Classic Works

David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (1964)

While great power war defined the first half of the twentieth century, insurgencies defined its latter half. Given present trends, these types of conflicts will rage for the foreseeable future, and students of strategy and diplomacy will want to consider classic counterinsurgency (COIN) writings as they face this future. Central among these is Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice by David Galula. This book written in 1964 was in many ways a forgotten work; however, it quickly grew in prominence as the United States and its allies found themselves facing insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan during the opening years of the twenty-first century. Counterinsurgency is now a staple for those interested in the dynamics and debate surrounding the prosecution of counterinsurgency.

This essay aims to provide an overview of Counterinsurgency’s central arguments while also placing the book into its modern context. After an overview of Galula’s life and an outline of his book, the links between it and other literature are explored before its influence on modern doctrine and the ongoing disputes over its importance and interpretation are considered. In the opening pages of Counterinsurgency, Galula claims that he is not “providing the whole and complete answer to the counterrevolutionary’s problems;” rather, he hopes “merely to clear away some of the confusions that we have so often and so long witnessed in the ‘wrong’ camp.”[1] Similar are the aims of this modest essay – to clarity Galula’s “answer to the counterrevolutionary’s problems” and “clear away some of the confusions” surrounding his ideas.

Experience as Teacher

The insights provided by Counterinsurgency represent perhaps the fullest vision of population-centric counterinsurgency and draw on the rich experiences of its author. A French military intelligence officer trained at the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr and party to a diverse set of military assignments, Galula rooted his book in first-hand experience. Specifically, he blended his observations of the Chinese communists in the 1940s and 1950s with his personal fighting in the Algerian War to develop his vision for counterinsurgency.

Following action in World War II, David Galula found himself in China by chance; Jacques Guillermaz, the new French military attaché to China, invited his longtime friend and mentee to serve his assistant and follow the ongoing communist revolution in East Asia.[2] Where Guillermaz was bookish and academic, Galula featured an “unfailing good humor and personable style” that made him popular and carried him across vast reaches of China.[3] Galula’s biographer argues that the men complimented one another like “yin and yang,” and that it was Galula who pushed his superior consider the importance of interacting with local populations and the evolution of revolutionary movements, ideas that would later become central to Counterinsurgency.[4] Indeed, studying the Chinese Revolution under Guillermaz may have been the most influential experience in Galula’s professional life and most certainly affected his later thinking.[5]

Still, it was the French war in Algeria, especially the period between 1956 and 1958 when he fought in the field, which provided the French intelligence officer first-hand opportunities to take an active role in fighting against insurgency. Reeling from the French decision to relinquish Morocco and Tunisia, the places where he was born and grew up, following short terror campaigns, Galula was convinced that his country had given up too easily and could not afford to do the same in Algeria.[6] Despite his past intelligence and diplomatic work, he volunteered to command a combat unit so that, in his own words, he might “test certain theories that I had formed on counterinsurgency warfare” all while helping keep Algeria French.[7] If China had supplied theoretical underpinning for the French officer’s views, Algeria served as the empirical support for his later writings.

Still, not until he found himself at Harvard University in the early 1960s did Galula string his ideas into book form. Foreseeing a period of ongoing insurgencies across the world, he felt driven to offer the best insights into how to fight and have a hope of winning these sometimes counterintuitive fights.[8] While Counterinsurgency outlines his concept for fighting against an insurgency, Galula’s The Pacification of Algeria published a year earlier provides the detailed historical examples from which his ideas were born.[9] The two form a powerful combination for understanding the origins and implications of population-centric COIN.

Writing in the 1960s, Galula found himself in a rapidly changing world. Colonial powers had already or were in the process of giving up their possessions around the world, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, communism was on the march and led many in the West, most notably the United States, to fear some kind of “domino effect” would spread the ideology far beyond the USSR and China and into important corners of the international landscape. Galula calls nationalism and communism as driving insurgencies in the twentieth century while making the dark prediction that the future would hold many more revolutionary wars in which Western armies would fight protracted, bloody wars.[10] Sadly, his prediction was correct. Yet, it is important for the modern reader to remember the conflicts on which the French officer was drawing his findings and making his predictions. He is ultimately discussing insurgencies arising from forces of colonialism, nationalism, and communism, and while his findings may have value for understanding insurgencies driven by other motivations, the historical context of Counterinsurgency is telling.

