Wednesday, May 22, 2013

COIN Lessons Ignored: The Philippines Campaign (1899-1902)

I would suggest that the Philippines was less counterinsurgency but more a pacification effort by a colonial power conducting an occupation (and the author does use the term pacification in the text).  That is a lesson I hope we do not see codified into doctrine as per the author's conclusion (except as a lesson to be avoided).  That said there are many important tactical lessons (positive and negative) from the campaign are worth studying as noted in the essay and summarized in the conclusion but I think we have to keep in mind the strategic context.  Perhaps if a different strategic decision had been made (e.g., not to colonize the Philippines and instead to allow self determination) we would not have expended such blood and treasure.

Conclusion:  Despite the Army’s success, the Philippines campaign of 1899-1902 remains one of the least known counterinsurgency efforts in the US Army today.  The key tactical lessons learned during the conflict remain as relevant in today’s fights as they were in 1902: the importance of small-unit leadership; the need for small-unit operations and mobility; the importance for local troops; the need for an effective intelligence apparatus; and the significance of degrading the insurgent shadow government infrastructure.  Each of these aspects can be found in FM 3-24 in some capacity, and remain core components of the military’s counterinsurgency doctrine.  Unfortunately, the Philippine lessons learned were never codified into any type of doctrine and this is one of the reasons why these lessons were forgotten. The Army has an unfortunate tradition of considering insurgent conflict a sideshow effort and relegating the study of insurgencies to the fringes of military science. The Philippines campaign is a prime example.
I  do not disagree that COIN techniques are useful and employed during Pacification.  The point I am trying to make is that our strategic decision not to allow the Philippines to determine their own form of government and for us to occupy and colonize their nation was a contributing factor to the resistance and insurgency.  Furthermore, I do like to parse this out between Pacification and COIN because of the legitimacy issue.  I think inherently COIN is a fight for legitimacy among a people and an external occupying power really has little to no legitimacy (except by force of occupation).  I am really trying to make the point that we should not be conducting "direct" COIN because by doing so we have inserted ourselves into a nations' and peoples' civil dispute.  We can and should support "indirect" COIN to help a friend partner or ally in their fight for legitimacy among their people (which of course may be FID in support of the government or UW in support of  resistance or insurgency).  My intent is to try to break the mindset that we should be conducting COIN for anyone but rather we should be supporting others COIN efforts (or insurgency or resistance efforts through UW).  Ironically I think too many Philippines lessons were learned and applied in Afghanistan and Iraq with the most critical ones that we could conduct COIN to pacify the resistance and that we knew better what those countries needed and that we could create their nations in our image (make the world safe for democracy!).  That is why I like to parse this out and say if we are in the lead we are not conducting COIN but instead conducting Pacification because we are de facto an occupying power which by definition fuels insurgency and resistance.  I wants us to be experts in COIN, not to conduct it ourselves, but to be able to advise and assist others to conduct it and if necessary with our support.

COIN Lessons Ignored: The Philippines Campaign (1899-1902)

Journal Article | May 22, 2013 - 2:30am

In December 2006, the US Army and Marine Corps published their new counterinsurgency doctrine manual to much fanfare.  Field Manual (FM) 3-24 Counterinsurgency (Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-33.5) was well received by a military that has called for an updated counterinsurgency doctrine since at least 2003.  FM 3-24’s writing team used counterinsurgency literature from European anti-colonial struggles to form FM 3-24’s foundation.  Surprisingly, the FM 3-24 team chose to not utilize the vast numbers of US experiences in counterinsurgency, which date back well over 100 years.  One of these discounted experiences was the US Army’s counterinsurgency campaign in the Philippines in 1899-1902, which is regarded by many as one of the US Army’s most successful counterinsurgency campaigns.

The key tactical lessons learned during the Philippines experience are as relevant today as they were in 1902.  These lessons learned are the importance of small-unit leadership; the need for small-unit operations and mobility; the importance of local troops; the need for an effective intelligence apparatus; and the significance of degrading the insurgent shadow government infrastructure.  The Army, however, failed to place these lessons into doctrine after 1902 because of its long tradition of relegating insurgent warfare to the fringes of military art and science.  This decision ensured that Army officers and soldiers were not exposed to the Philippine lessons learned and that these experiences were eventually forgotten.  This trend, unfortunately, continues to the present day as FM 3-24 excludes the numerous insights gathered from a close examination of the Philippine campaign, thus preventing them from being part of Army counterinsurgency doctrine.

