An insurgency is the result of an ideology that violently opposes a government’s policies with a vastly different politico-ideology set. That ideology will only grow stronger if the security forces act in a manner that alienates – or has the potential to alienate - the local population. This includes acting as “conquerors” towards the local population and/or offending their traditions and customs.
However, there is a fine balance between acting decisively in terms of military action and winning the “hearts and minds” of the local population. Too much focus on one action will simply weaken the other, especially when this focus is haphazard and uncoordinated. But, the adage that a COIN conflict requires a mere 20% input as opposed to an 80% political input can be misleading as the military operations are 100% operations aimed at locating and destroying the insurgents wherever they may be.
To succeed, COIN forces require an exceptionally high standard of leadership and combat discipline. Good intelligence leads to good planning. Gathering intelligence requires the maximum use of all intelligence sources including the deployment of aggressive reconnaissance teams who can call for the rapid deployment of assault troops/fire force elements. Leadership and purpose will provide the COIN forces with flexibility and also allow the application of deception measures. Good fire discipline will prevent unnecessary collateral damage amongst the local population. However, once the locals regard the security forces as part of the problem, the tipping point has been reached.
There are various scenarios at play during any counter insurgency campaign, but those scenarios are dependent on whether the insurgency is being fought in one’s own country or beyond one’s own borders. Also to consider is whether an outside force is used to assist an under-siege government in its fight against an insurgency. Additionally, the waters become more muddied when the insurgent is supported from a third- or even fourth-country than the one he is operating in. In the latter, cross-border pre-emptive strikes will be called for – but this requires accurate intelligence in order to conduct pin-point strikes.
The situation becomes even more complex when deploying into a country that contains several diverse ethnic or population groups, speaking different languages, with different customs and beliefs and who live by their own rules. The end result is that such fragmented societies are seldom, if ever, able to act as a unified nation. This can present the COIN force with the challenge of deciding which group it will support and how will it control the country once the insurgents have been defeated. Simply having “boots on the ground” will not necessarily lead to acceptance of the COIN force and legitimacy in the eyes of the different factions or groups.
Whereas the COIN forces may claim a “just cause” and legitimacy, it is the local population who will ultimately give that legitimacy and legitimacy is an essential requirement for success. But, it is the regional and international populations/communities that will restrict the COIN forces from often responding with the appropriate ruthlessness against the insurgent, subsequently bringing the legitimacy into question. In turn, a lack of ruthlessness will present the COIN forces as “weak” in the eyes of the local population. But, appropriate ruthlessness against anyone but the insurgent will be sure to intensify both operational and legitimacy problems as well as breed resentment from the locals. The end result is that both the security forces and the government will lose credibility with the local population. This in itself implies a doomed strategy.
Inappropriately equipped and poorly supported COIN forces will find themselves restricted to predictable and routine road-bound actions that will make them easy targets for insurgent fire and IEDs/landmines. Likewise, inadequately planned and prepared Civic Action Groups that are under-equipped, understaffed and under-financed will not be able to play the role they are supposed to play thus given the insurgent an additional advantage.
All civic action plans need to be coordinated with the operational plan to ensure focus of effort under a unified command. This can only be achieved by militarily driving insurgents out of an area and then developing/rebuilding the community in that area. Failure to do this will lead to failed development programmes and, additionally, create numerous power vacuums which the insurgent can and will exploit to his advantage. This advantage will give the insurgent continued initiative and prevent the COIN forces from gaining any momentum in their operations.
When politicians ignore the realities of the conflict they have committed troops to, a disaster is imminent. This lack of understanding will not only demoralise and weaken the COIN forces but will, additionally, give the insurgents a sense of victory.
Countries that want to get involved in a COIN conflict beyond their borders, regardless of how noble this may seem at the time, need to question whether such involvement will serve the interests of their National and Foreign Policy. They also need to carefully consider the political, economical, human and material fall-out that may result from such involvement. These considerations need to be juxtaposed with their strategic abilities and capabilities and carefully assessed. Failure to do so will seriously hamper the entire COIN effort and progress and make a believable and credible exit strategy even more problematic and difficult.
When COIN forces are committed, they need to be correctly equipped, provided with the necessary resources and the political and military will to see the conflict through to the end. As insurgencies tend to be protracted campaigns, there are no short-cuts to victory. Such misguided beliefs will lead to ultimate resistance to the campaign by the citizenry, whilst stimulating the drive of the insurgents.
From a military point-of, winning the insurgency may prove an easy task but ultimately, poor strategies, a lack of planning, poor coordination of effort, inadequate equipment, a shortage of resources, misguided political interference, poor leadership, a lack of flexibility, ineffective tactics and a misunderstanding of the insurgent and his ideology will give victory to the insurgent.
Coupled to a lack of credibility and resentment from the local population, the COIN forces may just as well pack their bags and head home.