‘Making War upon insurgents is messy
and slow, like eating soup with a knife’
In the spring of
last year over 100 hundred strategists and military officers, many of them
already –or soon to be– serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, met at a special
operations base in Florida to discuss the war so far. The four–day event saw a
great variety of presentations ranging from the use of advanced mathematical modelling
to map the al–Qaeda network to the question of revitalising Cold War tactics to
face the new enemy, as well as much lively Q and A. This author had been asked to
address the gathering on the last day of the symposium. Although this is always
risky, given the potential for other participants to ‘steal one’s thunder’, it
did give me the opportunity to observe and listen to the state–of–the–art in current
strategic thinking and reports from the frontlines, before making my contribution. The overwhelming fact that
struck me and which would eventually become the central concern of what was
said, was the realisation that despite being at that point almost five years
into a global conflict, those most involved in actual combat and in shaping the
military thinking on how best to defeat al–Qaeda were still debating the nature
of the enemy. Is al–Qaeda an organisation? they asked; is it a network, what is
a network? Is it a supranational ideology or a physically locatable target?
Does it have a centre of gravity? Those gathered still had not decided the
answers to these questions. Yet while we were in Florida, teams in Washington and across the Pentagon’s empire were at work developing and refining their own
answers to these questions.
The theme of our
event was ‘Global Insurgency’ and how appropriate a concept this is to the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). As
our gathering was testing the assumption that an older existing doctrine could
be applied in the global conflict, other warrior–scholars were distilling the lessons
of 20th century counterinsurgency (COIN) in preparation for the
Pentagon’s unveiling of its new COIN super–manual. Whilst the practitioners and
theorists were not clear on what we were fighting, it had been decided for us by
others that America is battling an insurgency and that counterinsurgency is to
be the tool. Yet how had the US gone from fighting religious terrorism to insurgency and
what had happened to the idea of the conflict being a global war? Each of these
terms –war, insurgency and terrorism– must describe discrete phenomena, yet we
had not adequately explained what the difference between them is, or how al–Qaeda
has evolved between each manifestation into the next (if it had indeed done
so). Some of us were not immediately convinced that insurgency is the correct
model for the enemy we are now fighting, at least outside the Afghan and Iraqi
theatres of operations. What follows is a discussion of the merits of the new
counterinsurgency doctrine and its deficiencies, as well as an assessment of
the concept that the enemy we now face is involved in a global insurgency.
Doctrinal Déjà Vu
Just a few days
before Christmas, on the day the Pentagon bid farewell to Donald Rumsfeld, the
Department of Defense finally launched its new field manual on
counterinsurgency. In the first month after its release, FM 3–24: Counterinsurgency was downloaded more than 1.5 million times from Army and Marine Corps websites,
reviewed on Salafi websites and later even found in Taleban camps in Pakistan. This unclassified document has since
then become one of the pillars of US policy in what was the GWOT, but since the
2006 Quadrennial Defense Review has been rechristened ‘The Long War’.
In the two years
it took to write the manual and since its debut there has been an upsurge in
specialist articles by strategists and historians, as well as commentary on web–logs from those actually fighting in
Iraq and Afghanistan, all debating the merits of the manual and the various
extant counterinsurgency theories and case studies. The US government even established a dedicated website just to document and discuss the
question of counterinsurgency. Despite this healthy debate on how well the new, revised, doctrine will serve
US national security interests in the post–9/11 strategic environment, certain
fundamental questions remain, questions which go beyond the merits of any
individual document or related collection of tactics. These are:
- How does insurgency and counterinsurgency relate
to the higher strategic activity of waging war?
- Is the ‘Long War’ truly just an iteration of
counterinsurgency, but with counterinsurgency doctrine being applied globally?
- Just how applicable is ‘classical’ COIN theory
to the struggle with globally dispersed terrorism that is religiously informed?
Can other, less examined, conflicts illuminate the nature of the current
This study will
first discuss the concept of global insurgency. Secondly, we will deal with the
existing canon of COIN theory and case studies and provide a new categorisation
of how counterinsurgencies vary and how different Iraq and Afghanistan are from most previous campaigns that are usually studied. This conclusion will
be based upon a drastic expansion of the case studies we can examine under the
heading of irregular warfare or insurgency. Then we will look at the connection
between the practice of counterinsurgency and the broader world of politics and
war–fighting. We will close with a discussion as to exactly how much the ‘Long
War’ is in fact understandable as a form of COIN and whether al–Qaeda is truly
an insurgent organisation.
What is the Threat?
As was clearly
evinced by the practitioners gathered in Florida, although we are now six years
after the events of September 11, there still exists disagreement over who or
what we are fighting. According to the leading neoconservative ideologue,
Charles Krauthammer, whose writings have had a great influence on US policy after the September 11 attacks, the threat being faced is an ‘existential’ one. The very day after the attacks
on the WTC and the Pentagon, Krauthammer wrote:
‘We no longer have to search for a name for
the post–Cold War era. It will henceforth be known as the age of terrorism.
