Tag Archives: coin

On Counterinsurgency: On Power and Compromises, the difference between victory & defeat

Summary:  In this third chapter of “On Counterinsurgency” Martin van Creveld describes the operational differences between winning and losing methods of counterinsurgency.  Victory comes to those who take difficult paths. Most nations take the easier path, and lose.

As the first phase (Iraq, Af-Pak) of our mad foreign wars winds down — and the second phase expands — we can still learn from this analysis by one of the West’s greatest living military historians. We can still turn off this path.  The passage of time closes options; we might soon pass the last exit to avoid serious war.

Successful counterinsurgency in Hama, Syria

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“On Counterinsurgency”
by Martin van Creveld
From Combating Terrorism,
edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005)

Introduction

For background see The first lesson of our failed wars: we were warned, but choose not to listen.

This paper has into 4 parts, posted separately.

  1. How We Got to Where We Are is a brief history of insurgency since 1941 and of the repeated failures in dealing with it.
  2. Two Methods focuses on President Assad’s suppression of the uprising at Hama in 1983 on the one hand and on British operations in Northern Ireland on the other, presenting them as extreme case studies in dealing with counterinsurgency.
  3. On Power and Compromises draws the lessons from the methods just presented and goes on to explain how, by vacillating between them, most counterinsurgents have guaranteed their own failure.
  4. Conclusions.

Part three:  On Power and Compromises

According to the well-known proverb, success has many fathers whereas failure is an orphan. However true this may be in respect to every other aspect of life, in the case of counter-insurgency clearly it does not apply.

As noted, entire libraries have been written on counter-insurgency campaigns that failed. Often the authors were the very people who had participated in, or were responsible for, the failures in question. For example, the term “low intensity war” itself was invented by the British General Frank Kitson; having taken part in a whole series of them, he was finally made commandant of the Staff College so he could teach others how it should be done. Very great efforts have been made to analyze the reasons and suggest ways to avoid a repetition. Judging by the way the Americans are conducting themselves in Iraq, to no avail.

By comparison, very little has been written about counterinsurgency campaigns that succeeded. One reason for this is because, since 1941, the number of such successes has been so limited that nine out of ten people cannot even remember them.

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On Counterinsurgency: The Two Methods that Win

Summary:  In this second chapter of “On Counterinsurgency” Martin van Creveld describes the two methods of crushing insurgencies.  We have tried neither; we might lack the capacity to use either method.  Note that both successes were, like almost all defeats of insurgencies, done by governments fighting domestic insurgencies. 

As the first phase (Iraq, Af-Pak) of our mad foreign wars winds down — and the second phase expands — we can still learn from this analysis by one of the West’s greatest living military historians. We can still turn off this path.  The passage of time closes options; we might soon pass the last exit to avoid serious war.

Counterinsurgency in Hama, Syria

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“On Counterinsurgency”
by Martin van Creveld
From Combating Terrorism,
edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005)

Introduction

For background see The first lesson of our failed wars: we were warned, but choose not to listen.

This paper falls into four parts, each posted separately.

  1. How We Got to Where We Are is a brief history of insurgency since 1941 and of the repeated failures in dealing with it.
  2. Two Methods focuses on President Assad’s suppression of the uprising at Hama in 1983 on the one hand and on British operations in Northern Ireland on the other, presenting them as extreme case studies in dealing with counterinsurgency.
  3. On Power and Compromises draws the lessons from the methods just presented and goes on to explain how, by vacillating between them, most counterinsurgents have guaranteed their own failure.
  4. Conclusions.

Part two. Two Methods to defeat insurgencies

(a)  Syria

In early 1982, President Hafez Asad’s (In Arabic, Asad means “Lion“) regime in Syria was twelve years old and was meeting growing opposition that did not make its future appear rosy. Part of the opposition came from the members of various ethnic groups who took issue with the fact that Asad, like his most important collaborators, was an Alawite. Now the Alawites are one of the less important Islamic sects, traditionally poor and discriminated against. Many in the Islamic world do not even regard them as true Moslems and claim that, instead of Allah, they worship the moon and the stars; it as if Germany had been ruled by a Serbic Mafia or Italy by a Greek one.

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On Counterinsurgency: How We Got to Where We Are

Summary:  The greatness of a nation depends as much on its ability to learn as much as its power. Failure to learn can prove fatal. As with German’s refusal to learn from its defeat in WWI, substituting resentment for wisdom. As with America’s refusal to learn from its defeat in Vietnam, and belief that the doctrines of counterinsurgency could win if tried again. This required ignoring clear analysis showing the folly of this, explaining the inherent flaws of foreign armies fighting entrenched local insurgencies.

