Counter-Terrorism: The Importance of Perspective


May 7,2008: The war on terror offers a glimpse of how the lessons of insurgency and counterinsurgency are problematic. Building the operational capacity and capabilities of a counterinsurgent security force, to include police, offer lessons in how difficult it is to develop an integrated civil-military approach to combating an insurgency.

Likewise a study of the problems associated with how insurgencies arise is also important and prudent in understanding the lessons of the past. Some might believe that the past is only intelligible from the present. This gives short shrift to the lessons of history and how the present conditions are a result of that past.

In attempting to overcome these problematic conditions, there are several components that affect the overall civil-military engagement strategy that are used to integrate this approach. Some examples of these components include training the indigenous force, and, of course, the elements of politics, diplomacy, geo-politics, global opinion and fully integrated civil-military operations under a unified command.

Lessons can be learned from any type of war, conflict or military operation but assuming that those lessons will also be similar in the next conflict is a serious mistake. Sometimes these lessons learned can constrain thinking about the future, especially when one assumes that past lessons will be similarly duplicated. In this same regard combining lessons learned with planning usually has more to do with what happened in the past rather than how one can affect the future.

With this in mind, how does one determine if the past is an adequate guide for the future?

After five years the United States is still involved in a global counterinsurgency effort; a counterinsurgency against fundamentalists that adhere to a particularly violent strain of religious ideology. The tone and tempo of news reports from the myriad news sources would lead one to believe that 5 years is an extraordinarily long time to secure a victory. The history of insurgency indicates that 5 years is just the beginning .

Likewise the global war on terror has been classified as a war against ideas, religion and ideology. How is one to determine if there are lessons learned from the past if there is a lack of consensus on the type of conflict we are waging? This is rather problematic as diversity of the origin of the problem does not obstruct the singularity of the mission for the insurgent; for instance, look at the uneasy yet cooperative alliance of Iran/Hezbollah and Syria/Fatah Their brand of radical Islam preaches a complete intolerance and all that is antithetical to Western values; they seek to completely replace Western codes with an extreme code of Islam.

The diversity of these sects does not detract them (relatively speaking) from the singularity of their mission; to use violence and terrorism to achieve their ultimate aims. The mixture of subversion, propaganda and violent pressure coupled to an ideological strategy is there idea of a recipe to success.

The First Palestinian Intifada in the 1980s was a great case of exploiting these principles, the 2nd Intifada, that began in 2000, was a disaster and the Aug 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah conflict ended with both sides declaring victory, yet the general consensus seems to be that Hezbollah gained the upper hand. In both cases, as insurgent or counterinsurgent, it is the management of the narrative with moral attributes (think David vs Goliath here) tied to the strategy. In essence it requires more than just an adherence to the traditional principles of war when defining the strategy.

Increasingly, there must be complete integration of multiple military and non military agencies to the strategy and more importantly a corresponding change in mindset within these players as well. This is not easy considering that most militaries are taught that victory comes through the pursuit of aggressive offensive operations. Sometimes in a counterinsurgency it might be better to do nothing at all.

With this in mind, here is a sample of a few of the military historical lessons learned from past counterinsurgency and stability operations.

a. Discipline, firepower and organization coupled with small unit tactics and raiding are key to military success

b. Centralized planning, decentralized execution within the commanders mission intent or end state.

c. Draw distinction between bandits, rebels, thieves, and insurgents, etc, etc.

d. Creation of special units such as recon and tracking units

e. Doctrine and tactics codified thru lessons learned, essays in professional journals and front line experience

f. Public critical of operations, manage the information war ahead of the press and be sure that your "message" has the "moral" high ground.

g. Learning to fail fast and adapt quickly.

h. Good deeds insufficient to counteract collateral damage, mistrust or other stupid actions by self. -- Terry Tucker


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