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COIN Explained So a 5th Grader Can Understand It - Almost


Army.ca Legend
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I am not a fan of Lind, Robb and the other 4th generation "experts" way too much theory that is poorly argued and explained. Theory to be applicable needs to be able to be put into practice. For that to occur you have to understand what it is you are trying to accomplish. Ran across this excellant post by Grimm on Blackfive. After reading it I think you may agree with me that COIN is much easier to understand and will translate into real world action. The Gravity Well.



Yellow nodes: leadership. These people are the core leadership of the organization. "They have denser connections to other leaders" and other main network nodes. They keep everything together as the group's connectors.

Red nodes: active members. Active members are tightly connected to the leadership nodes (yellow). They, in combination with the yellows, are what people refer to as the "group."

Blue nodes: people actively seeking membership. These people aren't formally connected to the core group. They are actively working on ways (relationships, credibility, etc.) to connect to the "group."

Green nodes: lurkers and potential members. People in this category are not active members of the group. They may or may not undertake actions that are in line with group goals.

Good read. Very interesting concepts, even in the comments. I hadn't thought of using gravity to explain it. I do however think more emphasis must be placed, maybe visualized somehow, on deprogramming. That dimension is what is missing in this gravity well competition. I do like the idea of channeling some natural tendencies/aggressions into more benign groups. I am sure most of this is in action already, just perhaps not common knowledge with this easy to digest explaination.
Another luminary is LCol Kilcullen form Australia (you might recognize his name from some discussions in the Infantry thread).

The "New Yorker" did a piece on his theory in the Dec 18, 2006 edition "Knowing the Enemy" by George Packer; LCol Kilcullen's theory is called "disaggregation" abd uses social networks to identify insurgencies and finding the seams to separate terror networks from supporters. This isn't actually new (The Malaysia Emergency used a fairly crude version of the approach, and I have an article on file at home dating back to 2002 which also talks about using social networks), but Kilcullen goes far beyond local and neighbourhood networks and tells us we have to fight at multiple levels from kinetic actions against the terrorists in person to internet propaganda.

This is closly related to the Gravity well theory, and the article is quite illuminating, although full of the obligatory anti administration swipes that left wing publications indulge in (for example there is a constant refrain that these theories will not be implimented until the Administration changes, even though prototypes of these theories existed in the 1990's and no Democratic front runner seems inclined to speak about any sort of pro active strategy for conducting WW IV).

Most good libraries carry the New Yorker, apparently there is no on line archive yet.

Update: the article can be found here: http://www.possibility.com/epowiki/Wiki.jsp?page=KnowingTheEnemy

Thanks to Niner Domestic for the tip
Thread may be old - but there is a new - far expanded Powerpoint on COIN by LCol Kilcullen at


A Powerpoint viewer is required if you don't have the main program -

If you can't find this and want it - PM me.

All should read it - I think it makes all the connections we don`t necessarily see.

Just by the types and amounts of information being gathered by various intelligence programs you can see that a lot of it is applicable to finding the connections between nodes once some are discovered. To bad The New York times, other news organizations and the Democratic Party are against this type of intelligence gathering even to the extent of exposing covert programs. Not without some reason as tracking associations is in some ways in conflict with freedom of association.
This essay shows the difficulty with what we are dealing with. Even if you agree with the premise, the way it is stated will raise lots of politically  correct opposition or at least make it difficult to gain support to take action, as well as harden the resolve of the Jihadis to work against us. Creating successful disaggregation techniques will be difficult, and may have to focus on other factors, like expanding womans rights in Islamic societies or transferring blame for economic and social stagnation back to the dysfunctional governments of the region rather than trying to take religion head on:


The Muslim Reformation

Let me make it clear from the start, that the following essay focuses on Islam, not on Muslims. I believe that the average Muslim is more or less like you or I ... they want to live in peace and wish for a better life for themselves and their children. In short, they are good people. The topic here is Muslim and Christian foundations and beginnings.

Let's start.

There is an entrenched view among many Westerners that Islam has been hijacked by radicals. The view is based in Western "hope" that Islam is a peaceful religion ... that it is like other religions ... and that its foundations are basically respectful of human rights.

What exactly this view is based on is uncertain. I suppose it's part wishful thinking or a result of humanist sentiment, or perhaps due to the influence of writers who assure us that Islamic doctrine is, in fact, benign.

