Wars of counter-insurgency cannot be won

The Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan defeated after many years of fighting the Taliban. The United States is currently fighting the same Taliban after invading them for the deadly attacks of Sept 11 2001. After a tremendously successful and devastating attack on the mullahs who ran Afghanistan with bunker busting bombs, the Americans and their European allies are struck in this quagmire where total victory has become illusive.

The same tale is being repeated in Iraq, where the terrorist group Al Qaeda practices its hit-and-run strategy to devastating effect.By the same token there have been ounter-insurgency movements that have been text-book successes. The Malayan counter-insurgency of the 1950s mounted by the British against the Malayan communist has been hailed as a fine example of the containment and defeat of counter insurgency forces. The defeat of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka is another example. It is my thesis that history is chock-full of lessons of counter-insurgency and it is only through studying these lessons and principles and adapting them, that wars of counter- insurgency can be won.

For as long as mankind has existed, war has been a long integrated element of life. History, time and again has proven it to be inescapable by-product of human nature. It can be argued that humans are innately and instinctually aggressive and war is simply one manifestation of that innate aggression. Neurologist Sigmund Freud postulates a theory whereby humans have instinctual energies which might well be aggressive but civilisation gets us to suppress that aggressive instinct. [1]The cost is that there is an underlying current of deep unhappiness and unrest.Ever so often, it is that pent up energy that bursts out in these periodic conflicts. War is essentially a political endeavour where violence is employed militarily to secure a political victory. World War II has often been viewed to be the pinnacle of all wars, an exemplary tell-tale of the staggering atrocities of war.

The war ended in 1945 and is often viewed as the start of the contemporary world. The notion that war in the contemporary world is seemingly more justifiable and of lesser impact is greatly misleading and unfounded. In fact quite the contrary is the case.

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Nobel Laureate Richard E. Smalley, in 2003 determined war as the sixth, out of ten, biggest problems facing he society for the next fifty years. [2] This in no small part can be attributed to the type of war that is predominant in modern era and the normalisation of it. It seems that irregular warfare, particularly insurgency, has become the forerunner in the preferred choice of combat. Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely has identified insurgency to be “the use of subversion and armed conflict by an organized movement to overthrow a constitutional government”.

3] The hypothesis that irregular, guerrilla, terrorist and insurgent warfare are just a new amalgam of arfare that has risen in the 20th century is erroneous. Irregular warfare has long been a mainstay of warfare and can be traced back to medieval times. Hence it would appear that history is replete with examples of insurgency and lessons of counter-insurgency. The doctrine of counter-insurgency has been promulgated by many, from Santa Cruz de Marcenado to David Galula.Though modern insurgency is not by any means rigid but constantly evolving, there are still lessons to be learned from classical counter-insurgency in order to adapt these methods for modern counter-insurgency warfare.

David Kilcullen in “Counter-insurgency Redux , Survival: Global Politics and Strategy” contends that “[t]he concept of counter-insurgency is logically contingent on that of ‘insurgency” [4]Thus it is of crucial importance to understand the motivations and capabilities of the insurgents in order for counter-insurgency to prevail. Knowing your enemy has long been the crux of successful war victories.Ancient Chinese military general Sun Tzu once instructed that “If you know the enemy and know yourself , you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.

” [5] In order to be able to swiftly valuate and suppress impending rebellion, a complete rundown and recognition of the enemy’s competency and motivations is essential. After all, if one is unaware of what their enemy is capable of and the cause it is being fought for, it is impervious and completely presumptuous to believe that a counter-insurgency effort can be victorious while simultaneously being blindsided.Prussian soldier and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz’s most cardinal instruction emphasizes this necessity ‘The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgement that the statesman and commander have to ake is to establish… the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. ‘[6] Haviland Smith, a retired CIA officer, alleges that it is inherently axiological to be able to keep focus on what these rebellious groups in order to be able stand a higher chance of countering these groups effectively.

