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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. I am a contributor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON COUNTERING AN INSURGENCY (Part 2)

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.

16 comments:

Robby said...

I could not resist but I have to move off the reservation here your theses is based on actions by a legitimate goverment against insurgency.

Let's assume we are dealing with a illegitimate government (failing to follow it's constitution) and the insurgency is made up of concerned citizens.

For instance the preamble to the American Constitution states

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

This right enshrined in America's constitution is often quoted but has never been acted upon in it's history yet in today's America the very people who quote this and disagree with the present form of government are seen by it's government as "domestic terrorist" or insurgent's if you will.

So the question "who are the good guy's" .....like I said sorry but nothing is black and white anymore

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

A very good point, Robby.

In my post, I am referring to a legitimate government dealing with an insurgency. But, as you rightfully ask: “Who are the good guys?” – and when is a government truly legitimate? Obviously, not everyone in every country will always be supportive of the government in power. I believe we all accept that. If that government has been internationally acknowledged as the government of a country, then I assume it to be the legitimate government, regardless of whether I agree with that specific government’s policies or not.

If a particular grouping of people seize power by violent means such as a coup d’etat, and they are regarded internationally as a rogue state, I consider such a government to be illegitimate – at least in my book. In such an instance, and when the people of that country rise up against the armed forces, ie two internal organisations fighting one another, it becomes a civil war. As and when international players become involved, the shift is either towards a proxy war or a full-scale invasion and a link-up with those trying to remove the illegitimate government.

My little post was more about my perceptions on how to fight an insurgency – ie forces aimed at violently overthrowing an internationally recognised government.

I somehow suspect I know what you will counter with next…

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby said...

Yes but without the need for getting on any more lists I will decline :-)

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It is often wise to keep one's head below the parapet, Robby.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby said...

Thought this short clip interesting comes from a US Judge

Judge Napolitano : Revolution is Duty of the People

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9b3Q89FZoY0&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fdailybail.com%2Fhome%2F64-seconds-with-judge-andrew-napolitano-revolution-is-the-du.html&feature=player_embedded#t=62

John said...

Hi Eeben

After reading part 2 of COIN type operations, all I can say is that everything, or at least most of it has a lot in common to what has happened in especially Afghanistan, and is still happening there.
Some points like good leadership, good intelligence and planning, good fire discipline etc carry a lot of weight.
If one look at what happened recently with the two fuel trucks that were destroyed after a US airstrike was called in by the Germans, and the fight that ensued of who is to be blamed for all the civilians killed, one actually wishes that they start reading

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It is a thought-provoking piece, Robby. But how does one define “the people”? Can it be ten percent of the people or should it be 51% of the people? I ask this because we see revolutions in Africa and elsewhere where a relatively small percentage of the people rise up with intent to violently overthrow a government. Or, we see a large percentage of the people rise up and the UN calls for help to suppress them.

Rgds,

Eeben

John said...

As you described in your 3rd paragraph – I found this article very interesting!

Afghan war reaches a tipping point

http://article.wn.com/view/2009/09/08/Afghan_war_reaches_a_tipping_point/

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

There was also the issue of NATO officers being intoxicated or hung-over when questioned on that recent strike, John. That blows the claims that one should act respectfully towards the culture of the country one is operating in out of the water. But I suppose that is okay as they are not a PMC.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for the link, John. A very interesting article and the author makes several very valid points.

It is however a very serious indictment against the German army.

I believe that the entire effort is close to the tipping point and unless someone pulls their socks up, the balance may tip in favour of the Taliban. Soldiers cannot fight with one hand behind their back and lacking in equipment while on the other, poor decisions are taken.

Had South Africa done something similar in its wars, you can bet that the entire international community would have been up in arms threatening to attack us.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby said...

Good question "how does one define “the people”?

At the time of the American Revolution a third of people wanted to stay with the crown a third just wanted to be left alone and the other third wanted to get rid of the King over 240 odd years not much has changed except for America going from a Republic to a Democracy (majority rule) some may argue it's a representative democracy

When America was a Republic the "people" were those who could vote .. educated men who also were property owners very politically incorrect in today's world but would constitute the 10% plus you mentioned it was not till Earl Warren US supreme court judge that America became a "Democracy" with his "one man one vote" ruling

Thomas Jefferson said this of Democracy

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.

So to answer your question I guess I have to go with Jefferson :-)

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Jefferson’s quote was one I loved when studying political science, Robby. I also agree entirely with his summation. But, in the modern world with tribes, groups, splinter-groups, factions and sub-factions (I refer mainly to Africa) the line becomes blurred. I believe that this is one element the Western mind has yet to grasp.

Rgds,

Eeben

tyhz1995 said...

My two cents so to speak.Doesn't it typically depend on whose side one is on?Good and bad?Especially in Africa.Mr.Barlow I am honoured sir.I would agree in that countering an insurgency surgical strikes are crucial to success naturally only possible with spot on Intel.Love is unrealistic but shuddering respect and choice is possible when the aforementioned is followed.Media control is also essential.It has been shown time and again how media can decide the outcome of a war.Finally in response to earlier posts America no longer fights wars,they fight policing actions which are historically disastrous paricularly for the man in the fiel.Carry on sir.-Tyler

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It does depend whose side one is on, Tyler. Sadly, the US has continually backed the “wrong side” in African conflicts and the result is now a lack of trust towards the US. But, determining who is “good” and who is “bad” is dependent on which side holds an advantage to one’s national policy.

“Know your enemy” is an adage we were continually reminded of. But to know the enemy, one needs intelligence and insight. Without those, one will flounder around in the area of operations.

The role of the media is crucial as it is the media that shapes perceptions, regardless of whether the reporting is correct or false.

Rgds,

Eeben

tyhz1995 said...

Hello again.Please pardon earlier brevity and typos(mobile).I would agree in total South Africa was indeed abandoned by the west.The self righteous outcry in the US was trulydeafening.On my earlier comment on media what COINOPS must do is use the media to shape perception.A man is after all generally what he perceives himself to be.So to a culture or nation.That perception however is not always actually real.When COINOPS can shape perception the approach is multipronged and thusly more successful.I can also picture more conflict in Africa as the rush for her riches intensifies.The Chinese presence in Rhodesia for example.I am just conversing sir you are far more experienced than I.Was it not after all the Boers who changed war at the close of the 19th century?-Tyler

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

No problem, Tyler – as long as I can understand what is being asked, I am okay. And I can understand your comments.

True, the media can either enhance operations or become an albatross around the neck of the security forces. Perceptions are as you point out what determines the way we view and accept things to be. However, when the media gets it wrong (which is rather often) it can have very negative repercussions on the readership and their perceptions on what is happening and what is right and wrong.

I enjoy conversing about things I try to learn about on a daily basis, Tyler.

Yes, the Boers made an impact with a different approach to warfare at the close of the 19th century. Whereas guerrilla warfare was not entirely new at that time, they refined several tactics which became part of the principles of guerrilla warfare.

Rgds,

Eeben