Podcast/Video: Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl on CSPAN2




Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam discusses the new U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual on CSPAN2’s Book TV. The show should be in their archives by tomorrow.

Here is a bit from Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife:

T. E. Lawrence’s aphorism that “Making war upon insurgents is messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife” is difficult to fully appreciate until you have done it. Intellectually grasping the concept that fighting insurgents is messy and slow is a different thing from knowing how to defeat them; knowing how to win, in turn, is a different thing from implementing the measures required to do it…

When I wrote this book, I underestimated the challenge of adapting an army for the purposes of defeating an insurgency while simultaneously maintaining the army’s ability to fight a conventional war. I also understated the importance of local forces in defeating an insurgency and the difficulty of raising, training, and equipping them. Creating reliable, dedicated local forces during the course of an insurgency that targets not just the local soldiers and police but also their families truly is a task as difficult as “eating soup with a knife.”

Local forces have inherent advantages over outsiders in a counterinsurgency campaign. They can gain intelligence through the public support that naturally adheres to a nation’s own armed forces. They don’t need to allocate translators to combat patrols. They understand the tribal loyalties and family relationships that play such an important role in the politics and economies of many developing nations. They have an innate understanding of local patterns of behavior that is simply unattainable by foreigners. All these advantages make local forces enormously effective counterinsurgents. It is perhaps only a slight exaggeration to suggest that, on their own, foreign forces cannot defeat an insurgency; the best they can hope for is to create the conditions that will enable local forces to win it for them.

In their turn, however, foreign forces have much to offer local forces battling an insurgency. Western armies bring communications packages, training advantages, artillery and close air support, medical evacuation, and Quick Reaction Forces that together contribute dramatically to the confidence, morale, and effectiveness of the local forces, especially when trainers are embedded with the locals.

There is a great point in the interview where he challenges those who feel that the enemy only understands the language of violence. Killing and capturing the enemy is not enough. Instead, a comprehensive, holistic approach is needed that incorporates the defense forces, intelligence agencies, Department of State, USAID, etc. You can also read this interview with Lieutenant Colonel Nagl at the Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth.

Lieutenant Colonel Nagl commands the 1st Battalion, 34th Armor at Fort Riley, Kansas. He led a tank platoon in Operation Desert Storm and served as the operations officer of a tank battalion task force in Operation Iraqi Freedom. A West Point graduate and Rhodes Scholar, Nagl earned his doctorate from Oxford University, taught national security studies at West Point, and served as a Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Here are some more links of interest, courtesy of Small Wars Journal.

A Better War in Iraq, Armed Forces Journal, August 2006

Army Wrote the Book on Iraq – 65 Years Ago, Chicago Tribune, August 2007

Adapting for the Long War

New Rules for New Enemies, Armed Forces Journal, October 2006 (with Paul Yingling)

Training Transition Teams at Fort Riley, Kansas

It’s Time for an Army Advisor Corps

NPR Morning Edition, 5 December 2006 – story

Newsweek, The Perils of the Pentagon’s New Iraq Strategy, 18 December 2006

NPR Morning Edition, 27 March 2007 – story


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