Despite being consciously underestimated’ and described in anodyne terms as ‘unconventional’ or ‘irregular’ conflict’ the fact is that ‘insurgency’ has been the most common form of warfare in history. Conventional or regular conflict’ in brief’ ‘wars’ as commonly understood’ is the exception’ rather than the rule’ if past conflicts were to be reviewed. Numerous studies have examined the nature of past conflicts over different time intervals. The author’s preference is for the ‘Correlates of War Project” which ‘identifies 464 wars that occurred since 1816 and the end of the twentieth century’ of which only 79 (17 percent) were ‘conventional’ interstate conflicts between the regular armed forces of nation states…’ The remaining were civil wars or insurgencies. These numbers provide the backdrop for the present study on ‘counterinsurgency’ by an acclaimed authority on the subject.
How does one define counterinsurgency? According to the author it is ‘an umbrella term that describes the complete range of measures that governments take to defeat insurgencies…political’ administrative’ military’ economic’ psychological’ or informational’ and are almost always used in combination.’ Kilcullen comes with impressive credentials. He was ranked by Foreign Policy magazine as among the top 100 global thinkers in 2009′ when his seminal book The Accidental Guerrilla* was published. Apparently’ his thinking influenced a change in American strategic policy in Iraq’ and then in Afghanistan. The present volume brings together a collection of his writings on counterinsurgency and reflects his philosophy.
It is common ground now that there is no military solution to the problem of insurgency and that liquidating the insurgents is not the best way to deal with this problem. Insurgency has its roots in politics’ dissatisfactions and a burning sense of injustice in the population. Ultimately’ therefore’ a political solution has to be found to what is essentially a political question. Counterinsurgency operations’ therefore’ have to admix military and non-military means. What are the parameters to adjudge the effectiveness of counterinsurgency measures? Clearly’ the target of the insurgents and’ therefore’ the counterinsurgents is the local population. For this reason’ Kilcullen advises that counterinsurgency forces need to snap the connectivity of the insurgents with the local population by driving them off’ which makes it necessary for them to attack and disrupt these entrenched counterinsurgency forces’ rather than the other way around. In other words’ he favours the ‘inkblot’ strategy of first establishing a secure base in the affected area before steadily expanding it outwards to defeat the insurgents. The alternate ‘swat the mole’ strategy requires the counterinsurgent forces to essay in an ad hoc fashion from out of a secure base to attack the insurgents whenever intelligence becomes available. In practice both these approaches can be dovetailed into an effective counterinsurgency campaign. But’ in either case’ the counterinsurgency forces must take great care not to alienate the local population.
Viewing this issue through the Indian prism’ the Mizo insurgency was resolved in the seventies by first dealing hard blows on the insurgents’ and following through with peace talks and negotiations. The cooption of Laldenga—the leader of the Mizo National Front that spearheaded the insurgency—into the governance structure was a master-stroke. His party won the state elections and Laldenga became the Chief Minister’ which finally brought peace to Mizoram. The major lesson to be derived here is that the cooption strategy has ultimately to be pursued if a permanent solution to the insurgency problem must be devised. The intriguing questions that will persist’ however’ is what the elements of this mix of military and non-military means should be’ how it should be graduated’ when it should be modified’ and so on. More plainly’ how should the ancient Kautilyan wisdom be operationalized of using conciliation (sama)’ financial assistance (dana)’ punishment (danda) and enmity (bheda) in an unpredictable manner to defeat the insurgents?
So’ what are Kilkullen’s further prescriptions? A valuable lesson of general applicability is that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to counterinsurgency is fatally flawed. Kilcullen states that ‘…there are no standard templates or universal solutions in counterinsurgency.’ What might work in situation X may not succeed in situation Y’ and vice versa. Fundamentals and principles exist’ but they require judgment in application’ and there is no substitute for ‘analyzing the environment in detail’ developing locally tailored solutions’ and being prepared to adjust them in an agile way as the situation develops.’ Based on these general observations the author derives his famed ‘Twenty-Eight Articles’ In essence’ they emphasize the need for competing with the insurgents for winning the ‘hearts’ minds’ and acquiescence of the population.’ The counterinsurgent forces will always possess an abundance of combat power’ but its injudicious use will only alienate the local population instead of securing their cooperation; hence’ beneficial actions must include ‘local politics’ civic action’ and beat-cop behaviour’.
Incidentally’ a hugely successful’ but unspectacular counterinsurgency strategy in North East India was the construction of football fields in the villages for the local youth’ which explains why so many of India’s star football players come from this region. Again’ the sadbhavna policy currently being pursued in Kashmir has its echoes in the Army Development Groups that were earlier deployed in North East India. It involved teams of army doctors’ veterinarians’ and teachers visiting the villages to serve the local population. These efforts helped to reduce the prevailing animosity of the local people against the armed forces’ as also their resentment against the occasional excesses that occur wherever counterinsurgency operations are pursued.