Organized terror has shown what it can do: execute the single greatest massacre
in American history, shut down the greatest power on the globe and send its
leaders into underground shelters. All this, without even resorting to
chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction.’
Yet in its
official response, after it was indeed demonstrated that the group behind the
attack was in fact al–Qaeda, the White House did not declare war just on al–Qaeda
but on terrorism itself. President Bush was unequivocal: ‘Our war on terror
begins with al–Qaeda, but it does not end there’. Addressing a joint session of
Congress just nine days after the attacks, he went on to say: ‘It will not end
until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and
defeated’. This is how we arrived at the term GWOT. Yet the Administration has not been
consistent in its use of this term, with the President also referring to our
enemy as being militant Jihadism and Islamofascism, not just al–Qaeda or
terrorism itself. Nevertheless, with the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the consequent eruption of
sectarian violence, we have seen the development of the concept of al–Qaeda seen
as an insurgency. Not only that, but given the fact that the organisation is
capable of executing attacks around the globe, be it London, Madrid, Amman or
Bali, the concept of it representing a global insurgency has started to take
hold. Even the online encyclopedia Wikipedia has a 12 section, multi–page
entry for the term ‘Global Islamic Insurgency’. The entry opens by referring to
David Kilcullen’s work by stating:
Insurgency is a hypothesis contending that various non–state Islamist groups are
dedicated to political outcomes by way of terrorism and information operations,
networked through informal social
bonds with access to modern communication technologies and with the
backing of certain states, certain Islamic charitable
organizations and/or wealthy individuals; it is best described as an insurgency on a global
scale, against the "established order".’
According to the
authors and editors of the entry, the Global Islamic Insurgency should be
understood as having two elements or drivers. On the one hand there is the Shia–type
Islamic insurgency ‘based in and supported by Iran’ and the Wahhabi (Sunni)
type Islamic insurgency ‘symbolically led and sometimes directly controlled by
the terrorist organisation Al–Qaeda’. As the entry does not deal at all with
the history of counterinsurgency or COIN doctrine, it does not unfortunately
address the obvious question that arises given such a definition of Global
Islamic Insurgency: if insurgency is classically the use of violence by the
sub–state actor against a given government and the status quo, how should we
understand the first type of (Shia) global insurgency differently if it is in
fact driven by the nation–state Iran? The question is all the more relevant if
we consider the fact that the second type of Wahhabi global insurgency is also,
or at least has been in the past, subsidised and promoting by elements within
the governmental elite of Saudi Arabia. Plainly: if a state promotes violence
against another state, is this activity insurgency? How much sense is there in
using concepts of counterinsurgency when not only the target is a nation–state
but so is the instigator and supporter of the original violence?
But let us move
on from the world of Internet to more authoritative sources. This year the RAND
Corporation, the world’s first modern security–oriented think–tank, launched a
new series of Counterinsurgency Studies. Four such studies have already been
published in the series. One predictably deals with lessons learnt from
previous campaigns, one with the under–examined question of subversion within
insurgency and a third with proto–insurgencies and state support to insurgency.
For our purposes, the first paper in the series, entitled Heads We Win – The
Cognitive Side of Counterinsurgency (COIN) is the most relevant, since it presents
the current threat as a global insurgency and posits global COIN as the
According to the
report –which was sponsored by the Combating Terrorism Technology Task Force,
set up just eight days after the 9/11 attacks–, we are witnessing ‘the rise and
persistence of a new class of insurgency that combines utopian aims, intense
motivation, global connectivity and mobility, extreme violence, and constant
adaptation’. Additionally: ‘The foremost example of this [global insurgency] is
the Islamist–Sunni–Salafist jihad, which aims to overthrow what its adherents see as a corrupt nation–state order
in the Muslim world, devised by the West to dominate Islam’. The author
proceeds to also use the term ‘hybrid (global–local) insurgencies’ to describe
the combination of a terror group of global reach which has a connection –at
least ideologically– to locally occurring insurgencies.
In assessing the
response to the challenge of this new global insurgency, the RAND report is
‘The US response to this pattern of
insurgency has stressed (1) new bureaucratic layers, eg, the Department of
Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, that
seem to have improved neither analysis nor decision making; (2) increased
investment in military platforms, which are of marginal utility against a
diffuse and elusive insurgency; and (3) the use of force, which may validate
the jihadist argument, producing more jihadis and inspiring new martyrs. What
has been missing is a systematic attempt to identify and meet critical
analytical, planning, and operational decision making needs for global COIN,
exploiting revolutionary progress in information networking. Consequently,
US COIN has been as clumsy as the new insurgency has been cunning.’ (Emphasis added).
