Insurgency or Counterinsurgency?

In a posting that I missed when it first came out, Herschel Smith writes:

In Eschatology and Counterterrorism Warfare I discussed the exodus that is occurring from Iraq, with the Anbar and Diyala Provinces being particularly hard hit. There are now 1.4 million displaced Iraqi citizens and every day sees three thousand more who flee the country. Working the back alleys and neighborhoods where there is no constant U.S. presence, the Sunni insurgents are waging a campaign of murder and intimidation to demonstrate that neither the Iraqi government nor U.S. forces can protect people.

It is stylish to cite David Galula and claim that the U.S. approach to Iraq has been too heavy handed. The solution, it is claimed, is to see that 80% of the solution is and will always be political. But just to show how utterly irrelevant Galula’s system is to Iraq, consider a single quote: “The battle for the population is a major characteristic of the revolutionary war. . . . The objective being the population itself, the operations designed to win it over (for the insurgent) or to keep it at least submissive (for the counterinsurgent) are essentially of a political nature. . . . And so intricate is the interplay between the political and military actions that they cannot be tidily separated; on the contrary, every military move has to be weighed with regard to its political effects, and vice versa.”

It sounds nice. Now take a closer read: “The objective being the population itself, the operations designed to win it over (for the insurgent) …,” has exactly backwards what the insurgents and counterinsurgents have been doing. The U.S. has been trying to win over the population, not keep it submissive, and the insurgents have been trying to keep them submissive, not win them over. If anything, intimidation has been the one and only tactic of the insurgency. The premise being false, the system then suffers in misapplication. (source)

Let’s review.

Insurgents Counterinsurgents
Goal is to overthrow the existing order and establish a new, improved system Goal is to preserve and reinforce the existing or previous system
Tactic is to win hearts and minds and kill counterinsurgents Tactic is to subdue the populace and kill insurgents and sympathizers
Theme is hope and freedom Theme is tradition and prosperity
Stance is as infiltrators, not those who hold the ground Stance is native, holders of the ground

The U.S. has attempted to conduct an Insurgency on behalf of a hypothetical populace of Americans with Iraqi accents against the traditional authorities in Iraq: Baathists; Sunni and Shi’ite Militias; Tribes; and Clans; with the complication of gangs of zealous, Holy Assassins who infiltrated Iraq from neighboring countries and are waging an insurgency of their own. The U.S. Counterinsurgency as it was run under Abizaid and Casey was not a Counterinsurgency at all. It was an Insurgency.

As a commenter noted:

The Galula model has not failed in Iraq, it has not even been attempted. The Galula model states that an area be cleared of insurgants first by military force then held by civil athorities. Once American Forces clear an area, they leave to quell another hot spot. The vacuum created by departing US troops is filled by the bad guys. Its whack-a-mole. (source)

To be fair, the Galula model has worked in Iraq. But there are two problems. Sometimes after pacifying an area the units move out completely. Other times, new units that rotate into an area don’t continue to do what it took to keep the areas pacified. In both cases the areas deteriorate and jihadists regain influence, which they use to counter the American insurgency. This process repeats, disheartening our allies or dooming them to death as collaborators whom we have abandoned.

Smith loves to pound on one glaring example of a practice that doesn’t work. In some areas of Iraq the U.S. military will not do what it takes to keep snipers out of the minarets. There are minarets all over Iraq, overlooking every military base of any size. As a result, snipers are a primary cause of deaths and casualties. Send American forces embedded with Iraqi Police (IP) who clear all mosques of arms caches, and then station the IP at the entrances and search everyone who enters. It’s easy to find rifles and mortar tubes even under a long robe. Normal people won’t mind, and in fact will appreciate the fact that their mosque isn’t going to draw return fire because of some jackass jihadist up in the minaret shooting at or lobbing mortars at heavily armed soldiers. (source)

These sorts of actions will pacify an area, allowing the U.S. to conduct counterinsurgency actions. But in an area that U.S. forces can’t or won’t pacify, they can only function as insurgents. See the table. U.S. soldiers in Abrams MBTs and Strykers can’t melt away into the scenery. Without offering security, which is the one thing of value we can really do well if we go ahead and do it, we cannot run a counterinsurgency, but are stuck running an insurgency against terrorists, tribes, and local and sectarian militias.

Sitting, isolated in huge bases, American forces suck as insurgents in Iraq.

The huge bases may be necessary as places to keep support staff safe, but if Iraqi cities are pacified and made safe then the cities can be used to house support staff, who can be hired from the populace. This is not only cheaper, but it reduces American exposure and would allow non-combat personnel to be moved out of Iraq. Of course, if they are brought back to the U.S. then the BRAC process of closing down bases will make it difficult to find a place to station them. Combat personnel can be embedded in Iraqi police and army forces, or roaming the desert looking for brigands and holy warriors, and the steady desertion of Iraq by its educated class will stop and reverse itself.

