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New strategy on insurgency
October 5, 2006 5:43 AM   Subscribe

Military hones a new strategy on insurgency (NYT) Perhaps someone in the Pentagon has finally watched The Battle of Algiers (and learned a lesson from it)?
posted by dylanjames (36 comments total)

it emphasizes the importance of safeguarding civilians and restoring essential services, and the rapid development of local security forces.

This is WAY different than the way the forces have been trained; Kill people and break things.
posted by shnoz-gobblin at 6:04 AM on October 5, 2006

* U.S. changes tactics in Iraq (2003)

* What's behind US strategy shift in Iraq war (2004)

* The Bush administration is readying a major change to its military strategy in Iraq (2005)

* Insurgency seen forcing change in Iraq strategy (2005)

This is hardly new. Or interesting.
posted by Ljubljana at 6:11 AM on October 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

The more force used, the less effective it is,” it notes.

This is actually pretty new to me. To someone who keeps hearing a doom-and-gloom, Imperialistic America is colonizing Iraq, no light at the end of the tunnel type of message this is welcome news. I'm always interested in the direction that military doctrine is going and it's good to see that our military remains fluid and dynamic. Also, that this appears to be a "grassroots" change, coming from the forces on the ground.
posted by the theory of revolution at 6:16 AM on October 5, 2006

The Pentagon was already watching the Battle of Algiers back in 2003. When Juan Cole posed the question of what the Pentagon learned from Battle of Algiers, Cole answered, "The only part that sank in was when Col. Mathieu told the press corps that victory depended on them and their willingness to accept torture without question."
posted by jonp72 at 6:36 AM on October 5, 2006

This strategy was an obvious one from the beginning of the war and a well known counter-insurgency strategy at that. Its rather sad that it takes them this long, when its probably too late to do any good, to claim they're going to implement it.
posted by Atreides at 6:41 AM on October 5, 2006

I have no doubt that the military is learning ... or re-learning. We've periodically done this, as the Small Wars Manual goes back to the Philippine insurgency and US counterinsurgency training was revived during Vietnam.

The civilian capos at Defense basically ordered them not to plan, we know, so they didn't work on this soon enough. But keep hitting your head on concrete and you eventually learn to stop doing it.

What's happening now is that the manual has been revised. The learning process on the ground has been going on for some time per Ljubljana. I'm pleased to see the list of contradictions -- that shows some real intelligence, to embrace the paradox. To paraphrase:

This is WAY different than the way the forces have been trained: Learn one thing that works and do it over and over again.

I will say that I'm not sure how much of this could be learned from the film, which tells essentially of how the French military (or colonial military, depending on how you see it) won the battle but lost the war. They were able to roll up the insurgent cells, but the political situation outpaced them. I do get a sense here that the new manual understands a little of that last point. The US military has fetishized -- far more than many other militaries -- agnosticism toward politics. It's probably a mistake to put them into situations where they have to manage a political balance. You get -- paradoxically again -- much more unpredictability in politics AND much less flexibility to poke and prod without breaking.
posted by dhartung at 6:45 AM on October 5, 2006

The Cluetank Manifesto: Enabling War 2.0.

Recognizing that War 2.0 is a conversation between the various sides and civilians caught in between these forceful exchanges of conflicting ideas the US Army is now offering the end victims of our military service oriented architecture of participation a more genuine human voice . The new Platform version of the US army will offer end victims a rich variety of APIs allowing the development of creative and innovative fuckups. Folksonomic mushroom tag clouds will hang over the invaded territories providing a real time view of how people choose to describe their deaths. Through the aggregation of individual user contributed deaths there will be an emergent order. Further, War 2.0 will enable those seeking unusual or niche forms of demise the chance to connect with the long tail thanks to the user added value and incluseive network effects. We think that the newly enabled oppressed will prefer this rich end loser experience and that the US Army will at last have a viable exit strategy for ending occupations. Sell to Yahoo.
posted by srboisvert at 6:45 AM on October 5, 2006

For crying out loud, why didn't they do this from the beginning? I believe it is because they failed to understand their mission in Iraq.
posted by caddis at 6:59 AM on October 5, 2006

I worry that as soon as you get to the third paragraph, reality sets in:

"some military experts question whether the Army and the Marines have sufficient troops to carry out the doctrine effectively"

To my mind, this is late imperial hubris - go to war as you are right and invincible, but do it in a threadbare, Wal-Mart style. It should have been obvious that if one takes the boot off the throat off a fractured, imprisoned, angry and distorted society 'stuff' would happen. Stuff involving lack of security meaning lack of development, leading to dashed expectations and violence. (I know this is a simplification).