Yet, if one is to judge Islam by its works, the picture that emerges is anything but comforting. Historically, Islam has persecuted non-Muslims each and every time it has held a plurality. Where Mulsims dominate(d), but did not persecute others, it was generally a result of colonial or dictatorial powers that held them in check. There are no exceptions. It is a fact which stands to this very day. Even in Turkey, which is often held up as a positive example, non-Muslims have lived a tentative existence. Turkey may yet prove to be the first fully human rights respecting Islamic state ... but it is too soon to tell at this point, given her recent checkered past and reliance on military intervention to hold fundamentalism at bay.

Nevertheless, it is clear that whenever Islam becomes the dominant religion, non-Muslims become targets of persecution. Finding exceptions to this rule is a challenge.

There may be any number of reasons why Islam is so uncompromisingly supremacist, but one reason stands out among all others. That is the fact that the foundational texts of Islam are supremacist in the extreme ... to the point of advocating violence as the main form of enforcement. To read about Muhammad, whose example all Muslims are required to follow, is to read about a brutal chauvinist who used murder, deceit, theft and all kind of barbaric means to pursue his agenda. Furthermore, he took the chauvinism common in his time and expanded on it, making Christian chauvinism of the era pale in comparison.

Compare this to Christianity. Anyone at all familiar with Christian foundational texts, understands immediately that Christianity is by and large a pacifist religion. Christian foundational texts focus on spirituality and are almost completely devoid of political guidance. Christian foundations can best be described as "turn the other cheek". Muslim foundations can best be described as "smite the unbelievers."

To understand the difference between the two, one must understand the historic context in which each came into being.

Christianity came into being under the reality of Imperial Rome. Early Christians could not conceive of life apart from Roman dominance. As a result, the religion offers virtually nothing in the way of political instruction. Literally, it leaves the "sorting out" to God in the afterlife. For example, the ordering of punishment for "sin" is a matter to be dealt with between the sinner and God when the sinner dies; no earthly “legal” remedy is offered. Roman law was so over arching, that to suggest any form of material reward, sanction, or other, would have been to challenge Roman law and order. Furthermore, there was no chance, even remotely, of expanding Christianity using the sword ... so early Christians expanded the religion using the persuasion of ideas, good works, and a message that promised eternal life based on belief in Christ. Early Christians focused on the example of their prophet, Jesus Christ, who set about as pacifist an example as could be. His primary tenet was, "the greatest of these is love".

Contrast this with early Islam, where the founder had no powerful and dominating Roman empire to contend with. Muhammad and later Muslims were able to expanded their faith solely via the sword. After a fragile start, Muhammad plundered his way to dominance. Muslims became the masters of their destiny and their religion became law where they lived. Muhammad died ruler of his realm; a realm that expanded bloody year after bloody year. As a result, Islam needed not be pacifist, it needed not to moderate, it needed not to compromise. It moved far beyond spiritual matters and became a way of governance, of economy, of war, of life, and death. Islam, became a road map for all aspects of life and governance ... today we call it Sharia.

Critics will no doubt recall the violent excesses of the Church of Rome, and they will be correct in doing so. Christianity, despite its pacifist foundations, has been used by political forces over centuries to enact all sorts of violence. Once it became the dominant religion in Southern Europe, it's pacifist nature was quickly circumvented for any number of reasons, but none of these reasons could either then or now be justified using foundational Christian texts. As a result, Christians have always struggled back to their pacifist and peaceful roots. Why? Because their foundational texts are such, they find more than ample reason there for coexisting peacefully with others. In fact, it is a great theological stretch for Christians to march to war. When they do, they do so largely because their foundational texts deal almost exclusively with spiritual matters and don't cross over into governance, offering little guidance on political matters. This fact is critical to our discussion.

Moderate Muslim reformers have no such reality. There is no "peaceful" Islam to return to. Muslims who value modern notions of human rights and liberty must work counter to their prophet, they must, in fact, reject his example. They have no "Jesus" to follow. Their prophet is a barbaric sadist. Their early texts are a prescription for human rights abuses, for war, and for utter and total domination of others. There early deeds are conquest, pillage, and the subjugation of all their neighbours. Islam was born of war and violence. Since there is no peaceful Islam for reformers to go back to, it can be argued that true Muslims are those we Westerners call radicals, for they seek the supremacist Islam of Muhammad.

That is why Muslim apostates like Wafa Sultan, Hirsi Ali, and others, argue for "transformation". They understand from experience and education that there is no peaceful Islam to go back to ... peaceful Islam it is a myth, a construct of ignorant Westerners, deceitful Muslims, or worse yet, delusional but well-meaning secular Muslims who after1400 years still don’t get it. It's time that Westerners realize that while individual Muslims may be peaceful loving, their religion is anything but.

