September 22, 2008
The guerrilla can be difficult to beat, but certain principles of counter-insurgency warfare are well known since the 1950s and 1960s and have been successfully applied.
The widely distributed and influential work of Sir Robert Thompson, counter-insurgency expert in Malaysia, offers several such guidelines. Thompson's underlying assumption is that of a country minimally committed to the rule of law and better governance. Some governments, however, give such considerations short shrift, and their counterguerrilla operations have involved mass murder, genocide, starvation and the massive spread of terror, torture and execution. The totalitarian regimes of Hitler are classic examples, as are more modern conflicts in places like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. In Afghanistan's anti-Mujahideen war for example, the Soviets implemented a ruthless policy of wastage and depopulation, driving over one third of the Afghan population into exile (over 5 million people), and carrying out widespread destruction of villages, granaries, crops, herds and irrigation systems, including the deadly and widespread mining of fields and pastures. See Wiki article Soviet war in Afghanistan. Many modern countries employ manhunting doctrine to seek out and eliminate individual guerrillas.
Elements of Thompson's moderate approach are adapted here:
1.The people are the key base to be secured and defended rather than territory won or enemy bodies counted. Contrary to the focus of conventional warfare, territory gained, or casualty counts are not of overriding importance in counter-guerrilla warfare. The support of the population is the key variable. Since many insurgents rely on the population for recruits, food, shelter, financing, and other materials, the counter-insurgent force must focus its efforts on providing physical and economic security for that population and defending it against insurgent attacks and propaganda.
2.There must be a clear political counter-vision that can overshadow, match or neutralize the guerrilla vision. This can range from granting political autonomy, to economic development measures in the affected region. The vision must be an integrated approach, involving political, social and economic and media influence measures. A nationalist narrative for example, might be used in one situation, an ethnic autonomy approach in another. An aggressive media campaign must also be mounted in support of the competing vision or the counter-insurgent regime will appear weak or incompetent.
3.Practical action must be taken at the lower levels to match the competitive political vision. It may be tempting for the counter-insurgent side to simply declare guerrillas "terrorists" and pursue a harsh liquidation strategy. Brute force however, may not be successful in the long run. Action does not mean capitulation, but sincere steps such as removing corrupt or arbitrary officials, cleaning up fraud, building more infrastructure, collecting taxes honestly, or addressing other legitimate grievances can do much to undermine the guerrillas' appeal.
4.Economy of force. The counter-insurgent regime must not overreact to guerrilla provocations, since this may indeed be what they seek to create a crisis in civilian morale. Indiscriminate use of firepower may only serve to alienate the key focus of counterinsurgency- the base of the people. Police level actions should guide the effort and take place in a clear framework of legality, even if under a State of Emergency. Civil liberties and other customs of peacetime may have to be suspended, but again, the counter-insurgent regime must exercise restraint, and cleave to orderly procedures. In the counter-insurgency context, "boots on the ground" are even more important than technological prowess and massive firepower, although anti-guerrilla forces should take full advantage of modern air, artillery and electronic warfare assets.
5.Big unit action may sometimes be necessary. If police action is not sufficient to stop the guerrilla fighters, military sweeps may be necessary. Such "big battalion" operations may be needed to break up significant guerrilla concentrations and split them into small groups where combined civic-police action can control them.
6.Aggressive mobility. Mobility and aggressive small unit action is extremely important for the counter-insurgent regime. Heavy formations must be lightened to aggressively locate, pursue and fix insurgent units. Huddling in static strongpoints simply concedes the field to the insurgents. They must be kept on the run constantly with aggressive patrols, raids, ambushes, sweeps, cordons, roadblocks, prisoner snatches, etc.
