To make change in Iraq and Afghanistan you must live among the people. I’m not going to rewrite the Counter Insurgency  (COIN) manual in this post I’m just going to say it like it is.

A major difference can be seen between US Army and Marine units currently in Afghanistan or for that matter in Iraq or even some previous wars. The two units fight totally differently. Yes, the Marine Corps is a “expeditionary”  force not as nearly as big (not even close) as the US Army. Amy goes in for the long haul, the duration. This is why they have “specialists” like the Green Berets to maintain a special type of military doctrine. The Marine Corps an “expeditionary” or “amphibious” force by doctrine goes in, kicks the crap out of the enemy and gets a foot hold for the Army to come in.  Let’s get past “we” are better than they and vice versa. When bullets are flying I don’t care if it’s Dr Phil shooting next to me as long as he has solid picture sight alignment and shoots the enemy. (glad were past that now)….moving on.

The Marine Corps in the past decade has learned a valued lesson to identify where the enemy is, build a outpost  smack in the middle of them and live among the people. You don’t win a COIN fight by reinforcing some palace and conducting occasional patrols out of them. No, that’s not coin. Marine units know they are winning coin when they can say ”the local people are our best defeater of the enemy and IEDS” because they tell you where they are. Do locals in the green zone tell Army units where badguys are? No. Marines engaged the enemy on a offensive movement more often because we find out (from the people) who & where the enemy is and we kill them. This shit of driving around and having the enemy ambush your ass all day really sucks. I’m not a fan of it. I’d rather be patrolling nonstop, have small units living in compounds and telling the enemy “here I am right here and I’m coming for you” not the other way around. When you have Afghani soldiers living in YOUR camp, sleeping i the same camp you build the coach, teach, mentor method very quickly. Some will say “but you run the risk of bad guys infiltrating as Afg soldiers and killing you” yes and they have a high risk in trying to do be successful in doing that as well. The facts are, you make more progress by living among the locals and having the military you are trying to mentor live among you.  This is a lessoned learned right out of the Small Wars manual.

I recently read an article regarding the 101st departing Afg with the heaviest losses since Vietnam. I bet they are frustrated, I bet their pissed. The US Army units in Helmand Province were pissed as hell about our unit and the other Marine Battalions in Afg because we had cracked the COIN game. Not just “kinda figured it out” but no shit knew it to where it wasn’t a two step forward, one step back game, it was a sprint movement that kept the enemy on its heels. Combined with a fast operation momentum, high tempo operations, always doing something different, the Marine units aren’t “chasing  ghosts” of the enemy, we are killing bad guys.

Every Army “Joe” reading this is building his list of facts etc to counter what I’m saying for in the comment box. Gents, again, I’m not looking down at the US Army, proud to serve next to you. What I am saying is I’m as pissed as you are about how you feel when you depart Afg and feel like you haven’t accomplished anything or worse, your warriors feel that way regardless of what you tell them.  It’s hard to explain to a 18 yr old that he has made a difference when he doesn’t see it for himself. He will grow out of that and as leaders you have to explain it so he understands.

It is easier for our younger Marines because they do live in the crapiest places (agriculture center that was bombed out) and your cot is in a horse corral and you have no roof.  However, every day you go on patrol and you stop, talk, look, listen to the locals. After about 3 months of this of coming into country, guess what, they start opening up to you and our young Marines see this as their info helps you defeat the enemy.

There is nothing worse to see the DOD KIA reports come out for US servicemembers. I get every one regardless of military branch. Sometimes I know them, every time I get one I look to see if I do.

I write this for those NOT in the military that sees reports of (5 killed in Iraq) like yesterday etc. Your servicemembers are winning. All may argue on exactly how to win or what tactic worked better but know regardless of these reports that come out and highlight the (5 killed here or there) or how 101st Air born has had the greatest losses since Vietnam, know that despite the one sided press view (that’s exactly what it is for the majority), your warriors are making a gigantic change and difference in Afghanistan and have in Iraq. For every 10 stories about American deaths, we see one or two about the successes. Why is that? I thought they were American reporters? Sounds more of what I would expect out of Al Jazeera. Sad.


Time for a Cgar!


  1. I think you’ve identified the differences in tactical and operational flexibility between soldiers and Marines. The Army, being the larger force and thus, organizationally and bureaucratically more constrained, operates with less flexibility than the Marine Corps. While Marines are said to have a ‘culture’, the Army values doctrine, which ensures that the emergence of bottom up innovations and practices-key to dealing with fluid dynamics- will be stupid hard. For commanders in the Army, like in every other large organizational enterprise, it’s career enhancing to be a ‘corporate cheerleader’. That’s why organizations seldom self-reform.

