Some Call It 'Counterinsurgency'
It sounds better than 'brutal military occupation'
by Don Bacon
It is widely
reported that the US military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, continuing
on for over five years, have been "counterinsurgencies"
(COIN) led in Iraq by the expert on COIN General David Petraeus.
Petraeus has been highly praised for his COIN abilities and soon
will be able to expand his influence to Afghanistan, the almost-seven-year
From the Washington
Independent: "David Petraeus will go down in history
as a great counterinsurgency theorist and practitioner," said
retiring Army Lt. Col. John Nagl, one of the counterinsurgency experts
who helped write FM (Field Manual) 3-24 on COIN. "From his
Princeton doctoral dissertation on counterinsurgency in Vietnam
through three tours in Iraq during the last of which he wrote
the introduction for the first-ever translation in French of David
Galula's classic Counterinsurgency
Warfare: Theory and Practice after leading the writing team
that produced the Army-Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual
Gen. Petraeus has led the Army to rediscover 'the graduate
level of war.'"
poppycock, these counterinsurgency experts rediscovering stuff.
General Petraeus is an accident of history, a guy who wrote a key
op-ed with inaccurate rosy military predictions just prior to
the last presidential election and has been rewarded for it. Along
the way Petraeus helped
oversee the drafting of a new Army Field Manual (FM 3-24) purported
to cover counterinsurgency, which supposedly is being followed in
Iraq. I will show that both of these premises are false.
The term counterinsurgency
gained currency under President John Kennedy in the 1960's, and
referred initially to countering "communist inspired, supported,
or directed insurgency, defined as subversive insurgency" by
Soviet-aligned guerillas against western colonial nations. (When
the US aided indigent forces in the overthrow of unfriendly governments
it was called paramilitary operations.) As in the above quote the
US involvement in Vietnam was called a counterinsurgency.
Then came the
definition of insurgency: From the DOD
Dictionary of Military Terms: insurgency (DOD, NATO)
An organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted
government through use of subversion and armed conflict.
So an insurgent
by definition is trying to overthrow a government, usually his own.
Therefore if a population is resisting a foreign military occupation
(or fighting other sects) they are not insurgents and it is not
an insurgency. Is this just semantics? No. The point is that it
is a natural human reaction to resist by force an alien foreign
military occupation, whereas people are inclined to be more tolerant
of their own government, before they take up arms, no matter how
badly they act. Understanding this simple fact explains why the
US has not been and will not be successful in its military occupations
of Iraq and Afghanistan.
wellspring of doctrinal knowledge, was not really a counterinsurgency.
Vietnam was a country where the US illegally installed a government
in its southern part, invaded that part of Vietnam and then fought
a long, losing campaign against the properly constituted and recognized
Vietnam government which had its capital (and still does) in the
north. If anyone, it was the US military which acted as insurgents!
Similarly Iraq and Afghanistan are not insurgencies.
In Iraq, combatants
include not only those contesting the US military presence and killing
US collaborators, but also various religious sects fighting each
other as a result of the instability the US has brought, and also
religious fanatics calling themselves al Qaeda-Iraq from outside
Iraq who have been drawn there, again, because of the US destabilization
of that tormented country. A similar situation exists in Afghanistan.
None of these are "insurgents" according to the Pentagon
Oh, we know,
the implication is clear. We're not supposed to believe that other
countries actually have sovereignty over their own territory. According
to this scenario the US Empire owns the world, particularly those
parts situated over oil, and anyone resisting US hegemony and occupation
of those parts is an insurgent. Even under this interpretation,
is this "insurgent" (AKA "terrorist") trying
to overthrow the US government? No, he's resisting a US military
occupation. In Iraq the Iraqis weren't people we liberated, as the
initial story went, they are our enemies because of the extended
occupation. That's essentially what George
Bush said back in November, 2005 that our enemy is ordinary
Iraqis: "The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists,
Saddamists and terrorists. The rejectionists are by far the largest
group. These are ordinary Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs, who miss the
privileged status they had under the regime of Saddam Hussein
and they reject an Iraq in which they are no longer the dominant
group." Current US enemies in Iraq include not only the Sunnis,
but also the most popular Shiite sect, the Sadrists (consisting
of various splinter groups).
the people we're liberating are our enemies, because of the extended
occupation now there's a good reason to support the troops
and extend the occupation. I guess Congress thought so too. They've
continually done it despite the fact that the Iraqis DON'T want
it a recent
poll indicates that nearly 60% of Iraqis see attacks on US-led
forces as justified and nearly half say the US should leave now.
facts are that the world is composed of 190-odd sovereign countries
and the US can't legally act as though it is the legal government
over other countries. From the United
Nations Charter, Article 1, Chapter 2: "The Organization
is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members."
