The armed forces can, despite their relative strengths in terms of manpower, firepower and other resources, fail at effectively neutralising and destroying an armed insurgency. The reasons for these failures include, inter alia, the following:
1. Lack of support: When the armed forces are tasked to respond to an insurgency, they need maximum government support to achieve mission-success. This support extends beyond mere political and moral support but also in terms of providing it with the equipment and resources it requires. A lack of support from government will result in a lack of determination from the armed forces to accomplish their mission. Similarly, a lack of support from the local populace will cost the armed forces dearly in terms of manpower, intelligence, national support and may result in the populace giving support to the insurgents.
2. Lack of intelligence: A lack of sound and credible intelligence at the strategic level will impede the armed forces’ strategy to counter the coming insurgency whilst at the operational and tactical levels it will restrict the armed forces’ efforts to plan and execute effective COIN operations. Intelligence must provide clear options on where, when and how actions can be conducted and with what force levels. Misappreciating the enemy will result in poor plans and efforts to locate and destroy the enemy and add to the enemy’s momentum. Additionally, a lack of intelligence will lead to unclear and vague orders. A lack of intelligence also prevents knowing the enemy – a crucial factor in defeating the enemy.
3. Poor strategies: Poor strategies – and a subsequent lack of relentless strategic thinking - are not only the result of a lack of intelligence but also due to an inflexible, non-adaptive approach to formulating strategy. The inability to formulate a strategy that attacks the insurgent forces over both a wide and a deep front will cost the armed forces in terms of domination, momentum, initiative and success. Additionally, operational developments must never drive strategy although operational developments can lead to an adjustment of strategy. Poor strategies also result in “mission creep”.
4. Belief: An over-confident belief in their own abilities coupled to a belief that the enemy is inferior, poorly trained, ill equipped and operating with poor leadership will place the armed forces at a disadvantage of their own making. This misguided, at times arrogant belief can result in the armed forces suffering tactical defeats at the hands of the insurgents. In a COIN conflict, relative strengths is not a decisive factor.
5. Lack of preparation: If the armed forces are not correctly prepared in terms of training and equipment, they will remain ineffective and reactive. Using incorrect doctrine, TTPs, approaches and equipment are indicative of a lack of preparation.
6. Poor training: Conventional TTPs are not always relevant to COIN operations. Training must be mission-specific and aimed at allowing the armed forces to “out guerrilla” the insurgents. This requires an in-depth knowledge of the enemy and his TTPs. Initiative, adaptability and flexibility must be emphasised in training. Command and control must be decentralised.
7. Foreign intervention: Foreign intervention must be viewed with caution as Africa has witnessed numerous interventions by foreign forces in COIN situations, only to see the insurgent activities escalate. Where foreign forces intervene in support of government COIN operations, their interests need to be clearly defined and understood. Similarly, foreign NGOs, despite their utterances, do not always wish to see an end to the conflicts as such will result in their reason for existence being questioned as well as a reduction in their income.
8. Neglect of principles: By neglecting the principles of COIN whilst ignoring the principles employed by the insurgents, the armed forces posture themselves incorrectly and give the initiative to the insurgent forces.
9. Expected to govern: The armed forces are not trained, prepared and equipped to fulfil the role of government and the civil service. This results in the misguided belief that the armed forces must conduct “hearts-and-minds” operations as opposed to destroying the enemy. Whereas the armed forces must create the climate in which government can function ie do its job, expecting them to govern is giving the insurgency new impetus to continue.
10. Collateral damage: Unnecessary collateral damage to the populace creates resentment, anger and even a desire for revenge. Collateral damage is also perceived by the populace to represent government policy and, as such, breeds a deeper desire to replace government, in turn swelling the ranks of the insurgency. Collateral damage will, furthermore, reduce the support of the populace towards the armed forces.
11. Disrespect and maltreatment: A lack of respect towards the populace, their property, culture, traditions and religions will breed resentment towards the armed forces. As with collateral damage, disrespect and maltreatment, along with an unwillingness to defend and protect the populace, will be viewed as government policy and reduce any support the populace may have towards the armed forces.
12. Incorrect approach: COIN forces’ primary mission is to conduct enemy-focussed (enemy-centric) operations. By altering the mission of closing with and destroying the enemy in favour of population-centric missions, presents the armed insurgent with numerous advantage as well as the initiative. Disregarding indirect approaches will not favour the armed forces. Agility, flexibility, manoeuvre and relentless aggression must be part of the approach.
13. Constraints: The armed forces are faced with numerous constraints when conducting a COIN campaign. These include poorly formulated Rules of Engagement, international interference (often aimed at assisting the insurgent forces), UN mandates that counter-act the actions of the armed forces and so forth. Unnecessary constraints prohibit the armed forces from achieving mission-success and can severely impact on morale.
14. Poor discipline: Poor discipline in executing tactics as well as in relation to obeying commands is indicative of poor training and a lack of leadership. Fire-discipline and when necessary restraint, requires discipline as does the immediate execution of orders. Poor discipline will also manifest itself in the armed forces behaviour towards the populace in the form of rape, theft, assault and so forth.
15. Inappropriate doctrine: Conventional warfare doctrine does not serve as a template for COIN doctrine. Doctrine is guided by experience, intelligence and the terrain. A failure to develop an appropriate doctrine and to continually assess and adapt it to ensure its relevance will place the armed forces at a disadvantage.
16. Lack of flexibility: Rigid, inflexible operational plans can lead to disaster, especially when senior officers refuse to adapt their plans to cope with an ever-changing environment and situation. This lack of flexibility is often the result of a lack of knowledge and understanding of the insurgent or his strategy.
17. Lack of motivation: Poor training, along with a lack of discipline, leadership and equipment will impact negatively on the morale of the armed forces. Demoralised armed forces will lack the motivation to achieve their mission.
18. Lack of resources: A lack of resources, especially tactical airlift and special weapons can render a well-intentioned and aggressive armed force powerless against the insurgents. A lack of resources can also indicate a government’s lack of faith in its armed forces or even a concern by the government that the armed forces may use their equipment to threaten government.
19. Not understanding the OE: Failing to understand the operating environment will ultimately result in mission-failure. Terrain, weather, demographics, vegetation and infrastructure all influence the operating environment. Similarly, weapons and equipment are determined by the OE. At the operational and tactical levels, failure to exploit the OE will result in the armed forces surrendering the initiative to the insurgents.
20. When politicians make the plans: It is not unheard of that politicians want to determine and dictate military strategy as well as influence military operations. These misguided beliefs on their military prowess will hamper the armed forces and afford the insurgents numerous advantages. Politicians are not trained in generalship and the art of war. Instead, they must set the guidelines and policies for war and support the armed forces to execute their mission(s).
Perhaps the greatest danger the populace face is when the government does not trust its armed forces and the armed forces, in turn, do not trust the government. This can result in internal struggles in which the populace will have to choose sides to survive.
Both governments and their armed forces can be successful in combating an armed insurgency if they negate the above reasons for failure and jointly cooperate to defeat the threat.