Resistance? Insurgents?

The US Army has fallen hard for counter insurgency, COIN. However, NPR reports:

An internal Pentagon report is raising concerns about whether the Army’s focus on counterinsurgency has weakened its ability to fight conventional battles. The report’s authors — all colonels with significant combat experience — say the Army is “mortgaging its ability to (successfully) fight” in the future.

The counterinsurgency doctrine emphasizes the use of minimal force, with the intent of winning the hearts and minds of a civilian population.

The idea in a counterinsurgency campaign, Nagl says (Lt. Col. John Nagl, one of the Army’s top experts on counterinsurgency doctrine) is to drive a wedge between the civilian population and insurgents who live among them.

However, when we talk about counter insurgency, is it really counter insurgency we have in mind? In Iraq the “insurgency” looks a lot more like a resistance.

And what about AFRICOM? Is counter insurgency what the US has in mind for the combatant aspect of its latest combatant command? And what situations will be called insurgencies?

Over at Moon of Alabama b writes:


Insurgencies are, by and large, social movements challenging their own government because of some grievance. If the movement is small, it can be fought down through sheer brutality. If it is larger and backed by a significant part of the population, it can only be accommodated by social-political compromise. To achieve the compromise both parties usually fight until everyone is sick of it. The compromise does not necessarily need to be a change of government, but can be participation of the insurgency in the political process or simply a change in social-economic issues.

A resistance is also a social movement, but it is fighting primarily against an invading and occupying force. Its grievance is the fact of occupation, not some local social problem. If the resistance fights against the local government, then only because the government is seen as illegitimate tool of the occupation.

The difference of a resistance towards an insurgency is motivation and possible accommodation. While an insurgency can be accommodated by letting it participate in the general political process and alleviating its grievance, a resistance can only be satisfied by retraction of the occupation.

In Implementing AFRICOM: Tread Carefully by Robert Gribben, he writes:

it is worth examining the premise that African military establishments merit American support at all. Even though national defense is regularly cited as their primary task, African armies rarely need to repel foreign invaders. Most African conflicts … arise from domestic issues. Only the unresolved Ethiopia-Eritrea border war, the recent Congolese wars and the Ethiopian presence in Somalia fit the mode of external aggression.

So instead of defense, the primary job of African armies is to protect the ruling regime by keeping the life president in power (by informal count some 15 current leaders initially came to power via military means) and to thwart threats to the status quo mounted by the opposition, democratic or otherwise.


… American attacks against purported terrorist elements in Somalia, for example, do raise the issue of if-you-have-the-assets how will you use them?

As to the humanitarian assistance and capacity building that AFRICOM claims to represent:


Obviously, military programming risks duplication where USAID, the Centers for Disease Control, Peace Corps Volunteers and others are already engaged. That said, host governments are quick to realize where the money is, so they will increasingly focus requests on U.S. military elements.

And here is the big question regarding humanitarian arguments supporting AFRICOM:

… The U.S. already does a pretty competent job of economic development and humanitarian relief. What additional benefits – besides money – can AFRICOM bring to those tasks?

So there are several questions here. Is counter insurgency a practical use of Army resources? And, is counter insurgency action actually counter insurgency? Is it really occupation? The places where it is being discussed or applied, or where it may be applied, such as the Niger Delta, are not part of the US. So US military involvement, including the use of mercenaries or surrogates, is effectively occupation. In the Niger Delta, MEND, Niger Delta Vigilante, and similar organizations are fighting the exploitation and occupation of their land by the oil companies. If AFRICOM becomes involved, it will be coming in as part of an occupying force, regardless of what agreements it may make with the Nigerian government. AFRICOM will assist the oil companies to continue their occupation.

Considering the traditional role of African militaries, protecting leaders who generally have not come to power through democratic processes, do these militaries merit American support? What will be the effect of developing only that military infrastructure, especially if the money is siphoned away from US institutions that have the structure and skill to spend it in support of peaceful development.