Heads We Win -- The Cognitive Side of Counterinsurgency (COIN)

RAND Counterinsurgency Study -- Paper 1

by David C. Gompert

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Abstract

Current U.S. counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy has relied heavily on the use of force against Islamist insurgents — a tactic that has increased their ranks. What is needed instead are stronger cognitive capabilities that will enable more effective COIN against an elusive, decentralized, and highly motivated insurgency — capabilities that will enable the United States to “fight smarter.” Cognitive COIN goes beyond information technology and encompasses comprehension, reasoning, and decisionmaking, the components that are most effective against an enemy that is quick to adapt, transform, and regenerate. Countering the challenges of a global insurgency demands the ability to understand it, shape popular attitudes about it, and act directly against it. The four cognitive abilities that are most important to COIN operations are anticipation, opportunism, decision speed, and learning in action, applied through rapid-adaptive decisionmaking. In 21st-century COIN, tight control and bureaucracy must yield to the power of networked intelligence, with each operative authorized to act, react, and adapt. With these notions as a backdrop, this paper offers concrete ideas for gaining the cognitive advantage in anticipating and countering the new global insurgency.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction: Purpose, Scope, and Definitions

  • Chapter Two

    The Mind as Central Front

  • Chapter Three

    Reordering COIN Priorities

  • Chapter Four

    Thoughts of the Jihad

  • Chapter Five

    Closing the Gap

  • Chapter Six

    Cognitive Requirements in Global COIN

  • Chapter Seven

    Cognitive Capabilities for COIN

  • Chapter Eight

    Conclusions: Investment and Reform

  • Appendix

    Investments and Measures to Enhance Cognitive COIN Capabilities

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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