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Thread: Is an insurgent an insurgent?

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    Default Is an insurgent an insurgent?

    I am working in northern Afghanistan and have encountered bit of a problem.

    Describing the different actors on the ground has proven difficult using the term "insurgent". Is someone who is not seeking to overthrow the central government, but seeking to establish and consolidate a local powerbase that competes with local government structures an insurgent? Is he a "local insurgent"? Will the sum of all these local actors still qualify as an insurgency?

    Any views on this?
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 08-03-2009 at 11:29 AM. Reason: PM sent asking for introduction

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    Default

    but seeking to establish and consolidate a local powerbase that competes with local government structures an insurgent?
    When he seeks to do so through force and intimidation, I'd say the moniker still fits, because his actions remain counter to the stability of that central government.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Saifullah View Post
    Describing the different actors on the ground has proven difficult using the term "insurgent". Is someone who is not seeking to overthrow the central government, but seeking to establish and consolidate a local powerbase that competes with local government structures an insurgent? Is he a "local insurgent"? Will the sum of all these local actors still qualify as an insurgency?
    IMO, you are banging the nail on the head. Sorry to keep repeating this, but this is the problem with using the word "COIN" and assuming there is this "thing" called "counter-insurgency." Countering-insurgents refers to something very context specific. It is exactly like saying "Counter-invasion" as a description of a distinct type of warfare.

    It's anti- Clausewitian in that is assumes one type of warfare for putting forth one type of policy.

    So yes, you are correct that there may well be a myriad of players who do not seek to overthrow the government, but merely wish to challenge elements of it's power - Not over throw it! EG: Narco-gangs just want to be left alone to grow and sell drugs. Tribes may just want to graze and not pay taxes for roads and electricity they do not use, and rob or tax folks passing through their land.
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    Default WILF is right

    Labels often confuse the problem set....For the US military, we've grown accustomed to labeling anyone that does not support the host nation as an insurgent...That is much too simple.

    With that said, I've never stepped foot in Afghanistan, but I would suggest that it is as complex or more complex than Iraq circa 2006-2007.

    Working through this particular problem set, one must distinguish between reconciliables and irreconcilables...Regardless of faction, sect, tribe or religion. If a village is not adherent or coercable towards the Karzai gov't, then encourage them to vote in the upcoming the elections.

    We may not like or accept the outcome of those elections, but our current policy is to support them.

    Saiffullah is correct in his assessment that an insurgent is not necessarily an insurgent, and that distinction is something that we've struggled with since 9/11.

    I suppose the summer and fall will be a bloody one for the coalition forces, but hopefully, our presence will allow for an acceptable peace.

    That is our current mission. As an old boss used to tell me, it must be done.

    v/r

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeF View Post
    Labels often confuse the problem set....For the US military, we've grown accustomed to labeling anyone that does not support the host nation as an insurgent...That is much too simple.
    Good subject for a book. Title could be, "The Accidental Insurgent," "Not All Guerillas are Guerillas," or "Accidental Guerilla." - something like that......
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    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Default You are asking the wrong question.

    Quote Originally Posted by Saifullah View Post
    I am working in northern Afghanistan and have encountered bit of a problem.

    Describing the different actors on the ground has proven difficult using the term "insurgent". Is someone who is not seeking to overthrow the central government, but seeking to establish and consolidate a local powerbase that competes with local government structures an insurgent? Is he a "local insurgent"? Will the sum of all these local actors still qualify as an insurgency?

    Any views on this?
    The right question in my opinion is not whether or not this actor is an insurgent, it is whether or not YOU are a Counterinsurgent.

    Current definitions and policy not withstanding; there are arguably three types of insurgency; Revolutionary that seeks to change the overall governance; Separatist that seeks to break away from the existing state/governance; and Resistance that seeks to defeat an imposed foreign presence/influence over the governance.

    COIN is what the existing governance does to address these problems and their underlying conditions.

    If you are not a member of the Afghan populace; but are a foreigner helping the Afghans to resolve its insurgency challenges, in US doctrine, you are conducting Foreign Internal Defense (FID). The biggest distiction being of course, not what is being down about what; but who is doing it. Always good to have a constant reminder of what your place is when inserting yourself into the middle of someone elses drama.
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    Default The other way around

    I see the problem the other way around.