On 10 December 1898, Spain signed the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War and ceded the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam to the United States.  The US had been active in the Philippines since Commodore George Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay in May 1898. Philippine rebels under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo declared independence on 12 June and began attacking Spanish forces throughout the archipelago.  US forces arrived to besiege Manila and tensions immediately increased between the US forces and Aguinaldo’s forces.  The Spanish in Manila made an agreement with US forces to surrender the city after providing only token resistance to reaffirm Spanish honor.  US forces subsequently attacked Manila on 13 August and took the city without Filipino help, although the Filipinos did seize some of Manilla’s suburbs.   Aguinaldo’s men returned to their trenches and began their own “peaceful” siege of the city, except this time the Americans were the ones in Manila being besieged. [1]

Tensions continued into the fall as both the US Army and Filipino forces worked to avoid a conflict.  The McKinley administration increasingly leaned toward making the Philippines a colony, despite a strong anti-imperialist movement in the US.  Aguinaldo and his supporters hoped those Americans opposed to colonizing the Philippines would win out.  Both sides did not want to make a move until negotiations between Spain and the US in Paris were concluded.  On 10 December 1898, the Spanish-American War was concluded when Madrid and Washington agreed to the Treaty of Paris, which gave the Philippines to the US in exchange for $20 million.  McKinley subsequently notified the secretary of war on 21 December that he wanted to administer the Philippines.[2]

Hostilities broke out on 4 February 1899; the US Army defeated the Filipino forces in a number of running engagements.  By mid-November 1899, Aguinaldo sought refuge in the hills and called on his forces to turn from conventional to guerrilla warfare.  According to Brian Linn, his strategy was to protract the conflict until the US Army “broke down from disease and exhaustion or the American public demanded a withdrawal.”  The Filipinos hoped the anti-imperialist candidate, William Jennings Bryan, would win the 1900 presidential election and demand a US withdrawal from the Philippines.[3]  They were to be let down yet again.

The Filipino forces were better able to fight an insurgency than a conventional fight.  They had experience fighting this kind of conflict against the Spanish in 1896-1897.  The geography was in their favor too:  the Philippines was composed of 7,000 islands (with a population of over seven million).  The insurgents were from the areas they were fighting in, spoke the language, understood the culture, and knew the terrain.  There were groups of full time partisans who operated in the countryside while a part-time militia remained in the towns.  The Republican government also established municipal and provincial governments and these later served as the insurgent underground government infrastructure.  These shadow elements collected taxes, supervised the organization of supplies, gathered intelligence about the US Army, hid guerillas, and intimidated those that worked with the Americans.[4]

By December 1899, the Americans under General Otis controlled the majority of the Philippines, had overwhelmed the Republican army, and were pursuing Aguinaldo and the remnants of his leadership.  Otis was convinced the war was, for the most part, over.  As occurred in Iraq in 2003, however, the Americans failed to understand that the war had transitioned from a conventional phase to an insurgency.[5]

One of the key reasons for success in any counterinsurgency effort is small-unit leadership.  This was certainly the case for the US Army in the Philippines.  US Army junior officers were in charge of small garrisons in isolated districts where they were expected to pacify the area, create local government, and engage in infrastructure development.  US army posts in the Philippines increased from several dozen by the end of 1899 to 639 two years later. The junior officers leading these posts quickly realized that Otis was incorrect in believing the war was over and that civic pacification programs would be enough to garner Filipino support.  They struggled, initially, to build municipal governments, as many of the townspeople were either supporting the guerrillas or were afraid the guerrillas.  Despite the initial frustrations, stumbles, and failures, the junior officers adapted to the environment and began developing counterinsurgency efforts tailored to succeed in their areas. Those that did not were eventually replaced.[6]

The successful officers engaged in many activities to defeat the insurgents.  They collected intelligence; hired Filipino auxiliaries to assist them even when Manila did not support this policy; used policies such as crop burning, food rationing, and concentration to isolate the population from the insurgents; and developed ways to reward Filipinos who supported US efforts, while penalizing those that did not.  The US Army had no counterinsurgency doctrine and leaders at the tactical level, at least in the beginning of the guerrilla fight, received inadequate guidance from the generals running the war in Manila.  Andrew Birtle believes one of the key reasons for US success in the Philippines was how US Army junior officers’ were willing to use trial and error to learn how to conduct counterinsurgency.  The junior officers were the tip of the spear in the fight.  Without their adaptability and initiative, the US Army would have been hard pressed to succeed in Philippines.[7]

Similar to the Philippines campaign, small unit leadership remains a core of counterinsurgency efforts in the present day.  Chapter Seven of FM 3-24 focuses exclusively on “Leadership and Ethics for Counterinsurgency.”  Paragraph 7-15 says, “Success in COIN operations requires small-unit leaders agile enough to transition among many types of missions and able to adapt to change…alert junior leaders recognize the dynamic context of a tactical situation and can apply informed judgment to achieve the commander’s intent in a stressful and ambiguous environment.” Additionally, Paragraph 1-157 of FM 3-24 says, “Many important decisions are not made by generals.”  Small unit leadership was essential in helping turn the tide in Iraq and it has played a critical role in the current effort in Afghanistan.[8]
(Continued at the link below)

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