COIN at the Company and Platoon Level

CPT Jeremy Gwinn has a detailed outline at Small Wars Journal for how making Army companies and platoons more adept at counterinsurgency. It rather defies excerpting but, essentially, it would assign civil affairs, psychological operations, intelligence, media relations, and similar tasks to enlisted combat arms soldiers as additional duties.

While the need identified is valid, the proposed solution is unworkable. The tasks in question simply require too much expertise to be handled by amateurs. Gaining enough proficiency to get past the “just enough knowledge to be dangerous” stage would require diverting so much time from MOS-specific training as to render the soldier doubly useless to his unit. Further, given current assignment patterns, small units would constantly be retraining specialists who have rotated out and those who have trained up will not necessarily be reassigned efficiently.

Gwinn notes that “Special Operations Forces have long understood the need for multiple roles and special skills at the small-unit level.” The problem, though, is that SF are highly trained specialists; the SF model simply isn’t scalable to the Army as a whole.

Ideally, MOS-trained specialists in these areas would be assigned down to the small unit level. Practically, however, it’s unlikely that we can train enough of them to make that feasible. Probably the best that can be done is to beef up the availability at the battalion level and integrate the COIN mindset into everyday training and Professional Military Education for combat arms soldiers.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jeremy Gwinn says:

    My infantrymen, and many others, performed these tasks successfully (CA,PSYOP,HUMINT,etc.) in Iraq to the same extent that I suggested on Small Wars Journal. There is certainly a threshold of expertise beyond which the special assets are needed, but below that threshold, us guys in the maneuver units must be able to do the job in COIN. The debate is where that threshold lies, but for James Joyner to say “the tasks in question simply require too much expertise to be handled by amateurs” is oversimplified.
    Ideally, the infantry units would have these MOS-trained Soldiers assigned, but we can’t just sit and wait for that to happen. We might not get it right 100% of the time, but we will still be better off than if we fail to adapt.