Consequently, the conceptual ambiguities and debates that had characterized much of counterinsurgency thinking in the s were reproduced, with similar negative results. This delay in coming to terms with the insurgency has had deleterious consequences. There are deeply rooted organizational reasons largely having to do with issues of organizational identity and self-definition why the US military finds it difficult to learn from its many previous experiences in counterinsurgency.
Partly because of this, lessons that are learned are often mistaken or inapplicable.
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Only after the shock of finding that standard operating procedures do not suffice for counterinsurgency has the US military attempted to learn how to conduct counterinsurgency more effectively. Because there has been little incentive to institutionalize these lessons, they have never been properly diffused; each time the US military has confronted an insurgency, it has had to rediscover counterinsurgency theory ab initio. One is naturally led to ask whether the current relearning of counterinsurgency in Iraq will prove as ephemeral as previous cases.
There are five central, unresolved issues in counterinsurgency theory. The first is the relationship between the kinetic activity of military organizations and the political goals of counterinsurgency. The third is the role of coercion and population control in defeating an insurgency. The fourth area of debate concerns how best to cope with the fact that counterinsurgency operations are protracted and highly political. Finally, the difficulties of controlling various kinds of security forces and militias are poorly addressed by counterinsurgency theory.
This orientation is almost always counterproductive. Brute force operations alienate local populations and generate more recruits for the insurgents e. US Army : 2— Whether or not this matters depends on the kind and degree of legitimacy required to suppress the insurgency, and on the degree of population control exerted by either side Kalyvas There was considerable variation in how different military units approached the task of occupying Iraq in With some exceptions i. Some of these early military efforts in Iraq like the vast sweep operations may well have been counterproductive.
No one takes kindly to having their homes burst into by heavily armed soldiers, particularly when they are culturally different and do not speak the local language. For many Iraqis, whatever benefits the American occupation may have brought, it also brought with it massive and often arbitrary violence, on the roads, at checkpoints, in prisons, and in homes.
Whereas the revelations of abuse of prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison may have come as a shock to Americans, it simply confirmed what many Iraqis already knew or suspected. The US Army at the time of the Abu Ghraib abuses had come to understand that its intelligence on the insurgency was inadequate. It recognized that it was up against a serious enemy, but had no clear idea about the identity of this enemy. Thousands of Iraqis were pulled into the net; somehow or other actionable intelligence was to be extracted from them. The intelligence and custodial services were simply not up to the task: facilities were overloaded, and military police were poorly trained and inadequately supervised.
This was a classic instance of counterinsurgent forces slipping out of control, in this case stimulated by pressures from top commanders to develop better intelligence on a determined and poorly understood opponent. By , many US military units had learned a lot and had greatly modified their tactics in Iraq. But by then the question had arisen of whether it was too late to suppress the insurgency. This intuitively appealing slogan turns out, on closer examination to have various possible meanings, and policies designed to win hearts and minds turn out to be difficult to design and implement.
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The conflict in Iraq was not like this. But it is, at most, a necessary rather than a sufficient condition for the suppression of an insurgency. Further, the notion that improvements to the material standards of living of the population will win hearts and minds US Army : c-3 is an unexamined and frequently mistaken assumption; instead of simply improving conditions, rewards should be contingent upon government success see Race Claims to the contrary notwithstanding, American counterinsurgency, in theory and in practice, continues to operate on the assumption that improvements in material conditions are the key to winning hearts and minds.
Throughout the conflict in Iraq, American policy-makers have worried about the delivery of services to the Iraqi population: electricity, security, jobs, construction, etc. The general climate of insecurity, together with poor planning and implementation, has meant that much of this effort has been futile. However, even if the US had been more effective in the reconstruction of Iraq, there are reasons to doubt whether this would have had much impact on the insurgency.
The notion that grievances can be ameliorated by improving government services, or by increasing the standard of living of the population, derives from a common sense and very Western notion of the origins of grievances.
Anti-government behavior is seen as a response to poverty rather than to inequality and injustice or to issues of ethnic or sectarian identity. In this optic, incremental improvement rather than reform is the solution.
