Counterinsurgency, by the Book
Richard Shultz and Andrea Dew of Tufts University’s Fletcher School have written a new book on counterinsurgency operations. They provide some clues to its contents in an op-ed in yesterday’s NYT entitled “Counterinsurgency, by the Book.” It focuses on the military’s attempt to rewrite their core CI doctrinal manual, FM 3-24.
The whole piece is worth a read (as is, according to Cori Dauber, the book itself) but this passage particularly struck me:
THE third problem with the manual is that it actually overstresses winning “hearts and minds” — the political, economic, civic and other “soft power” tactics aimed at winning popular support. Yes, such steps are keys to victory; they played a central part in counterinsurgency victories in the 1950’s by the Philippine government of RamÃ³n Magsaysay and by the British in Malaya. In both places, the government invested heavily in education, local economies, public works and social welfare programs to wean their populations away from the insurgents.
But soft power tactics are not the only keys to victory. An insurgency is still war, and the key is finding and capturing or killing terrorist and militia leaders. It is an intelligence-led struggle. The Pentagon manual rightly insists that “intelligence drives operations” and that “without good intelligence, a counterinsurgent is like a blind boxer.” Yet the document provides no organizational blueprint for collecting such intelligence.
We have to take a lesson from other democracies that have figured out how to neutralize and defuse armed groups. The British and the Israelis, among others, have refined an effective intelligence model through bloody trial and error. It involves collecting actionable intelligence at the local level on a continual basis.
Consider the Israeli experience. After the 1967 war it built up a remarkable intelligence-gathering system in the West Bank and Gaza. But after the Oslo accords of 1993 it gave up this advantage and withdrew. However, when the second intifada erupted in late 2000 and Israeli casualties mounted, the Israelis went back to work. They honeycombed the territories with local intelligence units that infiltrated Palestinian armed groups through agents, electronic surveillance and paid informants. It was not easy, but they did it, and their intelligence successes contributed to the Palestinian Authority’s gradual de-emphasis of terrorist acts in favor of political initiatives, and even led Hamas to engage in the cease-fire that held until the current crisis.
While this is all dead-on, it is unintentionally ironic, at least in the American context. It’s simply not politically feasible for the United States to engage in decades-long counterinsurgency operations with a steady drip of friendly casualties and terrorist strikes.
Certainly, the Israeli model, with its two steps forward, three steps back results, hardly seems worth emulating. Its brilliant success from 1967 to 1993 included two major wars, minor military actions, and countless successful strikes on Israeli civilians by the PLO and Hamas. And its dogged intel ops from late 2000 to now have hardly yielded much positive. Granted, there’s no way to measure how bad things would have been had the Israeli intelligence machine not been so proficient.
Dan Drezner, now Schultz’ colleague, has some interesting thoughts on the piece as well. His comments section on this one is also well worth a read.