Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Military History and Warfare: Counter-insurgency: Counter-insurgency Operations

This week I'm very pleased to introduce a brand new series of articles written by a new guest writer, Terry Tucker. Terry is currently on the ground in Afghanistan and will be writing on the topic of counter-insurgency operations based upon both his own experiences and the study of military history.

The Global War on Terror offers a glimpse of how the lessons of insurgency and counterinsurgency are problematic. [i] Building the operational capacity and capabilities of a counterinsurgent security force, to include police, offer lessons in how difficult it is to develop an integrated civil-military approach to combating an insurgency.

Likewise a study of the problems associated with how insurgencies arise is also important and prudent in understanding the lessons of the past. Some might believe that the past is only intelligible from the present. This gives short shrift to the lessons of history and how the present conditions are a result of that past.

In attempting to overcome these problematic conditions, there are several components that affect the overall civil-military engagement strategy that are used to integrate this approach. Some examples of these components include training the indigenous force, and, of course, the elements of politics, diplomacy, geo-politics, global opinion and fully integrated civil-military operations under a unified command.

Lessons can be learned from any type of war, conflict or military operation but assuming that those lessons will also be similar in the next conflict is a serious mistake. Sometimes these lessons learned can constrain thinking about the future, especially when one assumes that past lessons will be similarly duplicated. In this same regard combining lessons learned with planning usually has more to do with what happened in the past rather than how one can affect the future.
With this in mind, how does one determine if the past is an adequate guide for the future?

After seven years the United States is still involved in a global counterinsurgency effort; a counterinsurgency against fundamentalists that adhere to a particularly violent strain of religious ideology. The tone and tempo of news reports from the myriad news sources would lead one to believe that 5 years is an extraordinarily long time to secure a victory. The history of insurgency indicates that 5 years is just the beginning[ii]. Likewise the global war on terror has been classified as a war against ideas, religion and ideology.

[iii] How is one to determine if there are lessons learned from the past if there is a lack of consensus on the type of conflict we are waging? This is rather problematic as diversity of the origin of the problem does not obstruct the singularity of the mission for the insurgent; for instance, look at the uneasy yet cooperative alliance of Iran/Hezbollah and Syria/Fatah Their brand of radical Islam preaches a complete intolerance and all that is antithetical to Western values; they seek to completely replace Western codes with an extreme code of Islam. There current uneasy alliance is more like a temporary marriage of convenience.

The diversity of these sects does not detract them (relatively speaking) from the singularity of their mission; to use violence and terrorism to achieve there ultimate aims. The mixture of subversion, propaganda and violent pressure coupled to an ideological strategy is there idea of a recipe to success.

The First Intifada was a great case of exploiting these principles, the 2nd Intifada was a disaster and the Aug 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah conflict ended with both sides declaring victory, yet the general consensus seems to be that Hezbollah gained the upper hand. In both cases, as insurgent or counterinsurgent, it is the management of the narrative with moral attributes (think David vs Goliath here) tied to the strategy. In essence it requires more than just an adherence to the traditional principles of war when defining the strategy.

Increasingly, there must be complete integration of multiple military and non military agencies to the strategy and more importantly a corresponding change in mindset within these players as well.[iv] This is not easy considering that most militaries are taught that victory comes through the pursuit of aggressive offensive operations. Sometimes in a counterinsurgency it might be better to do nothing at all.

With this in mind, here is a sample of a few of the military historical lessons learned from past counterinsurgency and stability operations.

1) Politics and diplomacy must have primacy
2)Discipline, firepower and organization coupled with small unit tactics are key to military success
3) Centralized planning, decentralized execution within the commanders mission intent or end state must be tied to the political/diplomatic effort Draw distinction between bandits, rebels, thieves, and insurgents, etc, etc.
4) Creation of special units such as recon and tracking units
5) Doctrine and techniques, tactics and procedures are codified thru lessons learned; this pseudo doctrine fills emerging and existing gaps in methodology.
6) Learning to fail fast and adapt quickly.
7) Public critical of operations; so manage the information war ahead of the press and be sure that your “message” has the “moral” high ground.
8) Good deeds insufficient to counteract collateral damage, mistrust or other stupid actions by self

Watch for the continuation of this topic in the next issue as we briefly examine other critical elements such as urban operations and civil considerations critical to success.

[i] The term problematic was used in a conversation by an US Army Officer to describe the difficult conditions in accomplishing training with the Afghan National Army and Police.[ii] Consider such examples as Vietnam, Algeria, Rhodesia, Nicaragua, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, The Arab-Israeli conflict and The Maccabees[iii] See Countering a Global Insurgency A Strategy for the War on Terrorism, LTC (Dr.) David Kilcullen; Waging the War of Idea’s, William Rosenau, Ph.D, RAND Corp; Terrorism in the Name of Religion, Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, St Andrews University, Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.[iv] My personal observations of Police and Army Mentors in the Kunduz and Northern Region area of Afghanistan confirm this when we attended a meeting at the Konduz Provincial Reconstruction Team HQ’s on Thursday morning the 3rd of April. In attendance where the German Police mentors, American Police mentors and a US State Department Representative to the PRT. The US Army Major that led the meeting was ill-equipped to lead the meeting; the meeting devolved to a finger pointing session; in one case a German police team had been on the ground more than 17 days and still had not received its orders for its training mission to train the Afghan Police.

Afghan sand storm just moments before it hits the camp. The Afghan’s call It “the wind of 120 days” the wind is roughly a constant 22 knots from May to Sept.

The airfield at Feyzabad; cargo and people are lifted in and out; for this trip it was a US Air National Guard Unit from Baltimore Maryland providing the Heavy lift.

German Provincial Reconstruction Team in Feyzabad, soldiers stop to watch a German CH-53, Heavy Lift Helicopter take off

Terry Tucker retired from the US Army after 23 years of active duty. He has served in Long Range Reconnaissance, Infantry, Cavalry, Staff and various leadership positions. His civilian and military experience and assignments include US Fortune 50’s and the US Department of Defense. He has over 10 years experience in the Middle East and has trained soldiers and clients in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Afghanistan. He is currently in Afghanistan on a training team that is training the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. He has contributed articles in the US Army Infantry Magazine, a professional journal of the US Army Infantry School and he is the author of a book; U.S. Counterinsurgency Methods and The Global War on Terror.

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