The New Counterinsurgency Era

Transforming the U.S. Military for Modern Wars

David H. Ucko
Foreword by John A. Nagl

"In compiling the developments of this latest chapter in the US military's doctrinal history, Ucko provides a useful and timely analysis."
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Confronting insurgent violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has recognized the need to “re-learn” counterinsurgency. But how has the Department of Defense with its mixed efforts responded to this new strategic environment? Has it learned anything from past failures?

In The New Counterinsurgency Era, David Ucko examines DoD’s institutional obstacles and initially slow response to a changing strategic reality. Ucko also suggests how the military can better prepare for the unique challenges of modern warfare, where it is charged with everything from providing security to supporting reconstruction to establishing basic governance—all while stabilizing conquered territory and engaging with local populations. After briefly surveying the history of American counterinsurgency operations, Ucko focuses on measures the military has taken since 2001 to relearn old lessons about counterinsurgency, to improve its ability to conduct stability operations, to change the institutional bias against counterinsurgency, and to account for successes gained from the learning process.

Given the effectiveness of insurgent tactics, the frequency of operations aimed at building local capacity, and the danger of ungoverned spaces acting as havens for hostile groups, the military must acquire new skills to confront irregular threats in future wars. Ucko clearly shows that the opportunity to come to grips with counterinsurgency is matched in magnitude only by the cost of failing to do so.

Table of Contents



1. Framing the Reorientation

2. A Troubled History

3. Revisiting Counterinsurgency

4. Innovation under Fire

5. Counterinsurgency and the QDR

6. FM 3-24 and Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon

7. The Ambivalence of the "Surge"

8. Innovation or Inertia

Conclusion: Kicking the Counterinsurgency Syndrome?



About the Author



"In compiling the developments of this latest chapter in the US military's doctrinal history, Ucko provides a useful and timely analysis."—International Affairs

"An invaluable resource for anyone who wants to understand the halting, ambivalent and, as Ucko wisely notes, quite reversible evolution of the US military."—Survival

"Ucko's thorough research and lively, uncompromising style make the case persuasively."—RUSI Journal

"Perfectly captures the central paradox in contemporary defense policymaking"—Parameters

"This is an important book for anyone interested in the U.S. military's effort to learn from contemporary conflict and adapt to the demands of counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq. Ucko's thorough research and incisive analysis have produced one of the most valuable books on military affairs to appear in recent years."—H. R. McMaster, brigadier general, U.S. Army and author of Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies that Led to Vietnam

"This is hot-off-the-press history, an essential look at how the Pentagon has—and has not—changed in response to the Iraq war."—Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco and The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-08

"Perhaps the most important attribute of a successful armed force is the ability to adapt rapidly during war. David Ucko describes how the U.S. Army and Marine Corps adapted to insurgency and, more importantly, why and whether those adaptations are likely to stick. This is required reading for those guiding the future of the Armed Forces."—Thomas X. Hammes, colonel, United States Marine Corps (Ret.) and author of The Sling and the Stone: On War in the Twenty-First Century

"David Ucko's book is a very instructional addition to the literature on American counterinsurgency. His clear and informed depiction of the institutional obstacles to deep and enduring reform comes at a critical time. A failure to heed his analysis and admonitions could again result in intellectual amnesia and unnecessary and tragic losses in blood and treasure in a future insurgency."—Bard E. O'Neill, author of Insurgency and Terrorism: From Revolution to Apocalypse

"An insightful and objective evaluation of the Pentagon's halting progress towards a true transformation. Facing an insidious global insurgency, today's military is at a crossroads as it adapts from a myopic focus on the kinds of wars it prefers to those that we ignore at our peril. Required reading for serious professionals and students of national security policy."—Frank Hoffman, senior fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute

"David Ucko has taken on one of the most important and perplexing dilemmas in contemporary American defense policy and has created a pioneering work. Reflecting a sound grounding in history and a mastery of official policy and doctrine, Ucko places the counterinsurgency debate within its larger strategic context. Both scholars and strategists will find this book provocative and informative. All will benefit from reading it."—Steven Metz, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College

"The U.S. military that invaded Iraq in 2003 was neither designed nor trained for counterinsurgency. Its experience of adapting to these new requirements offers a crucial source of potential insight for students of organizational change, irregular warfare, strategy, and defense policy. David Ucko presents the history of this process of adaptation with skill and analytical acuity."—Stephen Biddle, senior fellow for defense policy, Council on Foreign Relations

"David Ucko has written a provocative and thorough, and sometimes troubling, study about how the American military has learned and adapted in the cauldron of contemporary conflict. That capability will be an essential attribute for any organization hoping to deal with the dangerous, complex, and often irregular challenges in the current and future security environment."—Conrad C. Crane, U.S. Army Military History Institute, and lead author of Field Manual 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5

"The New Counterinsurgency Era is a valuable resource for military leaders as well as academics who wish to understand the true forces of military change. It is a warning to both sides of the debate that the battle for the future of the American military is not over."—Janine Davidson, George Mason University

"David Ucko's The New Counterinsurgency Era will make a major contribution to the ongoing debate about such operations and about American military culture. Readers interested in this subject will find this to be an invaluable source and future historians of the Iraq War will no doubt look to it too."—Michael P. Noonan, managing director, Program on National Security, Foreign Policy Research Institute and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran

"This is a timely book on an exceedingly important and controversial topic . . . The argument is persuasive . . . the author's conclusions are sound and his predictions and prescriptions are reasonable."—Anthony James Joes, St. Joseph’s University, and author of Urban Guerrilla Warfare, Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency, America and Guerrilla Warfare

"David Ucko's excellent portrayal of the U.S. military's repeated learning and unlearning of counterinsurgency is a stark reminder that even today there is no guarantee that the U.S. military will remember what it has learned in Afghanistan and Iraq."—Heather Peterson, project associate, RAND Corporation


Supplemental Materials


Selected as an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice Magazine

About the Author

David H. Ucko is an associate professor at the College of International Security Affairs (CISA), at the National Defense University in Washington DC, and an adjunct fellow at the Department of War Studies, King's College London.

272 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-487-9
Jul 2009

272 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-488-6
Jul 2009

272 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-728-3
Jul 2009

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