peace and stability. Religion can create
cultural instability, but in many cases it can alleviate problems in a society and be a unifying force. Many
religions have messages and themes of pacifism and forgiveness. In many insurgencies, religious leaders
have played an essential role in ending conflicts. The effect of a religion has to be understood within that
religion and within that society. Counterinsurgents conducting a mission analysis may find that insurgents
are using a radical interpretation of a religious text to incite violence. This can be countered by empowering
indigenous religious leaders who promote a different interpretation. For example, radical Muslims may cite
texts from the Quran that justify violence, but they may ignore the passages taught by more moderate
Muslims that advocate compassion, peace, and human dignity.

ORGANIZING TO UNDERSTAND CULTURE
3-16. There are three important methods for trying to understand the cultural element of a
counterinsurgency. First, all counterinsurgents must make every effort to experience and understand the
local culture, including by trying local food and learning local languages and customs. Second,
commanders can organize their staffs in order to concentrate on cultural understanding and inject this
understanding into their unit’s plans and operations. Third, commanders can rely on an outside capability to
allow commanders and staffs to understand the culture. Two techniques that involve organization of staffs
or outside capabilities are—

Green cell and cultural advisor.

Human terrain systems.

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GREEN CELL AND CULTURAL ADVISOR
3-17. The purpose of a green cell is to consider the population in order to promote a better understanding
of the environment and the problem. At a minimum, the green cell provides for the independent will of the
population. Planning teams must develop an understanding of civilian aspects of the area of operations and
the will of the population. There are many techniques to achieve this capability, and each unit may
approach this differently based on resources and available qualified personnel. Two techniques of note are
the green cell and cultural advisor. (See MCWP 5-1 for more information on green cells.)
3-18. A green cell is an ad hoc working group consisting of individuals with a diversity of education and
experience capable of identifying and considering the perspective of the population, the host-nation
government, and other stakeholders within an operational environment. Ideally, a green cell is composed of
individuals with cultural expertise across all warfighting functions. If a whole-of-government approach is
used, experts from other government agencies such as the Department of State should be included in the
cell. The green cell cooperates closely with the other members of the planning staff so that cultural factors
are considered throughout the range of military operations. The green cell also interfaces and coordinates
with joint and interagency groups, drawing upon the collective knowledge and experience of the
Department of State, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and foreign resources, such as provincial
reconstruction teams. (See MCWP 5-1 for more information on green cell activities.)
3-19. The commander forms the green cell during the receipt of mission and problem framing planning
steps to add to the commander’s and the operational planning team’s cultural understanding of an
operational environment. In order to support the operational planning team, the green cell understands the
operational planning team’s mission and tasks and is able to translate cultural information in a way that is
relevant to the mission.
3-20. The cultural advisor is a concept developed and employed in Operation Enduring Freedom in
Afghanistan. Cultural advisors are the principal subject matter experts on culture and planning related to
their designated geographic region of expertise, serving as the cultural and language advisors to the
commander. The cultural advisor is a special staff officer for the commander and a member of the planning
staff. This person not only serves on the planning staff, but also deploys and serves as an ongoing advisor
to senior leaders while they are in theater, if needed. The advantage of having a cultural advisor on staff is
that this advisor can often help explain to the commander what the advisor sees on the ground in the area of
operations. A foreign area officer or a civil affairs Soldier may be a good selection for a cultural advisor.
Both can provide an understanding of the host nation and its specific regional, religious, and ethnic
differences, and they may have foreign language skills. As a result, the commander can adjust operations in
response to a culturally challenging environment.
3-21. Overall, there are many options to task-organize staffs to incorporate culture into planning. While a
green cell creates expertise in one part of the staff, those concerns are also important for other staff
sections. It is important for commanders to create staffs that are well integrated across the warfighting
functions. One danger of creating a cultural cell within the staff is that it will relegate cultural concerns to
one staff element and inhibit cultural concerns being integrated into the planning process. Commanders
ensure that the staff integrates all operational and planning concerns, including cultural concerns.
3-22. Regardless of the particular planning configuration, commanders and planners find and use whatever
cultural resources are available to the unit. Commanders and staffs incorporate culture into planning during
the beginning of mission planning in order to understand an area of operations prior to developing any
course of action. Success is recognized not by stand-alone briefs that describe the culture of an operational
environment, but when all of the operational planning teams’ planning products reflect and have been
informed by the cultural analysis that has been performed by subject matter experts.

HUMAN TERRAIN SYSTEM
3-23. The human terrain system provides tactical to strategic level support to commanders. The human
terrain system conducts field research and analysis of the local population to determine the civil
considerations in order to help commanders better understand the operational environment from the
population’s perspective and assess how actions will potentially impact and be perceived by the local
population.

13 May 2014

FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5

3-5


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