What is so sad and frustrating to me is that we will never know if a better result could have come from this apalling debacle if those that wanted war were prepared to listen to those that wage it and put resources behind their rhetoric. The fantasies of flowers and a nation sort of like Turkey on the Tigris were never going to come true. But it is hard for me not to think that had their been at least Bosnia levels of force concentration, quicker elections (before the Islamists could organise and the technocrats fled) and culturally/politically sensitive leadership could have produced something better than a fratricidal jihadi incubator.
posted by The Salaryman at 7:18 AM on October 5, 2006

Instead it emphasizes the importance of safeguarding civilians and restoring essential services, and the rapid development of local security forces.

Stressing the need to build up local institutions and encourage economic development, the manual cautions against putting too much weight on purely military solutions. “Tactical success guarantees nothing,” it says.

It sounds like the next counterinsurgency won't be led by the military at all. I know that troops are trained to do police work, build infrastructure, deal with local leaders, etc. But that's not their primary mission, and there are other groups -- private as well as public -- that could do that better.

So...will the military be just a small piece of the puzzle going forward? I think that's a good thing (and yes, it's seemed obvious all along), but that seems to be where this idea is going, and it's surprising that the military itself is putting this forward.
posted by PlusDistance at 7:30 AM on October 5, 2006

To my mind, this is late imperial hubris

Oh man, I couldn't agree more. It seems we're doomed to act out scenes from history.
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:33 AM on October 5, 2006

So this corner, it turns?
posted by NationalKato at 7:39 AM on October 5, 2006

Salaryman, I don't think that was a realistic possibility. We were going into an area that had been suppressed under a sadistic regime and had natural fractures as deep as Yugoslavia (this was Yugoslavia before the bloodbath, not Bosnia). They had a history of being subjected to empirism and fighting empires. And we came in as an empire.

Two-thirds of them already viewed America as an Israeli-loving enemy who starved Iraq with sanctions and bombed them regularly. Still others had leftover resentments from when we supported Hussain. (I'm not saying all of these resentments are legitimate, just that they existed.) Those that supported the United States to any degree were soon marginalized. Now the only support evident is from people who lie to us about supporting us there. They will support the insurgency behind our backs. And that's just the anti-US side of the equation, much less the Shiites versus Sunnis plus along with the mix of Bathists and Kurds.

How was this ever supposed to work out? My argument against the domino theory as being a reason to fight in Vietnam is that you don't choose the weakest domino to prop up. If you want democracy in the Middle East you don't choose the weakest place to start.

We've become for Iraq a bright shining lie. If we left today would the violence be worse? Maybe. I would say probably not but the "stay the course people" would blame whatever level of violence that continued on our leaving. If we left a year ago, two years ago, would it have been this bad now? If we continue on there will it also continue to get worse? Those who've looked into the question have said yes. We've come to the point where there is no solution. To continue with War 2.0 is to perpetuate the lie.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:47 AM on October 5, 2006

It cautions against overly aggressive raids and mistreatment of detainees.
Wait, isn't this what Senators Warner et al. argued for, and the Dems voted for, and the Bush administration slapped down?
But some military experts question whether the Army and the Marines have sufficient troops to carry out the doctrine
Wait, so this is contrary to the whole Rumsfeld doctrine?

What's with the disconnect between the polices of the Decider and the Smartest Defense Secretary Evar, and the military on the ground in Iraq? will the Iraqis believe the military is really committed to this new strategerie when it flies in the face of what the Bush administration is daily saying?
posted by orthogonality at 7:57 AM on October 5, 2006

A day late and a dollar short. Or, more accurately, 1295 days and $331,755,000,000+ short.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:01 AM on October 5, 2006

they failed to understand their mission in Iraq

Depends on what you think their mission was. If it was to (a) establish permanent forward military bases in Iraq and (b) make a shitload of money for Halliburton, then I say: "mission accomplished".

The rest of it, deposing and trying Saddam, establishing "democracy" in the middle east, rooting out terr'rsts... Is all just PR.
posted by Hypnic jerk at 8:09 AM on October 5, 2006

I seem to remember lots of derision directed against John Kerry when he suggested that maybe the military wasn't the sole answer in Iraqistan or the "Global War on Terra".

Fuck these smirking shitheads like Rummy, Cheney, Rice, and of course Bush. Fuck everybody who derided diplomacy and insinuated that anyone who engaged in diplomacy was a pussy. You are the pussies, you draft-dodging whores.

And a special "fuck you" to all the unprincipled representatives and senators who stood by the decider by writing him a blank check, be they democrat or republican.

/end rant
posted by Mister_A at 8:40 AM on October 5, 2006

When I saw the press reports of "Desert Scorpion" operations the summer of 2003 -- the late-night smash-n-grab raids by infantry squads -- I was simply dumbfounded. It was like we were /trying/ to get an insurgency going.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:46 AM on October 5, 2006

It was like we were /trying/ to get an insurgency going.

