How To Deal With Insurrections
Paris, November 12, 2009 -- There are two tried and disproved
methods for dealing with insurrection in a non-western country. The
third and reliable method is not to go there in the first place. The
fourth is get out with such grace as is possible, as rapidly as
possible. President Barack Obama may be looking at the last option, hitherto not on the policy menu.
The first method is to treat the insurrection as a conventional
military challenge. Attack en masse to destroy the uprising and its
infrastructure, employ shock-and-awe tactics, search for and destroy
the rebels’ sources of supply, even when this means invading
neighboring countries. Make the enemy stand up and fight the way
Americans fight wars. Rely on mass, overwhelming logistical
superiority, and the huge American technological advantage.
This was General William Westmoreland’s strategy at the start
of the Vietnamese war. Outkill the enemy. Make body-counts the
measure of success. By 1969 this program had failed and Westmoreland
had been relieved.
In Iraq in 2003 the United States again went in with fast, high-
powered and overwhelming armed force, blasting to shreds whatever
was in its way. It was a great success in getting to Baghdad. But
the enemy had not been interested in fighting. Several of the most
important Iraqi generals had secretly been bought off. The ordinary
soldier had no enthusiasm in fighting for Saddam Hussein, nor had the
The Iraq army expected to be taken over by the conquerers and
put to work cleaning up and reestablishing order in the country.
Instead the soldiers were told to go home: that they were
untrustworthy Baa’thists – nationalists, socialists and pan-Arabists
-- members of Saddam Hussein’s old party. So they went home and
found other things to do, such as taking part in an insurrection to
drive the occupiers out, not without success.
The Americans have started to leave Ieaq, having gained nothing
except to make Iran the regional great power, and to create hostility
for American oil companies who wanted but are not getting the hoped-for
oilfield development contracts.
Iraq is still a very unsettled country, a difficult national election
scheduled in the New Year. American troops are supposed to leave the
country in two years, but doubt about that remains. Mideastern,
Turkish, European, Russian and Far Eastern companies are
actively looking for business there. (The U.S. State Department
advises American businessmen against traveling to Iraq; it’s too
A second classic strategic theory for defeating insurrections
is “clear and hold.” This is very much in fashion in Washington now
thanks to its advocacy by Generals David Petraeus at Central Command
and Stanley A. McChrystal in Afghanistan, and also by two recent
books, by Lewis Sorley and David Kilcullen, both arguing that the
Vietnam war was actually won by such a strategy -- but too late for
the fickle American press, public opinion and Congress to recognize the victory.
Clear and hold means ejecting guerrillas from an area and
then protecting it from their return. This began in postwar Malaya
(as it was then) in 1948, when an insurrection from inside the
Chinese minority population caused much of that population to be
confined in guarded villages, leaving British troops free to deal
with the Chinese who escaped this treatment.
Eventually a political solution was found.
In Vietnam, where the U.S. copied the method, these villages were
called Strategic Hamlets and were employed in conjunction with the
Phoenix program to “clear” areas of enemy or unreliable elements, and
defend against the return of the Viet Cong. The Sorley and Kilcullen
books notwithstanding, the Communists won the Vietnam war, the
American part of it having lasted from 1963 to 1973.
In the Afghanistan case, Gedneral McChrystal has suggested that his
war, if fought on his terms (with troop reinforcements rising to a
total of over 100 thousand men at least), would take between 10 and
50 years to succeed.
Afghanistan consists of 645,807 square kilometers (249,346 square
miles), many of them more or less vertically inclined, populated by
an estimated 31,230,000 people. Iraq has an estimated population of
30,556,000 people and 434,128 square kilometers (167,617 sq. miles),
much of them flat. The estimates of how many civilians died in Iraq
range around the figure of one hundred thousand, with some -- the
Johns Hopkins-Lancet study – much higher.
President Obama is on his way to Asia. He has expressed particular
interest in talking again with the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Karl W.
Elkenbert. He is a former U.S. military commander in the country
(2005-2007), now retired from the army, who opposes sending any more
U.S. combat troops to Afghanistan. He would cut back to a few
thousand more trainers, and wait to see if the Afghans improve in
their ability to look after their own country. If not….?
© Copyright 2009 Tribune Medis Services International. All Rights
This article comes from William PFAFF
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