The Basics

What is an Insurgency?

At its heart, insurgency “is a competition between insurgent and government for the support of the civilian population.”[11] This competition is violent and manifests itself as a special type of war. Rather than its conventional cousins, this fight is not one of two formal armies squaring off; instead, it is fought by irregular soldiers against the state and its security apparatus. Indeed, participants on either side of an insurgency do not fight the same war.[12] Because one side fights as an insurgent and the other as counterinsurgent, Galula coins the term “revolutionary war” to cover both aspects of the conflict.[13] Revolutionary war has “special rules, different from those of conventional war” and is characterized by guidelines that do not apply equally to each side.[14] It is an internal conflict, though external forces may influence it, and it follows from the insurgent attempting to take hold of the power of government.[15] Additionally, in Galula’s view revolutionary war bucks Karl von Clausewitz’s conception of war; indeed, “it is not like an ordinary war – a ‘continuation of the policy by other means’ – because an insurgency can start long before the insurgent resorts to the use of force.”[16]

Perhaps the most important aspect of revolutionary war that separates it from conventional war is the role of politics. As Galula conceives of them, politics in a conventional war set the goals for the military action and then take a back seat throughout the period of fighting.[17] During a revolutionary war, however, politics and political activity remain central throughout because the objective of the fight is the population, a political entity unto itself.[18] “It is not enough for the government to set political goals, to determine how much military force is applicable,” writes Galula, indeed, “politics becomes an active instrument of operation. And so intricate is the interplay between the political and the military actions that they cannot be tidily separated…”[19] Political activities, especially those that manifest themselves as civilian in nature, are central to fighting in a revolutionary war for both sets of combatants. This reality has profound effects of the doctrine of both insurgents and counterinsurgents.

The start of a revolutionary war is often vague and gradual, but the fight is likely to drag on for a protracted period of time once underway. By the very nature of the conflict, insurgents determine when it beings and have the freedom to press the fight at a time seemingly most beneficial to their success.[20] At the beginning of a revolutionary war the counterinsurgent has more resources than his opponent but is burdened with maintaining order; the insurgent, meanwhile, has important intangible resources, especially the “the ideological power of a cause on which to base his action.”[21] Given these initial distributions of power and responsibility, the goal of the insurgent is to promote disorder and undermine the government – a cheap activity in which to engage but a costly one against which to defend.[22] As a result, the insurgent fights and benefits from a protracted revolutionary war while the counterinsurgent suffers along the way.[23]

Insurgency Origins and Doctrine

The most important thing for insurgents in the beginning is a cause.[24] Early in their development, insurgencies will strive to latch onto a cause or causes derived from political problems most relevant to the population.[25] Causes may change as needed throughout a fight, but the very best are those that last, attract large numbers of people, are easily identifiable with the insurgents, and that the government has no hope of coopting.[26] As the conflict drags on, however, the cause matters less since the fight takes on a life of its own.[27] By the middle of an insurgency the population’s position is defined by matters of safety, that is, “which side gives the best protection, which one threatens the most, which one is likely to win.”[28] This new dynamic holds until the end.

Galula concludes that there are four conditions for an insurgency to grow and have any hope of being successful.[29] As discussed, a cause is vital, and insurgents may use all manner of communications tricks and propaganda unavailable to a responsible government to spread the word.[30] Equally important, however, is some kind of policing and administrative feebleness on the government’s part.[31] Counterinsurgency requires large numbers of infantry and police alongside a judicial system willing to prosecute insurgents and political leadership willing to use force as needed; if these are missing, the insurgency has a chance to grow.[32] A suitable geographic environment is also a bonus for insurgents.[33] As Galula describes it, the optimal physical characteristics for an insurgency “would be a large landlocked country shaped like a blunt-tipped star, with jungle-covered mountains along the borders and scattered swamps in the plains, in a temperate zone with a larger dispersed rural population and a primitive economy.”[34] Meanwhile, the counterinsurgent benefits from just the opposite arrangement. Finally, some kind of outside support during the middle and latter portions of the insurgency may be valuable and actually become a necessity if an insurgency hopes to succeed.[35] If external support for insurgent operations is too easily obtained, however, it may undermine the self-reliance of an insurgency as many communists in Asia during Galula’s time feared.[36] Yet, once an insurgency is established, such support can be vital in helping transform the fight into a conventional war, an evolution that is ultimately needed to defeat governments.[37]

