Being a history buff, in particular, military history, I am one of those guys that fills notebooks and flash drives with random notes that I find interesting and/or useful from books, lectures, magazine articles, etc. The following are some random notes I have taken on the subject.
The source(s) for the majority of my notes come from two of Max Boot’s Excellent treatises on Guerilla Warfare, which I suggest all CO’s read: Invisible Armies and The Savage Wars of Peace. There are also a few other works I have cited from, but they are all notated with title, author and page number.
I am a firm believer in studying History as a way to understand the present and to avoid making the same mistakes of the past. As you study this, I want you to consider two things:
- Note the recurring mistakes of HUBRIS and ARROGANCE that super-powers make in dealing with Insurgencies.
- Consider the CO’s possible future role as a Guerilla Fighter and how they could exploit these weaknesses/mistakes.
The Nature of Guerilla Warfare (GW)
If done correctly, GW can exact a very heavy toll on a super power, not just in losses of men or material, but also in “Political Face” and popular support from the general population. In America’s first encounter with Guerilla Warfare, the Philippine-American War of 1898-1902, Filipino Insurrectos led by Francisco Macabulos said their primary objective was “Not to vanquish the U.S. Army but to inflict on them CONSTANT LOSSES.” This “Win by Attrition” attitude was to be the standard “Guerilla Warfare M.O” for much of the rest of the 20th century. The Insurgencies waged in Vietnam and Iraq proved this, showing that as more American Soldier’s caskets came back, the less the US Population as a whole favored continuing the war.
It is of extreme importance for the Guerilla forces to have some type of outside support by a foreign power or entity. An example would be how France supported the Colonial Forces in the Revolutionary War with Gunpowder. By some estimations, 90% of the American forces gunpowder were French provided. The Guerilla or Partisan force needs too, if possible, operate in close conjunction with the Regular Army, if one exist.
Public opinion can MAKE OR BREAK a COUNTER-INSURGENCY.
The “FOCO” theory states that a small band of Guerillas can spark an uprising by a few, bold attacks. The core principle lies in small “cadres” of fast-moving, para-miliary groups that can provide a FOCUS (spanish for” FOCO”) for the popular discontent of a regime. Later on, these ideals were transferred to the Urban Guerilla Movement of the late 60’s. UGM is a method of armed insurrection using Domestic Terrorism. Michael Collins and the early IRA are considered founders of modern UGM thought and practice.
The “Battle of the Narrative” or winning the majority of public opinion through exploiting the use of various media is one of the key battles that needs to be won if an insurgency is to be successful.
Michael Collins, a founding member of the IRA stated the following precepts of GW:
- The Guerilla’s first and primary weapon is REFUSAL.
- The Guerilla is an Invisible Army. His uniform is that of the common man on the street. He can come out of a crowd, strike the enemy, then vanish back into it.
- Always strike the enemy ON YOUR OWN TERMS.
- The IRA must pattern their tactics after the Boers of South Africa; Their tactics of ferocity combined with the use of always staying mobile and the use of hit and run tactics.
Effective Counter-Insurgency tactics always seeks to LIMIT TRAVEL and/or the FREE MOVEMENT of the general populace. Consider the current tactics of the DHS and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) with posting Customs “Internal Checkpoints” up to 125 miles from the border!?
Anarchist were by far, the most successful Domestic Terrorist of the 19th and 20th Centuries. They killed 5 Heads of State (including President McKinley) and in 1920, using the very first “car bomb”, utilizing a horse-drawn carriage and a wagon full of TNT, they bombed Wall Street, killing 38 people and wounding hundreds more. It was the deadliest Terror attack on US Soil until the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing. An excellent book on the academic history and use of Car Bombs is “Budas Wagon”.