Coming as it
does from the RAND Corporation, the foremost Federally Funded Research and
Development Center (FFRDC) associated with the US armed forces and the
Department of Defense, this is a damning assessment, especially since it was
published in the sixth year of the ‘Long War’. Nevertheless, written as it is
by a civilian analyst, the report is open to criticism by those who believe in
hands–on experience being essential to any understanding of insurgency and COIN. To that end it is worth further
examining the writings of four authors who have either served in COIN
operations or who were part of the government revision of COIN doctrine.
State of the Art COIN
‘(C)ounterinsurgency is a strange and complicated
(Cohen et al., Principles, Imperatives and Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency)
In May of last
year, Eliot Cohen, SAIS Professor and currently Counsellor to the US Secretary
of State, was the co–author of a piece on counterinsurgency principles and
practices with three active–duty or retired US army officers, one of whom –John
Nagl– was deeply involved in the writing of the new US Field Manual for
Counterinsurgency. Although the US Army is studious in compiling official histories of US
campaigns to be published after the fact, it is far rarer for front–line
officers to publish pieces on an ongoing campaign along with serving advisers
and decision–makers. As a result the article deserves close study.
opens with the premise that although all insurgencies differ from one another
in their root causes, distinct environments and cultures, all successful
counterinsurgencies are linked by common principles. ‘All insurgencies use
variations of standard frameworks and doctrine and generally adhere to elements
of a definable revolutionary campaign’. After outlining how complicated a task
counterinsurgency can be despite the core principles that obtain in all successful
campaigns, the authors proceed to enumerate their version of these (seven) guiding
principles. They are:
(1) Unity of effort
(2) Political primacy
(3) Understanding the environment
(4) Intelligence as the driver for operations
(5) Isolation of insurgents
(6) Security under the Rule of Law
(7) Long–term commitment.
Then a shorter
list follows of what the authors call contemporary imperatives which must be
added to the list of principles given the current environment. These imperatives
(2) Management of expectations
(3) Empowerment of the lowest level of COIN actor
whilst the article does succeed in revisiting key COIN truths and placing them
in the context of the new challenge faced in Iraq and Afghanistan, the whole discussion occurs in a way reminiscent of there being a large
elephant in the room with no one wishing to recognise the fact. Although the
article raises several so–called paradoxes pertaining to COIN doctrine internally, it ignores the most
significant paradoxes which result when one compares COIN principles relevant
to a nation–state theatre with doctrinal principles that cannot be clearly
applied at all in a global context against a global insurgent. To mention just
a few of these glimpses of the pachyderm, on the very first page of their
article the authors note: ‘The primary objective of any counterinsurgent is to
establish such a [legitimate] government... Unless the government achieves
legitimacy, counterinsurgency efforts cannot succeed’. Both of these
observations are clearly part of the classic canon of COIN doctrine and we
expect are valid for any COIN activities the US and its coalition allies are
undertaking in Iraq and Afghanistan. But if this is the essence of COIN, then
how can we apply the principle to a global insurgency? Can a global COIN
doctrine rest on the same fundamental goal? If we simply note that there is no
one global government, but 193 independent nation–states in the world, then how
does the ‘primary objective’ of establishing legitimate government obtain within
the context of a global COIN strategy? Surely the US cannot provide legitimacy,
since the US government can only be legitimate as the administration of its own
citizens. As a result, how does the question of legitimacy apply to a global
insurgency? Can we therefore jettison this primary objective of classic COIN or
do we default to the Afghan/Iraqi model in each case and hope that governments
created and made possible by external military intervention will eventually
become legitimate. If we ignore or delete this primary objective of classic
COIN in the global context, then what will replace it? How is legitimacy to be
understood in a global campaign or sanctuary denial? One author has suggested a
different objective and we will examine the merits of his suggestion. But first
let us look more deeply into the question of modern Counterinsurgency.
theory was slowly rediscovered after the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it was said that there exist many excellent case studies and existing
doctrinal texts which can illuminate and guide our fight today but that
politics and fashion led us to overlook or forget them. For example, speaking on the
day of FM 3–24’s official release, one of its contributing editors, Col.
John Nagl, made it clear that it was the negative political backlash to Vietnam that made the US armed forces willingly forget and distance themselves from all
that it had learnt in Indo–China about unconventional warfare during the 1960s
and 1970s. Thus we have seen the wholesale return of serving officers and strategists to the
study of classic texts on previous insurgencies, foremost Callwell on ‘small
wars’, Frank E. Kitson on Northern Ireland, Roger Trinquier and David Galula on
the French experience, as well as Robert Taber’s original War of the Flea and, of course, the works of T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia), in an effort to re–learn that
which we once knew.
After reading the classic texts and today’s fresh interpretations,
it is relatively easy to compile a set of classic COIN do’s and don’ts. A
representative summary of the wisdom gleaned from T.E. Lawrence to Vietnam and beyond would look something like Table 1.
