What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Counterinsurgency reading day

I promised to write about all the good stuff I've read recently, and so here's another post with that intention.
People like Abu Muqawama or (one of the) Kings of War have already linked to a lot of useful material from one of the masters of COIN, Dr. David Kilcullen (an advisor to MNF-I Commander General Petraeus; an Australian by birth). First is an excellent presentation he gave to the Marine Corps on COIN in light of experiences from Iraq (I'm happy to see that a video of the presentation will also be made available by people over at the Small Wars Journal).
Another precious resource till the video is posted is an interview with Kilcullen, available here (fifteen pages). It is the transcript of an interview from which I'd highlight some insights regarding Iraq. Nothing entirely surprising, but things that are sharply put by one of the most legitimate sources on the subject.
Regarding the transition to a 4GW-type conflict in Iraq after the 2003 war:
"... the regime made a number of major miscalculations and expected to do better in the initial phase of the fighting than they did. But they always expected that they would ultimately lose the conventional phase and would need to run some kind of guerrilla fight.
And my impression from talking to guys who were there, Iraqis, is that the intention was that Saddam would run that from either a position of exile or sort of hidden headquarters. And he would use Special Republican Guard, Saddam Fedayeen, a variety of other organizations to control the population in different areas and sort of run this against us as an insurgency.
When the regime collapsed suddenly, a lot of those plans didn't come to fruition. And as a consequence, it became, if you like, a headless hydra. You know, a hydra has lots of heads. A headless beast of some kind that just was thrashing around wildly, and eventually disintegrated into lots of local groups that wanted to work to their own interest. And the Iraqis talk about how the -- rapidly, people converted from sort of a Baathist way of looking at the problem to more of a radical Islamist way or a nationalist way."
Transitioning from discussing that transition to general lessons for COIN:
"It was a natural falling out of just losing control. And I think what that tells you is that focusing the campaign on how to defeat one particular enemy is perhaps not the best way to approach it.
Conventional warfare is binary. Right? It has two sides. And its enemy- centric. What you're trying to do is figure out what the enemy is trying to do and defeat the enemy by, you know, outmaneuvering them or removing their war-making power, basically.
Counterinsurgency is not like that. It's not enemy-centric. It's actually population-centric. And I think we have found over the last three or four years of evolution of the conflict in Iraq that the more we focus on the population and protecting them, the easier it is to deal with the enemy. The more we focus on the enemy, the harder it is to actually get anything done with the population."
Population is the prize for both insurgents and counterinsurgents. Indirectly that's the reason for the surge.
"... 28,500 extra troops in country. That is a tool. That's not the strategy."
"The enemy is fluid, but the population is fixed. OK? That's the key point. The enemy can run away. The population can't. They have houses, relatives, businesses. They live there. They can't move. And so you can't defeat an insurgency by fighting the insurgents, because they'll just run away and you chase the guy around. And it's like looking for a needle in a haystack, but you're actually destroying the haystack to find the needle. So you do this damage to the population, which alienates the population, creates a recruitment base for the insurgents, and it just creates a cycle of destruction."
On defining the "end" of the phase after which one can have the end of the insurgency really in sight (importantly from a U.S. policy-maker's perspective):
"... we have to understand how insurgencies end. They don't end like conventional warfare. You don't defeat the enemy, there's a victory parade and everybody goes home. What you do is you drive the threat down to the point at which the local government and society can handle it, and then they handle it."
On how the insurgents become more efficient over time, Kilcullen quotes an interesting figure (I'm not quite sure how one gets to such data, especially if the figure is realistic, which is rather paradoxical of course, but still this is interesting).
"It's evolution. You know, we kill the stupid ones.
If you think about what has happened to the average Iraqi insurgent group since 2003, some of them had a personnel turnover in excess of 1,500 percent, right?"
On the past switch of strategy by insurgents to create sectarian strife, and its reasons:
"... just trying to fragment society. And I think we can probably date from probably as sure as 2004, the start of an al Qaeda campaign to provoke a sectarian civil war and to change the terms of the conflict, if you like, in Iraq. And I think we can say that that succeeded on the 22nd of February 2006, with the Samarra bombing."
"General Petraeus ran a conference in February 2006 to actually review the counterinsurgency manual. It was down at Fort Leavenworth. It was a three-day conference. And it was unique, and we had. (...) I was at that conference with a number of my colleagues. I left the conference a day early because of the Samarra bombing. Samarra bombing happened in the middle of that conference. (...) You know, 48 hours later, I'm on the ground in Baghdad. And the Iraqis were saying, what has happened here fundamentally changes the terms of the conflict. We've gone from being -- from being in fundamentally an insurgency situation to being in a sectarian conflict, where the requirements will be different moving forward. (...) why did they transform the war? Because we were winning. Right? Also, in 2005, we had improvements in the security situation. We had two very well-attended elections, where lots of people came out and voted. We had progress towards a political solution. You know, it was all, you know, obviously, there were still problems and challenges, but we were moving on a broadly positive path. The enemy saw that."
Some welcome change then, regarding the most crucial worry from a Western point of view if one thinks of an Iraq without the 160,000 U.S. soldiers in there:
"Well, at the unclassified level, I think one of the most interesting things with support to al Qaeda recently has been a very substantial drop in foreign fighters coming into Iraq. (...) the Syrians are doing -- through some very substantial diplomatic work, in fact, by the State Department, we have a regional partnership which is working to prevent the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq. (...) one of the things that has really, I think, contributed to the drop in the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq is the way that al Qaeda and some of the other groups used them. They simply burn them off... fodder and as suicide bombers. And you can understand that. I mean, if you are a network that has lots of foreigners coming in, you don't want to be taken over by the foreigners. And so you try to, you know, put them in jobs where they can't control it. (...) ... the organization overall is 95 percent Iraqi, but the leadership is very heavily foreign. (...) if you want to contribute and you want to be part of the Iraqi resistance, going with the al Qaeda way is just a ticket to, you know, you'll make a two-second, two-nanosecond contribution, and then you'll be a flash and you'll be gone."
Interesting references again to Syria there, beside the other factor of the very IO-compatibly emphasisable nature of the insurgency network leadership's trying to preserve its position in the midst of high "personnel turnover."
Any critical remarks to make? Well, the way Kilcullen discusses Afghanistan, his overall assessment of the situation there, is perhaps not that sound. But he effectively puts up a disclaimer by saying he's not been there for a long time. Regarding Iraq, well, I have no doubt that some of the current U.S. military leadership as well as their advisors from the rest of the world, are possibly the best-skilled to deal with COIN. But I'm not sure if there's enough tolerance within the U.S. for the costs of dealing with COIN for the long (enough) run. And outside influences will still be able to heat up all sorts of conflicts, no matter how successful this COIN effort is. Just say that I'm pessimistic, and prove me wrong.
To finish off, I'll just point to this extremely hilarious and yet fascinating presentation uploaded to the Kings of War blog by Dr David Betz. Joe knows how to win (pdf; author: Joe). For those who would like to read something equally insightful in a longer version, Rory Stewart's The Prince of the Marshes is always there, along with Kilcullen's presentation, to which I'll get back in the evening if I find time for that.
Reconsidered: Here I am, it's around 11 p.m. here in Hungary, and so I'll call it the end of the day now.


David J. Betz said...

Thank you for the link. I am enjoying your blog.

Péter MARTON said...

Kings of War are absolutely welcome here, I'm honoured!