    The problem I am facing is that a COIN-strategy will not be implemented if the opposing force is not defined as an insurgent.

    My challange is not describing, but defining. If the enemy is not an insurgent because he is not seeking to overthrow the state, what is he then when the result is the same?

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Mike and Wilf are both correct

    The 'COIN' mantra folks may not like it -- but no war is as simple as they wish to make it, conversely, waging warfare against crooks, dissidents, gangbangers, guerrillas, insurgents, smugglers and battlefield strays is less complex than they seem to wish it to be.

    There are always actors on any battlefield that are not doing what everyone else is doing. If you think everyone in opposition is the same and proceed to treat them that way, you are highly likely to create incidental insurgents -- or something.

    Trying to apply a one-size fits all model to fighting a war is sort of like taking an Ibuprofen instead of Acetylsalicylic Acid. Both relieve swelling but other than that, they do very different things. I'm beginning to believe the COIN devotees object to reality.

    In any event, it's FID, not COIN. Actually, it's FID, Mod 2 in that we are not aiding A government with development; we are attempting to install a Government modeled after our own in an area that is not like us and that has effectively been ungoverned for almost 30 years. Further, we are attempting to impose a strong central government ion an area that has never had such a thing. Not likely to work. This is not standard, base model FID and it certainly isn't COIN (Though some COIN TTP Are appropriate). It is FID to the second or third power -- and there is no rule book.

    Is the object to aid the people form a government or or to impose a government the people do not want but that we do? You have to adapt to all the local nuances and aid development. It may well be that the western idea of a strong central government is not the right size. No sense in fashioning one that will only implode when we leave.

    I became convinced some time ago that the Afghans were not confused or ignorant about what was happening there; we were. Several events and items over the last few weeks have really reinforced that. We need to figure out what we want. We are doing something not done before so there are no models, no guidebooks; we have to think about it. When you do not know what you really want to do, you're highly likely to do some wrong things...

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Why must a COIN strategy be implemented?

    Quote Originally Posted by Saifullah View Post
    The problem I am facing is that a COIN-strategy will not be implemented if the opposing force is not defined as an insurgent.
    Then don't implement a 'COIN strategy' -- what ever that means.
    If the enemy is not an insurgent because he is not seeking to overthrow the state, what is he then when the result is the same?
    He may not be your enemy but you'll likely make him one, thus Wilf's Accidental Guerrilla quip.

    What State is he trying to overthrow? The Government of Afghansitan that we created without thinking it through? Will the result "be the same" or will it merely be something different than WE envision?

    Serious questions: If they are successful, will the result really be the same? Are they trying to overthrow or do they just want more local autonomy? What is their likelihood of success? If it's better than 40% or so, is it possible that we need to relook our goals? What IS our goal?

    Let me restate something I said above: "Then don't implement a 'COIN strategy'..." Turn that effort by said locals to assist your goals. Develop an alternative approach that avoids creating more hostiles and instead furthers your goals -- which you may have to modify from earlier designs. That's Plan A.

    One should always have a Plan B. Plan B will probably entail fighting them whether you use a 'COIN strategy' or not.

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    Default Shades of gray

    Quote Originally Posted by Saifullah View Post
    I see the problem the other way around.

    The problem I am facing is that a COIN-strategy will not be implemented if the opposing force is not defined as an insurgent.

    My challange is not describing, but defining. If the enemy is not an insurgent because he is not seeking to overthrow the state, what is he then when the result is the same?
    Sounds like a separtist movement, though perhaps not to form borders and a new government; more to supercede the governments authority over some region and populace within the state.

    The government must address why this is happening, as well as who is attempting to do it. That is COIN. If you are assisting the GOVT, that is FID. If you are assisting this informal competitor to the Govt in his efforts to exert this unsanctioned control, that is UW.
    Robert C. Jones
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    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default If you have a 'political' problem

    in describing a potential effort to some politicians who are nervous, then you could extrapolate your comment "If the enemy is not an insurgent because he is not seeking to overthrow the state, what is he then when the result is the same?" as a rationale. The result MAY be the same; whether it will be or not cannot be known but the potential effect is presumed disadvantageous so the result could be the same and therefor it is best resisted.

    IMO, that is militarily specious and bad thinking but it's probably politically marginally supportable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Saifullah View Post
    I see the problem the other way around.

    The problem I am facing is that a COIN-strategy will not be implemented if the opposing force is not defined as an insurgent.