Even with these conditions set, there is the question of insurgent doctrine. Here Galula outlines two patterns. The first, or orthodox pattern, is based on the experience of Chinese communists while the second is an abbreviated form of the first which Galula feared took place during the French withdrawal from Tunisia and Morocco.[38] Each follows a series of steps that may overlap and vary in length. In the orthodox pattern, after the creation of a political party, the would-be insurgent must build a united front consisting of the largest portions of the population, namely the proletariat and the peasants or workers of a state, and mobilize it against the government.[39] These efforts are paralleled by the formation of a clandestine apparatus designed to subvert the government, address intelligence needs, and keep an eye on the vast expanse of those associated with the insurgency.[40] The third step features taking advantage of the active complacency of the population to engage in guerrilla warfare.[41] Galula notes that guerrilla operations are not so much to fight the government as they are “to organize the population” and “bring the support of a village or implicate its population against the counterinsurgent.”[42] A transition from guerrilla warfare to employment of regular forces against the counterinsurgent highlights the next stage and aims to transform state controlled space into guerrilla space and guerrilla space into areas suitable for regular opposition bases.[43] Finally, the insurgency aims to annihilate its enemy, that is, overthrow the last remnants of the old government.[44]

The shortcut, or bourgeois-nationalist pattern according to Galula, ultimately merges with the orthodox pattern at the point of guerrilla warfare, but features a very different opening sequence. In this case, the insurgents, a small, dedicated group without the backing of a political party, aim to seize power as quickly as possible.[45] To achieve this, they engage first in blind terrorism to get publicity for their movement and gain supporters.[46] They quickly transition to selective terrorism aimed at killing low and mid-level government officials, especially those compromise-minded individuals who might undermine their cause, across wide portions of the country they seek to upend.[47] These activities are designed to “destroy all bridges liking the population with the counterinsurgent and his potential allies.”[48] Once this is complete, the orthodox pattern is reengaged and guerrilla warfare ensues.

Cold and Hot Revolutionary War

While Galula’s discussion of insurgent doctrine is instructive, his true aim is to assist the counterinsurgent in his efforts to repress insurgencies. To this end, the French officer proposes “…to define the laws of counterrevolutionary warfare, to deduce from them its principles, and to outline the corresponding strategy and tactics.”[49] Revolutionary wars, in this view, can be broken into two periods, namely the “cold revolutionary war” and the “hot revolutionary war.”[50] The “cold” period features largely legal activities on the part of the insurgent like the formation of a political party. Meanwhile, the “hot” period is characterized by violent insurgent activity. Galula laments that the real danger for the counterinsurgent during the “cold” period and early “hot” period is that “the actual danger will always appear to the nation as out of proportion to the demands made by an adequate response” and the insurgent knowing this will make the transition to war as gradual as possible.[51]

The counterinsurgent has four options available to address the insurgent activities. First, he may target the insurgent leaders directly; second, he may attempt to address the political problem underpinning the insurgent’s cause; or third, he may attempt to infiltrate the insurgency and destroy it from the inside.[52] While all of these may be valid courses of action, Galula is most interested in a fourth option –building up and reinforcement of the counterinsurgent’s “political machine.”[53] The efforts associated with this fourth course of action form the foundation for the counterinsurgent’s strategy and tactics during the “hot” portion of revolutionary war.

Counterinsurgent Strategy

Galula’s discussion of counterinsurgent strategy and tactics is rooted in several central insights, what he call laws, about the nature of revolutionary war that are distinct from conventional military thinking. First, both the counterinsurgent and the insurgent need the support of the population. Thus, the population becomes the objective of the counterinsurgent.[54] Second, only through an active minority is support gained during an insurgency.[55] The goal in engaging this minority is not just to destroy an insurgent force, but also to separate them from the population. Ideally, isolation “not enforced upon the population but maintained by and with the population.”[56] Third, Galula stresses that the support from the population is always conditional, meaning that “the minority hostile to the insurgent will not and cannot emerge as long as the threat has not been lifted to a reasonable extent.”[57] Moreover, the population must believe that the “counterinsurgent has the will, the means, and the ability to win.”[58] It is no little thing to throw in one’s lot with the counterinsurgent, and the population must believe it will be safe now and in the future.[59] Finally, the fourth law argues that intensive efforts and vast means are essential to success in counterinsurgency.[60] Concentrated efforts prohibit “diluted” efforts all over the country and are required in each successive area.[61]