While in Iraq and Afghanistan there are no functional governments,
they still have loyal citizens, nationalists, and the people in
these countries (US enemies according to Bush) are resisting brutal
US military occupations. Who among us wouldn't resist a foreign
military occupation? A military that raids neighborhood homes often
in the middle of the night like this,
harasses the inhabitants including taking retina
up, handcuffs and blindfolds
young males and carts them roughly off to prison
(over 20,000 now) where they are tortured
and detained for months without any sort of legal review. There
is in each country, Iraq and Afghanistan, a corrupt and dysfunctional
government but the people, mostly, are not fighting (insurging)
against these governments, which being weak are not even factors.
They're fighting the US military occupiers (and each other due to
instability). No country, including our own, will ever tolerate
an intensive occupation by a foreign nation.
(photo credits: AP, JM, JM, AP/Petros Giannakouris, AP/Marko Drobnjakovic,
REUTERS/Bob Strong, JM, defendamerica, antiwar.com)
US strategy in both places is more time, more money and above all,
more troops. The "COIN" part of this, the purported new
and unique part, is the concept of using troops to secure the population,
thereby fostering conditions conducive to reconstruction and reconciliation.
COIN is nothing new. In Vietnam it was "win their hearts and
minds." Regarding Iraq, Petraeus
described the effort this way in October 2003: "This is
a race. This is a race to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi
people. And there are other people in this race. And they're not
just trying to beat us to the finish line. In some cases, they want
to kill us." In other words these are old techniques for gaining
acceptance from a hostile population enduring a brutal military
occupation, which is an impossible task as has been proven many
times. The US in Vietnam and the Russians in Afghanistan are the
two most recent historical examples, the British in both places
are earlier examples. All failed. The US is failing now in Iraq
and Afghanistan as evidenced by the stumbling US attempt to obtain
of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq which after five years
of warfare would allow continued US military sovereignty in that
battered country. The Iraqis of all political persuasions are against
it, but of course they may yet be bought off (or threatened). The
Independent reports that under the terms of the new treaty, Americans
would retain the long-term use of more than fifty bases in Iraq.
American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law
for US troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests
and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad
government. Does this sound like a liberated country, or an occupied
Manual FM 3-24 (pdf) essentially promotes an approach to dealing
with "insurgents" (really occupation resisters) with a
minimum of force so as not to alienate them unduly from the occupiers.
"Ultimate success in COIN is gained by protecting the populace,
not the COIN force." Deal with the populace with a minimum
of force? Protect the populace? Obviously this was not the idea
of the Petraeus surge and it is not the course of action Petraeus
pursued in Sadr City, resulting in a humanitarian crisis. The inability
to move armored vehicles through the narrow slum streets of this
poor city meant an increased use of indirect fire and air power
to destroy hospitals, apartment buildings and entire blocks of buildings,
where a lot of people were present. So there are more dead, more
refugees and more hatred toward the US in direct contradiction of
the "minimum of force" concept which is supposed to be
essential for "counterinsurgency" operations.
Washington Post on the recent US attacks in Sadr City: "Since
late March, the military has fired more than 200 Hellfire missiles
in the capital, compared with just six missiles fired in the previous
three months." The military says the tactic has saved the lives
of ground troops and prevented attacks, but the strikes have also
killed and wounded civilians, provoking criticism from Iraqis. So
the COIN tactic of "protecting the populace, not the COIN force"
is not being followed. This is not surprising when you think about
it the primary motivator of soldiers, after accomplishing
the mission, is to stay alive.
Prior to Petraeus's
arrival as Iraq commander, US military forces applied bogus "counterinsurgency"
tactics to the utmost in the siege of Fallujah in 2004. From Tomdispatch:
"Fallujah was gutted. Two months after the invasion, Erik Eckholm
of the New York Times described the city as "a desolate
world of skeletal buildings, tank-blasted homes, weeping power lines
and severed palm trees." At least a quarter of its homes were
fully destroyed, and virtually all the others were severely damaged.