Table 1. Classic Tenets of Counterinsurgency
- ‘Unity of Effort’ –integrated employment of political, military,
economic, social and psychological countermeasures
- Win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the population (WHAM)
- Gain greater credibility than the insurgent. Legitimacy is the
- Deny insurgents sanctuary
- Police primacy
- Focus on Intelligence
- Selective and discriminate use of force
- Avoid overreaction to insurgent violence
- Separate insurgents from support base
- Use clear and hold, ‘oil spot’ tactics to gradually
sanitise areas of insurgents
- Secure (host–)nation borders
- Protect key infrastructure
Sources: FM 3–24 and the classic works of Lawrence, Kitson, etc, cited at the beginning of the
Despite being able to collect and summarise the best COIN
thinking of the 20th century, two surprising facts remain. First, for some
opaque reason, the list of insurgencies the military and academic worlds
examine is incredibly restrictive and ignores many cases of irregular warfare without
due justification. In most cases these conflicts have for some reason been labelled
civil wars or revolutions and not insurgencies. Secondly, despite all the canonical
texts and individual and comparative case studies, no one has attempted a
categorisation of previous COIN events that differentiates between the original
conditions at the start of the conflict and the given government’s aims. Just
comparing two instances: the UK’s experience and stated mission in Northern Ireland and the American experience in Vietnam clearly demonstrate the huge range
of counterinsurgency cases and the need to clearly categorise them on the basis
of at least these two variables (end–state envisaged and initial conditions).
Together, these two factors: the restriction of COIN
analysis to just a handful of famous 20th century cases and the
mistake of examining each without first separating cases based upon government
aims and the political, economic and military point of departure, have greatly
distorted what we have to learn from existing examples of irregular warfare and
what in fact are the lessons for today.
Insurgency versus Civil War, versus Revolution
Without exaggeration it can be stated that modern COIN
theory is built largely upon just a handful of books written by practitioners that
are in turn based upon the experience gained in just a handful of 20th century conflicts. The authors have been mentioned already: Lawrence, Callwell,
Kitson, Trinquier, Galula and so forth. Similarly,
country studies by less famous authors and analysts are restricted in scope to a
small number of countries or regions, to wit: Vietnam (including French
Indochina), Algeria, Northern Ireland, Colombia, the Philippines and Malaya. A few of the more adventurous writers will go on to discuss Mozambique, Rhodesia, Angola, El Salvador, Aden, Oman or Afghanistan under the Soviets. Only
the most adventurous might attempt to travel as far at Kashmir or Cyprus to look at what can be learnt there. But at that point it is as if blinkers are put on.
It appears that the modern study of COIN is exhausted by looking at 15
conflicts in a century that has witnessed scores of wars and lesser conflicts,
domestic and inter–state.
detrimental to the formation of a modern COIN doctrine is the fact that almost
all of the better known examples of counterinsurgency are limited to cases
where a colonial or post–imperial government was fighting on the territory of
its dependent (ex–)colonies. How we limit our understanding of insurgency to
such historically particular cases seems very hard to justify in a
post–colonial, post–Cold War era. In the vast majority of cases commonly cited
the insurgent was interested in self–determination or similar politically –as
opposed to religiously– motivated goals. None of the insurgents discussed
within the canon of classic COIN studies was religiously motivated with the aim
of initiating a global revolution.
Table 2. Classic COIN Case Studies
Core, Most Common Cases
Additional, Less Studied Cases
Afghanistan (Soviet occupation)
Jammu and Kashmir
TOTAL: 15 cases
One author since
9/11 has attempted to broaden the scope of analysis. Dr
Kalev Sepp, a former special forces officer and faculty member at the Naval
Postgraduate School in Monterrey, California, wrote a short article back in
2005 for the Military Review entitled Best Practices in Counterinsurgency. It is not a particularly
groundbreaking piece given that the work generally reiterates some uncontroversial
COIN advice previously learnt by others. Sepp does, however, note that there are dozens of conflicts one could look at
in order to learn more about how to defeat the modern insurgent. Unfortunately,
beyond appending a long list of conflicts to the end of his article, the author
does not take this most valid point any further, nor does he seem to allow this
unusually broad field of potential case studies to inform his conclusions or
recommendations beyond what has already been said by others many times before.