Strategy is also defined by several other prominent aspects. It is an offensive effort aimed at regaining the initiative from the insurgent and this is done by the counterinsurgency actively selecting its main area of effort.[62] Additionally, it calls for troops living amongst the population and helping local leaders emerge to support the counterinsurgent effort.[63] This is a prime example of the counterinsurgent applying pressure not “on the insurgent directly but on the population, which is the insurgent’s real source of strength,” and in doing so force the insurgent to fight or be defeated by default.[64] Indeed, “if the insurgent is fluid, the population is not. By concentrating his efforts on the population, the counterinsurgent minimizes his rigidity and makes full use of his assets.”[65] The strategy is designed to be simple “in conception and in execution.”[66] It may also be bolstered by a political counter cause even if one only features minor reforms with a long-term focus.[67] In the end, the strategy features military, policing, and political operations that are mutually reinforcing.[68]

These many efforts necessitate huge personnel requirements that lead to what Galula calls a “dual temptation.”[69] The first temptation is “to assign political, police, and other tasks to the armed forces,” a temptation the French officer admits cannot be avoided.[70] Indeed, “the soldier must then be prepared to become a propagandist, a social worker, a civil engineer, a schoolteacher, a nurse, a boy scout.”[71] The second temptation, “to let the military direct the entire process” in some or all of the country, should be avoided under all circumstances.[72] After all, political action is the main focus of the counterinsurgent and military activities are only carried out in conjunction with these more fundamental efforts; thus, the overall counterinsurgency should remain under the direction of civilian leadership.[73]

From a strictly military perspective, the counterinsurgent’s strategy attempts to degrade the military power of the insurgent while also ensuring civilian safety.[74] There are two kinds of units for carrying out the associated operations – generally conventional mobile units that hunt insurgents and static units that embed within local populations to keep them safe and support local political efforts.[75] Many specialized units need to be converted into infantry units to meet the huge demand for troops.[76] Regardless of a units original training, all of them will require some instruction in counterinsurgency to hone the proper reflexes, especially those that will be stationed to protect local populations.[77] While this training may be done through indoctrination, much of it will happen on the job due to the special nature of counterinsurgency.[78] Galula stresses that soldiers need the reasons for their alternative training and counterinsurgency strategy explained to them since it is all so very different from conventional warfare.[79]

Finally, there is also a question about how the forces, military and civilian, should be distributed across a country caught in the throes of revolutionary war. The central issue revolves around if the counterinsurgent focuses on the most challenging areas first and works out to the easiest or if the counterinsurgent starts with the most difficult regions and works to the easiest.[80] Regardless, it is most important that the counterinsurgent show some success as early as possible.[81] This requirement suggests moving from the easiest to the most difficult, though this may not necessarily be the case given realities on the ground.

Ultimately, Galula takes all of these strategic insights and breaks them down into eight operational stages listed in the order of their execution:

  1. “Concentrate enough armed forces to destroy or to expel the main body of the armed insurgents.
  2. Detach for the area sufficient troops to oppose an insurgent’s comeback in strength, install these troops in the hamlets, villages, and the towns where the population lives.
  3. Establish contact with the population, control its movements in order to cut off its links with the guerrillas.
  4. Destroy the local insurgent political organization.
  5. Set up, by means of elections, new provisional local authorities.
  6. Test these authorities by assigning them various concrete tasks. Replace the softs and the incompetents, give full support to the active leaders. Organize self-defense units.
  7. Group and educate the leaders in a national political movement.
  8. Win over or suppress the last insurgent remnants.”[82]

While examining each of these operational periods and the tactics associated with them is beyond the scope of this essay, the third point, establishing contact with the population, does warrant some special treatment as it represents some of the most impressive insights associated with Galula. During this stage, the principle objects of a counterinsurgent include reestablishing control over local populations, isolating the population from guerrillas, and gathering intelligence.[83] These activities are in part carried out through a sophisticated application of propaganda directed at three audiences – the insurgents, the population, and even counterinsurgent forces.[84] Efforts aimed at insurgents strive to sow division in their ranks and split off individuals or groups who may aid the counterinsurgent. The population, meanwhile, is engaged with propaganda designed to gain their support, dissociate them from the insurgents, and lay the groundwork for the acceptance of neutral civilians back into the counterinsurgent’s camp. Finally, the counterinsurgents are involved in a series of meetings with leadership where they have opportunities to share experiences and learn from one another. While these types of “propaganda” take many forms, they are mutually supportive and remain a lauded aspect of Galula’s insight into population-centric counterinsurgency.