Smith points out that the downfall of the Bush administration was its readiness to categorize everyone that opposed them as a ‘terrorist” rather than taking the time to differentiate between terrorist and insurgents. 7] For example, the Taliban was quickly deemed as a terrorist organization though it is first and foremost an insurgent organization that commits terrorist acts to propel their cause. In modern cases today, counter-insurgency is a symbol of political upheaval and revolutionary change to the insurgent’s society. Often these insurgents engage in irregular warfare methods to resist counter-insurgents from invading their space.This is currently evident in the Middle East today where many insurgent groups are fighting against western invasion in order to defend their traditional culture nd repel 21st century western ideals being imposed on them.

Thus, insurgency centers on ideological pursuits whether they be political, economic or religious. Advocates of insurgency have primarily a strong sense of ressentiment. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche sums up the ideological backbone beliefs of insurgents, stating “The miserable, the poor, the powerless alone are the good. You the noble and the powerful are the evil, the cruel, the godless. [8]Nietzsche alleges that the ressentiment produces a different kind of rebellion and reversal of values.

[9] This is where the idea that everything is xplained once the oppressor is located, arises. The construction of the ressentiment narrative relies on the idea that the virtuous have a right to use violence against the evil oppressor and so their cause is morally justified in their eyes. One must be moral and unambiguous to gather the kind of support that one needs for a large scale insurgency conflict. The propaganda that insurgency churns out, thrives off the moral high ground.Indeed it is in great peril of losing validity, if anyone spots that the insurgents are not in occupation of the moral high ground.

In order for insurgents to triumphantly overthrow its ppressors, the backing and support of civilians is one of the ultimate deciding factors that will secure its victory. Chinese communist and political theorist Mao Tse-tung predicates the premise where insurgency will fail without the ideals of the operation synchronizing with the will of the majority. [10] As such Captain D. F Robinson of the Intelligence Corps argues that the same can be said for counter- insurgency.It is important for counter-insurgents to recognize their primary target is to win the “hearts and minds” of the people. Without the allegiance of civilians, insurgents are fighting a losing battle. Successfulness of counter-insurgency relies on the support of the civilian population as well and so counter-insurgents have to prioritise the protection of the civilian population.

Collateral damage in battling insurgency has a tendency to lose the support of the civilians. Roman governor Julius Agricola presents a fundamental underlying principle that must govern counter-insurgency.He proposes that “Conquest can never be secure while it loads the vanquished with injury and oppression.

” [12] Counter-insurgents have to maintain the moral high ground by acting lawfully in order to garner support for their cause. Modern era also presents another facet that counter-insurgency struggles with. Kilcullen spotlights the predicament of “weaning insurgents away from extremist sponsors, while simultaneously supporting modernisation is increasingly difficult considering the entirely new elements arising from the effects of globalisation and technology. [13] Invention of new technology, it can be argued, has steadily allowed more and more people to simultaneously interact and to share the same ideologies concerning the world beyond boundaries of physical proximity. An important and effective tool of technology is mass media.Joshua Barker and Sharon Kelly in “Technology and Nationalism” argue that the mass media’s capacity “to reach large numbers of people within a given national territory makes it a popular means by which to spread nationalist ideas in hopes of creating a unified public. [14] Communicational technology was now available to be used for the purposes of unifying a nation, creating and influencing the identity of that nation by putting forth ideas and messages that work towards mobilizing a community.

” Barker and Kelly further expand that by stating that “A public that was united could be mobilized for political, ocial or religious causes.This unification was essential in the nationalist cause, once people could imagine their fellows as sharing a public culture; it became possible to imagine that this public ought to share certain fundamental rights and freedoms. [15] This platform has emerged to be highly beneficial for insurgents. Now available to them is the widespread of their ideological, be it political or religious, cause. It has become increasingly easier for them to garner attention and support, both moral and financially. Furthermore, modern forms of technology tend to demand an instant and forceful response. Thus it an be argued that because of this, it lessens contemplation and the time to think on the parts of counter-insurgents.

The dominant state reacts quickly and though it seems to be defending itself from an uprising that seems to threaten its way of life, stability and cohesion of the community, quick and rash decisions made can help win more support for the insurgents. Hence it is necessary for counter- insurgency to act wisely, sympathetic and appropriately. Technology is a platform that goes both ways.