A slightly different take on the question of hearts and minds was to cast the issue not as one of material improvements but as one of the government addressing grievances, which would undercut the appeal of the insurgents. Unfortunately, governments particularly those based on a narrow segment of the population are seldom willing to recognize that subject populations might have legitimate grievances.
Even if they recognize this, their ability to do anything about it without undermining their social base of support might be restricted. Recent counterinsurgency doctrine usually is quite explicit about the need to address grievances see US Army : 1—3, 2—1, and 2—9. In practice, the counterinsurgent state might do little to address grievances, and at the extreme may simply not recognize the existence of legitimate grievances at all.
Certainly, it will seldom admit that the nature of the state itself might be the problem.
There is sometimes a tendency to imply that satisfaction of grievances is a necessary and a sufficient condition for putting an end to an insurgency. It is not at all clear that the historical evidence supports such a proposition. In macro terms, as Jeff Goodwin suggests, the key variable is the openness of the political system.
Nevertheless, by the s American counterinsurgency doctrine had come to view addressing grievances as the center of the counterinsurgency effort. This generally required reforms typically of four kinds. First are efforts to promote land reform, usually one of the central concerns of peasants. Even the limited amount of land reform in the Philippines was enough to take the wind out of the Huk insurgency Kerkvliet Reform of this kind seems not to be an issue in Iraq.
Second are efforts to reform the army and control the militias so that military operations do not create unnecessary enemies. This has been a central issue in Iraq. Third, and often part of what a war is being fought about, is democratization. El Salvador is an exemplary case. The insurgency disappeared once meaningful elections were institutionalized and the military moved away from the center of power. The issue of meaningful elections in Iraq has been central to the conflict there. Fourth is national sovereignty, particularly in colonial situations or where foreign armies are present as occupation forces.
Insurgencies have been most successful against colonial regimes and states relying principally on foreign military forces as in Vietnam. The issue of national sovereignty is a central one in Iraq, and the US government is clearly intent on withdrawing from the limelight as rapidly as possible. The difficulty lies in creating an effective state and fostering a political accord that will enable the Americans to withdraw without major political costs. A foreign power will almost always have little legitimacy precisely because it is foreign.
Inevitably, the burden of reform and of counterinsurgency will have to be passed to the host nation.
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To the extent that indigenous state institutions are non-existent, weak, corrupt, or at the service of illegitimate elites, the ability of the host nation to assume these tasks is limited. The foreign power thus finds itself in a race against time to build up the indigenous state so that it can withdraw from direct conflict as rapidly as possible. The strategy of Vietnamization is testimony to the difficulties entailed. The difficulties are not so much military as political.
As of the fall of , whether Iraqification would succeed was an open question. Many counterinsurgency thinkers have been unconvinced by the hearts and minds school of thought. Control and coercion thinkers have argued that what is important is the passive support of the population, not what they think.
Whether the population positively accords legitimacy to the government is less important than whether they pay taxes, support the police, refuse to aid the insurgents, and whether enough informers are willing to come forward. There is much sociological merit to this view, but, like the hearts and minds approach, it turns out to be a cluster of distinct, and not always mutually compatible, ideas. This approach may succeed if the counterinsurgent is willing to countenance high and sustained levels of violence against the civilian population e.
However, in Iraq, where the intent is to create a democratic government, seeking to terrorize the population is counterproductive. The second variant, population control e. The notion that the task of a counterinsurgent is to separate the guerrillas from the population or vice versa, as is generally the practice is a largely unchallenged assumption in much counterinsurgency writing. A different view of counterinsurgency might be to envision it as a political struggle over the terms of incorporation of that section of the population that supports the insurgents. In this view, the key task is not to drive a wedge between the guerrillas and their popular base, but to find ways to address the grievances of that section of the population and develop institutional ways for them to participate fully in political activity.
It was unclear whether such measures were appropriate to Iraq. These militias are intended to provide local defense against guerrilla attacks until regular military forces can arrive.
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This frees up the regular forces for offensive operations against the insurgents. Creating effective self-defense forces is difficult. First, many of the villagers may actively support the insurgents. Arming self-defense forces is thus simply channeling weapons to the insurgents. Even where there is no active support, the poorly equipped and trained self-defense forces may be afraid to engage insurgents.