In the closing portions of his book, Galula makes this conclusion, “Whether in the cold or in the hot revolutionary war, its essence can be summed up in a single sentence: Build (or rebuild) a political machine from the population upward…”[85] This is the outstanding upshot of his work and the driving force behind each of these eight phases.

Links to the Past

From the perspective of doctrinal development, the most relevant links with past literature for the student of strategy and diplomacy are those between Counterinsurgency and the U.S. Marine Corps Small Wars Manual.[86] While the Manual was written over twenty years earlier than Counterinsurgency, they share many of the same central insights. Central among these is the importance of securing the population of a country roiling with revolutionary war. Galula is clear in his recommendation that securing the population is the objective of a counterinsurgency.[87] In a related vein, the Manual argues that unless a population lives under normal conditions, there is no hope to building the economic welfare so essential to peace.[88] While these are slightly different takes, they are cut from the same cloth that makes winning the civilian population key to winning a revolutionary war.

Each document also discusses the nature and relationship between the military and the population. Counterinsurgency reminds its readers that troops embedded in towns and villages must be “on good relations” with the local population while simultaneously keeping up their guard for potential threats.[89] This is a difficult balance to achieve. Similarly, the Manual encourages troops to exhibit “tolerance, sympathy, and kindness” to locals while also being willing to “act with the necessary firmness within the limitation imposed by the principles which have been laid clown.”[90] While troops should not antagonize local populations, should some transgression occur, both documents suggest that it be dealt with in a professional way that redresses damages done by the counterinsurgent against civilians.[91] A host of related issues are covered in each book, especially as they relate to working with populations to gather intelligence.[92]

The other significantly important commonality between Galula’s work and the earlier efforts of the U.S. Marine Corps is their respective focuses on the non-military aspects of counterinsurgency. The Manual is careful to delineate the limits of military power in solving the many economic, political, and social issues that often are the genius of an insurgency.[93] These are the same “political problems” that Galula takes care to identify.[94] Moreover, the Manual goes on to stress how diplomatic and political activities take place alongside military operations during counterinsurgencies and that these often work together.[95] These warnings are in a spirit similar to that of the joint military-civilian activities that characterize Counterinsurgency.[96] Perhaps most importantly in this vein that that both books stress the importance of civilian leadership for those seeking to put down an insurgency.[97]

There are certainly importance differences between the two books as well. First, they are each geared to different audiences. The Manual targets various levels of U.S. Marine Corps leadership while Counterinsurgency is geared to officers in general. Consequently, each offers varying levels of detail. While Counterinsurgency does spend some time discussing the ramifications of its strategy on the tactics of a small war, it does not go into the same painstaking tactical detail as the Manual. Meanwhile, Counterinsurgency spends many more of its pages deeply considering the political aspects of revolutionary war, which while noted as important in the Manual, receive far less attention. Certainly the two offer very different operational visions, with the Manual focusing on patrols and flying columns while Galula lingers more on what stationary units embedded within the population might do. In the end, however, the two works are largely congruent with one another and suggest how the ideas Galula presented in the middle of the twentieth century were rooted in earlier traditions.

Modern Influence, Interpretations, and Debates

The Vietnam War was blasted into the collective memory of the U.S. military as precisely the kind of war, counterinsurgency, which should be avoided by the Western superpower. In writing his book in the mid-1960s, David Galula was painfully aware of the ongoing American efforts in Southeast Asia and the disastrous French experience there.  Still, his writings seemed to have minimal influence on American strategic thought during that conflict.[98] While a handful of ideas similar to his were employed during the Vietnam War with some success, there was never a systematic examination or application of them and many were forgotten with time.[99] This would change.

