Shades of CORDS in the Kush: The False Hope of "Unity of Effort" in American Counterinsurgency

  • April 01, 2010
  • Mr Henry Nuzum

Counterinsurgency (COIN) requires an integrated military, political, and economic program best developed by teams that field both civilians and soldiers. These units should operate with some independence but under a coherent command. In Vietnam, after several false starts, the United States developed an effective unified organization, Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS), to guide the counterinsurgency. CORDS had three components absent from our efforts in Afghanistan today: sufficient personnel (particularly civilian), numerous teams, and a single chain of command that united the separate COIN programs of the disparate American departments at the district, provincial, regional, and national levels. This Paper focuses on the third issue and describes the benefits that unity of command at every level would bring to the American war in Afghanistan. The work begins with a brief introduction to counterinsurgency theory, using a population-centric model, and examines how this warfare challenges the United States. It traces the evolution of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and the country team, describing problems at both levels. Similar efforts in Vietnam are compared, where persistent executive attention finally integrated the government’s counterinsurgency campaign under the unified command of the CORDS program. The next section attributes the American tendency towards a segregated response to cultural differences between the primary departments, executive neglect, and societal concepts of war. The Paper argues that, in its approach to COIN, the United States has forsaken the military concept of unity of command in favor of “unity of effort” expressed in multiagency literature. The final sections describe how unified authority would improve our efforts in Afghanistan and propose a model for the future.