01 Dec 2006

How to Lose a Guerilla War

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While retired Marine Colonel T. X. Hammes’ Sunday editorial in the Washington Post doesn’t really fulfill its title promise of telling us The Way to Win a Guerrilla War, it does identify precisely how we lose them, by describing how we lost in Vietnam, an experience we are unfortunately repeating at the present time.

While Mao was able to confront his opponent on the Chinese mainland, Ho Chi Minh and Giap had to defeat the French and the Americans without ever being able to threaten their home bases. They expanded on Mao’s concept by using the media and peace activists to convince the American people that we couldn’t win the war. They won not by defeating our armed forces but by breaking our political will.

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Dominique R. Poirier

Further readings of papers released here and there on the web by Colonel X. M. Hammes are indicative this person seems to be pretty enlightened about the matter, and the “must read” book list he provides in his Washingto Post article seems quite worthy.

Coincidentally, I’m reading Colonel David Galula works on that subject (cited on X. M. Hammes list), and I think I’m going soon to read the other books listed on this article.

Hat tip to David Zincavage for this real treasure trove.



Dominique R. Poirier

I have been mulling over my last reading on counterinsurgency until I stumbled over a simple idea which is not mine actually. As many of us have seen or heard of, in Southern Lebanon, the Iranian backed Hezbollah is undertaking an impressive operation which consists in compensating – in cash and in U.S. Dollars – Lebanese for the loss of their houses, buildings and businesses previously bombed by the Israeli forces. Quite shrewdly, the Hezbollah then managed a successful propaganda campaign around this, and I noticed that this campaign has collected dedicated attention and even sympathy from some occidental medias, even though journalists in those countries are not expected to be that naïve.

Although costly, ($230 millions of already paid compensations it was said last week) this Iranian strategy has proved, seemingly, to be successful. I say “Iranian strategy” since it is well known those funds generously given by the Hezbollah come from Iran.

Lebanon and Lebaneses do not closely resemble Iraq and Iraqis. Moreover, Iraq is a much bigger country than Lebanon, as well as Iraqis are much more numerous than Lebaneses. In revenge, it just happens that Iraq, contrary to others countries where insurgencies happened in the past, has a huge pool of natural resources; especially oil.

Now, and on the basis of these last facts and of my last readings on counterinsurgency in Iraq and elsewhere, I found what follows this paragraph. It may be sheer stupidity or corresponds to something having been already unsuccessfully attempted in the past. But I don’t know, and I do not run much risk in exposing it under the form of a comment on this blog, after all.

You guessed it, this idea relies mainly on the successful experience of the Hezbollah in Lebanon. But I added to it some ingredients of mine and slight modifications since circumstances in Iraq are different.
So, the idea would consist, first, in securing a relatively small area either downtown in a given city, or somewhere in its periphery, far enough, if possible, from sites from which enemy mortars and rocket lauchers could be operated.
The size of this area would tantamount to this of a small village where about 500 to 1000 persons might live, work, hold small businesses, prey, and even have recreational activities. In short, I am talking about what is popularly called a “gated city” in United States.
Therefore, it means that this area would be protected by a wall and well guarded by an heavily armed security force. There would be only one heavily secured gate whose design would be inspired by the well known Check Point Charlie of the Cold War Berlin. This in order to prevent any attempt to forcibly enter into the gated city with a truck or a car filled with explosives.

Within these walls would be build, in new, local designed houses fully equipped with electricity, water, furniture, shower, restroom, equipped kitchen, etc. The living space of each of those houses or condos might satisfy the needs of the average Iraqi family (6 or 8 people?). The general architecture of the gated village would be designed to foster an autonomus micro economy. Export and import from and to this gated village would be made possible, so as not to make it an utopian autarkic community system as some European Socialist thinker imagined it during the XIXth century and named “phalanster”.
Just, anyone and anything entering this village would have to submit to tight controls and checking.

It is understood that this gated village would be an experimental project pending further success before anything similar would be attempted elsewhere.

During the experimental stage of this project the first inhabitants (the Colons) would be selected as follow: 50 to 60 percent of the population would be made up of the families of native Iraqi law enforcement personnel, while all others would be selected on the basis of spontaneous applications submitted by civilians Iraqis. No matter whether they would be Sunni, Shi’a, or else since the goal is to pacify them and to teach them to live together peacefully.

Selected families would be provided correct clothing and food help, as a starter of a sort. All males of the selected families (and women too, if possible) would have to have a professional activity, either corresponding to already acquired skills, or in the frame of an appropriate training the applicant would be willing to submit to. It goes without saying that these activities would fit closely the economic and social need of this first experimental gated area as much as to its need to export exterior to it in the near surrounding.
That means: masonry and carpentry, electricity and water supply, food and clothes production, varied repairs, drivers, religion, administrative and public services, education and training, health, etc. Moreover, each of those families would be provided a small motorbike or a scooter which they would have to pay using relatively long termed credit. At the beginning cars and trucks would be provided by a local public service, this for the sake of security and so as to make check and controls easier at the gate.

Inside the gated village rules would be strict, which means that anyone attempting acts of violence or the making of conspiracy, or attempting to fraudulently importing banned stuffs (weaponry, explosives substances, etc) would be immediately expelled with his entire family.

Although such a project would have to be integrally financed at its very beginning with Iraqi resources only (mainly oil exports), people living in it would be strongly expected to generate an autonomous market economy as quickly as possible. In this endeavor, one of the first ideas I would suggest is that people living in it would be expected to be skilled and trained enough to be the builders of others gated villages. Producing building material, food and clothing, would be first expected. A village mayor would be selected (and not elected, especially during the early stage of the experiment. Sorry).

If this first experiment proved to be successful, then it would be reproduced elsewhere, or, the area of the gated village would be widened. On the long term, the percentage of law enforcement personnel living in those cities would decrease and there would be a steady increase of the peaceful population through a permanent aggrandizement and improvement of this method.

From the beginning, this experiment would benefit of much publicity, in Iraq as well as abroad, and villagers would be invited to testify about the improvement of their life, which would be a reality as long as nobody makes trouble.

In attempting to attack or damage those gated villages, or in attempting to blackmail, harm, or kill the villagers, insurgents would automatically antagonize themselves since what most Iraqi want, after all, is as obvious as money, security, job, food, clothing, raising their children, and a vehicle. So, retaliation would be made easier, and media cooperation too.

Well, there would be much more to say about this suggestion, but, once more, perhaps has it been already attempted and failed.

Any suggestions or critics are welcomed.



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