Indeed, the relevance of Counterinsurgency is not confined to historical military manuals; it is very much alive in the latest The US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual No. 3-24 (FM 3-24) first published in 2006 and subsequently updated. John Nagl, a central figure in the new field manual’s development, reflected:

Galula’s influence was huge. If you look at the field manual’s Executing Counterinsurgency Operations chapter, for instance, and compare it to Galula’s on counterinsurgency operations, you could switch them up, and nobody would bat an eye.[100]

Nagl further describes a central feature of the latest field manual being the focus on securing and controlling local populations, just as Galula argued.[101] FM 3-24 makes this claim in no uncertain terms by proclaiming “irregular warfare is a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant population(s).”[102] Only if the local population is secure thanks to large numbers of embedded troops will they support the insurgent, provide intelligence, and help build a stable community conducive to supporting the national government.[103] In this modern manifestation, the ideas of the French veteran of Algeria are alive and well.

FM 3-24 also makes clear the need for a joint approach to addressing counterinsurgency much along the lines of what Galula suggested. Specifically, the latest manual claims that “defeating an insurgency requires a blend of both civilian and military efforts that address both assisting the host-nation government in defeating the insurgents on the battlefield and enabling the host nation in addressing the root causes of the insurgency.”[104] In his introduction to the latest publication of Counterinsurgency, Nagl stresses how Galula demanded a military force including intelligence analysts, civil affairs specialists, and engineers, who given their diverse skillsets would be best able to connect with and protect the populations into which they were embedded.[105] Indeed, FM 3-24 goes on to argue that the military may only play supporting roles at particular points during counterinsurgency operations as other aspects of national power, especially political and economic, are used to address a particular situation.[106] In the end, however, Conrad Crane, the writing coordinator for all of FM 3-24, may have the best view of Galula’s continued relevance. He notes being “… struck by [Galula’s] concise yet complete vision for [counterinsurgency], and how most of his ideas still made sense 40 years later.”[107]

Still, for all its modern influence, some scholars argue Counterinsurgency is open to misinterpretation and may even be quite off base in its recommendations. A.A. Cohen, Galula’s biographer, observes that it seems easy for practitioners today to misread Galula and get lost in his population-centric approach or think that he has the military doing things it should perhaps not when in fact he has a very particular message.[108] Cohen stresses that Galula wrote for those engaged in a “defensive counterinsurgency” that tries to keep an old regime alive while many have applied his work to “offensive counterinsurgency” aiming to install a new government.[109] While there are certainly similarities between these two endeavors, they represent distinct efforts that may not benefit in the same way from Galula’s insights. Thus, disagreement over Galula’s value may arise simply out of misapplication.

Perhaps the leading critic of applying Galula’s ideas to modern counterinsurgency, especially the kinds of activities the United States has been involved with in recent decades, is Gian Gentile, a retired colonel from the U.S. Army. From his view, “population-centric counterinsurgency has perverted a better way of American war which has primarily been one of improvisation and practicality.”[110] He draws on his combat experiences in Iraq and analysis of Afghanistan to conclude that Galula is over applied within the U.S. military and that it is time to rethink how the capabilities and mission of the military map to meeting the political goals of the day. As we are not fighting against communist movements and have a national aversion to nation building, there is little reason to hold Galula and the subsequent FM 3-24 up as silver bullets for addressing the military challenges of the 21st century. Our stated political goals are different, and the time we spend developing and training to particular military doctrine should reflect this reality according to Gentile.

Why Study Galula?

While the applicability of Galula’s work to modern counterinsurgency may remain debated, its influence on current counterinsurgency doctrine is beyond doubt. As the French officer observed, given how easy it is to launch an insurgency and the difficulty associated in putting one down, there is “further reason to assume that the list of revolutionary wars is not closed.”[111] This makes understanding modern counterinsurgency doctrine and its origins especially important. Students of strategy and diplomacy do well when studying classic works of the past, and Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice is no exception. Only by engaging with the past and its ideas can those striving to craft and analyze policy today make informed insights. If time spent reading Galula does nothing more than this, it is time well spent.



Boot, Max. The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2014.

By reviewing instances of American involvement in small wars from throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Boot highlights just how long the United States has been fighting and learning from these wars. He devotes an entire chapter to the Small Wars Manual that is especially useful in putting it into context.

Caldwell, C. E. Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice. Lincoln, NE:  University of

Nebraska Press, 1996.