7.Ground level embedding and integration. In tandem with mobility is the embedding of hardcore counter-insurgent units or troops with local security forces and civilian elements. The US Marines in Vietnam also saw some success with this method, under its CAP (Combined Action Program) where Marines were teamed as both trainers and "stiffeners" of local elements on the ground. US Special Forces in Vietnam like the Green Berets, also caused significant local problems for their opponents by their leadership and integration with mobile tribal and irregular forces. In Iraq, the 2007 US "surge" strategy saw the embedding of regular and special forces troops among Iraqi army units. These hardcore groups were also incorporated into local neighborhood outposts in a bid to facilitate intelligence gathering, and to strengthen ground level support among the masses.
8.Cultural sensitivity. Counter-insurgent forces require familiarity with the local culture, mores and language or they will experience numerous difficulties. Americans experienced this in Vietnam and during the US Iraqi Freedom invasion and occupation, where shortages of Arabic speaking interpreters and translators hindered both civil and military operations.
9.Systematic intelligence effort. Every effort must be made to gather and organize useful intelligence. A systematic process must be set up to do so, from casual questioning of civilians to structured interrogations of prisoners. Creative measures must also be used, including the use of double agents, or even bogus "liberation" or sympathizer groups that help reveal insurgent personnel or operations.
10.Methodical clear and hold. An "ink spot" clear and hold strategy must be used by the counter-insurgent regime, dividing the conflict area into sectors, and assigning priorities between them. Control must expand outward like an ink spot on paper, systematically neutralizing and eliminating the insurgents in one sector of the grid, before proceeding to the next. It may be necessary to pursue holding or defensive actions elsewhere, while priority areas are cleared and held.
11.Careful deployment of mass popular forces and special units. Mass forces include village self-defence groups and citizen militias organized for community defence and can be useful in providing civic mobilization and local security. Specialist units can be used profitably, including commando squads, long range reconnaissance and "hunter-killer" patrols, defectors who can track or persuade their former colleagues like the Kit Carson units in Vietnam, and paramilitary style groups. Strict control must be kept over specialist units to prevent the emergence of violent vigilante style reprisal squads that undermine the government's program.
12.The limits of foreign assistance must be clearly defined and carefully used. Such aid should be limited either by time, or as to material and technical, and personnel support, or both. While outside aid or even troops can be helpful, lack of clear limits, in terms of either a realistic plan for victory or exit strategy, may find the foreign helper "taking over" the local war, and being sucked into a lengthy commitment, thus providing the guerrillas with valuable propaganda opportunities as the stream of dead foreigners mounts. Such a scenario occurred with the US in Vietnam, with the American effort creating dependence in South Vietnam, and war weariness and protests back home. Heavy-handed foreign interference may also fail to operate effectively within the local cultural context, setting up conditions for failure.
13.Time. A key factor in guerrilla strategy is a drawn-out, protracted conflict, that wears down the will of the opposing counter-insurgent forces. Democracies are especially vulnerable to the factor of time. The counter-insurgent force must allow enough time to get the job done. Impatient demands for victory centered around short-term electoral cycles play into the hands of the guerrillas, though it is equally important to recognize when a cause is lost and the guerrillas have won.
Some writers on counter-insurgency warfare emphasize the more turbulent nature of today's guerrilla warfare environment, where the clear political goals, parties and structures of such places as Vietnam, Malaysia, or El Salvador are not as prevalent. These writers point to numerous guerrilla conflicts that center around religious, ethnic or even criminal enterprise themes, and that do not lend themselves to the classic "national liberation" template. The wide availability of the Internet has also cause changes in the tempo and mode of guerrilla operations in such areas as coordination of strikes, leveraging of financing, recruitment, and media manipulation. While the classic guidelines still apply, today's anti-guerrilla forces need to accept a more disruptive, disorderly and ambiguous mode of operation.
"Insurgents may not be seeking to overthrow the state, may have no coherent strategy or may pursue a faith-based approach difficult to counter with traditional methods. There may be numerous competing insurgencies in one theater, meaning that the counterinsurgent must control the overall environment rather than defeat a specific enemy. The actions of individuals and the propaganda effect of a subjective “single narrative” may far outweigh practical progress, rendering counterinsurgency even more non-linear and unpredictable than before. The counterinsurgent, not the insurgent, may initiate the conflict and represent the forces of revolutionary change. The economic relationship between insurgent and population may be diametrically opposed to classical theory. And insurgent tactics, based on exploiting the propaganda effects of urban bombing, may invalidate some classical tactics and render others, like patrolling, counterproductive under some circumstances. Thus, field evidence suggests, classical theory is necessary but not sufficient for success against contemporary insurgencies..."
