9 years ago
Stéphane Taillat has a very smart post on his predominately French blog, but this one is in English so it will be friendly to most readers. It is well worth the time spent to study his entire article. The “money” quote follows:
COIN has no principles. In my mind, it’s the contrary, and that can explains this narrative. COIN is “context-driven”, so most of the procedures that seem to succeed now come from the field and were implemented at the beginning by many officer and leaders. COIN, as a mission, is a contingent phenomenon. It relies on doctrine, formation and training, tactical procedures that integrates technology, social skills and knowledge as well as situational awareness and leader’s initiatives. It cannot be deduced from principles but rather from a progressive and close intimacy with the social and psychological terrain, both local and of own units. last but not least, remember that today’s insurgencies are not like past insurgencies, as a result of which counterinsurgency can’t simply apply “lessons learned” from History without any harm.
On the whole we agree with him on the general thrust of the article. Counterinsurgency is indeed “context-driven,” or situation-specific (although we do think that some basic ideas may be deduced from experience). The post on COIN Analogy of the Day brought some degree of opprobrium concerning our dismissal of the British experience in Northern Ireland as being relevant to counterinsurgency in Iraq or anywhere else. Whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, greater U.K. or English, the fact of the matter is that this was COIN among their own people. They were the same, at least as compared to Iraq. The religious, cultural, societal, and political framework was the same; the ethical morays were the same; the language was the same; and by and large the history is the same.
When the British landed in Basra, they may as well have been placed on a different planet. Nothing was the same, and thus whatever the British learned in Northern Ireland instantly became irrelevant. In 2003, the British Army fished in the waters of the Shaat al Arab on their days off. In 2007 when the British retreated from Basra, they did so while telling the tall tale that since the very presence of the British themselves was causing the violence, it would be better if they just left. In other words, no one would shoot at the Army if the Army wasn’t there.
These things are being said not just at this blog or by U.S. mouthpieces. British Colonel Tim Collins has criticized the overall strategy, saying among other things that there were too few troops, and that “Britain’s withdrawal from a chaotic Basra has “badly damaged” its military reputation.” The post on “COIN Analogy of the Day” was written partially in humor. This post is not.
The American strategy was horribly bad, and if for no other reason than the inability to stand up the Iraqi Army due to cultural differences, most anyone with brain matter could have told the administration that “standing down when they stand up” was not a plan. Fortunately, U.S. forces in Anbar did their own thing after 2004 regardless of command confusion. And they won – this may be Stephane’s point.
Even today there seems to be yet more admissions of failure in Basra by the British envoy to Basra, while at the same time he looks for reasons and excuses (such as it was inevitable anyway) rather than force size, force projection and a learning strategy.
On a serious note, the British generals failed. The British rank and file include warriors as brave and qualified as any armed forces in the world. It behooves the Brits to become as open and learning about this whole affair as the U.S. has become. Taking posts such as this one as insulting is not helpful and doesn’t make progress. To use an American phrase, the “cookie-cutter” approach to COIN doesn’t work.