Coming back to his ‘Twenty-Eight Articles’ for countering insurgency’ Kilcullen begins his catechism by laying down his first commandment (his term)’ which is the need to know ‘the people’ the topography’ economy’ history’ religion and culture’ of the area where the forces are deployed. This should extend to ‘every village’ road’ field’ population group’ tribal leader’ and ancient grievance.’ The last commandment advises the counterinsurgent forces to retain the initiative at all times to control the environment. Hence there is need for devising an appropriate game plan’ and also to firmly adhere to it despite provocations; above all’ not to be distracted into undertaking purely reactive operations should the enemy strike first. These are wise words; unfortunately’ newly inducted counterinsurgency troops in India are rarely given any time or opportunity to prepare for their deployment in insurgency afflicted areas. And that includes even the rudiments for survival in a hostile terrain that could be mountainous or desert or heavily forested. Very often’ the inducted troops do not know the local language’ which gives them the imprimatur of being an occupying force’ and is disastrous for developing any rapport with the local population. The fearful casualties suffered by the para-military forces deployed for the anti-Naxalite operations in Central India prove this point. Further’ a successful insurgent attack on the armed or para-military forces is generally followed by ‘combing’ operations and excesses being committed’ leading to further alienation of the local population and the support base of the insurgents enlarging. Again’ what is occurring in the Naxalite-infected states is instructive.
“…there is need for devising an appropriate game plan, and also to firmly adhering to it despite provocations; above all, not to be distracted into undertaking purely reactive operations should the enemy strike first. These are wise words; unfortunately, newly inducted counterinsurgency troops in India are rarely given any time or opportunity to prepare for their deployment in insurgency afflicted areas.”
Among the other commandments of the author are the need for real-time intelligence’ reconnaissance and surveillance teams being integral to the counterinsurgency forces at the company level; the critical role of political-cultural advisers to educate the troops into local traditions’ but also to improve the environment; respecting talent’ not rank’ which is vital for investigations and interrogation; living in the area of operations rather than raiding it from a secure base; starting from a secure base and extending control gradually outwards—the ‘inkblot’ strategy; keeping the enemy off-balance by constant and unpredictable patrolling activity; training indigenous forces to mirror the insurgent’s capabilities rather than moulding them in one’s own image; proliferating a large number of small programmes that serve the needs of local populations rather than implement giant’ high visibility projects that attract the adverse attention of the insurgents; and coopting elements of the enemy with the local allies. There is much practical wisdom in all these dictums’ and they draw further attention to the Kautilyan concepts noted earlier.
The other chapters in this study discuss the situation in Afghanistan; the development of counterinsurgency tactics in Indonesia—particularly East Timor; and the Taliban presence in Afghanistan. A large wrap-up chapter addresses global insurgency’ read the Islamic jihadist movement. Kilcullen favours a strategy of disaggregating the regional and local elements of this global jihad’ and pursuing a ‘complex systems approach’ to deal with it. He is optimistic about this strategy succeeding’ since the global jihad cannot provide Muslim populations what they truly want’ viz. ‘security’ prosperity and social justice’. What is unfolding currently in the Middle East and Gulf region—the so-called ‘Arab Spring’—embodies the crux of Muslim resentments’ which is not directed against the West or non-Muslims or even Israel’ but against their own authoritarian’ rapacious and corrupt rulers. There are huge lessons here for India. The resentments of the local population in the Naxalite affected states and North East India and Kashmir are primarily directed against their local exploiters. Unfortunately’ the sympathies of the governing elites in the State capitals and New Delhi are more attuned to the interests of the exploiters; hence the militancy here is unlikely to die out anytime soon.
The present study on counterinsurgency focuses on its operational and tactical aspects’ but also discusses its larger strategic considerations. Attention should be drawn to one of its neglected aspects’ which is to study how insurgencies end. Studies on anti-colonial insurgencies after World War II are concerned with achieving a clear-cut victory. However’ a broader selection of insurgency-related conflicts reveals that most of them did not end decisively. In theory’ it is apparent that four endings are possible: conflicts in which the insurgents won; conflicts in which the government won; insurgencies that degenerated into terrorism or criminality; and insurgencies that were resolved by coopting the insurgents into the governance structure by negotiated settlement’ bringing them back into normal social life. The cooption modality is also recognized by Kilcullen as providing the best option. A political strategy of cooption has therefore to be developed while not letting up on the military side of the counterinsurgency operations’ which needs to combine diplomatic’ media’ financial’ intelligence’ and law enforcement assets in a holistic effort. However’ such a strategy can only work when there is sufficient political vision and political will to stay the course despite initial reverses. And that remains a rare commodity in the fractured democracies that we have in the world today.
These musings apart’ we have here a masterly exposition of the scourge of insurgency and what can be done to alleviate it. Indeed’ what has been provided by Kilcullen is a manual for the training establishments of the military and para-military forces that need to deal with insurgency. It would equally serve to instruct the scholar and those with an interest in thinking about these issues.