Current guerrilla conflicts
Present ongoing guerrilla wars, and regions facing guerrilla war activity include:
LTTE in Sri Lanka
Zapatista Army of National Liberation, Mexico - have been relatively non-violent since 1994
Internal conflict in Peru
Second Chechen War
ETA in Spain
FARC in Colombia
Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan
Colombian Armed Conflict
Conflict in Iraq
Kurdish Unrest in Turkey
Ivorian Civil War ended in 2004 but UNOCI is still handling the rebels who are attacking UN peacekeepers
Islamic and Communist Insurgencies in the Philippines
Second Tuareg Rebellion
Successful guerrilla campaigns
Afghani Mujahideen against the USSR
East Timor (1999)
Kosovo Liberation Army, unsuccessful until 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia
EOKA in the expulsion of British troops from Cyprus (1955-1960)
Eritrean War of Independence 1961 - 1991
Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire (1821-1830)
Arab Revolt 1916-1918
Bangladesh Liberation War 1971
Peninsular War in Spain
Independence War in Latin America
The Hezbollah group in southern Lebanon
Philippines' during the Japanese occupation of WWII
Rhodesian Bush War
portions of the Wars of Scottish Independence; notably, actions led by Robert the Bruce
Irish War of Independence 1919-1921; campaign organized by Michael Collins
First Indochina War 1946-1954
Vietnam War 1959-1975
Cambodian Civil War
People's War in Nepal
The Partisans of Yugoslavia
Iraq In Operation Vigilant Resolve, Operation Matador, Anbar and Diyala campaigns in overall.
China (Communists vs. Nationalists)
American Revolutionary War
Unsuccessful guerrilla campaigns
Second Boer War 1899-1902
Ukrainian nationalist partisans and guerrillas during and after the Russian Civil War
Makhnovist anarchists and guerrillas in Ukraine after the Russian Civil War
Basmachi rebels in Soviet Central Asia 1916-1931
Irish Civil War 1922-23
IRA S-Plan campaign 1939-1941 Northern Campaign (IRA) 1942-1944 Border Campaign (IRA) 1956-62
Spanish Maquis after the Spanish Civil War
Polish resistance movement 1939-1944, unsuccessful until USSR liberation from German occupation
Greek Civil War
Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) 1944-1949
Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania 1944-1965, Forest Brothers
Karen National Liberation Army in Burma
Mau Mau Uprising
Peshmerga forces of Kurdistan
Philippine American War 1899-1902
Italian guerrilla war in Ethiopia 1941-1943
Nazi German Werwolf movement 1945
Tibet 1958-1974, resistance against Chinese occupation ultimately failed when American Central Intelligence Agency withdrew its support in context of President Richard Nixon's diplomatic overtures to the People's Republic of China
Thailand 1964-1982 Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). It suffered major setbacks in late 1970s and an amnesty was granted by the Thai government to all of its fighters in 1982, ending a long rebellion that once had much of rural areas under control.
Uruguay 1965-1973, the Tupamaros were suppressed by the army forces that later took power
Argentina 1969-1981 Montoneros and ERP were suppressed by security forces around 1977
Dominican Republic US forces suppressed Dominican guerrillas
El Salvador Due to the Treaty
Polisario Front in Western Sahara
Second Sudanese Civil War 1983-2005
Punjab Insurgency in India
United Liberation Front of Asom in India
National Democratic Front of Bodoland in India
Parrari in Pakistan
Balochistan Liberation Army
Kachin Independent Army in Burma
Internal conflict in Peru - insurgencies led by two rival Marxist guerrilla groups, the Shining Path and Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movementfrom 1981-2000
Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in Algeria