The Nazi’s disregarded historical examples of Britain and Rome. They insisted on narrowly defining Nationalism as to exclude all “conquered people”. In doing so, Hitler alienated the conquered people and made enemies; unlike Ancient Rome and England, who allowed any person to become a citizen. In order for any Imperial power to not create an atmosphere for an insurgency, the Powers that be have to pacify the citizenry and not anger them. Hitler also made the mistake of not deploying enough troops in the rear areas to “Police” them effectively. The proper ratio of 1 soldier to 357 civilians in peace and 1 to 40 in more contested areas is standard, at the height of Nazi rule in Russia, Hitler only had 2 soldiers every 3 miles!
De-Colonization swept the world Post World War II due to the two largest colonial powers, Britain and France, being virtually bankrupt and under-manned from the War. This created an environment for insurgency (helped along by the Soviet Union) to ply their trade. in 1947 Britain abandoned Palestine after 3 years of counter-insurgency against Jewish-Zionist “Terrorist” led by a group called the Irgun. This insurgent campaign waged by the Irgun was one of the most successful in history. As in all insurgencies, often the actions of the Aggressor Nation give the insurgents the fuel needed to wage an effective campaign. The best example of this being the “Exodus 1947” ship that carried 4,515 jewish refugees, including many families, trying to reach their new homeland being rammed, boarded and assaulted by British Royal Marines. Two immigrants and a crewman were killed during the assault and 30 immigrants were wounded. The British then turned the ship back to Germany, virtually sealing the fate of all aboard to Hitler’s “Final Solution”.
The Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) was undoubtedly one of the most successful counter-insurgencies of the 20th Century. There is much to be learned from how the British handled this very delicate situation.
- Malaya had fielded a Guerilla Army to fight the Japanese (supported by Britain) after the War. These Guerillas turned on Britain to free themselves from Colonial Rule.
- The Majority of Insurgency was “home-grown” Chinese (The normal population did not support them).
- Malaya was a huge exporter of natural rubber, a huge industry for Britain.
- The “Briggs Plan” coordinates Police/Military to DEPORT insurgents to China.
- The plan focused on the Re-Settlement and Re-Concentration of Chinese Squatters, providing them with land, utilities, clean water, schools and clinics.
- The Population was treated FAIRLY, not discriminated against like the French did in Algeria.
- The British focused a large amount of attention on breaking popular support for the uprising.
- More emphasis placed on the Political versus Kinetic Warfare. Social and Economic issues got just as much attention as military issues.
- Leaflets were dropped regularly to remote villages, gaining the support of the rural population
- The Malayans failed to gain any outside support (in contrast to the Vietminh who had Chinese and Soviet support).
- The strategy that worked was based on CLOSE Civil-Military Cooperation and use of “Clear and Hold” versus “Search and Destroy” tactics. The Brits had learned from Ireland in the 20’s that heavy-handed, scorched earth policies only FEED an insurgency.
The Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1953 was an example of a super power unable to cope with the simplicity of Guerilla Warfare. The inability to HOLD villages from insurgent influence forced the French to try to lure the Vietminh into a Conventional type battle where French Firepower could be used. The French fire base of Dien Bien Phu was placed in a desolate valley which was unreachable by foot, only by air..or so the French thought. The Vietminh managed to move artillery into position via a “human chain” and surround the base with 206 field guns and mortars, including 105 howitzers and 37mm AA Guns. The loss by the French at Dien Bien Phu was the last straw for a war weary nation. It was the worst defeat suffered by a modern Western empire in a “Colonial War”.
The French violated virtually every precept of Counter-Insurgency dogma, drawing striking similarities to what the US would repeat 12 years later in Vietnam:
- They chose conventional “big-unit” action that alienated the general populace
- They failed to cut the insurgency off from outside support (China and Soviet Union).
- If the French had made more Political concessions early on, namely to end Colonial Rule within a specified time period, the Insurgency would possibly not have grown so large.