Col. Caldwell’s book reflects the lessons British officers took from the colonial wars in the 19th century. A bit dated at points, it remains a classic for understanding the development of small war or counterinsurgency thinking. Indeed, many of the key concepts and terms used by later writers are rooted in those coined by Caldwell.

Cohen, A. A. Galula: The Life and Writings of the French Officer who Defined the Art of

Counterinsurgency. ABC-CLIO, 2012.

A solid overview of the man behind the theory of counterinsurgency so often cited today, Cohen’s book helps put Galula in the wider historical and military context while offering valuable insights into the events and people that shaped his ideas. This is valuable reading for anyone seeking to understand the origins of Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice.

Corps, United States Marine. Small Wars Manual. Washington, DC: GPO, 1940.

The Small Wars Manual captures many of the timeless strategic and tactical aspects of fighting insurgencies and remains especially valuable today as a historical document capturing how the U.S. military, and the Marine Corps in particular, learned from past small wars and institutionalized these lessons.

Galula, David. Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. Westport, CT: Praeger,


This may be the seminal work on counterinsurgency published in the 20th century, and Galula is a required reading for both scholars and practitioners alike. Born of his experiences in fighting insurgencies in Asia and North Africa, this book captures many of the most widely accepted tenants of counterinsurgency in just one hundred pages.

Galula, David. Pacification in Algeria, 1956-1958. Vol. 478. Rand Corporation, 2002.

Herein are the real-world examples of Galula’s theory put to practice. Written based on his experience fighting for the French in Algeria, this book is a natural companion to Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. It delves into descriptions of real-world cases, especially those drawn from Algeria, that help highlight aspects of Galula’s larger arguments for the propagation of counterinsurgency warfare.

Gentile, Gian P. Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency. New York,

NY: The New Press, 2013.

Perhaps the leading proponent of an alternative view toward counterinsurgency practices, Col. Gian Gentile suggests much that we take as given about population centric counterinsurgency operations is often irrelevant and may be problematic for attaining American policy objectives. This book represents the summation of Gentile’s observations in Iraq and Afghanistan and is the culmination of several earlier works that began developing his central ideas.

Gentile, Gian P. “A Strategy of Tactics: Population-centric COIN and the Army.” Parameters. 39, no. 3 (Autumn 2009): 5 – 17.

In this article written early in his criticism of counterinsurgency efforts, Gentile suggests population centric counterinsurgency operations get in the way of practical adaptability, which has been most important and best identified with the American military’s approach to war of all kinds.

Kilcullen, David. The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One.

Oxford University Press, 2009.

One of several books on the subject of counterinsurgency written by long-time practitioner and General Petraeus advisor David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla now graces many a syllabus on in war colleges and strategy seminars. In it, he argues that that what might be considered modern small wars cannot be addressed using counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies of the past, but need new strategies that address singular aspects of these fights. His nuanced analysis of the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan are especially thought provoking.

Marlowe, Ann. David Galula: His Life and Intellectual Context. Strategic Studies Institute, 2010.

This is another look at the life of Galula, but with a specific focus on his intellectual development and the contribution of his work to contemporary American strategic thought. Given its brevity, this is a useful starting point for students just beginning their efforts to understand the man behind population-centric COIN.

Nagl, John A. Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam. University of Chicago Press, 2009.

John Nagl, one of the authors of The US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual,offers his take on the experiences of counterinsurgency in Malaya and Vietnam in a book that has become vital reading for students of counterinsurgency. He explores how military organizations learn during counterinsurgency operations and alter their methods over time.

Nagl, John A., James F. Amos, Sarah Sewall, and David H. Petraeus. The US Army/Marine

Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. No. 3-24. University of Chicago Press, 2008.

This is the latest work on counterinsurgency by the U.S. military and is widely credited with being central to the improved effectiveness of American military units operating in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 21st century. Because it is the latest manifestation of American military thinking on how to fight counterinsurgencies, it is required reading for any student seriously interested in the subject.


[1] David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006), xiv.

[2] A. A. Cohen, Galula: The Life and Writings of the French Officer who Defined the Art of Counterinsurgency (ABC-CLIO, 2012), 56.

[3] Cohen, Galula, 56.

[4] Cohen, Galula, 57.

[5] Cohen, Galula, 73.

[6] Cohen, Galula, 128.

