Must Counterinsurgency Wars Fail?
[WT title: "Can Counterinsurgency Win?"]
When it comes to a state fighting a nonstate enemy, there is a widespread impression the state is doomed to fail.
In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy concluded that victory in
More than any other recent war,
the allied forces' effort in
The list of "unwinnable wars" goes on and includes, for example, the counterinsurgencies in Sri Lanka and Nepal. "Underlying all these analyses," notes Yaakov Amidror, a retired Israeli major general, is the assumption "that counterinsurgency campaigns necessarily turn into protracted conflicts that will inevitably lose political support."
Amidror, however, disagrees
with this assessment. In a recent study published by the
This debate has the greatest significance, for if the pessimists are right, Western powers are doomed to lose every current and future conflict not involving conventional forces (meaning planes, ships, and tanks). The future would look bleak, with the prospect of successful insurgencies around the world and even within the West itself. One can only shudder at the prospect of an Israeli-style intifada in, say, the United States. Coincidentally, news came from Australia last week of an Islamist group calling for a "forest jihad" of massive fires in that country.
Victory over insurgencies is possible, Amidror argues, but it does not come easily. Unlike the emphasis on size of forces and arsenals in traditional wars, he postulates four conditions of a mostly political nature required to defeat insurgencies. Two of them concern the state, where the national leadership must:
Another two conditions concern counterterrorist operations, which must:
If these guidelines are
successfully followed, the result will not be a signing ceremony and a victory
parade but something more subtle – what Amidror calls "sufficient
victory" but I would call "sufficient
control." By this, he means a result "that does not
produce many years of tranquility, but rather achieves only a ‘repressed
quiet,' requiring the investment of continuous effort to preserve it." As
examples, Amidror offers the British achievement in
After these conditions have been met, Amidror argues, begins "the difficult, complex, crushing, dull war, without flags and trumpets." That war entails "fitting together bits of intelligence information, drawing conclusions, putting into operation small forces under difficult conditions within a mixed populace of terrorists and innocent civilians in a densely-populated urban center or isolated village, and small tactical victories."
Following these basic precepts
does lead to success, and Western states over the past century have in fact
enjoyed an impressive run of victories over insurgents. Twice
Counterinsurgency wars are winnable, but they have their own imperatives, ones very distinct from those of conventional warfare.
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