Though classical-insurgency methods have very little to say about modern technology, the same principles can be applied.To counter insurgents on this front, counter-insurgents still need a campaign of moral high ground that can be circulated through the same means of technology to counter insurgent’s efforts on this ground. Colin S. Gray in “Peace and International Relations” denotes that it is also important for counter- insurgents to have an appealing and alluring political cause to draw in citizens.

He points out that though the French Army in Algeria were experts in counter-insurgency, France ultimately lost the war because she lacked the political incentives to propose to Muslim citizens. 16] There was no binding tie oth culturally and politically between the French and Muslims. Thus an enticing political narrative is crucial in garnering attention and support of the people in order for counter-insurgency to conquer.The next following step in a successful venture of counter-insurgency is its recognition that the course of action taken must be in light of the type of war it faces. Counter-actions must be individualised and customised. Charles Callwell’s in ‘Small Wars’ highlights the necessity to consider the characteristics of small wars. 17] A big failure of counter-insurgent efforts has been partly due to trying to suppress hese wars with regular warfare tactics.

Haviland Smith adduces that America’s second mistake in wars of counter-insurgency is its inappropriate military response. He criticises America’s heavy reliance on military might on being the answer to solve all fronts. [18] It is important for the civilian authorities to be primarily in charge instead of military authorities calling all the shots.Insurgency is an intricate type of battle, one that must be handled politically. There has to be a strong co-ordination amongst civilian and military authorities in order to maintain a front of unity. In other instances where insurgencies have been successful, the military has been guilty of using “big war methods”. This can be seen in the way American and French militaries have responded to insurgency in Vietnam.

General William Westmoore rounded his troops and indoctrinated them to fight Vietnamese insurgents akin to regular war methods.In these cases, these counter-insurgents fought a battle in which they had little to no experience in. Instead they relied on the vast experience they had in regular war conflict and used tactics derived from there to deal with insurgency and as a result suffered a humiliating defeat. Another aspect that has to be greatly utilized by counter-insurgents in order to be advantageous is usage of intelligence. Intelligence, in history, has long been an efficacious tool that acts like a sword, often giving the upper hand to the side that employs it more cogently.

At the time of World War II, Britain and the Soviet Union, along with many others, had clandestine operations, in which many master spies have emanated from. These countries recognized the sheer significance of the role that intelligence plays in wars. Rightly so, as the outcome of World War II could have been arguably ltered without the presence of these intelligence groups. Intelligence is just as crucial in irregular warfare as it is in regular warfare. For example, it was through the work of intelligence that a prominent insurgent leader was finally nabbed.In 2004, American intelligence working along with the U. S military force was able to annihilate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a notorious and brutal Iraqi leader of insurgency.

Having previously evaded Coalition forces, he was finally nabbed through the efforts of American intelligence. This effort of intelligence resulted in throwing Al-Qaeda off balance nd amplified the efforts of the U. S military.

The last principle of the doctrine of counter-insurgency involves cutting off the enemy’s from external support and places of sanctuaries is an essential strategic tactic.Irregular warfare is a protracted conflict and by isolating these belligerents, it greatly impedes their ability to influence the minds of the civilians. The Malayan Emergency has been considered to be the textbook case for successful execution of counter-insurgency and especially so in this principle. In 1948, the British were faced with the guerrilla movements of Malayan communists. General Sir Harold Briggs’s sweeping response strategy to the emergency has formed the basis of many counter-insurgency actions.The Briggs Plan as it has been referred to have four primary goals. [19] The first plan of action involved the areas which were smaller in size.

By seizing control of these areas, the British were able to create a sense of security and over the course of the protracted conflict, they were able to build and elevate the “flow of information”. The second course taken was to target and demolish any communist operations in these small occupied areas. Thirdly, these belligerents were cut off from all their operational supplies, inclusive of food.Lastly, the definitive striking measure was to force these belligerents into attacking the military, engaging in a highly advantageous regular warfare. Thus it is astounding how these principles of doctrine and lessons learnt from the Malayan emergency were not applied to the counter-insurgency efforts in Cyprus. Instead Field Marshall Harding chose a path that would lead him to a dead end.

