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The United States has long been frustrated in fighting insurgencies. An almost unbroken string of mostly ill fated experiences in effectively prosecuting this unique blend of political-military operations can be traced backward over nearly half a century from the situation in Iraq today to the early 1960s when the United States became heavily engaged in Indochina's wars. Vietnam and Iraq thus form two legs of a historically fraught triangle — with America's experiences in El Salvador in the 1980s providing the connecting leg. The aim of this paper is not to rake over old coals or rehash now familiar criticism. Rather, its purpose is to use the present as prologue in order to understand in counterinsurgency terms where we have gone wrong in Iraq; what unique challenges the current conflict in Iraq presents to U.S. and other coalition military forces deployed there; and what light both shed on future counterinsurgency planning, operations, and requirements.

This research in the public interest was funded by the U.S. government.

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