Counterinsurgency (COIN) continues to be a controversial subject among military leaders. Critics argue that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made the U.S. military, particularly the Army, "COIN-centric." They maintain that equipping U.S. forces to combat insurgency has eroded their conventional war fighting capabilities. Those committed to preserving and even enhancing COIN capabilities, on the other hand, insist that doing so need not compromise the ability of the military to perform other tasks. They also point out that the likelihood of even a mid-level conventional war remains low while the probability of unconventional engagements is high. This monograph reviews the COIN debate, analyzes current force structure, and concludes that contrary to the more extreme positions taken by critics and proponents, the U.S. military has achieved a healthy balance between COIN and other capabilities.
This monograph creates a proposed insurgency typology divided into legacy, contemporary, and emergent and potential insurgency forms, and provides strategic implications for U.S. defense policy as they relate to each of these forms. The typology clusters, insurgency forms identified, and their starting dates are as follows, Legacy: Anarchist (1880s), Separatist—Internal and External (1920s), Maoist Peoples (1930s), and Urban Left (Late-1960s); Contemporary: Radical Islamist (1979), Liberal Democratic (1989), Criminal (Early 2000s), and Plutocratic (2008); and Emergent and Potential: Blood Cultist (Emergent), Chinese Authoritarianism (Potentials; Near to Midterm), and Cyborg and Spiritual Machine (Potentials; Long Term/Science Fiction-like). The most significant strategic implications of these forms for U.S. defense policy are derived from the contemporary Radical Islamist form followed by the contemporary Criminal and emergent Blood Cultist forms. If the potential Chinese Authoritarianism form should come to pass it would also result in significant strategic impacts.
The Syrian civil war has allowed al-Qaeda to recover from its setbacks up to 2010. Its main affiliate in the region seems to be testing a new strategy of collaboration with other Salafist-Jihadist groups and a less brutal implementation of Sharia law in areas it controls. In combination, this might allow the Al Nusrah Front to carve out the sort of territorial control of a region (or state) that al-Qaeda has sought ever since its eviction from Afghanistan. On the other hand, Syria has also seen a civil war between two al-Qaeda inspired factions (Al Nusrah and the Iraq based Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIS]) and indicates there are limits to its ability to cooperate with other anti-Assad factions and gain popular appeal. The extent that the Syrian civil war offers the means for al-Qaeda to recover from its earlier defeats will determine whether the organization has a future, or if it will become simply an ideology and label adopted by various Islamist movements fighting their own separate struggles.