Making War upon insurgents is messy
and slow, like eating soup with a knife
T.E. Lawrence


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.[1] 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.[2] 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’[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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’.[6]

In the two years it took to write the manual and since its debut there has been an upsurge in specialist articles[7] by strategists and historians, as well as commentary on web–logs[8] 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.[9] 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 confrontation?

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.[10] 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.’[11]

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’.[12] 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’.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15] 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:

‘Global Islamic 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”.’[16]

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 response.[17]

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,[18] 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 scathing:

‘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.[19] 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 beast’
(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.[20] 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.

The article 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 include:

(1) Adaptability
(2) Management of expectations
(3) Empowerment of the lowest level of COIN actor

Unfortunately, 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,[21] 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.

Classic COIN

As 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.[22] 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.[23] 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),[24] 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 countermeasuresWin the ‘hearts and minds’ of the population (WHAM)Gain greater credibility than the insurgent. Legitimacy is the main obj.Deny insurgents sanctuaryPolice primacyFocus on IntelligenceSelective and discriminate use of forceAvoid overreaction to insurgent violenceSeparate insurgents from support baseUse clear and hold, ‘oil spot’ tactics to gradually sanitise areas of insurgentsSecure (host–)nation bordersProtect key infrastructure

Sources: FM 3–24 and the classic works of Lawrence, Kitson, etc, cited at the beginning of the bibliography.

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[25] 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.[26]

Just as 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 CasesAdditional, Less Studied Cases
Northern IrelandMozambique
The PhilippinesAngola
El Salvador
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.[27] It is not a particularly groundbreaking piece given that the work generally reiterates some uncontroversial COIN advice previously learnt by others.[28] 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.[29]

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 theoretician.[30]

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.[31] Below is an initial categorisation of COIN–relevant conflicts that includes events that go beyond just the 15 cases that are most often discussed.[32] 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

Colonial Anti–SeparatistDomestic Regime Change/Revolution
AlgeriaRussian Revolution
Boer WarCuba Revolution
Hungarian Revolution
Anti–SeparatistIranian Revolution*
Northern Ireland*x
ChechnyaInternational Regime Change
Afghanistan 1979*
Domestic ResistanceAfghanistan 2001*
WWII – Yugoslav partisanIraq 2003*
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 threats.

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

NazismCommunismMilitant Islam
Elite drivenElite drivenElite driven
Cellular – then centralisedCellular – then centralisedCellular
Democratic – then dictatorialSelf appointed/dictatorialSelf appointed/dictatorial
Global ambitionGlobal ambitionGlobal ambition
Occult/state worshipGodless religionReligious/political
Mythical/historicalAhistorical/novelResurgent, historical
Nation–stateNational stateWas but now non–N/S
Sympathetic audienceSympathetic audienceVery 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.

Sebestyén L. v. Gorka[33]
Founding 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, Germany

Appendix I

Table 5. A Broader List of Twentieth Century Irregular Conflicts with Relevance to COIN

Anglo–Boer War 1899–1902
US Philippine nationalists 1899–1902
Arab Revolt 1916–18
Russia Revolution 1917
Ireland (IRA) 1920
Northern Ireland(PIRA) 1968–
WWII Resistance France and elsewhere (SOE) 1940–45
WWII Balkans (Tito’s partisans) 1940–45
Norway vs Germany
Finland vs USSR
Greek Civil War 1944–49
French Indochina 1945–54
Palestine(British Mandate vs Jewish separatists) 1945–48
Malayan Emergency 1948–60
Kenyan Emergency 1952–56
Algeria(French vs FLN) 1954–62
Algeria (Algerian Government v FIS/GIA) 1992–
Aden (UK vs Yemeni insurgents) 1955–67
Cuban Revolution 1956–59
Hungarian Revolution 1956
Vietnam 1958–75
Angola (MPLA) 1961–74
Mozambique (FRELIMO) 1964–74
Colombia (FARC, ELN) 1964–
Oman (PFLOAG) 1969–76
Philippines (NPA, MNLF, MILF) 1970–
Rhodesia 1974–80
Afghanistan (USSR vs Mujahedeen) 1979–88
Iranian Revolution 1979
El Salvador 1979–91
Peru (Sendero Luminoso) 1980–95 (MRTA) 1996–97
Nicaragua(Sandinista, Contras) 1980–90
Kashmir 1988–
Chechnya 1994–
Nepal 1996–
Afghanistan (Taleban and AQ) 2001–
Iraq 2003–


Classic Works on Counterinsurgency and Insurgency

Callwell, C.E. (1896), Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (this edition published 1996).

Clutterbuck, Richard (1965), The Long Long War, Praeger, New York.

Clutterbuck, Richard (1990), Terrorism and Guerilla Warfare – Forecasts and Remedies’, Routledge, London.

Galula, David (1964), Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, Praeger, New York.

Guevara de la Serna Rosario, Ernesto (1961), Guerrilla Warfare, Scholarly resources, Wilmington (this edition published 1997), also at

Kitson, Frank (1971), Low Intensity Operations – Subversion, Insurgency, Peacekeeping, Stackpole Books, Harrisburg.