But what if we were to take this idea further, to truly
broaden the scope of COIN analysis to include all examples of irregular warfare
that occurred in the 20th century? Such a list, if it is to be
intellectually rigorous, must include all instances –internal or international– where
unconventional warfare was used by one or both sides, to include civil wars and
revolutions. Such a list would include conflicts that the COIN strategists,
both pre– and post–9/11 rarely discuss, such as the Boer War, the Hungarian
Revolution of 1956, partisan and resistance efforts in Europe during World War
II and even the Chechen–Russian conflict that simmers even today. Such a list
runs to almost 50 conflicts as opposed to just 15 and enormously expands the
field of data that can be examined by the counterinsurgency strategist and
There is no scientific reason why the study of these other
conflicts has been left most often to the military historian and been all but ignored
by those wishing to find doctrinal answers as to how to defeat the latest
irregular foe we are fighting. This is especially true once we realise that by
enlarging the pool of conflicts we study we include cases that are far closer
to the current challenge we face. First, we include more cases where the enemy
was religiously (as well as politically motivated), as are bin Laden and his
Salafi allies. Secondly, we now have examples of conflicts which are similar to
Iraq and Afghanistan where the goal of the counterinsurgent was not a return
to the status quo ante, but a drastic alteration of the political
reality, the forcible engineering of the wholesale shifting of a nation from
dictatorship to democracy. Below is an initial categorisation of COIN–relevant conflicts that includes
events that go beyond just the 15 cases that are most often discussed. Red denotes conflicts that are rarely, if ever, examined as
instances of insurgency or counterinsurgency. Conflicts marked with an asterisk
constitute an additional category or sub–set: COIN events substantially
informed or influenced by religion (as well as politics).
Table 3. New COIN–relevant Categories of Conflict
Domestic Regime Change/Revolution
International Regime Change
WWII – Yugoslav partisan
Internationally Assisted/Coordinated Resistance
WWII France, etc (SOE)
As the list
clearly demonstrates, such a more inclusive approach to case studies we should
examine under COIN, includes instances of conflict that are far more applicable
to the current challenge then the classic COIN case studies. Nevertheless, this
does not answer the overarching question of whether or not Global
Counterinsurgency makes sense as a new doctrine to defeat al–Qaeda and related
Al–Qaeda as a Global Threat?
If the 20th century taught us anything, it was that ideology can be global in the threat
that it poses to the Western way of life. Whether it was Fascism or Communism,
the free nations of the West spent most of that century fighting a global
threat that was founded on a universalist, exclusionary ideology. For the first
half of the century, national socialism of the kind embodied by Hitler and
Mussolini and after WWII the socialism of Stalin. Can al–Qaeda truly compare to
such mighty foes? The following table represents an attempt to compare the
three threats as succinctly as possible:
Table 4. Three ideological threats
Cellular – then centralised
Cellular – then centralised
Democratic – then dictatorial
Was but now non–N/S
Very mixed audience
As we can see,
the similarities are many. So are the differences. The biggest differences are
of course connected with culture (non–European). But the role of the
nation–state is also very important, this Western construct being so
antithetical to fundamentalist Muslim thought. Finally there is the question of
audience. This is perhaps the most challenging of all, given how diverse a
community the collective noun ‘Islam’ is.
If we assume that the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan are
far from finished and that the future mighty indeed see further instances where
government forces fight insurgents and where the goal of the counterinsurgent
is to radically reshape the political reality of that country, then we may have
to recognise that such campaigns are far closer to the model of government–sponsored
revolution than the colonial suppression or police actions of the 20th century.
Even if we believe Counterinsurgency doctrine to be the
answer at the moment, we must recognise that the extant COIN canon is greatly
limited and its list of case studies must be increased to include other
conflicts we have rarely included under the COIN banner. Additionally, there
are limitations to the analogy of al–Qaeda as another ‘–ism’ like Fascism and
Communism. For, indeed, the similarities are many, but the differences are in
areas that are crucial to our understanding of the conflict’s fundamental
nature. In other words, FM 3–24 is a good start, but we are far from
having a new fix–all doctrine.
Director of the Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security
(ITDIS), Budapest, Hungary and adjunct Professor on the Programme for Terrorism
and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall Center, Garmisch–Partenkirchen,
Table 5. A Broader List of Twentieth Century Irregular Conflicts with Relevance to COIN
- US Philippine nationalists 1899–1902
- Northern Ireland(PIRA) 1968–
- WWII Resistance France and elsewhere (SOE) 1940–45
- WWII Balkans (Tito’s partisans) 1940–45
- Palestine(British Mandate vs Jewish separatists) 1945–48
- Malayan Emergency 1948–60
- Algeria(French vs FLN) 1954–62
- Algeria (Algerian Government v FIS/GIA) 1992–
- Aden (UK vs Yemeni insurgents) 1955–67
- Hungarian Revolution 1956
- Mozambique (FRELIMO) 1964–74
- Colombia (FARC, ELN) 1964–
- Philippines (NPA, MNLF, MILF) 1970–
- Afghanistan (USSR vs Mujahedeen) 1979–88
- Peru (Sendero Luminoso) 1980–95 (MRTA) 1996–97
- Nicaragua(Sandinista, Contras) 1980–90
- Afghanistan (Taleban and AQ) 2001–
Graph 1. Kilcullen’s Ecosystem of
Source: D. Kilcullen, ‘Countering Global
Insurgency’, version 2.2 published on the Small Wars Journal website, 30
November 2004, http://www.smallwarsjournal.com; and D. Kilcullen, (Senior
Counterinsurgency Advisor to the Commanding General MNF–I David Petraeus), Counterinsurgency
in Iraq: Theory and Practice, PowerPoint presentation received from Iraq via
e–mail, October 2007. The slide is part of a related presentation made by Dr
Kilcullen to a USMC wargaming unit at the Alfred M. Gray Research Center, Quantico, 26 September 2007.
