Marine Corps planners are drafting a new strategy for tackling
insurgencies in future conflicts. Officials stress that the aim
is not to write a war plan for the current conflict Iraq, but rather
to generate fresh ideas for countering so-called “irregular”
threats in the coming decades. Part of the latest thinking among
Marine strategists is the notion that Islamic militant organizations
such as Al Qaeda are labeled terrorist organizations when in fact
they should be viewed as insurgencies.
the project is Lt. Gen. James Mattis, head of the Marine Corps Combat
Development Command in Quantico, Va.
“Gen. Mattis has asked us to write a concept for counterinsurgency,”
said Lt. Col. Lance McDaniel, who overseas the concepts and plans
division at the command. Operations in Iraq certainly motivated
the Corps to pursue new ways to fight insurgencies. “But we
are not going to write a concept for Iraq,” said McDaniel.
“We are writing a concept for the future, and taking advantage
of the energy and lessons we learned from it.”
Mattis is expected to review a draft counterinsurgency strategy
before the end of the year, and he wants to make it a “living
document” that can be revised over time, said McDaniel.
The counterinsurgency strategy will shape scenarios in future war
games. Marine planners will feed it into next year’s Title
10 war games, said McDaniel. The first one will be Expeditionary
Warrior 2006, in January. Title 10 war games are annual service
events that highlight combat capabilities and influence weapons
budgets, doctrine and training requirements.
In the current draft, the terms “counterinsurgency”
and “irregular threats” are used interchangeably. The
Defense Department generally characterizes non-state enemies and
terrorist cells as “irregular.” The Marine Corps will
focus on counterinsurgency as one piece of a broader plan to build
the new strategy.
Mattis’ decision to launch this effort is an indication that
the Marine Corps remains largely a conventional force, even though
it is far ahead of the other services in developing tactics for
urban warfare and unconventional so-called “small wars.”
“But we acknowledge that the training we give our people
and the equipment we buy is aimed at a more conventional peer threat,”
McDaniel said. “We are acknowledging that threats are changing.”
Among those threats are organizations such as Al Qaeda, which employ
terrorist tactics but also embody many of the characteristics of
an insurgency, according to one Marine strategist.
Al Qaeda’s transnational networking and a multi-ethnic constituency
has the makings of a “spiritually based insurgency that is
somewhat different than the Maoist people’s war model, which
underwrites most counterinsurgency doctrine,” wrote Marine
Lt. Col. Michael F. Morris in a March 2005 research paper at the
U.S. Army War College.
The dangers Al Qaeda pose flow from its willingness to employ weapons
of mass destruction, its global reach and its focus on targeting
America, Morris noted. But, more importantly, Al Qaeda’s strength
lies in its “revolutionary and expansionist ideology.”
The size of Osama bin Laden’s organization, its political
goals, and its enduring relationship with a fundamentalist Islamic
social movement, Morris added, “provide strong evidence that
Al Qaeda is not a terrorist group but an insurgency.”
This form of insurgency challenges the Pentagon’s traditional
approach to planning wars, Morris argued. Al Qaeda is engaging in
a “somewhat leisurely paced guerrilla war,” which makes
it difficult for U.S. planners to develop a strategic response.
“Long term success for the United States will require support
for true political reform, a revolutionary cause in itself, among
autocratic Islamic governments.”
The Marine Corps, meanwhile, is recognizing that its traditional
doctrine of being the “9-11 force” that shows up in
an emergency and then hands over long-term deployment duties the
Army may have to be revised.
Back-to-back deployments in Iraq are not “something that
Marine forces would find doctrinally appropriate,” said Marine
Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, director of operations on the Joint Staff.
But he noted that, as long as U.S. forces remain in Iraq, the Marine
Corps would continue to send troops on seven-month rotations. “Any
Marine you talk to will say if there’s fighting and dying
to be done, they’re going to be a part of that,” he
As a result, the Combat Development Command is drafting a concept
for “sustained operations,” said McDaniel. “The
Marine Corps doesn’t necessarily see itself only doing 9-11
crisis-response missions, but also plans to be engaged in sustained
“We would go in with no expectation of ending it right away,”
he said. “A rotational force is part of our vision of the
future as well as the reality of war.”
The counterinsurgency strategy now in the works is not expected
to become “joint” in the foreseeable future, McDaniel
said. The Special Operations Command, however, has shown interest
in the project. “They are concerned about non-state actors,”
he said. “I think we’ll see some commonality.”
SOCOM is a more “natural fit, a more natural partner than
the conventional Army, although the Army may benefit from our concept
as well,” McDaniel added. “At this point, it’s
just a service concept, and has not been elevated to joint level.”