Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A broad approach to countering the Islamic State

I concur that a broad approach is needed; however approaching the problem from the default positions of COIN or CT is too limiting and may (if it has not already) stifle creative strategic thought.  I think we are making a mistake in trying to put everything into a COIN or CT "box."

That said ISIL clearly has evolved from an Islamist extremist based terrorist organization. I know we do not want to legitimize it by calling it the Islamic State but I think we have to look at it as more than a terrorist organization.  Although there are tremendous political problems in Iraq and those political problems have created security vacuums that ISIL has been able to exploit I do not think ISIL is conducting an insurgency against the Iraqi government.  What ISIL has done has become an occupying power in northern Iraq and is not seeking traditional forms of legitimacy from among the relevant population.  It is oppressing (and ethnic cleansing)  the people living in its occupied territory and it is obviously using the tactics of terrorism to oppress (and ethnic cleanse) the population.  It may have the objective to defeat all of Iraq and occupy it but I do not think that it will attempt to do so through insurgency and terrorism (though it will continue to conduct terrorism in support of its objective).  It will conduct large scale military type operations to achieve its objectives and to ISIL the population is secondary and is either used for exploitation or is simply in the way and an obstacle to be eliminated (again ethnic cleansing).  If we focus exclusively on CT and COIN we may very well miss the bigger picture and thus provide the wrong response to the wrong problem.

I think the broad approach needed is to not approach this from an insurgency or terrorism perspective but to approach it from an occupying power perspective.  This might lead to a two pronged approach - one is conventional forces (perhaps Iraqi and Kurdish) conducting conventional operations to retake lost terrain and population centers and defeat the ISIL forces hopefully with the support of a coalition with air power, ISR, and advisory support.  The second lesser and supporting approach might be an unconventional approach that leads to the overthrow of an occupying power if there is any remaining indigenous resistance potential in the occupied territory.  While coalition forces could provide external support to such resistance on the ground support might best be provided by non-western regional elements (from the Iraqi or Kurdish militaries), again with coalition external support.

But the bottom line for me is that using a COIN or CT approach is too strategically limiting and we need to address the ISIL threat as it really is (an occupying power) and not as we would wish it to be (an insurgent or terrorist organization).


By Christopher Paul and Colin P. Clarke September 2 at 10:09 AM

Iraqi soldiers celebrate on Monday after Iraqi forces broke through to the jihadist-besieged town of Amerili the previous day. (JM Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)
In 2013 we completed “Paths to Victory: Lessons from Modern Insurgencies,” a study of 71 counterinsurgencies since the end of World War II that quantitatively tested the performance of 24 concepts, or building blocks, for specific counterinsurgency (COIN) approaches, against the historical record. Some of the concepts were drawn from classical perspectives on COIN from the previous century, such as pacification and resettlement; others were contemporary concepts suggested for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as “boots on the ground” and the concept implicit in U.S. Army Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Counterinsurgency.
The selected cases are the 71 most recent resolved insurgencies, spanning the period from World War II through 2010. In addition to being perfectly representative of the modern history of insurgency, these cases represent geographic variation (mountains, jungles, deserts, cities), regional and cultural variation (Africa, Latin America, Central Asia, the Balkans, the Far East), and variation in the military capabilities and tactics of COIN forces and insurgent forces alike.

Map of the 71 Insurgencies – Green shading indicates that the COIN force prevailed (or had the better of a mixed outcome), while red shading indicates that the outcome favored the insurgents (thus, a COIN loss).
The study resulted in a definitive set of findings about historical cases of counterinsurgencies, several of which are detailed below.
First, we found that in every case where they succeeded, counterinsurgent forces managed to substantially overmatch the insurgents and force them to fight as guerrillas before getting down to the activities traditionally associated with counterinsurgency.
This means that step one in defeating militants from the Islamic State, formerly referred to as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is to overmatch them and defeat their conventional aspirations. While this has not happened yet in Iraq, U.S. air power could make a significant contribution toward that end. Airstrikes will help curb Islamic State advances in strategically important parts of Iraq and thus, help bolster the Iraqi government and security forces, at least in the short term.
Second, we concluded from the research that “effective COIN practices tend to run in packs,” meaning that governments that managed to defeat insurgencies implemented numerous effective practices rather than just a few. Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) techniques identified three COIN concepts critical to success. These three concepts were implemented in each and every COIN win, and no COIN loss implemented all three: Tangible support reduction; commitment and motivation; and flexibility and adaptability.
The recent Islamic State military offensive throughout northern Iraq has generated debate about what the U.S. role should be in countering the group. The broader strategy to defeat the growing insurgency in Iraq – and ISIS does represent an insurgency, as its stated goal is to topple the Iraqi and Syrian governments and replace them with a sharia state – will have to involve U.S. support on several levels, though the Iraqi security forces must be in the lead.
(Continued at the link below)

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