Discussions in Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 9 months ago

On February 27, 2008, In Everyone Thought the Taliban Would Not Fight!, The Captain’s Journal said:

The “whack-a-mole” brand of counterinsurgency didn’t work in Iraq, and will not work in Afghanistan.  For COIN operations to succeed, two elements must be present as we have learned in Iraq.  First, the force size must be right.  If there aren’t enough troops to take, hold and rebuild, the campaign will fail in the brave new world of the global religious insurgency.  Second, having the right force size in itself does nothing to ensure the proper use of those troops.  The corollary or companion axiom for force size is force projection … Pushing the insurgency into surrounding areas doesn’t work, either short term or long term.

On March 2, 2008, stating that there would be no significant reduction in U.S. force presence in Iraq for the time being, General David Petraeus said:

“Al Qaida is trying to come back in.  We can feel it and see it, and what we’re trying to do is rip out any roots before they can get deeply into the ground.  Al Qaida is incredibly resilient, and they are receiving people and supplies through Syria — although numbers through Syria are down as much as 50 percent.”

“The key is to hang on to what you’ve got. You cannot, in your eagerness to go after something new, start to play ‘Whack-a-mole‘ again. You have to hang onto the areas you’ve cleared; you have to have that plan to do before you go.”

The Captain’s Journal obviously keeps good intellectual company.  Concerning the terror campaign in Afghanistan at the moment, one has to consider the recent history of Iraq and the campaign of brutality in which al Qaeda engaged in order to get the context right.  Reminiscent of our article Hope and Brutality in Anbar, Entifadh Qanbar writing at The New York Sun gives us a recent rundown of the houses of horror al Qaeda used to brutalize and torture their victims in Iraq.

• Baquoba, June 2007: Discovery of the first torture house. Victims had drill holes in their bodies and deep gouges caused by blow torches; an Al Qaeda flag was in the torture house; many of the torture wounds were in the bottom of the feet of the victims. Torture equipment included: Drills, blow torches, chains hanging from the walls and ceiling, blood trails, saws, drills, knives, weapons, masks, and handcuffs. An execution site outside of building where Iraqi victims were lined up and shot.

• Khan Bani Saad, August 2007: Discovery of rooms filled with torture tools and murdered Iraqi victims.

• Arab Jibour, near Dora, south of Baghdad, August 2007: Blood splattered on the walls. Piles of corpses found outside the house.

• Tarmiyya, September 2007: Nine prisoners were freed; many victims had been chained in place.

• Muqdadiyah, December 2007: Beds wired for electrical shock with electricity still on. Masks, whips, bloody knives, and chains hanging from ceiling on the site. Twenty-six bodies found buried on site: most had hands tied and were shot in the head. Locals said Al Qaeda was intimidating the area with threats of torture and execution.

Al Qaeda overplayed their hand with the Iraqis, an example of which was hardened Sharia law unlike anything the Iraqis had ever seen.  In one instance, al Qaeda had warned street vendors not to place tomatoes beside cucumbers because the vegetables are different genders.  Under such oppression, the Iraqis could acquiesce or fight.  Fighting meant certain death if they had to go it alone, or if the U.S. troops were “short timers.”  It became apparent that the U.S. was the stronger horse in Iraq (Bin Laden had believed that al Qaeda would be the stronger horse), and that they were around to stay.  In other words, the population felt that the U.S. could secure them from the violence perpetrated by al Qaeda.

Back to Afghanistan.  The population’s concern has to do with exactly the same thing: security.

Afghan lawmaker Helaluddin Helal says [the gains don’t] matter. Helal, a former general, says the Taliban tactics have badly damaged NATO’s reputation in Afghan eyes. So has the growing separation between the Afghan people and their government.

He says people are far less inclined now to report suspected bombers in their midst. Not because they support the Taliban, but because they fear that the police can’t protect them if the Taliban comes after them.

In addition to the roads and other infrastructure being built in Afghanistan, robust offensive kinetic operations must be present to inhibit Taliban activity, and the force size is not yet appropriate for this force projection.  In Center of Gravity versus Lines of Effort in COIN, we argue that there isn’t a single center of gravity in counterinsurgency.  Rather, an insurgency is “a loosely coupled and dynamic machine, or even organism, which has no tipping point, thus requiring in response parallel lines of effort that target different aspects in different ways and with different means – sometimes simultaneously and sometimes sequentially.”

In Rethinking Insurgency, Professor Steven Metz states that “Decentralized, networked organizations tend to be more survivable. No single node is vital. They may not have a “center of gravity.”  Professor Metz also uses his heady and highly useful paper to examine the notion of transnational insurgencies.  In part, he observes that it is:

… more likely that a regime born out of insurgency would be focused inward, concentrating on consolidating power. In this era of globalization and interconnectedness, new regimes are particularly vulnerable to outside economic and military pressure and thus unlikely to undertake actions which would give the United States or some other state a justification for intervention. Even if the Iraqi or Afghan insurgents won, for instance, they would probably have learned the lessons of 2001—serving as a host to transnational terrorists is a dangerous business.

This is true enough for indigenous insurgencies (some of the Sunni insurgency was indigenous and some was al Qaeda, or foreign), but in Resurgence of Taliban and al Qaeda we examined the influx of foreign jihadists into the NWFP and FATA of Pakistan, and how this is a globally born transnational insurgency.  The lesson is that indigenous insurgencies might remain local, but globally born insurgencies are transnational by nature.  For this reason Admiral Michael Mullen can make the prediction he did concerning the insurgency in this region.

“Defense Department officials told members of Congress on Wednesday that Al Qaeda was operating from havens in “undergoverned regions” of Pakistan, which they said pose direct threats to Europe, the United States and the Pakistani government itself. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, predicted in written testimony that the next attack on the United States probably would be made by terrorists based in that region.”

This prediction is doctrinally solid for what is at its core a transnational insurgency.  Counterinsurgency doctrine, that is, lines of effort, transnational movements, the trust of the population, robust kinetic operations against the enemy, and logically sequential actions such as take, hold and rebuild, far from being dry doctrine on the pages of a book, is critically important to the present and future campaigns in which the U.S. is engaged and will engage.

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You are currently reading "Discussions in Counterinsurgency", entry #984 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Iraq and was published March 6th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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