Magazine article Army

Counterinsurgency Techniques Revisited

Magazine article Army

Counterinsurgency Techniques Revisited

Article excerpt

Counterinsurgency Techniques Revisited Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror: Military Culture and Irregular War. Robert M. Cassidy. Praeger Security International. 213 pages; notes; index; $49.95.

By Lt. Col. Mike Burke

U.S. Army retired

In the summer of 1973, the Army was JLundergoing one of its periodic self-examinations and reorganizations, this time in response to the end of the Vietnam War. It hadn't quite happenedno helicopters had left the rooftops yet-but the Army seemed to have decided that Vietnam was over. It was time to return to what it knew best: maneuvering war against a large, conventional adversary. The Soviet threat was still a concern, so the Army created Forces Command and Training and Doctrine Command to build the units and devise doctrine necessary to win such a war. Though that threat is no longer, these institutions are still with us, a surprisingly long run (34 years) for the Army. Counterinsurgency has not been in vogue since-until now.

Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror takes the Army to task for forsaking the lessons of its own history; not just those of the Vietnam War, but those gained through fighting Plains Indians in the 19th century, the Philippine Insurrection at the beginning of the 20th and the Marine Corps' experience in the so-called "Banana Wars" of the 1920s and '30s. Robert Cassidy argues that the Army's historic preference for largescale conventional war is so ingrained into its culture that it has not allowed itself to prepare for the most frequently fought (and most likely future) wars, the kind we are in now.

Cassidy's insight is that the West now faces a global insurgency, one characterized by multiple threats in multiple places, conducted by widely dispersed bands of loosely linked irregular troops who turn the technology and structure of conventional forces against their Western enemy. Cassidy makes a compelling case that the best way to counter this threat from the various al Qaeda-linked groups is to fight a large-scale, worldwide counterinsurgency. His numerous historical illustrations show that this is not something new.

These examples, such as the Spanish fighting against Napoleon's armies (with British help) in the 19th century, the Soviet experience in Afghanistan and Chechnya, the American Revolution and the successful British campaign in Malaya, show that countries do fight insurgencies beyond their borders. He devotes a fair amount of space to successful U.S. Army campaigns and practices during the Indian Wars, regarding (as do many other historians) Maj. Gen. George Crook as a model counterinsurgency commander. Gen. Crook used Indians against their own tribes with great success, was careful not to target women and children and negotiated in good faith-as best he could-with the tribes he fought.

Unlike several contemporary Army writers, Cassidy does not worship at the altar of T.E. Lawrence, which 17 for one, regard as a strength (no army can institutionalize charisma or a sense of destiny). He does, however, contrast the American with the British approach to this type of war, arguing that the British regimental structure, apparent lack of written doctrine and long colonial experience make the British army much better suited to counterinsurgency than our own.

If Cassidy has a fixed idea about fighting this kind of war, it is Gen. Crook's: turning insurgents and their supporters against themselves. An approach like this worked well for the French and the British. It requires, of course, highly trained officers steeped in the culture of their adversaries, as well as time to develop and sustain an infrastructure that can replicate itself. …

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