Having squandered earlier opportunities, the United States now faces a conundrum in Afghanistan, where neither staying nor going will likely produce a favorable outcome to its Afghanistan adventure. Most likely, America will soldier on in Afghanistan, following flawed strategies until some unexpected event or developing trend—such as American retreat from global leadership—causes Washington policymakers to conclude that America has done enough.
Interconnectedness has allowed society to take great leaps forward, social media and the internet remain an ungoverned space for nefarious actors. Violent extremist organizations, criminal groups, and state actors have all taken advantage of the anonymity and access afforded by modern technology to plan, execute, and support operations, gaining relative superiority over traditional security structures. As adversaries become more technologically savvy, the United States and its allies must become more adept at leveraging these trends. Open source intelligence, especially when coupled with rapidly improving big data analysis tools, which can comb through data sets that were previously too complex to derive meaningful results, has the potential to offset this growing problem, providing intelligence on enemy forces, partners, and key populations.
The operational and doctrinal relevance of Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Clausewitz’s On War in today’s counterinsurgency operations remains firm and valid. In numerous instances, they provide us a template to analyze various aspects of a counter-insurgency operation including the use of local values and principles as a tool to understand the strategic culture of an adversary. It must be understood that the evolution of technology may improve one or other aspects of a counterinsurgency operation, but the core elements remain more or less the same and are diverse depending upon the region of conflict. The non-linearity and flexibility of an insurgency are such that it can exploit various means such as misinformation campaigns, religious and ideological differences, as well as enlisting foreign support to keep it alive during the conflict.
Lansdale was a colorful figure, who revealed in his maverick status and his disdain for the sprawling national security apparatus. Perhaps if Lansdale had been a bit more of an adept bureaucratic knife fighter he would have been more successful. Yet, if he had, it is likely that he would never have been the agile advisor who helped Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay defeat the Hukbalahap rebellion.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced a litany of innovative ideas and programs: Provincial Reconstruction Teams, Agricultural Development Teams, Cultural Support Teams, and Village Stability Operations, to name just a few. The Anbar Awakening is arguably the most successful of all of the population-centric counterinsurgency movements. It helped spur the marginally successful Afghan Local Police (ALP) program. Despite its success in beating back Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in Anbar and helping spur the Iraq-wide Sons of Iraq (SOI) program, there has been a long debate over the Anbar Awakening narrative.
When discussing the struggles of the U.S. military in the early years of the Iraq War, Davidson uses the phrase “adapting without winning,” a formulation that surely continues to accurately describe the American experience of the post-9/11 wars. Despite the optimistic characterizations on the dust jacket that frame this book as a manual for how to succeed at counterinsurgency, though, Lifting the Fog of Peace sounds a note of caution about the gap between tactical adaptation and strategic success, even as it lauds the U.S. military for the evolution of its lesson-learning apparatus.
Insurgency is an old concept. If you were to travel back to Iraq between 2334 and 2279 BC, you would find a man called Sargan. Sargan ruled a vast empire spanning from Southern Iraq to Southern Turkey, enforced by overwhelming military power. His Akkadian hordes, armed with high-tech composite bows and sophisticated logistics, laid waste to all before them. Their strategy was a simple one; ‘mass slaughter, enslavement, the deportation of defeated enemies, and the total destruction of their cities.’ For years their technological edge and brutal strategy allowed the Akkadians to dominate. When they inevitably fell, however, they did not fall to a superior empire. They were victim to a new phenomenon: a tireless, guerrilla-style attack from the unsophisticated barbarian hordes all around them. In 2190 BC the city of Akkad, near modern Baghdad, finally fell.
A recent article on The Strategy Bridge by James Dubik suggests U.S. policy on Islamic extremism suffers from Groundhog Day syndrome: endless policy repetition going nowhere. I wholeheartedly agree, but offer a different take on his argument. Islam is, at the most basic level, waging a war against itself, and we would do well to attend to this.
The current situation in Syria reminds us again that we are failing in our post-9/11 wars. We have accomplished neither the strategic objectives set forth by the Bush administration nor those of the Obama administration. Both administrations have had notable successes and achieved periodic tactical and operational progress, but neither created sustained strategic success...We must reset our thinking.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were a highly successful terrorist organization who were famous for successfully forming a fully functional military. Their fight for separation from the Sri Lankan government lasted a quarter century, and parallels can be drawn between the Sri Lankan conflict and the current situation in the Middle East (and elsewhere).
As the armies of the West begin a shift away from counterinsurgency (COIN) and the US Army, in particular, renews its focus on peer on peer warfare, the timing of the publication of Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies by Jeremy Black could seem to have missed the COIN revolution. In the age of a resurgent Russia annexing the Crimea and threatening Baltic NATO members with a similar fate, is COIN still relevant or is it an idea to confine to a dusty shelf while the West learns how to confront Russian cross domain coercion and multi-domain battle? Despite the cognitive shift from COIN back to a paradigm of armor and mechanization, “wars amongst the people” - a phrase that popularized in Rupert Smith's The Utility of Force - are here to stay.
There have been a great many books published on the subjects of insurgency and counterinsurgency since the inception of the Global War on Terror (or “current, ongoing overseas contingency operations”, if you prefer); a number of these have focused on the U.S. Army’s mistakes in Vietnam or on the efforts on the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jeremy Black’s recent contribution, Insurgency and Counterinsurgency: A Global History, offers more insight; it is a comprehensive history of insurgency and counterinsurgency warfare that is not limited in scope to the efforts of Western powers.
Defeating the enemy’s ability to organize and operate is fundamental to pacification. During the War on Terror and the Vietnam War, complex enemy organizations posed a serious challenge to the United States. Highlighting difficulties in pacification for both the Republic of Vietnam and the United States during the Vietnam War in Southeast Asia serves as a lesson underscoring the limits of American power to defeat clandestine networks.
The Islamic State group (ISIS) is running up against a wall. As national coalitions take a larger role in the fight against ISIS, the group will become increasingly unable to operate on as large a scale as it has in years past, and it will be pushed out of its previously held territories – its decline may take years or even decades, but it will ultimately decline. But although ISIS may deplete its resources and feel increasing pressure from the international community, its members will not simply disappear as the group loses momentum.
Major General John David Carew Graham CB, CBE, CStJ, Order of Oman, was born on 18 January 1923 and died on 14 December 2012 at his home on the island of Barbados. An impressive memorial service was held at St James’s Church Piccadilly on 7 March 2013, attended by hundreds of friends from both his first regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and also The Parachute Regiment. This account is not an obituary, rather a study into his time in command of the Sultan’s Armed Forces (CSAF) in Oman from 1970 to 1972, a crucial period of some 18 months when the communist insurgency in Dhofar was ‘turned’.
On the heels of the 40th anniversary of America’s departure from Vietnam, a reflection on the past is appropriate. In honor of this occasion I found myself revisiting David Halberstam’s Best and the Brightest. Multiple dissertations could be written over individual components of the book, including Halberstam’s detailed portraits and backgrounds of the key decision-makers involved in run-up and execution of the Vietnam War. For the purposes of brevity and clarity, this paper focuses on two related problems noted throughout the book: the inherent limitations of foreign militaries in counter-insurgencies, and the challenges associated with selecting and training local security forces.