He dealt with the insurgency with his police that was infamous for being plagued with corruption and ruthlessness. This in effect contributed to the cause of EOKA insurgents, garnering them civilian support effortlessly.Field Marshall Harding’s poor choice in dealing with the insurgency has led EOKA insurgent leader Colonel Grivas to proclaim that Harding has “done more than anyone else to keep alive the spirit of Hellenistic resistance in Cyprus”.

[20] Harding had failed to learn that an impartial, restrained and disciplined police force was fundamentally key in establishing effective counter-insurgency in Malaya. The British counter-insurgency efforts in Northern Ireland in 1969 is another cautionary tale of what appens when lessons are not heeded from the past.Contrary to the counter-insurgency doctrine, the British were in support of a highly fanatical and prejudiced police force. The Irish were subjected to internment without trial and search operations executed were based very loosely on intelligence and in turn led to the direct colossal failure of British counter-insurgency efforts.

It therefore seemingly appears baffling how the doctrine and lessons of counter-insurgency continues to be ignored. History is essentially the consciousness of the past. It is through it that attaining a urposeful direction becomes possible.Why are these lessons then falling on deaf ears? John Kiszely identifies this continuous failure to learn from the past to be blamed on the military’s anti- intellectualism attitudes and adversity to criticism. [21] Sir Michael Howard concurs with the prospect of the military being anti-intellectual, citing that the history has proved over and over that the British in particular are predisposed to learning things the “hard way”.

[22] Kiszely moreover argues that perhaps its cultural challenges that are a barrier to the military’s ability to learn. 23] The greatest barrier hat remains to be overcome is the perception that irregular warfare is a type of regular warfare. Along with the belief that counter-insurgency can be won solely based on military battles. Kiszely points out that this difficulty stems from the notion that “in the eyes of the warrior, counter-insurgency calls for some decidedly un-warrior-like qualities, such as emotional intelligence, empathy, subtlety, sophistication, nuance and political adroitness. ” [24] These qualities are still considered to be unprecedented and the ultimate challenge lies in moulding the perceptions of the military in order to in.

One has to travel in time to examine the whole spectrum of counter-insurgencies over the last few centuries to arrive at any acceptable conclusion. Counter-insurgency movements throughout history have displayed a patchy track record.. The communist march against the nationalist in China and the subsequent attempts by the nationalist government to counter failed miserably because the communist were able to win the minds and hearts of the people. The Taliban continue to survive in Afghanistan despite the massive presence of the US and Nato forces because the terrain are the Taliban’s’ best ally.The government of the day and its western allies are not able to defeat the Taliban whose hit- and-run to the mountains strategy is highly effective. In the Middle East, especially Iraq and Palestine, the suicide bombing tactics are impossible to wipe-out.

The Al Qaeda operatives mingle with the people and are difficult to spot, and suddenly a suicide bomb goes off to devastating effect. .The Indian government efforts in Kashmir against the Muslim insurgents are difficult to defeat because they are deeply sheltered in the jungles of Pakistan, sometimes under the Pakistan’s military auspices..

Whilst history has thrown out successes such as the Malayan counter-insurgency of the 1950s, the Sri- Lankan government’s blow out of the Tamil Tigers, not all the counter-insurgencies have been a raging success. There are many struggles. One is tempted to draw a religious denominator to the current struggles of counter-insurgencies in the world.

In India, the Middle East, and Tibet, the religious fervour, albeit among the minority, has gripped these insurgents and made any success limited and contained for counter-insurgents, who are inevitably governments of the day.The past nsurgencies were politically or ideologically oriented – communism versus democracy. In the medieval years, it was the church versus the people and landowners versus the poor farmers. The shape and form of insurgencies and counter-insurgencies may change through the years but the principles remain constant. It is consistency, decisiveness and learning lessons from the past that often leads to political victories. If these all-encompassing important aspects of counter-insurgency can be hammered into the psyche of civilian and military authorities alike, counter-insurgency undoubtedly stands a chance of overcoming insurgency.