Counterinsurgency has not received this much attention since the 1960’s and President Kennedy’s implementation of the US Army Special Warfare Center. Our renewed interest in the art of insurgency and counterinsurgency has sparked fierce debate over the kind of war we are fighting: terrorism, irregular warfare or an asymmetrical war. When we label a war a counterinsurgency, by definition, it means that we are fully aware of the type of insurgency we are fighting; do we really? Is terrorism a type of war or a tactic? What do we really mean when we use the term irregular warfare? And What exactly is an Asymmetrical War?
My education in military studies began with a healthy dose of Clausewitz, Jomini, and Mahan. I studied Patton, Guderian, Rommel, and a host of other famous conventional war practitioners. As my warrior education progressed, I was taught the “classics”; T.E. Lawrence, C.E. Callwell, David Galula, and, Frank Kitson. I also became familiar with, Mao Zedong and Che Guevara.
The US Army released its new counterinsurgency manual in Dec 2007. It is heavily steeped in the theories of classical counterinsurgency (COIN). Classical counterinsurgency places a heavy emphasis on maximizing the legitimacy of the Host Government; US Army Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency, also does the same. Yet as a trainer and practitioner of counterinsurgency attempting to implement the newest doctrine, something is amiss between the classical textbook approach and what appears to be actually happening on the ground.
Classical counterinsurgency is based on lessons learned between the 1940’s and the 1970’s. These lessons were gleaned from places like Algeria, Malaysia, Central America, and Vietnam. Most of the insurgencies during this period were based on either Nationalism, Anti-Colonialism or both. As a result, the strategies and lessons learned focused on how an already established, legitimate, yet, weak government could re-assert itself and maintain the status quo; including the minority or opposition group backed by a Western Power.
The counterinsurgency we are experiencing in Afghanistan is not nationalistic or anti-colonial. Insurgents today are following in failed States or States bordering between weak and failed. In classical counterinsurgency the insurgent takes the initiative and initiates the campaign. Some examples include: Algeria, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Columbia, and Rhodesia. Over the last couple of years Coalition forces or weak governments have initiated the campaign and the insurgent is now in a position to be strategically reactive, think Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the covert war for sanctuary and financial support in places like Saudi Arabia, Europe, and the Arab Emirates.
Today the paradox of modern counterinsurgency might be explained as: Classical insurgencies usually were started to disrupt the status quo and to overthrow existing governments. The insurgents had a strategy and a political agenda that was Nationalistic in its nature. Modern insurgents, on the other hand, are now attempting to preserve the status quo where a weak government or foreign invaders represent revolutionary change. Today’s insurgent does not always seek to gain control of the State. Think Kurds and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area of the North West Territories and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
The modern insurgent does not always want to succeed from the State but rather control portions of it; they could care less if the State collapses, as long as they are in control of their area of interest. Modern insurgents, unlike the Nationalists of yore, really have not stipulated how and what would replace the existing structure or government, or, articulated a “National” Strategy. Even bin Laden’s alleged strategy is more akin to the structure of the Pasha’s and Bey’s of the Ottoman Empire, a strategy that espouses an adherence to an ideology subject to local interpretation, refinement and enforcement, and, no real unified plan on how to implement it.Consequently, counterinsurgency becomes very dynamic and very complex, especially when the insurgent you’re fighting only cares about curing God’s favor through countless individual acts with the hope of eventually gaining paradise and ultimate victory.
The modern insurgent is fighting a “resistance” type of war and seeks to wear down the effort by constantly attacking soft targets. He thinks that we will just leave if he can continue this tactic. On the other hand, Coalition Forces collateral damage and mis-managed information operations continue to erode Coalition credibility, create a wave of new recruits and, more importantly, erode world and general public opinion of our ability to wage a successful counterinsurgency.Thus, the lessons learned here include: Understanding that cultural differences define Jus in Bello. Western Standards are not necessarily agreed to by all others. Understanding these cultural differences in “who” is defining the “just war” will help us understand the domestic and local origins of what constitutes defiance and how it might escalate. Understanding this process helps to define the political-military engagement strategy and process. Remember, diplomacy and politics first.
Other lessons include: Countermeasures designed to fight the enemy strategy and not his ideology; carefully managing the use of force and insuring that your media message is precise and attains the moral high ground in the language of the local cultural area. In essence you have to develop the media message for the local and not just your audience at home. Furthermore this message “branding” so to speak, must be precise for the regional area. Messages devised for Afghanistan might not be well received in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Information operations are complex and need to be “Targeted”. Think commercial branding here. A commercial message designed for an English speaking audience may fail miserably with your French or German speaking audience, same goes for the Middle East and Golden Crescent. Syrian and Saudi audiences are not the same as Egyptian, Afghani or Turkish audiences. One size does not fit all and the only real commonality among them all is the religion of Islam, and even that is further divided by those that adhere to a particular branch. Despite the fact that popular or unpopular domestic support will either make or break your strategy; information operations must be layered to target specific audiences.
Patrolling and raiding are still critical, but, this technique, tactic and procedure (TTP) has required adjustment and we are finding that more snipers, more observation posts and more surveillance must be increasingly incorporated into the intelligence plan to pre-empt the insurgent’s intentions.
Lastly, at risk of sounding cliché, Intelligence is critical to operations. It is especially critical in counterinsurgency because intelligence drives operations, but, intelligence preparation of the battlefield is also being modified to account for the complex dynamics of modern insurgencies
Convoy: A convoy heads towards downtown Mazer-e-Sharif. You can see the “Blue Mosque” faintly in the background
The Blue Mosque: The Blue Mosque in the heart of Mazar-e-Sharif; This is a very famous and historical landmark in Afghan History.
Rockets; After we received an evening shelling, search teams look for the point of origin and attempt to track down the guilty. Here are two rockets that were recovered that did not ignite. This is an example of how primitive, yet effective some of the enemy techniques can be