Posted by Paul at 2:37 PM 

While there is an overwhelming amount of evidence supporting a violent Islam religion, he's oblivious to, or deliberately ignoring, Christianity's own bloody past.  Once Christians took the reins of power over from Rome they were only too happy to wield the sword along with everyone else... if in doubt take a look at our current response. 
54/102 CEF said:
Thread may be old - but there is a new - far expanded Powerpoint on COIN by LCol Kilcullen at


A Powerpoint viewer is required if you don't have the main program -

If you can't find this and want it - PM me.

All should read it - I think it makes all the connections we don`t necessarily see.

Kilcullen's work is most definitely something that folks should at least consider reading.  His analysis of the factors at play in assessing and dealing with insurgency is very well laid out. 
Ignoring Kilcullen's influence on US COIN operations would be a very serious mistake. This in a nutshell explains current COIN operations in Iraq.The following comments were made on June 26, 2007 .

When we speak of "clearing" an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation. If we don't get every enemy cell in the initial operation, that's OK. The point of the operations is to lift the pall of fear from population groups that have been intimidated and exploited by terrorists to date, then win them over and work with them in partnership to clean out the cells that remain – as has happened in Al Anbar Province and can happen elsewhere in Iraq as well.

The "terrain" we are clearing is human terrain, not physical terrain. It is about marginalizing al Qa’ida, Shi’a extremist militias, and the other terrorist groups from the population they prey on. This is why claims that “80% of AQ leadership have fled” don’t overly disturb us: the aim is not to kill every last AQ leader, but rather to drive them off the population and keep them off, so that we can work with the community to prevent their return
Expanding a bit on the "disaggregation" theme, supporting the Rule of Law is also a powerful antidote to extremism:


Muslim Tug-O-War

Malasian Islam offers up a good news/bad news situation. While the Malasian courts back a fairly liberal constitution, the government pushes back. What's shaping up is the classic stand off between Muslim purists and those who want to enter the 21st century and join the rest of us.

It'll be an interesting one to watch, especially since democracy has meant more fundamentalism in neighbouring Indonesia, instead of less:

The Malaysian government has said it would challenge a court decision allowing a Chinese woman to renounce Islam and revert to Buddhism.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the court verdict was not final and an appeal before the higher court was almost complete.

He noted that the court decision favouring the woman, Tan Ean Huan - who called herself Siti Fatimah Tan Abdullah as a Muslim - was protested by Islamist groups including a Kuala Lumpur-based political group, Hizbut Tahrir....

If the courts win this battle, it'll be a huge step in the right direction. My bet, in this case, is that the courts will prevail ... they seem to be growing some genuine liberal teeth.

My guess is that it'll come down to the same old thing, and that is whether or not Muslim purists use back up plan B, as they've done for 1400 years ... which is to threaten or kill those who get in the way. After all, Mo did it, so why can't they?

Until then, the forces of liberty are leading the score card.
A lot of COIN is a numbers game. "We" have far more than enough troops in Afghanistan to make substantial gains, but it is distributed in an inefficient manner:


How Not to Fight a Counter Insurgency 
Written by JD Johannes 
Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The tide turned in Iraq when coalition forces got off the FOB, got outside the wire, lived in small outposts and started walking through villages and neighborhoods instead of driving around in humvees.

That lesson has yet to make its way to Afghanistan :

"Yes. I believe the problem in Afghanistan isn't necessarily a quantitative manpower problem but rather a manpower distribution problem. We have between 60,000 and 70,000 international troops in Afghanistan presently and the vast majority of these spend their time in the FOBs [forward operating bases]. We have at least 10,000 soldiers, airmen, Marines and the like in Bagram for example, which is at least 150 miles away from the insurgency. And Bagram has a Pizza Hut, a Burger King and even a massage parlor. But it's not the way to win a counterinsurgency. You have to be out in the villages … When I was in Solerno last year, which is a FOB near the Pakistani-Afghan border near Khost, I estimated—and nobody really argued with me—that while there were thousands of people at this base, probably less than 5 percent ever left the wire. And you just can't prosecute a counterinsurgency with those kinds of numbers."

The scenario above sounds exactly like Iraq 2005.  And we all know how well that strategy worked.

Counter insurgency is not all that complex.  Get outside the wire, build a small outpost in a village, conduct a census, patrol 24/7.

I've even got an instructional DVD on it.

And as for the reporters question about, "If you have smaller numbers of troops in compounds throughout the country, how do you protect them? How do you make sure their bases don't get overrun by the Taliban?"