This is the change that Bush proposed in his two recent speeches, the shift from a misguided Insurgent approach that was labeled a Counterinsurgent approach, to an actual Counterinsurgent approach. The actual Counterinsurgent approach requires additional combat troops, and once it begins to succeed then non-combat troops can be withdrawn and the large bases that lefties love to complain about can be turned over to Iraq for their Army, or other legitimate uses.

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4 responses to “Insurgency or Counterinsurgency?

  1. The real problem was, Rummy and Bush and whomever was in charge was running an insurgency type operation without Afghanistan SF principles. Meaning, you had zero time in country to work up local ties in OIF 1 2003. The US Army used no local forces, no Shia, and no Kurds.

    The US actually ran a fracking insurgency the right way in Afghanistan and it paid Big Dividends.

    After that, I guess some weird started happening that I can’t tangle. All kinds of rotating commanders came and went. Abu Ghraib. Franks retired. An incredible rack of variables to calculate, integrate, and analyze.

    But it isn’t hard to see the First Cause so to speak, sort of like the Big bang. The First Cause is what caused the entire subsequent chain of reaction, and that was pretty much allowing Saddam boatloads of time and allowing Zero time for local US forces to form local area power groups from which to launch insurgency type operations against Saddam.

    What I mean is that the optimum insurgency is one that goes into the Shia south and the Kurd North, HOLD the territory against Saddam’s forces, and then goad Saddam into attacking the fortified cities and towns in the north and south. Because Saddam would still be in power, this means that any bad things that happen will be blamed on him, giving the us and local forces time to adapt and create good stuff. Train local forces, do some reconstruction, get some good propaganda out, use medicine on folks, and basically prove that US forces can govern. You can trust US forces. Nobody knew who to trust after Saddam fell and that was exactly what Saddam planned with his insurgency.

    The way the Army ran things, they went into invasion mode, and then dropped into insurgency and some kind of “iraqi face” mode that was pure disaster. Even I noticed that Iraqi Face as a phrase and strategy was bad mojo, and I was still depending upon military pundits and generals telling me what strategy was good or bad.

    Sitting, isolated in huge bases, American forces suck as insurgents in Iraq.

    There is that too.

    I don’t have a chart out detailing what went wrong vs what went right, and I don’t think it really matters to me. Which is a good thing, since i usually focus either on FIrst Causes in order to nip future things like that in the bud, or current-future solutions.

  2. In a sense folks like me and the military were All learning as we went.

    Another reason why giving more time for first phase invasion OIF 1 was so important. just cause the US has tech doesn’t mean we were cutting edge concerning insurgency.

  3. Those are valuable insights.

    Yes, the US could have conducted an insurgency in Iraq very well if they had planned it as an insurgency, rather than going in with guns blazing. But if that had been the US plan it could have been done in 1991 and we wouldn’t have had to wait 12 years.

  4. There were a lot of people in the brass that had never seen a war of this caliber, except perhaps for Gulf War I. I heard stories about senior level officers displacing qualified Rangers from the jump into Kabul airport just to get their combat jump wings.

    I suppose in a way, for a military that had not seen any major engagements, OIF 1 was an opportunity for them to shine. And they weren’t going to let the SF do it like they did it in Afghanistan. They wanted this to be an American operation, to train American officers and people. I believe they adopted the armored rush to Baghdad because that was the probable strategy they would have used in Gulf War 1 had it not been for Bush and the UN. Or had Bush decided that now with the Cold War over, it was time to flex American military muscle.

    However, this wasn’t Gulf War 1. The Highway of Death and the total psychological surprise that resulted in Iraqi forces surrendering en masse because they were told the Americans were weak pathetic fools, was not present in OIF 1. They were trying to continue a war, which they were really doing, but using the same tactics as they would have back then. Fighting the last war is something generals have always been accused of.

    Except this war looked like a success. But that just covered all the stuff people missed because even with media embeds in 2003, they could not see Saddam’s strategy because they weren’t paying attention. The CIA had no human agents and those that they would have, would be betrayed to the media by folks like Plame or some other ambitious career bureacrat.

    The US military would have learned from a failure very quickly, but Iraq looked like a success in OIF 1 arfter the Abrams charge. A success any conventional general would have been proud of. This covered up the hidden blade, however.

    I had a benefit and detriment after 9/11. On 9/11 I knew nothing of the military and the political structure. That was my detriment. My benefit was that I knew nothing of the military and political structure except for the propaganda shown on fake liberal Hollywood. Thus I was impartial and able to research history and events and remember them without bias or previous misconceptions. The disadvantage is that it takes more than half a decade just to get some of the main threads together and comprehend them. Military, political, sociological, psychological, logistical, etc.

    To know whether armored push or SF insurgency was better, one must understand the basics that go into Armor Divisions and insurgencies. And much of that I didn’t learn until the Jihadists showed me, and I learned from them.

    The US military, with Vietnam and Afghanistan to learn from, didn’t have my excuse, however.