[7] Cohen, Galula, 128.

[8] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 99.

[9] A. A. Cohen, Galula: The Life and Writings of the French Officer who Defined the Art of Counterinsurgency (ABC-CLIO, 2012), 245.

[10] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 97.

[11] John Nagl, “Forward,” in Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, David Galula (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006), viii.

[12] Nagl, “Forward,” viii.

[13] Galula, Counterinsurgency, xiii.

[14] Galula, Counterinsurgency, xii.

[15] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 1.

[16] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 1.

[17] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 5.

[18] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 4 – 5.

[19] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 5.

[20] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 3.

[21] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 3 – 4.

[22] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 6.

[23] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 7.

[24] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 8.

[25] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 13.

[26] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 13 – 16.

[27] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 8.

[28] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 8 – 9.

[29] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 28.

[30] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 9.

[31] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 19 – 22.

[32] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 21.

[33] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 23 – 25.

[34] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 25.

[35] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 25 – 27.

[36] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 27.

[37] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 26.

[38] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 29 – 30.

[39] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 30 – 31.

[40] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 31.

[41] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 32 – 34.

[42] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 34.

[43] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 36 – 38.

[44] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 39.

[45] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 39.

[46] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 39.

[47] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 40.

[48] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 40.

[49] Galula, Counterinsurgency, xiii.

[50] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 43.

[51] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 44.

[52] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 44 – 47.

[53] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 47.

[54] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 52.

[55] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 53.

[56] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 54.

[57] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 54.

[58] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 55.

[59] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 55.

[60] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 55.

[61] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 55.

[62] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 57.

[63] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 57.

[64] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 58.

[65] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 58.

[66] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 59.

[67] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 72 – 73.

[68] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 61.

[69] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 62.

[70] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 62.

[71] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 62.

[72] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 62.

[73] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 63.

[74] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 65.

[75] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 65.

[76] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 66.

[77] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 67.

[78] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 67.

[79] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 80.

[80] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 67 – 69.

[81] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 67 – 69.

[82] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 55 – 56.

[83] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 81.

[84] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 85 – 86.

[85] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 95.

[86] [86] The Small Wars Manual is divided into several chapters each with its own separate page numbering. These numbers take two forms, one stamped at the upper right or left corner of each page and a second consistently printed at the bottom of the page in the middle. These numbers often do not match since the stamps refer to subsections and not pages themselves. For the sake of consistency, this paper cites pages using the bottom number listed on each page. Because these reset with each new chapter, citations list both the chapter and the page, where the first number in the citation before the hyphen is the chapter and the second number is the page, e.g. 2-14 refers to chapter 2, page 14 of the Manual.

[87] United States Marine Corps, Small Wars Manual (Washington, DC: GPO, 1940), 4 – 5.

[88] Marine Corps, Manual, 1-16.

[89] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 85.

[90] Marine Corps, Manual, 1-32.

[91] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 76; Marine Corps, Manual, 1-30 – 1-31; Marine Corps, Manual, 2-36.

[92] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 84; Marine Corps, Manual, 2-4 – 2-5.

[93] Marine Corps, Manual, 1-15 – 1-16.

[94] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 13.

[95] Marine Corps, Manual, 1-33.

[96] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 61.

[97] Marine Corps, Manual, 1-4; Galula, Counterinsurgency, 63.

[98] Ann Marlowe, David Galula: His Life and Intellectual Context, (Strategic Studies Institute, 2010), 1.

[99] Marlowe, Galula: His Life, 53.

[100] Cohen, A.A. Galula, 243.

[101] Nagl, “Forward,” viii.

[102] John A. Nagl, James F. Amos, Sarah Sewall, and David H. Petraeus, The US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, No. 3-24, University of Chicago Press, 2008, 1-1.

[103] Nagl, “Forward,” ix.

[104] Nagle et. al, Field Manual, 1-1.

[105] Nagl, “Forward,” ix.

[106] Nagl et. al, Field Manual, 1-2

[107] Cohen, A.A. Galula, 245.

[108] Ibid.

[109] Cohen, A.A. Galula, 244.

[110] Gian P Gentile, “A Strategy of Tactics: Population-centric COIN and the Army,” Parameters 39, no. 3 (Autumn 2009): 5.

[111] Galula, Counterinsurgency, 90.