February 1, 2007  

Fighting long small wars

Creating indigenous security forces for counterinsurgency operations

“Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror: Military Culture and Irregular War,” by Robert M. Cassidy; Praeger, $49.95.

With a slight nod to Mr. Dickens, this is a tale of two books, not cities. Fortunately, the odd construction of “Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror” does not seriously detract from the overall product. Its principal lessons are relevant if not timely for the current challenge of Iraq. Chock-full of solid historical insights, it offers numerous recommendations that could have been critical components of an effective campaign design for Iraq.

Do not worry about immediate relevance, as the future portends a growth industry for insurgents and terrorists on a scale we have never imagined. We should have plenty of time to properly learn how to defeat the ever-mutating form of warfare Lt. Col. Robert Cassidy terms a stateless “network of nasty nihilists” committed to a radically fundamentalist ideology that presents a protracted challenge to international order. As the author aptly notes, this “Long War will be unlimited in time and in space and it may last for decades.” So, borrowing from another Dickens tale, if you want to avoid the chains of Counterinsurgencies Future, you need to relive Counterinsurgencies Past.

The author brings a broad set of credentials to the task. Cassidy has served in several command and staff positions, and currently commands the 3rd Army Special Troops Battalion, which has operational units in the Middle East. A graduate of the French Joint Defense College, he also holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

The first two chapters of the book address the emerging phenomenon of global insurgency and the paradoxes presented to great powers by so-called small wars. The author notes that a historical pattern emerged in America over time. Occasionally, the Army would have to wage guerrilla warfare but tended to treat each case as “abnormal and to forget about it whenever possible. Each new experience with irregular warfare has required, then, that appropriate techniques be learned all over again.” This pattern will, it is hoped, be broken this time, as the Army has significantly shaped its educational and doctrinal foundation to better prepare for irregular challengers.

The middle section, which runs to three chapters, expands on the concept of organizational or military culture. The concept of strategic or military culture is extremely relevant to the capacity of military institutions to adapt to evolving threats. In this section, the author reviews and compares the history of Russian, British and U.S. militaries against irregular threats. These chapters are sound, but the American chapter needs more clarity about how the prevailing “big war” culture of our armed forces can be adapted to today’s more irregular foe. This section is interesting but not as useful in terms of viable prescriptions as the other chapters. This component is out of place with the rest of the book and may have been better reorganized as a separate chapter that proposed specific recommendations for ensuring that tomorrow’s military culture is as prepared for irregular threats as we are currently situated for more traditional adversaries.

The final chapter is the jewel in this well-researched and tightly composed effort. It highlights a recurring best practice in effective counterinsurgency — the creation and employment of indigenous security forces. The use of indigenous forces can affect all three levels of war. Tactically, indigenous forces are invaluable for identifying and helping to eliminate insurgent leadership or combatants. The local knowledge of such troops, their understanding of the local culture and the daily life of the tribe, village or souk, is simply invaluable and almost impossible to recreate in foreign units. Actionable intelligence is the sine qua non for effective tactical operations and always in short supply. Operationally, indigenous troops minimize the footprint and imprint of the intervening power. Strategically, such forces help restore the threatened government’s control while reinforcing its legitimacy.

Cassidy notes that current U.S. strategy documents stress the importance of “building partner capacity” and training foreign units but that doctrine and resources are lacking. Historical examples are not.

Cassidy starts with American examples going back as far as the Philippine War, 1899-1902. During this time, the Army was forced to employ indigenous scouts and paramilitary forces to maintain itself and to conduct the patrolling required to keep the insurgent forces led by the rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo off balance. American forces were seriously short of boots on the ground, and they needed local Filipino logistics support at first. Then they realized the local forces could be trained as police and scouts, and eventually as armed units. The Philippine Scouts emerged from this evolution. They originated from irregular fighters raised from the Macabebes for employment against guerrillas on Luzon. This tribe was recruited because it held a long-standing grudge against the Tagalogs, who dominated the insurgents. Cassidy shows how these scouts were influential in keeping pressure on the insurgents and in their contribution to Army Brig. Gen. Fred Funston’s raid that captured Aguinaldo.

Cassidy goes on to underscore the imperative behind using trained local forces to protect the population and to conduct an aggressive counter-guerrilla campaign based on aggressive reconnaissance and intelligence operations. The French experience in Algeria reinforces this imperative. The indigenous contribution to the French counterinsurgency effort was significant, approaching 150,000 regulars and auxiliaries. The French employed various types of indigenous units. The harkas were squad-sized forces led by French officers and senior noncommissioned officers. These units conducted security and mobile operations in their local areas and quickly proved effective in hunting down the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), as these troops were familiar with the alleys and footpaths of their home territory. The civil administration also employed thousands of Muslims as auxiliary policemen and in the mobile security groups, including the Paras Bleus, who comprised former FLN guerrillas and terrorists.

Cassidy also concisely captures other American examples, including Vietnam. Although most military histories focus on the search-and-destroy mantra imposed by less-than-enlightened military leaders, he examines “the other war — counterinsurgency and pacification — where Special Forces, Marines and other advisers employed indigenous forces using small-war methods, [which] is much more relevant to 21st-century counterinsurgencies.” The author appropriately credits Gen. Creighton Abrams with forcing this approach on the American strategy in Vietnam. This expansion of the Civil Operations and Rural Development and Support program, as well as the Marines’ Combined Action Program (CAP) and the 5th Special Forces Group’s Civilian Irregular Defense Groups, all offer useful examples of effective counterinsurgency techniques that could be useful for the Long War. The author does not note that some of these programs suffered from an underinvestment in language and culture training. The same shortfall limited the modified CAP model used by the Marine Corps and military transition teams in Iraq.

Cassidy offers an original proposal for integrating indigenous forces in counterinsurgency today, a joint and combined interagency counterinsurgency task force headquarters that integrates elements from the armed services’ conventional forces, special operations forces, the CIA, State Department and indigenous intelligence elements. Such a task force would include three subordinate components:

• A composite reconnaissance and direct-action unit comprising indigenous former insurgents or friendly tribes, to gather intelligence, locate enemy infrastructure and eliminate insurgent leadership.

• A combined action force that would build on the CAP concept, consisting of combined coalition and indigenous conventional elements, with the roles of area denial and saturation patrolling.

• A composite reserve or decisive-action force postured over the horizon, ready for aerial insertion, made up of special operations forces-led attachments of former insurgents to respond to actions beyond the capabilities of a local combined-action element.

Such a task force might have been a useful model for the various Iraq study groups grappling with options for enhancing our chances of success. Rather than simply adding or subtracting forces, we need to think differently about the type of forces we create for defeating future insurgencies. Cassidy proposes an interesting model, one that merits serious consideration. A coalition task force that organizes and integrates special, conventional and indigenous forces this way can leverage the best practices of counterinsurgency and minimize the perception that we are merely trying to create a foreign force in our own image.

Overall, this book is a solid effort that deserves praise for its research and willingness to offer relevant proposals. Its training examples are richly detailed. On the other side of the ledger, the book overlooks the need to work on the psychological dimension of this mode of war. The need for an effective counternarrative story was critical to success in the past and will certainly remain critical tomorrow. Training foreign forces is invaluable, but so is addressing the underlying grievance or the attractiveness of the insurgent’s ideological appeal. Possibly, this can be grist for another book. All in all, “Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror” is highly recommended for professional students of war in general, and especially for those officers involved in designing counterinsurgency campaigns and for the faculty of professional military educational institutions.

FRANK HOFFMAN is employed by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies and serves as a research fellow at the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities.