Academic journal article Military Review

Countering Evolved Insurgent Networks

Academic journal article Military Review

Countering Evolved Insurgent Networks

Article excerpt

THE FIRST STEP in meeting the challenge facing us in Iraq today or in similar war zones tomorrow is to understand that insurgency and counterinsurgency are very different tasks. The use of Special Forces against insurgents in Vietnam to "out-guerrilla the guerrillas" provided exactly the wrong solution to the problem. It assumed that the insurgent and the counterinsurgent can use the same approach to achieve their quite different goals.

To define insurgency, I use Bard O'Neill from Insurgency and Terrorism. He states: "Insurgency may be defined as a struggle between a nonruling group and the ruling authorities in which the nonruling group consciously uses political resources (e.g., organizational expertise, propaganda, and demonstrations) and violence to destroy, reformulate, or sustain the basis of one or more aspects of politics." (1)

Counterinsurgency, as defined by Ian Becket-t, "is far from being a purely military problem ... co-ordination of both the civil and military effort must occur at all levels and embrace the provision of intelligence...." (2)

On the surface, these definitions suggest that insurgency and counterinsurgency are similar because each requires political and military action. However, when one thinks it through, the challenge is very different for the government. The government must accomplish something. It must govern effectively. In contrast, the insurgent only has to propose an idea for a better future while ensuring the government cannot govern effectively. In Iraq, the resistance does not even project a better future. It simply has the nihilistic goal of ensuring the government cannot function. This negative goal is much easier to achieve than governing. For instance, it is easier and more direct to use military power than to apply political, economic, and social techniques. The insurgent can use violence to delegitimize a government (because that government cannot fulfill the basic social contract to protect the people). However, simple application of violence by the government cannot restore that legitimacy. David Galula, in his classic Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, expresses the difference between insurgency and counterinsurgency very clearly: "Revolutionary warfare ... represents an exceptional case not only because as we suspect, it has its special rules, different from those of the conventional war, but also because most of the rules applicable to one side do not work for the other. In a fight between a fly and a lion, the fly cannot deliver a knockout blow and the lion cannot fly. It is the same war for both camps in terms of space and time, yet there are two distinct warfares [sic]--the revolutionary's, and shall we say, the counterrevolutionary's." (3)

Enduring Traits of Insurgency

Mao Tse-Tung wrote his famous On Guerilla War [Yu Chi Chan] in 1937. Despite the passage of time, many of his basic observations about insurgency remain valid. First and foremost, insurgency is a political, not a military, struggle. It is not amenable to a purely military solution without resorting to a level of brutality unacceptable to the Western world. Even the particularly brutal violence Russia has inflicted upon Chechnya--killing almost 25 percent of the total population and destroying its cities--has not resulted in victory.

The second factor has to do with the political will of the counterinsurgent's own population. If that population turns sour when faced with the long time-frame and mounting costs of counterinsurgency, the insurgent will win. This has been particularly true whenever the United States has become involved in counterinsurgency operations. Insurgents have learned over the last 30 years that they do not have to defeat the United States militarily to drive us out of an insurgency; they only have to destroy our political will. Today's insurgents in both Afghanistan and Iraq understand this and have made the political will of the U. …

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