Mastering Counterinsurgency: A Workshop Report

Stephen P. Cohen and
Stephen P. Cohen
Stephen P. Cohen Former Brookings Expert
Shuja Nawaz
Shuja Nawaz Director, South Asia Center

July 7, 2009


The Brookings Institution and the Pakistan National Defence University, with support from the U.S. National Defense University and the Embassy of Pakistan, Washington, held a three-day workshop that explored American and Pakistani approaches to counterinsurgency (COIN) and low-intensity conflict (LIC) from March 10 to March 12, 2009. The workshop consisted of two days’ discussion, a visit to the Marine Corps Base Quantico for discussions with resident experts, and a visit to the Pentagon for briefings by American civilian and military officials.

Subsequently, in early May, the Pakistan army launched its biggest-ever counterinsurgency operation in Swat, which is likely to have had significant consequences for the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), the army, and Pakistan itself. The workshop anticipated and addressed many dimensions of this operation, although no one present asserted that it was imminent. The surprisingly rapid developments in Pakistan were, in retrospect, the biggest “takeaway” from the conference, and they should make us humble when it comes to prediction.

This report highlights some dimensions of the workshop’s exploration of COIN and LIC, and notes areas of agreement and disagreement among and between American and Pakistani participants. It represents our own views, and not necessarily those of sponsors and participants. The conference papers are available on the Brookings website.