Counter-Insurgency in Iraq
Whenever there is an insurgency, it will naturally be opposed by a counter-insurgency, which is usually the governmental organization under threat from an "insurgent" force. By its nature insurgents use guerilla warfare and other tactics in order to attempt to topple a regime. A government has many tools and weapons in its arsenal to resist this movement.
Insurgencies rise for many reasons, but a RAND Corporation analysis of the Iraqi Insurgency notes that the reason there was a conflict was because the U.S. government and the military did not plan for what to do after the swift victory over Iraqi forces in the Iraq War.1 This allowed insurgent groups to organize. The U.S. handled the threat in a strictly military manner, relying on destruction of insurgent forces by attrition, which did not work because the insurgent forces would continue to grow even as the will of the U.S. people to persevere was worn down. But what should that planning have entailed? What is the most effective means to counter an insurgency, and what did the U.S. do in Iraq?
Steven Metz, in an army authorized report on counter-insurgency stated that in order for the U.S. effort in Iraq to be successful it would have to create an organization with the following qualifications:
- possess information based intelligence
- have multi-national and multi-agency involvement (different organizations represented within the structure)
- able to rapidly respond to changing situations
- be prepared for a long-term involvement
- must be knowledgeable of the cultures and psychologies involved1
A big part of the U.S. problem in coming to grips with the insurgency movement by this prescription was that it needed to move from a reliance on primarily military means to a broad-based effort at stabilization of the whole society. The difficulty in implementing this strategy was compounded by announcements by some elements in Congress that the U.S. presence should be limited in time and troop commitment.
It was Lieutenant General David Patreus who worked out a way to handle the insurgency. He realized that the situation required a holistic approach which would require both military and political action. This meant helping to restore economic activity and building a political infrastructure that would gain the allegiance of a majority of the population. At the same time military operations were ramped up to provide security to the bulk of the population.
Every effort was made to minimize civilian casualties. This meant less reliance on long range high-explosive weapons and more discretion and restraint by troops on the ground acting in conjunction with Iraqi military and para-military units. U.S. units became more involved in human affairs in a positive way on a local level.
The Patreus solution came to be called "The Surge". Besides ramping up U.S. forces, it involved recruiting former enemies and local warlords. The effort was to shift the perception by Iraqi factions and the public at large that the U.S. was not an occupying force but simply aiding Iraqis in gaining freedom from oppression, revealing outside al Qaeda forces operating within the country as the cause of Iraqi security problems. This would deny outside forces like al Qaeda and Iran a base for operation and support within the country.
Every indicator is that the Surge was a successful effort. The Iraqi government became more stable and increased control in the various regions within its borders allowing a U.S. troop draw-down.
- Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq
- Learning from Iraq: Counterinsurgency in American Strategy