Counterinsurgency warfare success and failures against radical Islam

Washington Free Beacon:
Thus, for a time, did certain notions become commonplace in the U.S. military: that the focus of a counterinsurgency ought to be to protect the civilian population and separate it from the insurgents; that killing the enemy was all well and good but ultimately insufficient; and that terrain must be held by significant numbers of troops who must be replaced by reliable elements of local government. Peak COIN was a heady time for its architects, and Nagl found himself on the cover of the New York Times Magazine, profiled in the Wall Street Journal, mentioned in numerous other books and articles, and, in a kind of apotheosis for an author of military doctrine, interviewed by John Stewart as a guest on The Daily Show.

The newly revived COIN doctrine also helped turn the tide in Iraq, when properly resourced as a result of President Bush’s Surge. The effort was led by a general (Petraeus) who was intimately acquainted with this style of war, and, critically, inadvertently aided by a vicious, incautious primary enemy that seemed dedicated to alienating itself from its Sunni base of support. (Of course, that enemy, Al Qaeda in Iraq, would reemerge in the guise of the Islamic State after the abandonment of Iraq by President Obama.)

In Afghanistan, the results were more mixed. Nagl, who did not deploy there but has been a close observer of the fight against the Taliban, devotes some space to explaining the shortcomings of that effort. He cites the existence of a sanctuary for the Taliban in Pakistan and the corruption of the Kabul government as two factors that, historically speaking, tend to correlate with failure in counterinsurgency campaigns. To this we might add that nothing in counterinsurgency theory suggests that victory will be cheap, quick, or easy—quite the opposite on all counts, in fact. Perhaps the problem has been lack of national commitment, of inability to accept that some conflicts are going to take decades.

Or, perhaps, there was something about the square peg of counterinsurgency theory that was never going to fit well into the round hole of Afghanistan. Post-Saddam Iraq may have been a disaster, especially following the dissolution of the Iraqi army and the later sectarian crack-up brought about by al-Qaeda’s terrorism, but it was a place with a clear sense of what it means to be a somewhat modern state. Hussein, however brutally, had just ruled one there. Afghanistan, on the other hand, is less amenable to the state-building project that COIN theory suggests is necessary to defeat an insurgency. Not only had it been shattered by a war ongoing since 1979, but even before then many areas of the country had little notion of what it meant to be ruled by a state apparatus.
There is much more.

Counterinsurgency warfare requires strategic patients, something the Obama administration only gave lip service too as it switch to a counter terrorism strategy the result of which led to the expansion of al Qaeda and ISIL and the spread of terrorism around the Middle East and Europe as well as attacks within the US.  It was a mistake of historic proportions and has led to genocide and death and destruction on an industrial scale.

Counterinsurgency does require an adequate force to space ratio which means more troops are committed to the controlling an area and protecting people as well as cutting off enemy movement to contact.


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