    My challange is not describing, but defining. If the enemy is not an insurgent because he is not seeking to overthrow the state, what is he then when the result is the same?
    Out of curiosity, what part of Afghanistan and what is the local tribal/ethnic makeup?

    More info would be helpful - I'm assuming from what you've said that the locals want to retain autonomy.
    Last edited by Entropy; 08-03-2009 at 02:27 PM.

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    The answer to the question is definitely yes. An insurgent doesn't have to have national aspirations to be an insurgent - if the group is seeking to (violently) compete or replace local government with his own version of it, he is an insurgent. The extent to which several such groups can be called "one insurgency" depends on the extent to which these directly or indirectly cooperate: if they all share a common interest in weakening the central government, they may work together or mutually support each other in their (local and/or national) goals. Every successful act by a single "local" insurgent de-facto supports all the others, if nothing else then at the level of propaganda.

    Northern Afghanistan is a good example, because there seems to be a number of groups and individuals which are not just conducting "local resistance", but are explicitly aligning themselves with the Taliban cause (even though the exact nature of central support or direction can be unclear in each particular case). This makes sense - alone they will struggle to be more than glorified criminals; aligned with the Taliban they suddenly have an ideological narrative and greater cause with which to bolster and legitimate their claims. Vice versa - that is probably exactly what the central Taliban is trying to exploit to widen its base. There seems to be little reason to see the events in the north as somehow separate from the insurgency as a whole, or indeed as somehow different in nature from what is going on in Helmand or Kandahar. True, due to the different ethnic mix up there, it is much harder to conduct a primarily pashtun-based insurgency, but they are clearly succeeding. Surely, the myth of the north's unique immunity to insurgency must soon die?
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 08-03-2009 at 06:11 PM. Reason: PM sent requesting introduction.

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    Default Saifullah,

    are you asking for a legal definition or a military definition ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shamal View Post
    The answer to the question is definitely yes. An insurgent doesn't have to have national aspirations to be an insurgent - if the group is seeking to (violently) compete or replace local government with his own version of it, he is an insurgent.
    Why so? That makes every irregular military force an insurgent. That's just not true. Competing with or seeking to inoculate yourself against Government policies, or even the activities of another armed group, does not make that party an insurgent or their activity an insurgency. Insurgencies are "aimed at overthrowing a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict."

    Not all irregular armed groups are insurgents.
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    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
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    Default This is just one leg on what I believe is a 3-legged stool

    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    Why so? That makes every irregular military force an insurgent. That's just not true. Competing with or seeking to inoculate yourself against Government policies, or even the activities of another armed group, does not make that party an insurgent or their activity an insurgency. Insurgencies are "aimed at overthrowing a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict."

    Not all irregular armed groups are insurgents.
    Certainly separatist movements like that executed by the American Colonies or the Iraqi Kurds had no intent or interest in "overthrowing a constituted government," they simply did not want to participate in it any longer.

    Likewise resistance movements like that executed by the French against the German invaders; or the Iraqis against the American invaders of there respective countries were not "aimed at overthrowing a constituted government" either.

    Yet both are categories of insurgencies in my book. It sounds like what he is dealing with is a subset of a separatist movement. Also, the insurgency is not the irregular military itself, irregular military is just what insurgencies tend to employ for their dirtier work toward achieving their political ends.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Saifullah View Post
    Describing the different actors on the ground has proven difficult using the term "insurgent". Is someone who is not seeking to overthrow the central government, but seeking to establish and consolidate a local powerbase that competes with local government structures an insurgent? Is he a "local insurgent"? Will the sum of all these local actors still qualify as an insurgency?
    I think part of the problem in Afghanistan has been the many terms, "public affairs approved" and otherwise, that Bagram and Kabul have tried to force everyone to use for describing the different groups.

    Just off the top of my head, aside from blanket "Taliban" and "insurgents," we've had AAF (Anti-Afghan Forces), ACM (Anti-Coalition Militia), IAG (Illegally Armed Groups), OMF (Other Militant Forces), EoP ("Enemies of Peace"), EoA ("Enemies of Afghanistan"), and "criminals" (I'm sure I missed some).

    I'm sure some of the difficulty comes from our historical inability to distinguish between people who self-identify as "Taliban" and other disenfranchised militant groups. I'm not aware of any large-scale efforts to approach the different types of insurgents differently.