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Intelligence Review, 4 May.
Gray, Colin S. (2006), Irregular Enemies
and the Essence of Strategy: Can the American Way of War Adapt?, SSI, US
Army War College, Carlisle Pennsylvania, March, http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/PUB650.pdf.
Kagan, Fred (2005), ‘The New Bolsheviks:
Understanding Al–Qaeda’, National Security Outlook, American Enterprise
Institute, 16 November,
Kilcullen, David (2005), ‘Countering Global
Insurgency’, The Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 28, nr 4, August.
Kilcullen, David (2006), Three Pillars of
Counterinsurgency, remarks delivered at the US Government COIN Conference,
28 September, Washington, http://www.usgcoin.org/docs1/3PillarsOfCounterinsurgency.pdf.
Kilcullen, David (2007), ‘New Paradigms for
21st Century Conflict’, EJournal USA, http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itps/0507/ijpe/kilcullen.htm.
Kilcullen, David (unpub.), Subversion and
Counter–Subversion in the campaign against terrorism in Europe, unpublished
draft manuscript in the author’s possession.
Kilcullen, David (2006–7), ‘Counter–Insurgency Redux’, Survival, vol. 48 nr 4, Winter, p. 111–130.
Sepp, Kalev (2005), ‘Best Practices in Counterinsurgency’, Military Review,
West, F.J. Bing’ (2005), ‘The Fall of
Fallujah’, Marine Corps Gazette, July, p. 52–58.
Official Documents and Government Publications
Casebook on Insurgency and Revolutionary Warfare: 23 Summary
Accounts, Defense Documentation Center for
Scientific and Technical Information, Alexandria / Special Operations Research
Office, American University, Washington, 1962.
FM 3–24 Counterinsurgency, available from the US Army
Combined Arms Center, http://usacac.army.mil/cac/repository/materials/coin–fm3–24.pdf.
Military Review, Special Edition –
Counterinsurgency Reader, October 2006, Combined Arms Centre, Fort Leavenworth,
The Quadrennial Defense Review,
Combined Arms Research Library, US Command and General Staff College, http://www–cgsc.army.mil/CARL/index.asp
The Federation of American Scientists, http://www.fas.org
The History of British Military Conflicts since 1945, http://www.britains–smallwars.com
JANES Information Group, http://www.janes.com
Small Wars Center of Excellence, http://www.smallwars.quantico.usmc.mil
Small Wars Journal, http://www.smallwarsjournal.com
 Joint Special Operations University, (JSOU), First Annual
Symposium: Countering Global Insurgency, 2–5 May 2006, Hurlburt Field, Florida.
 Sebestyén Gorka, ‘Al–Qaeda and von Clausewitz – Rediscovering the
Art of War’, a paper delivered to the Joint Special Operations University, First Annual Symposium: Countering Global Insurgency, 5/V/2006, www.itdis.org.
All Internet citations used in this study are correct as of November 2007.
 It is safe to say that the theme for this event and the inspiration
behind much of the work that has been done in the US on counterinsurgency in
the last few years is thanks in large measure to the efforts of the
warrior–scholar David Kilcullen. An Australian military intelligence officer
with extensive experience in fighting insurgents, as well as a PhD in the
subject, Dr Kilcullen was noticed by the Bush Administration through his
writings on the subject of insurgency theory and its application post–9/11.
Since that time he has served on secondment as Chief Strategist in the Office
of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the US Department of State and then
as Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to the Commanding General Multi–National
Force–Iraq, David Petraeus. The US military and its allies owe much to Col.
Kilcullen’s work, which intellectually challenges existing practices and
policies. This author would also like to thank Col. Kilcullen for having taken
time to explore certain issues of the post–9/11 environment in person. See D. Killcullen,
‘Countering Global Insurgency’, The Journal of Strategic Studies, vol.
28, nr 4, August 2005 (or the full 50–plus page version with the same title
published on the Small Wars Journal website in 2004); D. Kilcullen, ‘Three
Pillars of Counterinsurgency’, remarks delivered at the US Government COIN Conference,
28/IX/2006, Washington, http://www.usgcoin.org/docs1/3PillarsOfCounterinsurgency.pdf;
D. Kilcullen, ‘Counter–Insurgency Redux’, Survival, vol. 48, nr 4,
Winter 2006–7, p.111–130; and D. Kilcullen, ‘New Paradigms for 21st Century Conflict’, EJournal USA, http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itps/0507/ijpe/kilcullen.htm.
