I thoroughly enjoy discussions on conflicts, insurgencies and wars and the countering of these actions, regardless if I agree with them or not. I know many criticise and do not agree with my viewpoints and view them as too simplistic. What I consider to be critical in the ending of a conflict, an insurgency or civil war has been very successfully applied in practise. Food for thought is, however, never bad food regardless of how it is served.
Insurgencies are not new, nor does fighting them require a “new” way of fighting. Nor do fighting insurgencies need to be long, protracted and costly affairs if the strategy is balanced. However, there seems to be a misguided belief that if we can define an insurgency precisely, we can defeat it. Whereas a definition holds value, its value is lost if the cause is not fully understood.
Ending an insurgency may not always be easy but it is certainly very possible. Contrary to the belief of some, an insurgency is not a spontaneous event but rather a threat that has been allowed to develop over a period of time. It is a political problem that has been brought about by dysfunctional or poor governance, a sense of political isolation and the suppression of hope along with a combination of anger, hatred and revenge that has impacted negatively on the populace and caused the populace immense distress. When the populace feel they have lost hope and have nothing more to lose by rising up against the government, they will do exactly that.
One of the strategic objectives of an insurgency may be to develop their planned armed struggle into a civil war to pit citizen against citizen and in so doing, collapse the Pillars of State and along with them, the established political order. This requires mobilising the quiet majority of the populace to disrupt government efforts through armed violence, civil disobedience, terrorism, violent crime, civil unrest and violent protests. Tribalism, religion, racial and ethnic tensions along with economic disparities are often used as motivators in the calls for the populace to rise up.
If an under-threat government makes use of a foreign allied military force to assist it suppress the insurgency, the populace’s “silent majority” will generally accept this decision as long as the combined force does not target them. The foreign forces will, however, be closely watched in terms of their actions, discipline and attitude towards the populace. Uncontrolled behaviour, unlawful acts and/or attacks on civilians by the foreign forces will simply become a rallying call for the populace to join – or at the very least – support the insurgency.
Conversely, the populace may believe that the arrival of foreign forces allows them to take the law into their own hands and extract revenge against those insurgents and their supporters hiding in plain sight. Once this cycle of violence begins, it is very difficult to stop and its effects are usually long-lasting.
However, relying solely on foreign forces to ultimately defeat the armed insurgents will result in a hollow victory for the government forces as when the foreign forces leave, the insurgency will simply resurface and be characterised by more intense violence.
If a country has been invaded and occupied by a foreign force that shows little or no respect towards the government, the law enforcement agencies, the armed forces and the populace, their property, culture, traditions, political system and religion, the anger, discontent and humiliation of the subjugated will in all probability give rise to a rebellion or an insurgency in order to eject the occupiers. Added to this is the oft-imposed morality and ideology of the occupying forces that results in additional anger, confusion and discontent. It is this anger that will result in attacks on the occupying force by the populace and the local soldiers and policemen that have been “forced” to partner with the occupation forces – the so-called “green-on-blue” attacks.
The ability of an insurgent group to attack across numerous spheres of the state gives them a flexibility the government has allowed them to have – by creating a condition of dissatisfaction that can be exploited. This is in part due to a lack of a coherent realistic national strategy and a poor, unstructured and unaligned national security strategy and its various components, coupled to poor governance and neglect of the populace. Add to this a lack of credible intelligence and the means to act/react on intelligence and the insurgents are given the initiative whilst the security forces fall into the trap of becoming reactive.
By exploiting both the mainstream and social media for disinformation and propaganda purposes, insurgents create the perception that they are more successful and stronger than they really are. It also gives them an instrument for reaching other fence-sitting or neutral members of the populace. Every action and success is aimed at showing their determination and even minor tactical successes are proclaimed to be major tactical victories. This can, along with the collateral damage caused by the security forces, harness both local and international support and sympathy for their cause.
International support such as funding, weapons, training and sanctuaries and sympathy – along with unvetted NGOs and “charity organisations” - especially when the insurgents are acting as a proxy force on behalf of a foreign government or sponsor whose intentions are the placement of a puppet government, can result in sanctions on an international level. These sanctions are aimed are weakening the government whilst strengthening the insurgents. Apart from the wholesale death and destruction of innocents and their property, the international support has a tendency to escalate out of control and bring additional governments into the conflict to support one side or the other.
The first-line of defence against an insurgency is – apart from good governance – aggressive, pro-active intelligence gathering coupled to coordinated law enforcement actions. Sadly, many governments choose to ignore the wall as the writing becomes more obvious, especially if it does not match their perception of reality.
When the armed forces are called on to provide counter insurgency support to the law enforcement agencies, it is usually an indication of failure by government and the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The mission of the armed forces ought to be the creation of a climate in which government can govern and the law enforcement agencies can again begin enforcing the law.
When an insurgency or conflict has entered into the armed or military phase, the Trinity of Gravity needs to be identified, isolated, attacked and neutralised, allowing the government to regain control.
I believe the concept of using the armed forces to establish control over the entire Trinity of Gravity is both flawed and wishful thinking as soldiers are neither trained to govern nor enforce the law – nor are they trained to be diplomats. The bottom line is that if the armed forces do not take effective control of the insurgents, the insurgents will simply take control of the populace – at the expense of everyone including the armed forces.
Preventing and/or defeating an insurgency, therefore, begins with the display of political will by the government coupled to ever-improving delivery of government services, the continued gathering of intelligence and the enforcement of law in all its facets – and not with the armed forces trying to play politics and govern.