Vietnam War (1956-1975)
The “Quiet American” Edward Lansdale, was the man the Pentagon and the White House needed to have listened too; learning his lessons in the Philippines, he knew the subject of Counter-Insurgency better than anyone. JFK (Kennedy) wanted to enhance American capacity to fight and/or Counter a Guerilla War. The Joint Chiefs however, remained convinced (from experience in WW2 and Korea) that the conflict was to be Conventional and just gave JFK lip service.
The Mis-understanding of Guerilla Warfare comes from a bad definition.
- While GW on a tactical level utilizes many of the same skills as Light Infantry, the strategy of war among the people is entirely different from a clash of two uniformed forces.
- “Low-Intensity” Conflict necessitates an emphasis on policing and control of the population.
- The application of large, indiscriminate firepower can be counter-productive as most of the time it results in a large amount of civilian deaths. This drives the population into the arms of the insurgency. RESTRAINT is the “name of the game” in Guerilla Warfare tactics.
- Sir Robert Thompson created the most promising “Counter-Insurgency” initiative called the “Strategic Hamlets Program”; modeled after the Malayan Population Resettlement Program and Israels Village Security (Kibbutzim: A collective agricultural settlement owned communally).
When LBJ (Lyndon Johnson) took office (1963) there were 184K troops. By 1969 the number of troops grew to 540K. Domestically, the war was unpopular; mainly the draft. By relying on conscripts the Johnson administration ignored lessons of the Romans, Chinese, British and French Empires: Conflicts far from home is better left to a Professional, Volunteer Army. The US dropped more bombs in Vietnam than during WW2, but these bombs seldom had any success, mostly because the VC had NO INFRASTRUCTURE to bomb. A typical VC Guerilla could survive on a bowl of rice and some cold rat meat, so destroying “supply trains” had little to no effect.
Some promising Counter-Insurgency Ops included:
- CAP (Combined Action Program) which sent a squad of Marines to live in Vietnamese villages to protect them in cooperation with Popular Forces Militia.
- CIDG (Civilan Irregular Defense Groups) which sent CIA and SF personnel to mobilize ethnic minorities, the Montagnards (This program attempted to replicate what the French had done in the 50’s).
- LRRP’s (Long Range Recon Patrols) which sent small, mobile SF hunter/killer teams to hunt the VC. These teams stayed in the field for 30-45 days at a time.
- Phoenix Program (CIA) Assassination Program that targeted key VC officers and integral NVA Personnel. High ranking NVA officers to local VC tax collectors were targeted.
The White House and Pentagon were impatient with CI programs, they were not decisive or quick enough to produce tangible results. CI became known as the “Other War”.
Israel & Palestine
The most notorious terrorist attack up until 9/11 was the Massacre at the Munich Olympics in 1972 by the PLO based group, Black September (created by Yasser Arafat). The terrorist kidnapped and murdered 11 Israeli athletes, including a West German Policeman. This tragic event led to the formation of several Counter-Terrorist Military Organizations such as the West German GSG-9 and the French GIGN. It also aided in the formation of specialized “counter-terror” units in already existing units such as the British SAS. This unique SAS specialization counter-terror training leads to the inspiration for Colonel Charlie Beckwith to form the US Army’s elite Delta Force.
A special unit of the shadowy Israeli Mossad is formed shortly after the Munich massacre to partake on aptly named Operation ‘Wrath of God” which seeks to assassinate (very publicly if possible) all members of Black September who had anything to do with the planning, financing or execution of the massacre. Mossad’s history in this type of assassination dates back to 1956, when a book bomb was successfully mailed to an Egyptian Intel Officer.
The Palestinian cause never had much legitimacy due to the “Pirates” and “Hired Killers” that worked for them such as “Carlos the Jackal” and Abu Nidal.
Israel had to be careful in dealing with Palestinian uprisings; a Liberal Democracy CANNOT be seen as “Heavy Handed” (ala China, 1989 in Tiananmen Square which sent Tanks against unarmed civilian protesters). Arafat made sure to always play the role of the “poor under-dog”; and the media was always happy to help, showing rock throwing protesters pitted against heavily armed IDF soldiers and tanks.