I've got a DVD about that as well. 
Information and sensor technology which can extract data with high efficiency. If you substitute "patrol" for "sensor" then you may have an extremely efficient way to develop local intelligence and apply effects in COIN without breaking the bank in terms of manpower and logistics:


The Information Wrangler
He develops new ways to get the most information with the least effort
By Gregory Mone Posted 10.14.2008 at 4:36 pm Comments

Carlos Guestrin wants to stop the spread of waterborne disease, design chairs that adjust to your posture, and cure Internet-induced information overload. This might seem a bit overambitious, but Guestrin has developed a single algorithm that can tackle them all.
Four years ago, Guestrin worked on an Intel project that involved placing tiny wireless sensors in a redwood forest. The researchers planned to use the sensors to learn about the forest's microclimates. "I asked them how they were going to decide where to put the sensors," he recalls. "They said they were more or less going to use intuition."

Guestrin knew he could do better, and began to devise a way to optimize both the location and the number of sensors to gather the highest-quality data. The resulting algorithm churned through all possible locations for the first sensor, ranked each location in terms of its information-gathering potential, picked the best one, and then recalibrated all the other locations based on that choice. The second-best sensor was the one that added the most new information, and the algorithm continued re-ranking until the cost of installing one more exceeded the value of the data it would gather.

All Guestrin's projects involve information flowing through a network, whether it's temperature data in a forest, forces applied to a chair as a person sits down, or even news of a politician's affair sprinting through the blogosphere. In each case, the algorithm's goal is to get the best data through as few sensors, or with as little effort, as possible. A blog, for example, is a potential "sensor" of a story. Guestrin's algorithm defined the best blogs as those that break big news stories early but don't force users to read through too many posts to find them. As with the forest, it picked one, re-ranked, chose the next one, and so on, narrowing a list of 45,000 possible blogs down to the most efficient 100. (When Guestrin ran the program in 2006, Instapundit topped the list.

There are other sensor-placement algorithms, but Guestrin's is uniquely fast and accurate. It won a simulation-based, EPA-sponsored contest that asked researchers to determine the best spots to place water-pollution sensors in a massive network of pipes. And Guestrin has proven theoretically that it is near-perfect. "This is the beautiful part," he says. "No matter how smart you are at designing an algorithm, you can't get much better than this."
If a fifth grader and I can understand it (I'm pretty simple at the best of times) then you can be guaranteed that no politician or journalist/media person will be able to.
Social media as an adjunct to conventional operations. This might fall under the category of Info Ops or PSYOPS, but as noted, real power is ultimatly needed to capitalize on any gains:


'Democracy Isn't Just A Tweet Away' - Gedmin In 'USA Today'
April 23, 2010

In a column for "USA Today", RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin writes about the limits of social networking technology in bringing about revolutions, and warns that advances in digital technology have also afforded authoritarian regimes new ways of monitoring and silencing dissent.

This article is adapted from a speech Mr. Gedmin delivered at a conference co-sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute and Freedom House on Cyber Dissent and Democracy. (Listen to the speech)

Democracy Isn't Just a Tweet Away

Jeffrey Gedmin | USA Today

April 23, 2010

Social media — texting, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube — have been transforming the way we think about many things, especially political power and protest. Enthusiasts speak of Twitter revolutions. Small countries have had these: Moldova in 2009, Kyrgyzstan this year. Is Iran or perhaps China next? You cannot stop the people anymore, says the conventional wisdom.

Well, not so fast.

It's true that authoritarians can no longer maintain a monopoly on information. Social media are empowering large segments of society like never before. "Fence-sitters" are emboldened by friends and like-minded souls to join social movements and political protests. But our thinking about social media and democracy movements needs a reset.

For starters, let's not get carried away by the hype. Iran is a case in point. We celebrated the early success of the Green Movement and marveled how young Iranians were able to stand up to the regime with the help of social media. When government forces murdered a young woman named Neda last summer, graphic amateur videos posted to Facebook and YouTube spread virally, shocked the world and seemed to galvanize the Iranian people. So what happened?

Battlefield dominance

The Green Movement hasn't disappeared. It's still there. But the regime achieved battlefield dominance in the technosphere over the past year. Iranian authorities have used a range of technologies to block, surveil and infiltrate social media. One young Iranian I met in February in a neighboring Middle East country told me he and his friends were having a hard time getting accurate and reliable information about when and where to go for Green Movement protests. Pro-democracy advocates were intimidated from joining key rallies last fall when warnings were tweeted and posted to Facebook about snipers pre-positioned on the roofs of buildings. The rumors turned out to be false. Through disinformation, it seems, Iranian intelligence services were able to disband demonstrations before protesters ever arrived on the scene. Brute force has played its role, too. Thousands have been arrested. It's the regime's technological edge, though, that has likely made the critical difference in hindering the Green Movement's progress.

