Going to War with the Allies You Have: Allies, Counterinsurgency, and the War on Terrorism
Potential U.S. allies in counterinsurgencies linked to al-Qa’ida frequently suffer from four categories of structural problems: illegitimate (and often repressive) regimes; civil-military tension manifested by fears of a coup; economic backwardness; and discriminatory societies. Because of these problems, allies often stray far from the counterinsurgency (COIN) ideal, both militarily and politically. Their security service culture often is characterized by poor intelligence; a lack of initiative; little integration of forces across units; soldiers who do not want to fight; bad leadership; and problems with training, learning, and creativity. In addition, the structural weaknesses have a direct political effect that can aid an insurgency by hindering the development and implementation of a national strategy, fostering poor relations with outside powers that might otherwise assist the COIN effort (such as the United States), encouraging widespread corruption, alienating the security forces from the overall population, and offering the insurgents opportunities to penetrate the security forces.

Washington must recognize that its allies, including those in the security forces, are often the source of the problem as well as the heart of any solution. The author argues that the ally’s structural problems and distinct interests have daunting implications for successful U.S. counterinsurgency efforts. The nature of regimes and of societies feeds an insurgency, but the United States is often hostage to its narrow goals with regard to counterinsurgency and thus becomes complicit in the host-nation’s self-defeating behavior. Unfortunately, U.S. influence often is limited as the allies recognize that America’s vital interests with regard to fighting al-Qa’ida-linked groups are likely to outweigh any temporary disgust or anger at an ally’s brutality or failure to institute reforms. Training, military-tomilitary contacts, education programs, and other efforts to shape their COIN capabilities are beneficial, but the effects are likely to be limited at best.