New Yorker


contribute append

Press this button edit sections



  1. Tal Afar
  2. scene survey
  3. technology
  4. consequences of not acknowledging the insurgency
  5. no preparation to fight an insurgency
  6. how to train for an insurgency
  7. McMaster's Plan
  8. Takfirin
  9. Tal Afar
  10. Mapping Power Structures
  11. Reframe situation away from sectarian lines
  12. Grievances
  13. Just because they try to kill you doesn't make them an enemy
  14. Mapping power structures
  15. Patience
  16. Complexity
  17. effort (total commitment)

Tal Afar

  • iraqi city in northwestern city near Syria
  • this is false propoganda: Tal Afar shows that when Iraqis can count on a basic level of safety and security, they can live together peacefully,"
  • this is false propoganda: "The people of Tal Afar have shown why spreading liberty and democracy is at the heart of our strategy to defeat the terrorists."
  • the real story: The soldiers who worked to secure Tal Afar were, in a sense, rebels against an incoherent strategy that has brought the American project in Iraq to the brink of defeat.
  • Shite Minority

Scene Survey

  • after months of often fierce fighting and painstaking negotiations with local leaders, McMaster's regiment, working alongside Iraqi Army battalions, had established bases around the city and greatly reduced the violence.
  • The main character, Col. McMaster does his dissertation on vietnam: a damning case against senior military leaders for failing to speak their minds when, in the early years of the war, they disagreed with Pentagon policies. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, knowing that Johnson and McNamara wanted uncritical support rather than honest advice, and eager to protect their careers, went along with official lies and a split-the-difference strategy of gradual escalation that none of them thought could work.


  • McMaster, who describes himself as "a bit of a Luddite," argued against the notion that new weapons technology offered the promise of certainty and precision in warfare. The success of the Gulf War, he wrote, had led military thinkers to forget that war is, above all, a human endeavor.
  • Donald RUmsfeld: transformation of war fighting into a combination of information technology and precision firepower that would eliminate the need for large numbers of ground troops and prolonged involvement in distant countries.

consequences of refusal to acknowledge insurgency

the refusal of Washington's leaders to acknowledge the true character of the war in Iraq had serious consequences on the battlefield

no preparation was done to respond to an insurgency

  • heavy-handed approach, conducting frequent raids that were often based on bad information.
  • little emphasis on intelligence, little capacity for intelligence
  • The regiment was constantly moved around,
  • so that officers were never able to form relationships with local people or learn from mistakes.

what should have been done

  • A proper strategy would have demanded the coordinated use of all the tools of American power in Iraq: political, economic, and military.
  • Militarily you need to access the coin doctrine
  • Enter COIN: developed by the British in Malaya in the nineteen-forties and fifties, says that counterinsurgency warfare is twenty per cent military and eighty per cent political.
  • focus of operations is on the civilian population: isolating residents from insurgents, providing security, building a police force, and allowing political and economic development to take place so that the government commands the allegiance of its citizens.
  • emphasis on using the minimum amount of force necessary.

So, the screening process is remarkably effective when you target a rural agrarian population in Kenya where everyone pretty much does the same thing. Is it just as effective in a highly differentiated urban cities such as in Iraq because won't this screening process be doubly diruptive not only do you have less people but you have taken away niche people who have a role in making sure the whole system functions

  • a strategy of attrition "was, in essence, the absence of a strategy."
  • a more imaginative and coherent response to an insurgency is needed
  • this because insurgents are often highly decentralized groups with different agendas making short-term alliances of convenience.

McMaster's plan

  1. do exercises that increase cultural intelligence
  2. role play with enemies in mandresses
  3. show that intelligence can be developed by developing relationships
  4. incorporate religious elements like what to do if you enter a religious shrine or a house that has a lot of rleigious posters in it
  5. history of Iraq became required reading
  6. "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife,"
  7. empathy training


  • Sunni extremists who believe that Muslims who don't subscribe to their brand of Islam, especially Shiites, are infidels and should be killed.
  • led the Tal Afar insurgency

Tal Afar

  • hub for foreign fighters entering Iraq from Syria
  • Shite police force turns into a death squad which is held up in a old Ottomon empire fortification
  • local government is sunni
  • Sunni's respond with beheadings

maping power structures

  • For several months, he spent forty or fifty hours a week with sheikhs from Tal Afar's dozens of tribes:
  • First the Shiite sheikhs, to convince them that the Americans could be counted on to secure their neighborhoods;
  • and then the Sunni sheikhs, many of whom were passive or active supporters of the insurgency.
  • the Shites get mad over Sunni consultations
  • " 'Don't we give you information? So why are you meeting with the Sunnis?' 'Because I'm trying to be balanced. I'm trying to stabilize your city.
  • If I just talk to you, I'm not going to stabilize your city.'

re-frame situation away from sectarian lines

  • We tried to switch the argument from Sunni versus Shia, which was what the terrorists were trying to make the argument, to Iraqi versus takfirin
  • persuade
  • establish common interests/ supraordinent goals
  • simultaniously try to divide major groups from withing (for example splitting nationalists and extreamists)


  • At the highest levels of the Administration, the notion of acknowledging the enemy's grievances was dismissed as defeatist.

just because they try to kill you doesn't make them an enemy

  • "In a city that's seventy-five per cent Sunni,
  • if you approach it from a point of view of bringing in or killing everyone who's had anything to do with the insurgency you're bound to fail," Major Michael Simmering said.
  • "Imagine how many people in this town have picked up a rifle and taken a shot at coalition forces.
  • Do we really want to try to arrest them all?" Lieutenant Brian Tinklepaugh explained,
  • "You can't sever your ties with anyone—even your enemy. People with ties to the insurgents have us over for tea."

local power structures

know how a raid on a particular house would be perceived by the rest of the street.

Effects-based operations


  • The tedium of counterinsurgency ops, the small, very incremental gains

contribute new content to this page:

  • you can come in, get to know the city, the culture, establish relationships with the people, and then you can go in and eliminate individuals instead of whole city blocks."


  • "It is so damn complex. If you ever think you have the solution to this, you're wrong, and you're dangerous.
  • You have to keep listening and thinking and being critical and self-critical.

It's not about weapons. It's about people."

effort (total commitment)

  • a good-enough counterinsurgency is really none at all. There is no substitute for the investment of time, effort, and risk that was so evident in Tal Afar.
  • Counterinsurgency requires decentralization.
  • armed philanthropy.


  • Barry Posen MIT Political Scientist
  • a unified, democratic Iraq is highly unlikely and that American interests require a strategic withdrawal over the next eighteen months.
  • I just want the American polity to consider all sides of the equation before undertaking armed philanthropy

America can afford to leave behind a civil war in Iraq—one that we will "manage" on our way out, so that its result will be, in his words, "a hurting stalemate."

Ink Spot

  • Kenneth Pollack
  • National Security Council under President Clinton
  • start in the city
  • no troop withdrawals anytime soon, since the total number of American and Iraqi forces is now only half of what experts say is required to secure the country.


contribute append

Press this button edit sections


Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License