Other heavy-handed governments are catching on, too. Countries like Russia and China have been standing up well-trained, handsomely financed cyber militias. Tyrants, it turns out, like Twitter, too. Innovative cyber dissidents will eventually sort this, perhaps with a technological assist from the United States.

But there's a bigger problem than states engaging dissidents on the social media battlefield. This has to do with understanding the limits of the technology. Twitter (or its next variant) will continue to bring protesters to the town hall square. Protesters may even succeed in toppling corrupt, autocratic regimes. But Twitter won't tell the opposition how to govern, how to develop democratic institutions or how to inculcate and defend the values, habits and behaviors that belong to democracy. These things require an immense amount of intellectual, conceptual and political work. And patience. This is especially so in countries that have little or no experience in democracy.

For instance, on a recent trip to Afghanistan, the leader of a mosque in Kabul told me he rejects Taliban rule and wants his country to be a democracy. He conceded at the same time, though, that it's difficult to know exactly how democratic institutions should look in an Afghan context. He's right, of course. Afghanistan is a tribal, largely illiterate society. American or European models cannot be simply transposed.

What next for Iran?

In the case of Iran, if the regime were to fall, then what? How would religious factions and secular elements reconcile? How would a more liberal, pluralistic post-mullah Iran balance forces of modernity and tradition? Such questions are anything but academic. If sanctions against Iran fail and we are faced with the prospect of nuclear weapons in the hands of this current regime, don't be surprised if the United States opts for a policy of robust support for the democratically minded opposition.

Don't be surprised either if some of the utopianism about social media starts to fade. That's not a bad thing, but rather a call to action. Promoting democracy is an American interest, and the U.S. needs to make adequate resources available to match the commitments made by authoritarians. The private sector must hold up its end of the bargain, too. Google's new approach to China is encouraging. We need patience and, above all, must assure that we're as long on substance as we are on the gadgetry.
I have never been a fan of the concepts of 4th Gen (or 5th Gen) warfare.  I like the analogy above but it doesn't demonstrate two opposing forces.

The base way I ever had COIN visualized to me was a tug-of-war on a bell curve with the big blob of general population being shifted back and forth.  Legitimate gov't and NATO on one side, "insurgents" on the other.  The Russians did so much trying to kill the insurgents that eventually that whole blob shifter over so much that (almost) the entire population became the enemy.

Petamocto said:
The base way I ever had COIN visualized to me was a tug-of-war on a bell curve with the big blob of general population being shifted back and forth.  Legitimate gov't and NATO on one side, "insurgents" on the other.  The Russians did so much trying to kill the insurgents that eventually that whole blob shifter over so much that (almost) the entire population became the enemy.
I'm not sure that the analogy of the Russians is either accurate or relevant.  Yes, there was opposition, but let us not forget that it was a proxy war of the Cold War: US money vs Soviet armour.  I find it ironic that some of the Soviet aims were similar to ours: education for women and girls, equal rights, and so forth.  Anyway, Afghan rebels did not cause the USSR to withdraw from Afghanistan and ergo cause the fall of the Soviet Union.  It was us, the West, that beat them at the big game of economics.  We outspent them to the point that if they were to keep up, their whole economy would have collapsed.  Gorbachov knew this, and the first step was to draw down and withdraw from Afghanistan.  Then the events followed in the East Bloc: eg: Hungary, CSSR and eventually the GDR all started mini-revolts (arguably all started in Danzig..er..."Gdansk" in the early 1980s.  So, du to "us" outspending "them", "They" fell.

But your analogy is correct, I believe in the big bell curve being pushed and pulled from two sides.  It's simplistic, but it's so true.
Yes I wasn't talking about the Russians in the sense of us vs them but them involved in a COIN fighting an insurgency.

Just like us now, really.  Yes we are doing business differently, but that just means we are pulling the rope in a different manner than the Russians.

At the end of the day it's still the "official" government side (and whoever is supporting them) one one side of the rope and the insurgency (and whoever is supporting them) on the other side of the rope; each trying to pull the bell curve to their side.

Linking this to the propaganda thread, that is how the insurgents say they're winning.  All they have to do is keep it generally in the middle, even if it flows a bit back and forth.

The biggest point about COIN is that you will never defeat the insurgents by yourself; you need to get the people on your side so they fight the insurgents for you.

I had a BMOQ-L candidate ask me a good question when I gave the COIN lecture to this course: "Is there ever an example of an insurgency actually winning and taking over as a legitimate government?".

My response: "Well yes, actually...perhaps you have heard of a little country called the United States of America".
Petamocto said:
My response: "Well yes, actually...perhaps you have heard of a little country called the United States of America".
To which he just stared blankly and shook his head no, no doubt ;D