Ariel Sharon (Prime Minister of Israel) in reaction to the 2nd Infitada did two things that were historically significant:
- He ordered a wall built that separated the Palestinian settlements from the West Bank
- A Vast Army Offensive began
The IDF did 3 things correct in defeating the PLO terrorist:
- They sealed off the West Bank . This goes back to the old adage of “Controlling Movement”. Any successful CI (Counter-Insurgency) must adequately control the movement of the insurgent to stop them from being re-supplied.
- IDF’s ability to gather accurate intel: Electronic and Human.
- IDF Staying Power. The most tragic mistake of any CI is not staying put and consolidating gains. The IDF remained in the West Bank in force and unlike Gaza, exerted influence and policed it very well. Historically, they took cues from the British in Northern Ireland: maintaining influence in a region and keeping the terrorist from re-exerting influence and re-building infrastructure.
In the end, Arafat’s brutal tactics of terrorism did the Palestinians no good. Liberal democracies like Israel are always more prone to appeals to conscience than brutal attacks on innocent civilians. This was the primary reason that Marxist Revolutionary Terrorist of the 70’s and 80’s (like the Baader-Meinhoff Gang and the Red Brigade) failed. To be successful, Occupation Authorities and/or military targets need to be targeted, not innocent civilians.
Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan (1979)
Ghost Wars by Steve Coll is an excellent resource to understand how this period in history effected the United States tragically for 3 decades to come.
The reasoning behind this invasion was to reinforce a “shaky” ally. The Soviets expected a quick “in and out” similar to Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. The Soviet leaders had no ideal the War would last 9 years and kill over 26K Soviet soldiers (a very conservative estimate, Since WW2, the Soviets had always skewed their casualty numbers. Some figures put the number around 50K).
The Soviets failed to learn from history (That seems to be a recurring theme, huh?) Not taking into account how the British Empire in 1839 and 1878 were defeated by a band of rag-tag Afghan Guerillas. The British Empire at that time, in the early to mid 19th century, had one of the most powerful Armies and Navies on the planet, bar none.
Unlike the British, the Soviets faced a Guerilla force that could hop over the border to Pakistan at will and enjoy the benefit of Secure Bases, in which they could re-enforce, re-supply and conduct training. Ahmad Shah Massoud was the premiere mujajideen (muj) leader. Unlike his former peers, Massoud was NOT a leftist or marxist. He was more interested in Afghan Nationalism and heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which preached Islamic extremism and jihad. Massoud was not as extreme like the other muj leaders, he had a reputation for fairness and encouraged prisoners to be treated well. Massoud established “Liberated Zones” where schools, clinics, mosques, courts and military training bases were built. He divided his groups into “full” and “part-time” fighters. The militia was organized into companies of 120 men, while the part-time “home- guard” stayed behind to defend villages.
Massoud constantly attacked and harassed the Salang Highway, a main supply route running from Kabul all the way to the Soviet border. Massoud managed to control the Panjshir valley, despite repeated Soviet attempts to take it. The Soviets conducted conventional assaults not suited for the terrain. They dropped “Butterfly Mines” designed to MAIM and not Kill, the theory being that a wounded soldier is much worse of a burden to a small, mobile fighting force who does not have proper medics. Again the heavy-handed tactics of the Soviets came back to bite them, driving on average, 5,000 Afghans into the resistance annually.
The Soviets also repeated the mistake of trying to fight a counter-insurgency with a conscript (draftee) army. Although the Soviets were not as prone to the backlash of negative public opinion since they controlled the media, it still hurt them overall in winning popular support of their own countryman.
Soviet military conduct was horrible. Often prisoners were abused and tortured at officer’s command. In a Counter-Insurgency it has repeatedly been shown that the “Aggressor” nation MUST treat the civilian populace with respect in order to be successful. According to the UN, human rights violations and war crimes during the 1980’s sky rocketed, the Soviets committing an estimated 100,000 illegal murders, and these were just the offenses that were reported or observed.