Col. Kilcullen has gone on to develop ideas for revisiting Cold War concepts
for use in the ‘Long War’ in a study titled Subversion and
Counter–Subversion in the Campaign against Terrorism in Europe, unpublished
draft manuscript in the author’s possession.
 For details see Sebestyén L. v. Gorka, ‘Counter–Insurgency
Theories Comeback’, JANES Terrorism and Security Monitor, 5/IV/2007.
 The QDR uses the
new term liberally: ‘The Department of Defense conducted the Quadrennial
Defense Review (QDR) in the fourth year of a long war, a war that is irregular
in its nature’ (emphasis added). Indeed the first Chapter of the QDR is titled
‘Fighting the Long War’. See The Quadrennial Defense Review at http://www.defenselink.mil/qdr/report/Report20060203.pdf.
 See our bibliography for a list of just some of the articles
penned in recent months, as well as other older classic texts. Last year, the
US Army alone compiled a special 200–page reader solely on counterinsurgency,
with 20 selected authors including Gen. David H. Petraeus, the current military
commander in Iraq. See Military Review, Special Edition –
Counterinsurgency Reader, October 2006, Combined Arms Centre, Fort Leavenworth,
Kansas. The RAND Corporation, which worked extensively on the issue of COIN
theory during the Vietnam era, has also reissued its unclassified reports
electronically and revisited the topic with new studies. See Stephen T. Hosmer &
Sibylle O. Crane (Eds.), Counterinsurgency: A Symposium, April 16–20, 1962,
RAND, Santa Monica, reissued 2006, and Austin Long, On ‘Other War’: Lessons
from Five Decades of RAND Counterinsurgency Research, RAND, Santa Monica,
2006, both available at http://www.rand.org; and, lastly, for a look at operational
realties within a COIN theatre see S. Gorka, ‘Interview with Brig. Gen. Buster
Howes, Commander JCEB, ISAF’, JANES Intelligence Review, 4/V/2007.
However, the site carries a serious mission statement: ‘The Interagency
Counterinsurgency Initiative (ICI) seeks to inform and help shape relevant USG
policy and programs by incorporating the theory and history of counters to
organized movements that use subversion or violence rather than established
political processes to undermine or overthrow governments, with the goal of
focusing appropriate elements of diplomacy, defense, and development on the alleviation
of such threats’. As of the autumn of 2007 the content is rather perfunctory
and already out–of–date. Although it includes some seminal works by the likes
of David Kilcullen and Eliot Cohen (first published elsewhere), the site seems
to have run out of steam or been forgotten by its government masters.
 Krauthammer, ‘This is Not a Crime, This is War’, ibid.
 Quoted by Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes – The History of the CIA,
Doubleday, New York, 2007.
 See the articles by David Kilcullen listed under footnote 4 above
and also: the Wikipedia entry ‘Global Islamic Insurgency’, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Islamic_Insurgency;
E. Cohen, C. Crane, J. Horvath and J. Nagl: ‘Principles, Imperatives and
Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency’, Military Review, March–April 2006; and
D.C. Gompert, Heads we Win – The Cognitive Side of Counterinsurgency,
RAND Counterinsurgency Study Paper 1, RAND, NDRI, Santa Monica, 2007.
 Hardly a phrase that trips off the tongue, Islamist–Sunni–Salafist
Jihad is not as easy and evocative a name for an enemy as the Evil
Empire or the Third Reich. Additionally, there is the serious issue
of using an otherwise positive word such as jihad (internal struggle, or Holy
War) to describe our enemy’s actions, with all that entails (for a detailed examination
of why we should not use Arab phrases such as Holy War to depict the despicable
actions of terrorists see the writings of Jim Guirard at www.truespeak.org).
 An eternal debate, the question of whether only a soldier can
understand war and strategy, or whether a civilian can have an insight, will
not be settled by this paper (for an example of how personal and deeply felt an
issue this can become, even between recognised leaders in the field, see Col.
D. Kilcullen’s blistering critique of the civilian academic Edward Luttwak and
the latter’s recent article on COIN, ‘Dead End: Counterinsurgency Warfare as Military
Malpractice’, Harpers, February 2007, http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2007/04/edward–luttwaks–counterinsurge–1/.
For the sake of full disclosure, the author of this article is not a serving
military officer. Whilst having modest experience of life in uniform, as a
member of the British military reserves, I do not subscribe to the belief that
it is time spent in uniform that qualifies or allows one to write credibly on
matters of strategy. Military service is no guarantee of clarity of
understanding in matters strategic or even doctrinal. For example, perhaps the
leading living authority in military strategy at this time is the civilian academic
Colin Gray of Reading University (see bibliography). Likewise, one can
identify numerous military officers of flag–rank that have been judged to have
a very poor grasp of matters strategic. See, for example, the detailed
discussion of Gen. Tommie Franks by Thomas E. Ricks in his bestselling work on
the Iraq campaign Fiasco – The American Military Adventure in Iraq,
Penguin, New York, 2006 (eg, Ricks describes Franks as ‘meddling
in tactical issues and did not address key strategic questions’).