Blown out windows, wrecked furniture, three-foot blast holes in
walls, and disintegrated doors demonstrated that American troops
had relentlessly applied what they jokingly called the "FISH"
strategy (Fighting in Someone's House), which involved "throwing
a hand grenade into each room before checking it for unfriendlies."
Since (in the words of Lt. Gen. Sattler) "each and every house"
was searched, very few remained livable.
who stayed during the fighting found themselves in a kill-anything-that-moves
free-fire zone. When the first medical teams arrived in January
they collected more than 700 unburied and rotting bodies (reputedly
including those of 550 women and children) in only one-third of
the city; and these obviously didn't include the dead already buried
during the battle or hidden under the debris."
It is the policy
of the US government to conduct preemptive strikes on potential
threats (think Iraq), so how could we expect less of soldiers and
Marines? From the National
Security Strategy (pdf): "America will act against such
emerging threats before they are fully formed." The occupation
equivalent to the US attacking a country considered to be potentially
dangerous, is the Marine who throws a fragmentation grenade into
a room before entering, a soldier who shoots a man carrying a shovel
and a soldier who turns his machine gun on an approaching car. The
room and the car might only contain innocent adults and children
or they might contain potential killers, and the guy with the shovel
might intend to implant a mine. Therefore the basis of COIN
"Ultimate success in COIN is gained by protecting the populace,
not the COIN force" is what we used to call in the army
"eyewash," for civilian consumption only. The operative
tactic is to kill them so they won't kill you this is the
tragedy of a brutal military occupation. Even in wanton revenge
killings of old men, women and children, like the Haditha massacre,
soldiers (or in this case Marines) are not punished
In the Haditha
massacre (also prior to Petraeus's command), where 24 Iraqi
men, women and children were killed in a mindless fit of revenge
after a Marine died from a convoy mine, Lt. Gen. James Mattis dropped
the charges against one Marine who had been accused of murder and
against another accused of failing to investigate the incident.
The reason? Marines are trained to kill and they can't be punished
for doing so. General Mattis is infamous for his remarks about the
joy of killing people. News
report: Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who commanded Marine expeditions
in Afghanistan and Iraq, made the comments Tuesday during a panel
discussion in San Diego, California. "Actually it's quite fun
to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot," Mattis said,
prompting laughter from some military members in the audience. "It's
fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like
brawling. You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around
for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis said.
"You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway.
So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them." This is "protecting
but important tragedy of this strategy of tormenting and killing
the populace and not protecting them, of course, is the mental anguish
brought upon the government operatives, actually "the boy next
door," who must implement the terrible government strategy.
The number of US veterans receiving disability compensation for
Stress Disorder (PTSD) has increased nearly threefold since
1999, rising from 120,000 to nearly 329,000, according to the Veterans
Administration. The Army is losing its battle to stem suicides
among troops serving in Iraq, with a new report showing that 32
soldiers killed themselves in the war zone last year (2007)
a record high since the war began five years ago.
The US military
is in Iraq to fight insurgents who are attempting to overthrow their
government? No. Recently Iraqis have taken to the streets protesting
the American occupation and promoting
their heroes, the anti-occupation nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr
and the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, while displaying
the Iraqi flag and burning
the American flag. (Photo credits: AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, AP
Photo/Alaa al-Marjani, REUTERS/Stringer, AP Photo/Alaa al-Marjani)
So toss the
counterinsurgency "COIN" into the fountain of government
propaganda. Don't use the word; use resisted occupation instead.
Counterinsurgency doctrine is not followed and anyhow it doesn't
apply to foreign military occupations which bring instability and
hated occupation to a country. Counterinsurgency is a meaningless
term when applied to military occupations except to try to put a
legitimate face on a criminal act. After all, it does make the US
look better to call our enemies insurgents (or terrorists) rather
than occupation-resisters. But it's not accurate. Might as well
put lipstick on a pig, or call the War Department the Defense Department.
The cure? End
the brutal US military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. As General
Petraeus said in Iraq: "There are many here who regard
us still as liberators. But there are also some that say, jeez,
when are these guys going to leave? And inevitably, over time, even
the best of liberators will become seen as occupiers." Petraeus
for once got it right and Louise
gets it too. (photo credit: Judy)
Bacon [send him mail]
is a retired army officer who founded the Smedley
Butler Society several years ago because, as General Butler
said, "war is a racket."
© 2008 LewRockwell.com