The Soviets could not keep their Army supplied, even though they were right next door to their own country! This goes to show that the guerillas tactics of constantly attacking and harassing supply trains was effective. 70% of the Military were hospitalized due to malaria, typhus, dysentary and hepatitis from bad water. Large numbers of the Soviet soldiers abused alcohol and drugs (mostly opium and hashish) supplied by the local farmers, who were collaborating with the muj.
American backed assistance to the Muj began with basic food and medical supplies but soon lead to large shipments of arms and munitions. The CIA bought large amounts of eastern-bloc weapons to hide US involvement of any kind. Saudi Arabia matched US monetary contributions to the muj dollar for dollar. The actual “distribution” of such funds however was handled by the extremely corrupt Pakastani Government,namely their internal intelligence unit, the ISI.
The ISI provided training and arms to 7 major guerilla muj factions, whose HQ’s all were in Peshawar. The border area soon became known for the “Center for Jihad”. Washington continued turning over vast amounts of arms and money to President Zia, who was a hardline Islamist. Zia in turn, funneled most of the weapons and money to extremist groups, such as the “Party of Islam” led by Gulbuddin Heckmatyar. Other muj factions hated Heckmatyar, due to him wasting resources by using them to attack other muj factions, causing tribal in-fighting. Despite these obvious negative traits, Heckmatyar was favored by the ISI, CIA and Saudi Intelligence. Heckmatyar at this time, also had very close ties to Osama Bin laden, a wealthy Saudi Businessman who contributed millions to the cause.
The failure of the US not supporting the more moderate Massoud and instead supporting an islamic extremist like Heckmatyar would eventually come back in the form of what the CIA termed “blowback”. Soon American aid increased to 630 Million annually, all of it matched with Saudi oil money.
The introduction of the American supplied Stinger missile system to the afghan resistance was a literal game changer. After losing several gunships, the Soviets were forced to fly the dreaded Soviet MI-24 “Hind” gunships at higher altitudes (above 12,500 ft) where they were virtually ineffective for their deadly ground attacks, where entire villages of men, women, children and livestock were wiped off the face of the earth.
Defeated and Demoralized by a rag-tag group of mountain guerillas, the famed and feared “Soviet Juggernaut” unceremoniously left Afghanistan with its tail between its legs in February, 1989.
A Word about Culture and Destiny
(Taken from A Patriot’s History of the Modern World by Schweikart, pp. 60-61)
Sir John Fisher radical new battleship, the Dreadnought (1906) which steam turbines and all “big gun” armament, seemed to confirm his unofficial title as the “genius incarnate of technical change”. Contrary to the notion that because of it’s revolutionary design, the Dreanought “leveled the playing field” for aspiring naval powers such as Germany (which embarked on it’s own version of the ship and widened the Kiel canal to permit passage of larger vessels), Fisher’s advances showed how once again True POWER came from CULTURE. Britain’s naval culture had produced Fisher after all, not vice versa. As in any technology-and battleships were no different-the most significant changes come from incremental, relentless improvements possible only in a cultural milieu in which engineering and technology are fostered.
The same principle kept the Chinese from turning Gunpowder into a culture of volley-fire muskets, and prevented the Iranians from applying the Stirrup to a mounted shock combat horseback charges. Lacking a strong, innovative naval culture, none of the second-tier aspirants could really hope to compete at sea with England or America.
Going further on this ideal, we can say that in most ways, Geography determines the Destiny of a Nation. To qualify this statement, let us look at the current crisis with Russia and Ukraine. Let us look BACK to History in order to gleem some perspective on the future of the United States, Europe and Asia.
Stay Armed, Stay Ready and Stay Dangerous
Authors Note: I am in the process of starting a new blog specifically dedicated to the CO’s study of history entitled, The History Locker. As soon as it is up and running, I will post the link on HCS, so stay tuned!!