Counterinsurgency: Know Thine Enemy

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 4 months ago

Bruce Hoffman, who has headed the counterinsurgency program at the Rand Corporation, recently gave an interview that essentially could have been titled “know thine enemy.”

ELEANOR HALL: You’ve written that the failure of the war on terrorism and the war on Iraq is the failure to know your enemy. What should the US and its allies like Australia be doing differently in order to know the enemy?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: I think we need a much more comprehensive and systematic effort to really understand this enemy than we’ve thus far undertaken. I think that in many instances we see the problem too much through a Western prism and a Western perspective that this has consequently led in some instances, to wishful thinking and other instance to conjecture.

And it entails a much more determined effort to really – I mean, it’s like during the Cold War where we understood not just the Soviet Union’s military capabilities, but we strove to understand their mindsets and to be fully knowledgeable of their culture as well. And I don’t think we’ve yet achieved that.

ELEANOR HALL: How do you go about doing that? I mean, is it just a matter of more intelligence?

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Well it’s not; it’s not just intelligence. It’s linguistic familiarity, cultural knowledge. It’s really basing our policies and approaches on a very firm and clear empirical base rather than on seeing things through our own perspective.

The Captain’s Journal has made the same points recently.  In The Enemy of My Enemy, we said:

… troops (most of the time) are given some basic instruction in Arabic as part of the training for deployment.  This training is based on the philosophy of phonetics (i.e., sounds, proper pronunciation).  With limited time, money and resources, this is the best approach and sure to yield the best possible results in the short term.  But proper planning for the long war needs to take the next step.  Immersion in Arabic (both spoken and written) needs to be part of the planning for not only officers, but enlisted men as well.  A better knowledge of Arabic would cause a remarkable step change in warfighting capabilities in Iraq (and throughout the Middle East) given the nature of COIN.

In response to this article, we received a communication from the Center for Security Policy concerning a new language corps.

The Department of Defense announces the implementation of a pilot “The Language Corps” over the next three years. The pilot will include no fewer than 1,000 members drawn from all sectors of the U.S. population. Members will have the opportunity to join a dedicated pool or a national pool of linguists.

The Language Corps, formerly the Civilian Linguist Reserve Corps, represents a vital new approach to address the nation’s needs for professionals with language skills. This is an integral component of the Defense Department’s comprehensive language roadmap and the President’s National Security Language Initiative.

These are good first steps, but more is needed, and in particular, for Soldiers and Marines, both officer and enlisted.  Concerning a general knowledge of the culture and religion of the population, in Smith Responds, we said:

… to send soldiers and marines to win hearts and minds of a population without at least some cursory understanding of the population is the equivalent of blinding them and then turning them loose with firearms.  Based on Smith’s premise, some Muslims will follow a hermeneutic that requires them to war on others to extend their faith (AQI and AAS would be examples).  This isn’t true of all Muslims, and in fact it may only be a small fraction.  Still others will not be amenable to negotiations with the U.S. armed forces or the political structure (this list may include, for example, Sadr, Sistani, the Mullahs in Iran, the Badr force, etc.).  Still others will be amenable to our efforts at WHAM (the Sunni tribes), and still others might be an ally in our struggles.  It pays to know your enemy.  It may pay even more to know those whose hearts and minds you wish to win.

The Rand Corporation (counterinsurgency program) and the Captain’s Journal are saying the same things, just in slightly different ways: know thine enemy (and those whose hearts and minds you wish to win).


You are currently reading "Counterinsurgency: Know Thine Enemy", entry #512 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Small Wars and was published May 23rd, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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