  2. Very well said. The Marines used a version of this during the early stages of the Vietnam War. Marines would be assigned to the hamlets and villages, living among the Vietnamese people. A rapport was developed that allowed the Marines to control an ever expanding area> It was referred to as the Ink Blot. Then McNamara, Johnson, and Westmoreland shifted focus to producing body counts, and basically forced the Marines to abandon this approach, and seek to engage the VC/NVA forces in pitched battle. This was fine, because won every major battle against them, but we lost the war for the people living in the villages. Sad how we have to relearn old lessons. Semper Fi!

  3. Hello to my 2nd fav Marine!
    Points made include the COINcentric idea of living with & among the people, of getting out of the vehicles and walking among them. This is not unique to the USMC, or SF in Mosul 1/24 Infantry (USA) got it down and this was reported on extensively by Michael Yon on his blog site. But perhaps there is something to our Marine’s article above … Mike noted in the last article on Deuce Four that the unit was soon to return to the USA and be changed, never to be the same. Soldiers would be promoted, transfered, ETS, and new soldiers would move in. Some of the new ones would have experience of their own, most would need to be trained up. The dynamic would have to be rebuilt. Unfortunately there are still many leaders who may not understand the dynamics of COIN and the advantages it confers in this current conflict.

  4. While I was in Vietnam with 1st Marines, our regimental commander, Col. PX Kelly allowed us on our ‘spare’ time to go into the local villages and work with the elders on civic projects and provide medical care. This was not CAP/ACT per se, but a unit doing what made sense, and in one case presented the village with a deer (a delicacy)that was shot while we were patrolling. These were the same villages that alerted us to the presence of VC/NVA, and allowed a window to either bolster our defense, engage, or provide intel back to regiment for action. Sitting back in the cantonments was what the French did, with predictable results. Unfortunately, history does repeat itself and those who do not study it are bound to repeat the mistakes. I see the mission in A-Stan downgrading into the mess that Vietnam was, with politicians making the military decisions based on polling data not operational facts, and as stated above by Rafort09, the ‘Corporate Cheerleader’ or the ‘Politically Correct’ Officer making decisions to hold back and not pursue and engage the enemy, basically fighting a ‘trench war’. Marines do what we do because, frankly, we’re d***ed good at what we do — Best Friend/Worst Enemy. Semper Fi!

  5. Well I am here to say that the Major know what I represent by what I write in my thougthts that I have sent in over the last two months. Yes, I am a US Marine and trying to finish my Career out to retire. There is one thing that I have not done is had to go into any warzone. Because I got into an accidentthat almost ended ny life. But that is all nonsense now. I am not here to talk about me. I present the support for all of my brothers and that is all Servicemen/women. And we are not better than anyone else. Yes the Major talk about how we go into any foreign nation and work with the local people. This will allow us to grow on to a bonding relationship of trust.
    I think what the journalist due is a line garbage when they only report the bad things that happens in War. As civilians we are blind to see on what goes on on this world. No there are places where we should not go and fight and we still do. We have been doing this since 1776.
    I want to say this to anyone and everyone that opens to this page that as a Serviceman still and a veteran to support them even if you do not agree with our Government policies. We learn from our past of what happens to our veterans hearts and their acceptance back to sciety if we do not greet and haven open arms for them.
    This will tell you exactly how I feel about everything.
    —Too Blind to see,—-
    This is something that needs to be thought about.
    Well I hope it will not take long for you to figure out.
    Yes, there are times when there are places we should not be,
    But let’s look at everything that has happened to everything around you and me,
    As we try to help our neighbors around the world,
    And get shaken up like a snow ball ornament and look at all of the flakes getting hurled.
    Yes that means we are shaken to HELLo and back,
    Some of us might say what does this mean, and why are we always on the attack.
    We all have to see what this world would be,
    If you did not have someone like your (dad, mother, brother, sister) fighting to keep everyone free,
    Sometimes the thanks might never be said or loud enough to be heard,
    When they see the smile from that poor little child that is better than hearing any word.
    And as in this song it did say, “It is too late to back down”,
    Because since 1776, we always had to go round and round.
    This is the main reason that we should watch what we say,
    Because freedom is hard to get or keep in anyway.
    This is the main reason that so many are Too Blind to See,
    Because most people in this world will never know what it is to be Free.
    By Frank Pulver

  6. Thank you, Major, for this post. I appreciate all the comments also. The whole discussion here address’s some of the questions that have concerned me regarding COIN arguments for/against. Would it be fair to say what it comes down to is Ok Corral (Marines)(coming to get you) ) vs. Alamo (Army) (we’re here come and get us) strategy….just askin’…

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