    I would say, when in doubt, they are "insurgents" for reporting purposes.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    Certainly separatist movements like that executed by the American Colonies or the Iraqi Kurds had no intent or interest in "overthrowing a constituted government," they simply did not want to participate in it any longer.

    Likewise resistance movements like that executed by the French against the German invaders; or the Iraqis against the American invaders of there respective countries were not "aimed at overthrowing a constituted government" either.

    Yet both are categories of insurgencies in my book. It sounds like what he is dealing with is a subset of a separatist movement. Also, the insurgency is not the irregular military itself, irregular military is just what insurgencies tend to employ for their dirtier work toward achieving their political ends.
    I think there's another type of insurgency, one that gets less attention here than it might. My own familiarity with this comes from an environment far removed from Afghanistan, but it would not surprise me to see the same phenomenon appearing there.

    I would call this type of insurgency "issue-driven", with the driving issues primarily local. People in this position may not be trying to overthrow a government or secede from a nation, they are simply trying to force a government to stop doing specific things that they find offensive or opposed to their interests.

    We tend to see these things in national terms: a national insurgency fighting a national government. It is said, though, that all politics are local, and this tends to be very true in tribal areas of decentralized states, where national governments (and for that matter nations) may seem very remote. In these environments, if people are fighting there are often immediate, local reasons that may be resolvable, addressable, and even legitimate. Many of my neighbors were insurgents once (they won, one of the rare places where that's happened), and given the way their government treated them, I can't blame them at all: in their shoes I'd have done the same thing.

    National insurgencies tend to be aware of these local issues, and often move to exploit them by offering alliances. When these offers are accepted, that may give the impression that the local insurgency is a subset of the national one. That impression may be false: alliances may be a matter of convenience, and if local issues are addressed they may dissolve.

    Of course these local issues may not be immediately visible to an outsider, and local government may not be at all eager to see them become visible, especially if the government or its agents have done specific things that provoked a violent response.

    Again, I'm not at all sure that lessons learned among the hill tribes of the northern Philippines have any relevance at all to the hill tribes of northern Afghanistan, but I think it's worth considering that in any given area, some insurgents may be fighting because of local, immediate issues, and that it might be possible to divide these groups from the national insurgency by addressing and resolving the issues that motivate them.

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    Certainly separatist movements like that executed by the American Colonies or the Iraqi Kurds had no intent or interest in "overthrowing a constituted government," they simply did not want to participate in it any longer.
    Insurgencies aim to overthrow the government ruling over them. Yes separatists are insurgents, but you have to distinguish between the political end states. The IRA wanted a "United Ireland" - they sought to over throw the British and install the existing Irish Govt. Same in Vietnam. Very different from the insurgency in Kenya, Malaya or Aden.

    Point being, not all irregular warfare is insurgency, and not all insurgencies are the same, bar the replacing of the Government relevant to the population conducting the insurgency.

    Likewise resistance movements like that executed by the French against the German invaders; or the Iraqis against the American invaders of there respective countries were not "aimed at overthrowing a constituted government" either.
    Again context. What about "Restorationists." In A'Stan the Taliban were the constituted government. Again, this shows the lack of rigour the terminology is held to. Insurgent has specific meaning. I stopped describing Operations or conflicts as insurgencies long ago - well since I came the SWJ!

    Also, the insurgency is not the irregular military itself, irregular military is just what insurgencies tend to employ for their dirtier work toward achieving their political ends.
    Concur, but the irregular forces are the bit you use military force against.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dayuhan View Post
    I think there's another type of insurgency, one that gets less attention here than it might. My own familiarity with this comes from an environment far removed from Afghanistan, but it would not surprise me to see the same phenomenon appearing there.

    I would call this type of insurgency "issue-driven", with the driving issues primarily local. People in this position may not be trying to overthrow a government or secede from a nation, they are simply trying to force a government to stop doing specific things that they find offensive or opposed to their interests.
    That's a very good point, and I can think of several examples off the top of my head (the Red River Rebellion comes to mind). My gut guess is that this type of issue-driven insurgency rapidly shifts into either a separatist one (e.g. the US Colonies), a governmental replacement (e.g. Cuba) or gets resolved politically (e.g. Bolivia). Of course, it probably depends on what the "issue" is .
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