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Sometimes writers who were ignored in their day receive their just deserts decades later. This is true of the French soldier-intellectual David Galula (1919-1967) whose thoughts on population-centric counter-insurgency (Coin) warfare permeate the doctrine of the US army today, notably the strategy proposed by General Stanley McChrystal for defeating the Taliban. 

A graduate of St Cyr, Galula was dismissed from the Vichy armed forces under the infamous Statute on the Jews. From 1941 to 1944, he fought for the Free French, before joining the French embassies in Beijing and Hong Kong with an interval observing the civil war in Greece. While doing spooky things in China, Galula was captured by the Red Army. After initial trepidation, he spent an agreeable week discussing revolutionary warfare with Chinese officers before he was released. These experiences influenced his work as a company commander in Algeria's rugged Kabyle region in the late 1950s. 

Like authoring a sex manual, it helps when theorists of counter-insurgency warfare are experienced. Galula was no softy and he held racist attitudes towards Arabs. He had few qualms about confining suspected Algerian FLN sympathisers in a dark oven. His strategy was to separate the insurgents from the population by doing nothing to antagonise the latter while winning their sympathies through the emancipation of women, and building clinics and schools. In the FLN-free spaces he established, Galula tried to build a core of political support, based on Berbers who had fought for the Free French. Although French generals and politicians frequently visited his district, almost nothing of what Galula practised found its way into operational manuals. He was just a piece in a much larger mosaic, where in other districts killing militants was the priority. The army even balked at promoting him, on the grounds that combat decorations (and body counts) determined who rose up the hierarchy. 

In 1963, Galula converted his thoughts on counter-revolutionary warfare into a Harvard PhD and then a book (Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory & Practice), while turning his experiences in Algeria into a Rand Foundation report. What he had to say made no impression on the US generals whose conventionally structured armies waged a war in Vietnam obsessed with the metric of "whack and stack", with no regard either for the collateral Vietnamese casualties of bombing raids. Galula's experiences were mirrored in those of the US counter-insurgency expert John Paul Vann, the anti-hero of Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie. Believing that the best weapon in Vietnam was a knife rather than a B-52, Vann was involved in the Phoenix programme to eliminate the Vietcong underground, while winning hearts and minds (Wham for short) through civil affairs programmes. Vann's critical reports on the war impressed his fellow officers, but were killed off by senior generals as they made their way to the Pentagon's secure conference room. The US Army also none too politely ignored a British Advisory Mission consisting of some of the top men who had neutralised the 1948-62 Malayan insurgency.

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November 27th, 2009
10:11 AM
The American military has a better record and memory of counter-insurgency warfare than Professor Burleigh credits them with. He also misses key reasons why the US was ill-prepared to occupy Iraq and suppress the insurgency. As described by Max Boot in "The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power," the US military -- especially the Marines -- fought successful counter insurgency campaigns in the Caribbean, Central America, and the Philippines. Moreover, as recounted in Lewis Sorley's "A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam," after Gen. Creighton Abrams replaced Gen. Westmoreland in June of 1968, the US and South Viet Namese armies adopted a seize and hold counter-insurgency strategy. Even with US troop levels in decline, the communist insurgency was definitively routed. Unfortunately, due to the Watergate scandal, the antiwar Left of the Democratic party was swept into power in Congress in 1974 and soon cut off US military and financial assistance to South Viet Nam. The result was a conventional invasion and conquest by North Viet Nam in early 1975. The US military did not forget the lessons of counter-insurgency from Viet Nam, but they did not want another defeat due to the collapse of political and public support for such a war effort. The US military therefore restructured itself in the 1980's so that the police, administrative, and intelligence units and capabilities needed for occupation and counter-insurgency warfare were moved into reserve and national guard units composed of part time citizen soldiers. This assured that any substantial occupation or counter-insurgency effort would require a strong and and direct commitment from the American public and the civilian political establishment. It also meant that US military planners could not readily draw upon the units needed for administration of a defeated country and to prevent or suppress an insurgency. The US plan for Iraq thus necessarily projected a short occupation, an election under UN auspices, and then a turnover to Iraqi control. That was not to be. Saddam and his Baathists and foreign irregulars had prepared an insurgency, Iraq's infrastructure was near collapse, and its capacity for self-governance was negligible. Without wanting to, the US acquired a battered country as dependency, along with a raging combination of insurgency and ethnosectarian civil war. There would be no quick exit except at the price of a bloodbath and likely chaos in the region. In late 2006, as conventional minded US commanders struggled and failed to defeat the insurgency, military scholar Fred Kagan and retired Gen. Jack Keane drew on America's counter-insurgency experience and pressed for its methods and the additional troops to carry them out. They were quietly assisted by allies in the Pentagon and in the military serving in Iraq. George Bush, to his credit, embraced the new approach even though it was contrary to the recommendations of the official Iraq Study Group. There remained just enough public support for the Iraq war that Bush could contradict the desire of much of official Washington for a hasty withdrawal of US forces. In concept, counter-insurgency ought to work in Afghanistan. In practice, it remains to be seen whether Barak Obama will back the effort there with sufficient troops and the necessary political commitment.

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