Lawrence T.E. (1917), ‘27 Articles’, The Arab Bulletin, 20 August, available at The Defense and National Interest, http://www.d–n–

Lawrence T.E. (1920), ‘The Evolution of a Revolt’, The Army Quarterly, vol. 1, nr 1.

Lawrence T.E. (1926), Seven Pillars of Wisdom – A Triumph, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth (this edition published 1985).+

Mao Tse–tung (1937), ‘On Guerrilla Warfare’, from Selected Works of Mao Tse–tung, vol. IX, Foreign Languages Press, Peking (this edition published 1966), also at Maoist Documentation Project (2000), Mao Tse–tung Reference Archive 2000,–warfare/.

Marighella, Carlos (1969), Mini–Manual of the Urban Guerrilla, Abraham Guillen Press (this edition published 2002), also at

Massu, Jacques (1971), La Vrai Bataille d’Alger, Librairie Pion, Paris.

Taber, R. (1972), The War of the Flea: Guerilla Warfare Theory and Practice, Paladin, London.

Trinquier, Roger (1961), La Guerre Revolutionnaire, Praeger, New York.

Trinquier, Roger (1963), Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency, Praeger, New York (this edition published 2006), also available from the Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth,

Works on Terrorism and Political Violence

Dillon, Martin (1999), The Dirty War – Covert Strategies and Tactics Used in Political Conflicts’, Routledge, New York.

Sloan, Stephen (2004), ‘Almost Present at the Creation – A Personal Perspective of a Continuing Journey’, Journal of the Centre for Conflict Studies, vol. XXIV, nr 1, Summer.

Sloan, Stephen, & Anderson, Sean (2002), Historical Dictionary of Terrorism, 2nd edition, Scarecrow, Lanham.


Baylis, John, et al. (2005), Strategy in the Contemporary World – An Introduction to Strategic Studies’, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Krepinevich Jr., Andrew F. (1986), The Army and Vietnam, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Studies and Journal Articles

Gorka, Sebestyén (2004), ‘Al–Qaeda’s Next Generation’, Terrorism Monitor, vol. II, nr 15, Jamestown Foundation,

Gorka, Sebestyén (2006), Al–Qaeda and von Clausewitz – Rediscovering the Art of War, paper delivered to the US Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) Symposium ‘Countering Global Insurgency’, Hurlburt Field, Florida, 2–5 May,

Gorka, Sebestyén (2007a), ‘Counter–insurgency theories comeback’, JANES Terrorism and Security Monitor, 5 April.

Gorka, Sebestyén (2007b), ‘Interview with Brig. General Buster Howes, Commander JCEB, ISAF, Afghanistan’, JANES 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,

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,

Kilcullen, David (2007), ‘New Paradigms for 21st Century Conflict’, EJournal USA

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, May–June.

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,–fm3–24.pdf.

Military Review, Special Edition – Counterinsurgency Reader, October 2006, Combined Arms Centre, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

The Quadrennial Defense Review,


Combined Arms Research Library, US Command and General Staff College, http://www–

The Federation of American Scientists,

The History of British Military Conflicts since 1945, http://www.britains–

JANES Information Group,

Small Wars Center of Excellence,

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[1] Joint Special Operations University, (JSOU), First Annual Symposium: Countering Global Insurgency, 2–5 May 2006, Hurlburt Field, Florida.

[2] 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, All Internet citations used in this study are correct as of November 2007.

[3] 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,; 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 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.

[4] For details see Sebestyén L. v. Gorka, ‘Counter–Insurgency Theories Comeback’, JANES Terrorism and Security Monitor, 5/IV/2007.

[5] According to a posting on the Small Wars Journal website of 8/V/2007 by Col. John Nagl, contributing editor to FM 3–24–fm–324–the–new/FM 3–24 is available from the US Army Combined Arms Center,–fm3–24.pdf.

[6] 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

[7] 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; 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.

[8] See, for example, the many entries at sites such as http://www.smallwarsjournal.comhttp://www.strategypage.comhttp://counterterrorismblog.org and

[9] 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.

[10] C. Krauthammer, ‘This is Not a Crime, This is War’, Washington Post, 12/IX/2001,, and also Krauthammer’s speech Democratic Realism, given to the American Enterprise Institute, February 2004.

[11] Krauthammer, ‘This is Not a Crime, This is War’, ibid.

[12] Quoted by Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes – The History of the CIA, Doubleday, New York, 2007.


[14] President Discusses War on Terror at National Endowment for Democracy–3.html.

[15] See the articles by David Kilcullen listed under footnote 4 above and also: the Wikipedia entry ‘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.


[17] See footnote 17.

[18] 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

[19] 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,–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’).

[20] 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.

[21] 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

[22] 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’.

[23] Army Unveils Counter–Insurgency Manual, interview with Col. Nagl, National Public Radio, 15/XII/2006, 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 Reader, ibid.).

[24] See bibliography.

[25] 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.

[26] 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.

[27] Military Review, May–June 2005, p. 8–12.

[28] 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).

[29] 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 counterinsurgency.

[30] 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.

[31] 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.

[32] 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.

[33] 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.