A winning counterinsurgency strategy

John B. Dwyer
Dr. David Kilcullen, a retired Australian army Lt. Col. with 1st-hand experience of counter-insurgency operations in East Timor and elsewhere, has become one of the leading experts on the formulation of effective 21st century COIN doctrine.  (Google his name for documents he's authored on the subject). 

Dr. Kilcullen is now the senior counter-insurgency adviser to General David Petraeus, Commander, Multi-National Force-Iraq.  Dr. Kilcullen recently spent 6 weeks traveling throughout Iraq visiting U.S. and Iraqi combat units, tribal & community leaders and others.  Based on that and his knowledge of the subject, he wrote an article for the Small Wars Journal blog titled: Understanding Current Operations in Iraq."  Here is an  excerpt:
 
(a The enemy needs the people to act in certain ways (sympathy, acquiescence, silence, reaction to provocation) in order to survive and further his strategy. Unless the population acts in these ways, both insurgents and terrorists will wither, and the cycle of provocation and backlash that drives the sectarian conflict in Iraq will fail.

(b The enemy is fluid, but the population is fixed. (The enemy is fluid because he has no permanent installations he needs to defend, and can always run away to fight another day. But the population is fixed, because people are tied to their homes, businesses, farms, tribal areas, relatives etc). Therefore-and this is the major change in our strategy this year-protecting and controlling the population is do-able, but destroying the enemy is not. We can drive him off from the population, then introduce local security forces, population control, and economic and political development, and thereby "hard-wire" the enemy out of the environment, preventing his return. But chasing enemy cells around the countryside is not only a waste of time, it is precisely the sort of action he wants to provoke us into. That's why AQ cells leaving an area are not the main game-they are a distraction. We played the enemy's game for too long: not any more. Now it is time for him to play our game.

(c Being fluid, the enemy can control his loss rate and therefore can never be eradicated by purely enemy-centric means: he can just go to ground if the pressure becomes too much. BUT, because he needs the population to act in certain ways in order to survive, we can asphyxiate him by cutting him off from the people. And he can't just "go quiet" to avoid that threat. He has either to come out of the woodwork, fight us and be destroyed, or stay quiet and accept permanent marginalization from his former population base. That puts him on the horns of a lethal dilemma (which warms my heart, quite frankly, after the cynical obscenities these irhabi gang members have inflicted on the innocent Iraqi non-combatant population). That's the intent here.

(e The enemy may not be identifiable, but the population is. In any given area in Iraq, there are multiple threat groups but only one, or sometimes two main local population groups. We could do (and have done, in the past) enormous damage to potential supporters, "destroying the haystack to find the needle", but we don't need to: we know who the population is that we need to protect, we know where they live, and we can protect them without unbearable disruption to their lives. And more to the point, we can help them protect themselves, with our forces and ISF in overwatch.


Dr. David Kilcullen, a retired Australian army Lt. Col. with 1st-hand experience of counter-insurgency operations in East Timor and elsewhere, has become one of the leading experts on the formulation of effective 21st century COIN doctrine.  (Google his name for documents he's authored on the subject). 

Dr. Kilcullen is now the senior counter-insurgency adviser to General David Petraeus, Commander, Multi-National Force-Iraq.  Dr. Kilcullen recently spent 6 weeks traveling throughout Iraq visiting U.S. and Iraqi combat units, tribal & community leaders and others.  Based on that and his knowledge of the subject, he wrote an article for the Small Wars Journal blog titled: Understanding Current Operations in Iraq."  Here is an  excerpt:
 
(a The enemy needs the people to act in certain ways (sympathy, acquiescence, silence, reaction to provocation) in order to survive and further his strategy. Unless the population acts in these ways, both insurgents and terrorists will wither, and the cycle of provocation and backlash that drives the sectarian conflict in Iraq will fail.

(b The enemy is fluid, but the population is fixed. (The enemy is fluid because he has no permanent installations he needs to defend, and can always run away to fight another day. But the population is fixed, because people are tied to their homes, businesses, farms, tribal areas, relatives etc). Therefore-and this is the major change in our strategy this year-protecting and controlling the population is do-able, but destroying the enemy is not. We can drive him off from the population, then introduce local security forces, population control, and economic and political development, and thereby "hard-wire" the enemy out of the environment, preventing his return. But chasing enemy cells around the countryside is not only a waste of time, it is precisely the sort of action he wants to provoke us into. That's why AQ cells leaving an area are not the main game-they are a distraction. We played the enemy's game for too long: not any more. Now it is time for him to play our game.

(c Being fluid, the enemy can control his loss rate and therefore can never be eradicated by purely enemy-centric means: he can just go to ground if the pressure becomes too much. BUT, because he needs the population to act in certain ways in order to survive, we can asphyxiate him by cutting him off from the people. And he can't just "go quiet" to avoid that threat. He has either to come out of the woodwork, fight us and be destroyed, or stay quiet and accept permanent marginalization from his former population base. That puts him on the horns of a lethal dilemma (which warms my heart, quite frankly, after the cynical obscenities these irhabi gang members have inflicted on the innocent Iraqi non-combatant population). That's the intent here.

(e The enemy may not be identifiable, but the population is. In any given area in Iraq, there are multiple threat groups but only one, or sometimes two main local population groups. We could do (and have done, in the past) enormous damage to potential supporters, "destroying the haystack to find the needle", but we don't need to: we know who the population is that we need to protect, we know where they live, and we can protect them without unbearable disruption to their lives. And more to the point, we can help them protect themselves, with our forces and ISF in overwatch.