Counter-Terrorism: It Is Not The Same

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May 14,2008: Counterinsurgency so much attention since the 1960's and the creation of the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center. This renewed interest has sparked fierce debate over the kind of war we are fighting: terrorism, irregular warfare or an asymmetrical war. When we label a war a counterinsurgency (COIN), by definition, it means that we are fully aware of the type of insurgency we are fighting; do we really? With all the labels what kind of Insurgency are we fighting?

My studies of conventional war began with a healthy dose of Clausewitz, Jomini, Patton, Guderian, Rommel and a host of other famous practitioners. After having served my time in conventional units I volunteered for recon and counterinsurgency and I was taught the "classics"; T.E. Lawrence, C.E. Callwell, David Galula, and, Frank Kitson. As I progressed I became familiar with, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, Bernard Fall and Nguyen Giap.

The US Army released its new counterinsurgency manual in Dec 2007. It is heavily steeped in the theories of classical COIN, which places a heavy emphasis on maximizing the legitimacy of the Host Government. Yet as a trainer and practitioner of COIN attempting to implement the newest doctrine, something is amiss from the classical approach from what is happening on the ground.

Classical COIN is based on lessons learned between the 1940's and the 1970's. Most of these insurgencies were based on either Nationalism or Anti-Colonialism or both. As a result, the strategies and lessons learned focused on how an already established, legitimate, yet, weak government could re-assert itself and maintain the status quo.

The COIN we are experiencing in Afghanistan is not Nationalistic or Anti-Colonial. Insurgents today are operating in failed states or states bordering between weak and failed. In classical COIN the insurgent takes the initiative and initiates the campaign (Some examples include: Algeria, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Columbia, Rhodesia). Over the last couple of years Coalition forces or weak governments have initiated the campaign and the insurgent is now in a position to be strategically reactive (think Pakistan and Afghanistan).

Today the paradox of modern COIN can be explained as: Classical insurgencies usually were started to disrupt the status quo and to overthrow existing governments. The insurgents had a strategy and a political agenda that was Nationalistic in its nature. Modern insurgents are now attempting to preserve the status quo where a weak government or foreign invaders represent revolutionary change. Today's insurgent does not always seek to gain control of the State (Think Kurds, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area and the North West Federally Administered Tribal Areas).

The modern insurgent does not always want to secede from the State but rather control portions of it; they could care less if the State collapses, as long as they are in control of certain areas. Modern insurgents, unlike the Nationalists of yore, really have not stipulated how and what would replace the existing structure, or government, or, articulated a "National" Strategy. Even bin Laden's alleged strategy is more akin to the structure of the leaders of the Ottoman Empire, a strategy that espouses a loose ideology but no real substance or plan on how to implement it, except thru individual acts of desperation – Suicide Bombers.

Consequently COIN becomes very dynamic and very complex, especially when the insurgent you're fighting only cares about curing God's favor through countless individual acts with the hope of eventually gaining paradise and ultimate victory.

So what do we expect of our soldiers now? Each soldier is now a ""Strategic Corporal" and requires greater patience and skill sets in a number of non-traditional military subjects. The Insurgent is fighting a "resistance" type of war and seeks to wear down the effort by constantly attacking soft targets. He thinks that we will just leave if he can continue this tactic. Our countermeasures include fighting the enemy strategy and not his ideology. Patrolling and raiding are still critical, but, this tactic has required adjustment and we are finding that more snipers, more observation posts and more surveillance must be increasingly incorporated into the intelligence plan in order to pre-empt the suicide bombers intentions.

Lastly, at risk of sounding cliché, Intelligence is critical to operations, but, intelligence preparation of the battlefield is also being modified to account for the complex dynamics of modern insurgencies -- Terry Tucker

 


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