As the first phase (Iraq, Af-Pak) winds down of our 21st century mad foreign wars — and the second phase expands — we can still learn and turn from this path. So today we look at one such analysis, by Martin van Creveld — one of the West’s greatest living military historians.

The most astonishing aspect of this paper is that after 60 years of failed counterinsurgencies by foreign armies, ten years into our second wave of failed counterinsurgency, it lists simple facts that remain unknown to so many Americans — including a large fraction of our geopolitical gurus.

This is a follow-up to The first lesson of our failed wars: we were warned, but choose not to listen.

CI used to work, both a home & abroad

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“On Counterinsurgency”
by Martin van Creveld
From Combating Terrorism,
edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005)

.

This paper falls into four parts, each posted separately. Parts 2 – 4 will appear next week.

  1. How We Got to Where We Are is a brief history of insurgency since 1941 and of the repeated failures in dealing with it.
  2. Two Methods focuses on President Assad’s suppression of the uprising at Hama in 1983 on the one hand and on British operations in Northern Ireland on the other, presenting them as extreme case studies in dealing with counterinsurgency.
  3. On Power and Compromises draws the lessons from the methods just presented and goes on to explain how, by vacillating between them, most counterinsurgents have guaranteed their own failure.
  4. Conclusions.

This is three thousand words; the print button appears at the end of the post.  It is posted here with the author’s generous permission. Red emphasis added.

The photo at the right is Hanging Insurgents at Cavite, from the Philippines War circa 1900.

How We Got to Where We Are

At a time when much of the world is either engaging in counter-insurgency, preparing to do so, or writing about it, something is rotten in the kingdom of Denmark. Just when the rot began is not entirely clear, but a good starting point is provided by the 6th of April 1941. On that day the German Wehrmacht, assisted by Italian, Hungarian and Bulgarian formations, launched its offensive against Yugoslavia.

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The first lesson of our failed wars: we were warned, but choose not to listen

Summary: Although many of our geopolitical experts continue to lie, our defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan slowly become visible to America. This is the failure of the COIN (as in FM 3-24), Petraeus’ baby. The wars were a tragedy, but relying on COIN was folly. Both were avoidable if we had learned from history. And from historians, like Martin van Creveld. This week’s series of posts recalls what we should have known. It’s not too late to learn, and to stop the mad small wars we’re waging around the world.

Eleazar vs an armored vehicle

The first suicide bomber in the first failed counterinsurgency, from the First Book of the Maccabees, 1.6.43

“Now Eleazar saw that one of the {elephants} was equipped with royal armor. It was taller than all the others, and he supposed that the king was on it. So he gave his life to save his people and to win for himself an everlasting name. He courageously ran into the midst of the phalanx to reach it … He got under the elephant, stabbed it from beneath, and killed it; but it fell to the ground upon him and he died.”

Today we have a guest post: “On Counterinsurgency: How to triumph in the age of asymmetric warfare
Excerpt from a speech by Martin van Creveld
Given at the Henry Jackson Society on 26 February 2008

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Defining Counterinsurgency

Counterinsurgency and insurgency is the future of war, as nuclear weapons are slowly but surely making large-scale conventional warfare between powerful countries obsolete. These days any country that can wage large-scale conventional warfare is able to build nuclear weapons, and no first world modern state wants to risk the total devastation of nuclear war. For more than half a century wars have been waged either between or against countries which do not have and/or cannot build nuclear weapons. Once the nuclear weapons appear the game comes to an end. In fact, that is the best argument in favor of nuclear proliferation: nuclear states tend not to engage in combat with each other!

Unfortunately, the decline of large-scale conventional combat did not signal the end of war but rather a shift to other forms of conflict commonly referred to as low-intensity conflict, sub-conventional conflict, guerilla warfare, terrorism, or insurgencies. And over the last 62 years, the most powerful, important, modern, and sophisticated military armed forces on earth have had an abysmal record in coping with insurgency. Failure, upon failure, upon failure in more than a hundred cases typifies the entire record of counterinsurgency. {For details see the links at the end}

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I come not to praise COIN but to bury it. And to ask you why we adopted it, at such cost.

Summary: As our foreign wars slowly continue — withdrawals in the main theaters plus expansion into other even more fruitless conflicts — it’s time to look back and learn. Today we ask why COIN was considered a reasonable option, despite long history of failure when used by foreign armies.  Please post your thoughts in the comments.

It’s easy! Click to enlarge.

Contents

  1. Lessons learned from our WOT using COIN
  2. The two major posts about COIN
  3. Posts about the theory and practice of COIN
  4. Posts about the History of COIN
  5. For more information about COIN

In this post COIN refers to the specific nostrums sold as solutions for US to apply against the Iraq and Af-Pak insurgencies, as codified in FM 3-24.  David Kilcullen and John Nagl were its two chief apostles.

