Six Requirements for Success in Modern Counterinsurgency
Journal Article | Jul 11 2013 - 7:44am
In recent counterinsurgency operations, Western military forces have been slow to adapt, and slow to adopt lessons learned in comparable prior conflicts. By undertaking a detailed study of two such conflicts – the Algerian Revolution of 1954-1962, and the Dhofar Rebellion of 1970-1976 – six overarching lessons for success and failure in COIN operations were revealed. In the following essay, these lessons are detailed, informing recommendations for both policy-makers and warfighters engaged in future conflicts of these and other comparable types.
With the end of the Cold War, the United States and its allies found themselves in possession of unparalleled conventional military prowess based on the combination of professional military forces and revolutionary advances in military technology. As a result of Western military interventions in such theaters as Latin America (Grenada 1983, Panama 1989), the Persian Gulf (1991, 1998), the Horn of Africa (1992-1995) and the Balkans (1995, 1999), forces opposed to the West have largely shifted their methods away from conventional warfare. Unable to close with and defeat conventional forces on a traditional battlefield, state and sub-state actors have adopted both ground tactics and overall strategies increasingly reminiscent of such insurgencies as the Soviet-Afghan and Vietnam Wars. In recent years, asymmetric conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have proved challenging for Western forces whose doctrine and equipment have been carefully optimized for potential conflicts against other conventional armies, and whose societies have a low tolerance threshold for long, costly campaigns.
Of course, insurgency is an ancient method of engaging in the Clausewitzian clash of wills between one group or another. From Rome's campaigns against the Celtic and Germanic tribes, to the imperial British operations during the Anglo-Afghan and Boer Wars, history is rife with examples of clashes between armies and insurgents. Although such classic examples may provide lessons within the Clausewitzian "logic" of war, the fluid "grammar"[i] of warfare directs strategists to focus their examinations on modern counterinsurgency (COIN) campaigns - both successful and unsuccessful - to evaluate the critical elements a COIN force must employ in order to prosecute successful COIN campaigns.
With these factors in mind, this study consider on six major requirements for successful COIN operations in a modern context. Specific examples illustrating these six requirements derive from two specific case studies. As an example of success, the relatively neglected 1970-1975 Dhofar Rebellion in Oman has been chosen. France's unsuccessful 1954-1962 Algerian campaign provided an apt case study in COIN failure. While numerous COIN campaigns would have been relevant, the conflicts in question offered clear, distinct examples to illustrate the six critical requirements for modern COIN success.
This analysis has been informed by a variety of classic and contemporary sources on the topic. These included military doctrinal literature, academic sources on both insurgency and specific conflicts, and the writings of recognized insurgent and guerrilla leaders of the recent past. Inter alia, together with Sun Tzu's admonition to "know the enemy and know yourself"[ii], Clausewitz's “trinity”, and his guidance on understanding "centers of gravity",[iii] especially informs the observations below.
The core philosophies informing this analysis are derived from the concept of population-centric COIN, and the Maoist model of guerrilla warfare/insurgency. Population-centric COIN, as espoused by such strategists as David Galula, David Kilcullen, and David Petraeus, involves fighting the insurgency not by focusing on killing insurgents themselves; but rather, by assisting the host nation government (HNG) in meeting the economic, security, and political needs of the population, thus denying the insurgent the popular support necessary to continue the insurgency.
Meanwhile, the Maoist model of guerrilla warfare/insurgency establishes a methodology marked by undermining the sitting government through guerrilla or terrorist attacks, gradually building strength through a constantly growing support base within the population, and eventually replacing the sitting government once enough strength has been amassed. Population-centric COIN encompasses the current COIN doctrine within Western militaries, while many non-Communist insurgent groups have adapted the Maoist system (and, to a lesser degree, the Guevaran "Foco" theory) to fit their own objectives.
Overview of Case Studies
By 1954, close to a million of pieds-noirs (ethnically Europeans), lived in Algeria. A colony since 1830, Algeria was by definition a part of France by 1954. As Algerian nationalism rose and increasing unrest among the population created tension, the pieds-noirs felt abandoned by the administration in Paris. The war was complex; it was another bloody chapter of French decolonisation, the French forces experienced resistance of magnitude, and France risked a coup d’état. While our illustrations focus on the insurgent movement of the Front de la Libération Nationale (FLN, also known colloquially as "fellagha", Arabic for "bandits") and the general revolutionary insurgency movement in Algeria, it is the case that the parallel movement among the pieds-noirs themselves constituted a form of insurgency that further complicated the situation in Algeria.
As the Algerian War was drawing to a close, another insurgency was arising in the southern Omani province of Dhofar. The conflict accelerated in 1970 when provocateurs from the neighboring communist state of South Yemen, armed and trained by Moscow and Beijing, played upon Dhofari discontent stemming from the reign of Sultan Said bin Taimur. The resulting insurgency of the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Arabian Gulf (and later, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman) - known colloquially as the "adoo", Arabic for "enemy" - threatened to put the Strait of Hormuz and a strategic Western ally in the Soviet orbit - nine years before the unexpected Islamic Revolution in neighboring Iran would further jeopardize the key energy shipping lane. The British intervened to help the heir, Sultan Qaboos, to depose his father, after which Omani forces - assisted by Britain, Imperial Iran, Jordan, and Pakistan - embarked upon a unified campaign of development, modernization, COIN, and reconciliation.
Requirement #1: A Credible Local/Host Nation Government Counterpart
"Success in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations requires establishing a legitimate government supported by the people and able to address the fundamental causes that insurgents use to gain support. Achieving these goals requires the host nation to defeat insurgents or render them irrelevant, uphold the rule of law, and provide a basic level of essential services and security for the populace."
- FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 Counterinsurgency Field Manual, 2006[iv]
Insurgencies are built upon popular grievances with the HNG. HNGs that are seen as illegitimate, corrupt, or ineffective contribute to passive or active support for insurgents from among the local populace. If the HNG is seen as legitimate, fair, and effective at addressing the basic needs and grievances of the populace, the insurgency will not receive the recruits, logistical support, and popular approval it needs to succeed.
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