Strategic Horizons: U.S. Counterinsurgency Still Fighting the Last War

Strategic Horizons: U.S. Counterinsurgency Still Fighting the Last War

When the Cold War ended in 1991, the U.S. military assumed it would no longer be involved in counterinsurgency. The subject was dropped from the curriculum of the military's professional educational system. None of the armed services wrote new doctrine or developed new operational concepts. The only lingering attention was a handful of war games with sideshow insurgency scenarios.

Then the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan forced the U.S. military and other government agencies to relearn counterinsurgency. The military wrote new doctrine and rebuilt its educational curriculum. Intelligence agencies refined their insurgency-focused analytical tools. Even the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development developed guidelines to spell out their role. Across the security community, war games, studies, conferences, seminars and workgroups on insurgency proliferated.

Now with the United States out of Iraq and getting out of Afghanistan, interest in insurgency is again ebbing. Still, unlike the 1990s, it has not gone away entirely. While the Obama administration has indicated that the U.S. military will no longer be configured for large-scale, protracted counterinsurgency, there is little doubt that insurgency will continue to threaten America's partners and that the United States will offer some sort of counterinsurgency support. This continued interest is a good thing, but, unfortunately, official thinking reflects old-style insurgency more than emerging forms. The failure to adapt U.S. thinking to changing patterns of insurgency leaves the country poorly equipped for the next conflict.

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