Instability in the middle east is a goal of PNAC.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:52 AM on October 5, 2006

I was shocked to hear that some key players within the Pentagon had formally screened "the Battle of Algiers" as early as 2003. If they had, they clearly misunderstood its lessons. The siege of Fallujah, at least as it was reported by both the press and the administration could have been a scene straight from that film.
posted by psmealey at 8:54 AM on October 5, 2006

Is there any way we can demand the people who started this war pay for it? By that I mean reimburse the hundreds of billions to the treasury that are ultimately going to come out of Social Security when we can't pay that? Maybe we can start this as a meme.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:05 AM on October 5, 2006

It's way too late.
posted by tkchrist at 9:54 AM on October 5, 2006

Thanks for your analysis, dances_with_sneetches. It's hard to refute much of what you say, especially the folly of using the least likely place for liberal democracy as a regional test case. The thing that concerns me about leaving when there are Yugoslav like tensions is that it could provoke a massive regional war or a situation like 1980s Lebanon with extra blood and fire. I would argue that there was something to that 'old Pottery Barn' rule in that having caused the problem we need to do the most we can to solve it and leaving before there is some kind of stable settlement there with a state able to largely assert a monopoly of violence would leave many more civilians at the mercy of sectarian butchery. However, I feel tkchrist also has a point, unfortunately.
posted by The Salaryman at 10:14 AM on October 5, 2006

By that I mean reimburse the hundreds of billions to the treasury that are ultimately going to come out of Social Security when we can't pay that?

Buddy, shortfalls in SS are the least of our countries' economic problems. Who cares if the SS budget is balanced when the money behind it is being pulled out of the air anyway? The debts the Republicans have stacked up (economic conservatives my ass) are really bad, illegaly bad until they changed the law to excuse themselves, and there are multiple commentators who say the situation is actually worse than what the official numbers show. I don't know enough to check them, but would anyone be surprised if that were the case?
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:25 AM on October 5, 2006

What orthogonality and tkchrist said. Do Bush and Cheney know anything about Vietnam other than the Rambo movies?
posted by bardic at 1:07 PM on October 5, 2006

Hypnic Jerk: you hit the nail on the head. I believe that the mission has been accomplished too, mainly because the present Administration that conceived of this war seems rather calm about the situation there. The military has been demanding more troops, but the Administration fails to deliver. They had a different agenda, which they are fulfilling. From their perspective, the one unintended consequence of the Iraq War was the strengthening of Iran, which is precisely why the Administration aided Israel's invasion of Lebanon and is trying to portray Iran as a wannabe-nuclear power.
posted by Azaadistani at 1:18 PM on October 5, 2006

It’d work. The military does have MPs, engineers and such. It can be done. We’d have to mobilize. But right now - just words.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:46 PM on October 5, 2006

It sounds to me like they're tryng to turn the Armed Services in Iraq into regional police.
posted by lekvar at 1:57 PM on October 5, 2006

Do Bush and Cheney know anything about Vietnam other than the Rambo movies?

Sure, Kissinger explained everything to them.
posted by homunculus at 2:05 PM on October 5, 2006

Is it really too late to work out a deal with Sadam? He could probably stabilize things. He has experience. And we could help him kill off any uncooperative Iraqis. I mean it's not like we haven't been killing Iraqis off right and left as it is. We are getting very good at it.
I really think it could bring the cost of gas back down to $1.60/gal.
posted by notreally at 2:43 PM on October 5, 2006

Perhaps someone in the Pentagon has finally watched The Battle of Algiers (and learned a lesson from it)?

um, the French lost, you know that right?
posted by Artw at 4:23 PM on October 5, 2006

um, the French lost, you know that right?

um, that was the point of the film, you know that right? You also, um, know that, um, we continue to make in Iraq, in broad strokes, very similar mistakes* to the ones that the French did in Algiers. Right?

dylanjames's reference to the film in the FPP was to make this point. I guess someone missed it.

* ham-fisted military offensives accomplishing nothing but popular alientation and resentment and torture, humiliation and subjugation of suspected insurgents, etc.
posted by psmealey at 4:55 PM on October 5, 2006

Coup In Iraq?
posted by homunculus at 7:40 PM on October 6, 2006

Five Years Later: Afghanistan Reverts To Breeding Ground For Terror
posted by homunculus at 1:11 PM on October 7, 2006

um, the French lost, you know that right?

Actually the French in Algeria largely won militarily, but backlash against french atrocities and the war in general back at home forced them to pull out.
posted by afu at 10:52 PM on October 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

U.S. Casualties in Iraq Rise Sharply
posted by homunculus at 12:34 PM on October 8, 2006

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