(1)  Lessons learned from our WOT using COIN

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is one of the finest in America’s shrinking band of journalists (as opposed to the legions of stenographers to the rich and powerful). Her coverage of the War on Terror has been incisive and deep. Her latest is a retrospective on COIN, well worth reading: “Learning to Eat Soup with a Spoon“, American Conservative, 31 August 2012 — about the rise and fall of COIN.

COIN was one of the first subjects I discussed in depth, first at Defense and the National Interest and then at the FM website. These are listed below. Looking through them — and the articles by brighter lights such as Martin van Creveld and Andrew Bacevich — reminds me how it was clear from the beginning that COIN was snake-oil. And obviously so.

We paid for our mistake with the lives of our troops spent in these wars. The years of work and suffering, the injuries and disabilities, the dead. We’ll pay the material cost for decades. Now comes the challenge: will we learn from these mistakes? The most important question concerns the process. These mistakes were similar to those we made in Vietnam. Why do we make these mistakes? Why do we fail to learn from them?

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A look back at the madness that led us into our wars. How does this advice read 6 years later?

Summary: Now that we’re extricating ourselves from the first two nations we occupied in the War On Terror, with no gains to offset the cost in money and blood, let’s re-examine the advice that led us into those holes.  Like the memos planning the Vietnam War, after the war they’ll read as madness.  Historians will wonder why we took this foolishness seriously.  But we can learn from this experience, as we failed to do from Vietnam.

We had a wide range of advisors for our futile wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Some charlatans, such as Max Boot.  Some brilliant, like Ralph Peters and David Kilcullen.  The latter are more interesting.  With good senior leaders, political and military, the work of Peters and Kilcullen would have earned themselves prominent places in the annals of military history.  But instead their expertise was used to justify and support wars probably impossible to win — and destructive to those who try. Great men in the service of donkeys.

Today we’ll look at Kilcullen’s best-known work, highly influential mid-way through our wars — after the first rush of enthusiasm had passed and doubts appeared.  This is an excerpt from an article I wrote in rebuttal.  The Editor (rightly) dissuaded me from calling Kilcullen’s article pernicious nonsense, requiring instead a detailed analysis.  Now we can see more clearly. Six years later all that remains is one important question, left for readers to answer in the comments (because I haven’t a clue): why did anyone consider as sensible Kilcullen’s pernicious nonsense masquerading as advice?

Why do we lose 4th generation wars?
Originally posted on at Defense and the National Interest on 4 January 2007

An early symptom of impending defeat is loss of confidence in one’s tactical doctrines. In a strong military culture, though, this can spark a burst of creativity. In WWI, this resulted in the perfection by the German Army of infiltration tactics. Later, with new technology, this became blitzkrieg.

How has the prospect of defeat in Iraq affected the US military?

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“COIN of the Realm” – reviewing one of the books driving our strategy in the Long War

Summary:  Before amnesia clouds our memories of Iraq and Afghanistan, as it has erased the lessons of Vietnam, we should review the books that guided us to the long disaster of serial interventions after 9-11.  Today we have a cheery mid-war look at one such.  Historians will look at this book and see madness.

Learning to eat soup with a knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons From Malaya and Vietnam by John A. Nagl (2002)

Reviewed by Scott A Cuomo (Captain, USMC). Originally published as “COIN of the Realm” in the Marine Corps Gazette of July 2006. Republished here with their generous permission.  At the end is another perspective on this book, and more information about COIN (counter-insurgency warfare).

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As we remain locked in extremely complex counter-insurgency (Coin) battles in Afghanistan and Iraq, readers of the Gazette would be hard-pressed to find a book more relevant, thought-provoking, and important than John A. Nagl’s Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife. Nagl, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel currently serving as the Military Assistant to the Deputy secretary of Defense, prefaces this edition by comparing his Coin experiences in Iraq’s “Sunni Triangle” with his analysis of the British Army in Malaya and the U.S. Army in Vietnam later presented in the book.

Although admitting a few minor omissions and missteps in the preface, primarily as a result of writing the first edition before ever “practicing” Coin, Nagl concludes that his explanations of why the British Army defeated the Communist insurgency in Malaya and the U.S. Army failed in its Coin efforts in Vietnam were right on target. In both cases he analyzes each army’s ability and willingness to change to meet the needs of Coin warfare. He then argues that the British Army succeeded in large measure because it was a learning and adaptable institution in contrast to the U.S. Army, whose organizational culture during the Vietnam era prevented it from making the necessary changes required to win.

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