Tag Archives: coin

Keep fighting! We must not learn from our wars.

Summary:  We were ejected from Iraq, gaining nothing we sought. No oil, no ally against Iran, no unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Middle East. All but the mad hawks realize we gained nothing in Afghanistan. Now comes the post-game show, as our military’s boosters attempt to fog our vision and erase our memories, preparing us for more wars. The truth is out there, if only we would make an effort to see.
.

Afghanistan war

Learning is one way to honor their sacrifice

Contents

  1. We lose because we’re ignorant of history and refuse to learn
  2. Bitter fruit from our failure to learn
  3. The history of counterinsurgency by foreign armies, a history of failure
  4. A more detailed explanation of why foreign armies fail at COIN
  5. For More Information
  6. A closing note from Friedrich Schiller

(1)  We lose because we’re ignorant of history and refuse to learn

Keep Fighting: Why the Counterinsurgency Debate Must Go On“, Mark Stout (Director of the MA Program in Global Security Studies at Johns Hopkins), War on the Rocks, 3 December 2013 — Opening:

Counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine in general and the military’s FM 3-24 in particular have been the subject of extensive and often vitriolic debate in recent years.  Now the debate is finally subsiding, but not in a satisfactory way.  It must not be allowed to die yet.

This reasonable article by an expert avoids the big question: why have we learned so little after six decades of failure by foreign armies fighting local insurgencies? It suggests that the next round of debate about counter-insurgency warfare will produce still more tortured history justifying the next war (we could have won!) and happy theory (next time we’ll convince the locals to have good government).

Let’s rewind the tape to see what we learned from the last round. For example, how many counter-insurgency experts listened to Martin van Creveld’s warnings? Such as this from Chapter 6.2 in Changing Face of War (2006):

What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Ertrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.

Seven years later and we’re still attempting to avoid learning from our failed wars.

(2)  Bitter fruit from our failure to learn

Some people are running the sums to see the results of our most recent infatuations with counter-insurgency. Before we let our military experts repeat this history let’s remember the results of their projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here’s a look at Iraq: “Rumsfeld’s War and Its Consequences Now“, Mark Danner, New York Review of Books, 19 December 2013 — Excerpt (red emphasis added):

A bare two weeks after the attacks of September 11, at the end of a long and emotional day at the White House, a 69-year-old politician and businessman — a midwesterner, born of modest means but grown wealthy and prominent and powerful — returned to his enormous suite of offices on the seventh floor of the flood-lit and wounded Pentagon and, as was his habit, scrawled out a memorandum on his calendar:

Interesting day— NSC mtg. with President— As [it] ended he asked to see me alone… After the meeting ended I went to Oval Office—He was alone He was at his desk— He talked about the meet Then he said I want you to develop a plan to invade Ir[aq]. Do it outside the normal channels. Do it creatively so we don’t have to take so much cover [?]

Continue reading

Our wars: using the military to do Social Work with Guns

Summary: A wonder of the age is our continued confidence on people whose decisions proved wrong in the crucible of war, while those whose advice proved correct remain on the sidelines. It’s easy to distinguish the two groups by looking at their past work. Four years later this essay by Andrew Bacevich looks prophetic. That we continue to make the same mistakes shows that we are slow to learn. That Bacevich and his peers remain on the sidelines of US policy-making shows that we are stupid. Slow and stupid are two sins always punished, eventually.

Will Work For Change

Contents

  1. “Social Work with Guns”
  2. About the author
  3. For more information

Social Work with Guns“, Andrew Bacevich
London Review of Books, 17 December 2009
Reposted with the generous permission of the LRB and Andrew Bacevich

By escalating the war in Afghanistan – sending an additional 34,000 US reinforcements in order to ‘finish the job’ that President Bush began but left undone – Barack Obama has implicitly endorsed Bush’s conviction that war provides an antidote to violent anti-Western jihadism.

By extension, Obama is perpetuating the effort begun in 1980 to establish American dominion over the Middle East, hoping through the vigorous exercise of hard power to prolong the postwar Pax Americana. In ways that Obama himself may only dimly appreciate, his decision on Afghanistan affirms the pre-existing character of US foreign policy. But by advocating ‘counter-insurgency’, the McChrystal report also represents a tacit acknowledgment that a decades-long military reform project has definitively failed.

Understanding the contradiction at the heart of McChrystal’s report requires a quick survey of the way the United States managed to mire itself in its current predicament. It’s a tale of recurring miscalculation and disappointment followed by intensified military exertions yielding disappointment on a larger scale.

It began in 1979, when Jimmy Carter formulated his response to the twin shocks of the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Carter Doctrine, promulgated just weeks after the Red Army entered Afghanistan, declared the Persian Gulf a vital US national security interest and committed the United States to using ‘any means necessary, including military force’ to secure that interest. To make the commitment credible, the Pentagon created the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF), an embryonic instrument of military intervention.

At the urging of his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter also initiated a programme of covert assistance to the Afghan mujahedin resisting the Soviet occupation. Oblivious (or indifferent) to the potential consequences of destabilising Afghanistan, Brzezinski hoped to turn it into Russia’s Vietnam.

Continue reading

On counterinsurgency: Conclusions. Let’s hope we learn soon.

Summary:  In this last chapter of “On Counterinsurgency” Martin van Creveld sums up the results of the post-WWII history of counterinsurgency. this was first published in 2005; hopefully we’ll learn these lessons soon.

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.

Contents

  1. Summary of the previous chapters
  2. The last chapter of this essay
  3. How did the US Military react to van Creveld’s advice?
  4. For More Information

(1)  Summary of the previous chapters

For those who have not read the previous chapters, here’s a summary of the counterinsurgency problem from Chapter 6.2 in Martin van Creveld’s Changing Face of War (2006):

What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Ertrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.

Counterinsurgency can damage even the finest army

(2)  The last chapter of this essay:

“On Counterinsurgency”
by Martin van Creveld

From Combating Terrorism,
edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005).

Posted with the authors’ generous permission.

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:

Continue reading

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

———————

“On Counterinsurgency” by Martin van Creveld

From Combating Terrorism, edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005). Posted with the authors’ generous permission.

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.

Continue reading

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

—————————-

“On Counterinsurgency”
by Martin van Creveld

From Combating Terrorism,
edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005).

Posted with the authors’ generous permission.

 

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: The 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.

Continue reading

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

—————————

“On Counterinsurgency” by Martin van Creveld

From Combating Terrorism, edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005). Posted with the authors’ generous permission. This paper falls into four 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.

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.

Continue reading

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“. It’s an excerpt from a speech by Martin van Creveld given at the Henry Jackson Society on 26 February 2008. Posted with the authors’ generous permission.

———————

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}

Continue reading