 E. Cohen, Lt.Col. C. Crane (Ret.), Lt.Col. J. Horvath, Lt.Col. J.
Nagl, ‘Principles, Imperatives and Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency’, Military
Review, March–April, 2006.
 A few examples: ‘The more who protect your force, the less secure
you are’; ‘The more force you use, the less effective you are’; ‘Tactical
success guarantees nothing’; and ‘The best weapons for counterinsurgency do not
fire bullets’. In a recent piece in the Armed Forces Journal entitled ‘Eating
Spoon with a Spoon’, Lt.Col. Gian P. Gentile takes the argument of misleading
paradoxes even further, with a critique that sees the latest field manual on
counterinsurgency being based on counterintuitive arguments that deny the
eternal and harsh reality of any conflict, be it unconventional or not. Echoing
Carl von Clausewitz’s philosophy that whilst the character or warfare may
alter, its nature is immutable, Col. Gentile states: ‘we should stop, in a
metaphorical sense, trying to eat soup with a knife in Iraq and instead go back to basics and try eating it with a spoon. War is not clean and
precise; it is blunt and violent and dirty because, at its essence, it is
fighting, and fighting causes misery and death... The Army’s new COIN manual’s
tragic flaw is that the essence of war fighting is missing from its pages’. For the full
article see http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2007/09/2786780.
 To quote Cohen et al.: ‘After Vietnam, the US Army reacted to the threat of irregular warfare chiefly by saying "never
again". The study of counterguerrilla and COIN operations was leached from the
various military college curricula, and the hard won experience of a generation
of officers was deliberately ignored’.
 Army Unveils Counter–Insurgency Manual, interview
with Col. Nagl, National Public Radio, 15/XII/2006, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6630779.
Many writers, especially those who served in Vietnam, have contended that the
American military was just acquiring true skill in unconventional warfare and
specialised COIN tools (such as the CORDS and Phoenix programmes) when for
political reasons the Washington leadership decided to pull out of Vietnam (see
several of the articles in the CAC Counterinsurgency
 There is a distinct disjunction observable between the classic
books we study in modern COIN and the country cases available. Although a given
author may have focused his work on a specific conflict, most readers and
commentators are far more familiar with the volume thus written than with the
actual country or conflict concerned. Such a rarified understanding of
counterinsurgency ‘lessons learnt’ is best demonstrated by how T.E. Lawrence’s
writings have been (mis–)used. Many are those who quote Lawrence of Arabia and
the tenets of his Seven Pillars of Wisdom ad nauseam. Yet by far the
vast majority who do so seem to have little or no comprehension of the events
behind the author’s distilled wisdom and the important details and context of
the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks.
 Even when we add the seminal works written from the insurgent side,
such as those by Guevara, Mao or Marighella, the study of these texts is rarely
matched by a comparable understanding of the conflicts that spawned them.
Despite the credence given the works of such ‘enemy’ authors, amongst all the
studies this author has seen published since 9/11, none have been written on
the lessons of Cuba/Bolivia, China or Brazil, for example, if we stay with just
these three insurgent authors.
 Military Review, May–June 2005, p. 8–12.
 Sepp repeats certain clichés, eg, ‘Winning the hearts and minds
must be the objective of the government’s efforts’, and includes a table of
good COIN ideas versus bad ones, such as ‘deny insurgents sanctuaries’ (good)
and ‘focus your special forces on raiding’ (bad).
 The list itself is not fully thought through, as it includes a
handful of civil wars from the last century (such as Greece) but leaves out all
the others, and includes cases of terrorism, such as the Baader–Meinhof gang and
the Weather Underground, that very few scholars would consider relevant to
 See Appendix I for a
provisional list modified and expanded from that first published in Kalev Sepp’s ‘Best Practices in Counterinsurgency’, Military
Review, May–June 2005.
 Indeed, there is no particular reason to limit our expanded data
set of irregular warfare to just the 20th century (beyond a concern
for cases where modern weapons and communications are relevant). As a result,
we can enlarge the analysis to include ancient examples of irregular warfare
and insurgency, be it the Roman legions versus the Goths, British imperial
forces versus the Thuggee cult on the Indian subcontinent, or even the American
War of Independence, just to name a few potential earlier examples. This is,
however, beyond the scope of this current paper.
 One can of course attempt to group all the
events listed in Appendix I under these categories; however, the point is the categories themselves and what they illuminate, as
opposed to where each event can or should be placed.
 The author is a regular speaker at the Joint Special Operations
University (JSOU) and a member of the Strategic Advisers’ Group of the Atlantic Council of the United States.