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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Criticism of US counterinsurgency « Previous | |Next »
July 3, 2010

In Against counterinsurgency in Afghanistan in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Hugh Gusterton says that the US's counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is failing because it is an inherently flawed project. He says:

historically, counterinsurgency campaigns have almost always failed. This is especially so when the counterinsurgents are foreign troops fighting on the insurgents' territory. The U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Vietnam failed. The Soviet counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan failed (as did the British one about a century earlier). The British counterinsurgency campaigns in Northern Ireland and Kenya failed. The white Rhodesians' counterinsurgency campaign against black guerrillas failed. And the French counterinsurgency campaign in Algeria failed--although that has not stopped the U.S. military from building their current doctrine around the theories of David Galula, one of the leaders of that failed campaign. A rare example of success is the recent Sri Lankan campaign against the Tamil Tigers, but success was achieved by a government on its own territory following a military strategy of exterminist ferocity. Surely the U.S. does not want to go down that path, does it?

He adds that In what was until recently called the "Global War on Terror," counterinsurgency plays the sort of framing and orienting role that containment and deterrence played in the Cold War. The U.S. military is already thinking about future counterinsurgency campaigns in Yemen, Somalia, and the Philippines.

Afghanistan is at the beginning, not the end, of the counterinsurgency road on the U.S. military horizon. His argument is that counterinsurgency has failed in Afghanistan:

not because of flaws in its execution but because, as I have argued before, counterinsurgency campaigns almost inevitably contain within themselves the seeds of their own failure. Counterinsurgency forces stand little chance of defeating the insurgents without large numbers of troops, but the presence of foreign troops inevitably excites nationalist hostility from the local population; the more foreign troops there are, the more hostility there will be. Also, the more troops there are, the more military casualties there will be, and this undermines support for counterinsurgency at home--as we are now seeing in the UK and the U.S

He adds that counterinsurgency campaigns also benefit from being allied to a strong and popular local government. Almost by definition, a leader who relies on external occupying troops for his power will be seen as a foreign puppet and will be compromised in the eyes of his people.

The inference? The US should get out.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:22 PM | | Comments (6)


"...Afghans, it seems, know the difference between genuine apologies and bribes, true commitment and false promises, generosity and self-interest. And since the whole point of COIN is to gain the hearts and minds of "the population," those angry Afghans are a bad omen for the US military and President Obama..."

After being screwed over for so long, the Afghan people have good reason to second-guess the motivation of their "benefactors"

More here:

Imperial policy has long term effects, or so the evidence appears to indicate. Waging terror, violence and murder against the majority group in the population, in this case the Pashtuns, gives rise to long term revenge those thought to have supported the imperialists long after they depart,in this case the Tarigs and others.

Leaving for the foreigners is the easy part, but they should not do so without understanding the moral implications of their behavior and their responsibility to the society they have leave behind.

Since neither the United States, or perhaps Australia, can countenance International Law as the arbiter of their actions we should not expect a higher standard of behavior, and therefore we should expect that post-colonial problems that others have experience in Afghanistan. We can all rest easy with this outcome, because the Afghan people are lesser being, and what happens to them does not matter.

Yes precisely wmmbb. We will leave with our heads held high, confident that we behaved impeccably (I mean our motives were beyond reproach, weren't they?) and failure was therefore down to the locals, who are really their own worst enemies.

Does anyone know if Vietnam is taught anywhere as a case study in imperial intervention? Many Australians have forgotten, or never knew, the ridiculous justifications put forward for US (and Australian) intervention and how grotesquely wrong they turned out to be. It should be part of the standard school curriculum so people can develop a more informed perspective on things like the Afghanistan exercise. But I doubt it ever will be ... Australia comes out looking pretty bad and worse, gullible, and that kind of black arm band view of history is not PC.

"...what happens to them does not matter..."

But that's not really news, is it? That self-serving attitude has been in evidence for several decades, at least.

"...Many Australians have forgotten, or never knew, the ridiculous justifications put forward for US (and Australian) intervention and how grotesquely wrong they turned out to be..."

Oh yes indeed.

I remember, last year, a young bloke at work (early 20s and quite savvy) was stunned to learn that Australian troops has fought in VN. I assume it was never covered in the Hollywood versions of the war.

And I've lost track of how many Americans I've spoken to who have no idea we had troops in SE Asia...

Okay. Here's the scoop from my daughter, currently in Yr11.

She was taught that Australia committed troops to Vietnam for two reasons... to reinforce the Alliance with the US and to stop the red tide from sweeping down through Asia and into Coffs Harbour.

plus ├ža change...