Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice

By Daly, Terence J. | Military Review, September/October 2006 | Go to article overview

Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice


Daly, Terence J., Military Review


Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, David Galula, reviewed by Lieutenant Colonel Terence J. Daly, U.S. Army Reserve, Retired

When reading Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice for the first time, most people have what could be called the Galula Moment: "That's it! He gets it!" French Army lieutenant Colonel David Galula's book, first published in 1964, is quite simply the definitive work, the primer, of classic counterinsurgency doctrine.1 It is the one book on counterinsurgency that everyone, from policymakers to fire-team leaders, should read and understand.

Galula's globe-trotting military career gave him numerous opportunities to study war, conventional and unconventional, close up. During World War II he fought in campaigns in North Africa, Italy, and Germany, became a military attaché, and then, in the immediate post-war period, served as an observer. He would later work as an assistant military attaché in China during that country's civil war and as a UN observer in Greece during the Greek civil war. Posted to Hong Kong on attaché duty, he developed and maintained contact with officers fighting insurgencies in Indochina, Malaya, and the Philippines. In 1956, Galula was assigned to the 45th Colonial Infantry Battalion, with which he spent the next two years fighting Algerian rebels, first as a company commander and then as an assistant battalion commander.

With all this experience under his belt, Galula was sent to Harvard's Center for International Affairs in 1962. While participating in a RAND Corporation symposium on counterinsurgency, he made such an impression that he was asked to write a treatise about his experiences in Algeria. The ensuing work was published in 1963 as Pacification in Algeria, 1956-58.2 The following year, Galula produced his seminal Counterinsurgency Warfare. He died in 1967.

We know that Galula's main claim-you defeat an insurgency by controlling the target population-works. It worked for Galula when he commanded an understrength French infantry company in the harsh terrain of the Kabylia in Algeria, and it worked for the U.S. 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) in Tal Afar in Iraq.3

The 3d ACR was required to read Coimterinsurgency Warfare before it deployed. The book's lessons were suitably modified for the conditions the regiment was about to face, and then used to inform the planning and execution of their successful campaign to subdue the insurgency in Tal Afar. Currently, Galula's ideas pervade the new counterinsurgency manuals that are being developed for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.

The Basics

Galula's basic insight into insurgency (which he terms "revolutionary war") is that "Revolutionary war is political war." The objective of the counterinsurgent must therefore be to win the population's support. According to Galula, French and American traditions stipulating that "military" activities should be handled only by Soldiers and Marines and "civilian" activities should be handled only by politicians and bureaucrats is fallacious. "Every military action," he asserts, "has to be weighed with regard to its political effects and vice versa." This means that every sweep, every search-and-destroy mission, every convoy operation has to be planned with uppermost consideration for the effects it will have on the population's support; conversely, every new sewage system or classroom has to be examined for its military impact.4

According to Galula, the greatest advantage insurgents have over Western democracies, especially the United States, is that "an insurgency is a protracted struggle conducted.. .to attain specific intermediate objectives leading finally to the overthrow of the existing order." For the counterinsurgent, "me operations needed to relieve the population from the insurgent's threat and to convince it that the counterinsurgent will ultimately win are necessarily of an intensive nature and of long duration. …

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