The U.S. military’s Counterinsurgency manual had not been rewritten since 1986 when General Petraeus spearheaded a rewrite published in 2007. This came just as the troop surge and new counterinsurgency strategy for Iraq was about to be implemented. Field Manual FM 3-24 is a rewrite of FM 90-8 which was written in the Cold War between the U.S. and the Communist Soviet Union. FM 90-8 assumed counterinsurgency similar to what it had seen in Vietnam and Latin America.
Both manuals refer to Insurgency Doctrine as espoused by Chinese Communist Revolutionary Mao Zedong. It is curious and disappointing that FM 3-24, written in the midst of the Global War on Terror only mentions al-Qaeda and the Taliban in passing, but not as part of a global militant Islamist movement bent on conquering the Muslim World and destroying the West.
Both manuals profess the importance of intelligence gathering and analysis, but FM 3-24 fails to connect the dots about who the enemy really is. What little explanation is given tends to fall back on the tired platitudes regarding economic deprivation without mentioning sharia law, burqas, honor killings beheadings etc. Vietnemese villagers did not acquiesce to the Viet Cong because they were poor, but because they were terrorized. The same is true of Afghan villagers and Iraqi merchants.
While the new manual is impressive as a work of military theory, it might prove less effective as a practical field manual for commanders on the ground. Section titles like “Determine Threat Courses of Action” and “The Nature of Design” would have been more appropriate for an academic treatise. FM 90-8 tended to stick more to the basics such as “Attack Fundamentals” and “Point Ambush Formations.” The graphics and charts are an unhelpful addition to the manual that infuses common sense topics with an air of intellectualism unnecessary for a practical document.
My general criticism of the manual is that it was a once in a generation opportunity to provide the military with a straightforward, effective and easy to use guide. It is packed with a lot of information, but I am not convinced it is the best thing for the troops. FM 90-8 was a sturdy and informative work that could have benefited from an update instead of being superseded.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a mild critic of the choice of General Petraeus to head the rewrite because he never served in Special Forces units which are the military’s counterinsurgency experts.)