Counter-insurgency (COIN is a popular acronym) is a military term for the armed conflict against an insurgency by forces aligned with the recognised government of the territory in which the conflict takes place. In the main, the insurgents seek to destroy or erase the political authority of the defending authorities in a population they seek to control, and the counter-insurgent forces seek to protect that authority and reduce or eliminate the supplanting authority of the insurgents.
Counter-insurgency is common during occupation and armed rebellion. Counter-insurgency may be armed suppression of a rebellion, coupled with tactics such as divide and rule designed to fracture the links between the insurgency and the population in which the insurgents move. Because it may be difficult or impossible to distinguish between an insurgent, a supporter of an insurgency who is a non-combatant, and entirely uninvolved members of the population, counter-insurgency operations have often rested on a confused, relativistic, or otherwise situational distinction between insurgents and non-combatants.
Counter-insurgency is normally conducted as a combination of conventional military operations and other means, such as propaganda, psy-ops, and assassinations. Counter-insurgency operations include many different facets: military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken to defeat insurgency.
To understand counter-insurgency, one must understand insurgency. See models of insurgency to understand the dynamics of revolutionary warfare. Insurgents capitalize on societal problems, often called gaps; counter-insurgency addresses closing the gaps. When the gaps are wide, they create a sea of discontent, of which Mao wrote "the guerrilla must swim in the people as the fish swims in the sea."
William B. Caldwell wrote:
The law of armed conflict requires that, to use force, "combatants" must distinguish individuals presenting a threat from innocent civilians. This basic principle is accepted by all disciplined militaries. In the counterinsurgency, disciplined application of force is even more critical because our enemies camouflage themselves in the civilian population. Our success in Iraq depends on our ability to treat the civilian population with humanity and dignity, even as we remain ready to immediately defend ourselves or Iraqi civilians when a threat is detected.
With regard to tactics, the terms "drain the water" or "drain the swamp" involves the forced relocation of the population ("water") to expose the rebels or insurgents ("fish"). In other words, relocation deprives the aforementioned of the support, cover, and resources of the local population. The name is taken from Mao Zedong's advice to his rebels to "move through the people like a fish moves through water".
A somewhat similar strategy was used extensively by US forces in South Vietnam until 1969, initially by forcing the rural population into fenced camps, referred to as Strategic Hamlets, and later by declaring the previous areas as free-fire zones to remove the rest from their villages and farms. Widespread use was made of Agent Orange, sprayed from airplanes, to destroy crops that might have provided resources for Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops and their human support base. These measures proved ineffective, as the Viet Cong often relocated activists and sympathizers inside the new communities. In any event, the Vietnam War was only partly a counter-insurgency campaign, as it also involved conventional combat between US/ARVN forces, Vietcong Main Force Battalions, and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).
The oil spot approach is a descriptive term for the concentration of counter-insurgent forces into an expanding, secured zone. The origins of the expression is to be found in its initial use by Marshal Hubert Lyautey, the main theoretician of French colonial warfare and counter-insurgency strategy. The oil spot approach was later one of the justifications given in the Pentagon Papers for the Strategic Hamlet Program.
According to a report of the Australian military:
"Among the most effective means are such population-control measures as vehicle and personnel checkpoints and national identity cards. In Malaya, the requirement to carry an ID card with a photo and thumbprint forced the communists to abandon their original three-phase political-military strategy and caused divisive infighting among their leaders over how to respond to this effective population-control measure."
The majority of counter-insurgency efforts by major powers in the last century have been spectacularly unsuccessful. This may be attributed to a number of causes. First, as Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart pointed out in the Insurgency addendum to the second version of his book Strategy: The Indirect Approach, a popular insurgency has an inherent advantage over any occupying force. He showed as a prime example the French occupation of Spain during the Napoleonic wars. Whenever Spanish forces managed to constitute themselves into a regular fighting force, the superior French forces beat them every time.
However, once dispersed and decentralized, the irregular nature of the rebel campaigns proved a decisive counter to French superiority on the battlefield. Napoleon's army had no means of effectively combatting the rebels, and in the end their strength and morale were so sapped that when Wellington was finally able to challenge French forces in the field, the French had almost no choice but to abandon the situation.
Hart also points to the experiences of T. E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt during World War I as another example of the power of the rebel/insurgent. Though the Ottomans often had advantages in manpower of more than 100 to 1, the Arabs' ability to materialize out of the desert, strike, and disappear again often left the Turks reeling and paralyzed, creating an opportunity for regular British forces to sweep in and finish the Turkish forces off.
In both the preceding cases, the insurgents and rebel fighters were working in conjunction with or in a manner complementary to regular forces. Such was also the case with the French Resistance during World War II and the National Liberation Front during the Vietnam War. The strategy in these cases is for the irregular combatant to weaken and destabilize the enemy to such a degree that victory is easy or assured for the regular forces. However, in many modern rebellions, one does not see rebel fighters working in conjunction with regular forces. Rather, they are home-grown militias or imported fighters who have no unified goals or objectives save to expel the occupier.
In these cases, such as the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, which ended in 2000, and the current Iraqi insurgency, the goal of the insurgent is not to defeat the occupying military force; that is almost always an impossible task given the disparity in resources. Rather, they seek through a constant campaign of sneak attacks to inflict continuous casualties upon their superior enemy forces and thereby over time demoralize the occupying forces and erode political support for the occupation in the homeland of the occupying forces. It is a simple strategy of repeated pin-pricks and bleedings that, though small in proportion to the total force strength, sap the will of the occupier to continue the fight.
According to Liddell Hart, there are few effective counter-measures to this strategy. So long as the insurgency maintains popular support, it will retain all of its strategic advantages of mobility, invisibility, and legitimacy in its own eyes and the eyes of the people. So long as this is the situation, an insurgency essentially cannot be defeated by regular forces. The US in Vietnam attempted to neutralize this advantage by simply taking away the civilian population that shielded the insurgents; however, this had the foreseeable effect of alienating the populace and further fueling support for the rebels. In the current operations against insurgents in the War on Terror, such ruthless tactics are not available to commanders, even if they were effective.
Another option in combating an insurgency would be to make the presence of troops so pervasive that there is simply no place left for insurgents to hide, as demonstrated in Franco's conquest of Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War or the Union occupation of Confederate States with Federal troops following the American Civil War. In each of these cases, enormous amounts of manpower were needed for an extended period of time to quell resistance over almost every square kilometre of territory. In an age of ever shrinking and increasingly computerized armed forces, this option too is precluded from a modern commanders options.
Essentially, then, only one viable option remains. The key to a successful counter-insurgency is the winning-over of the occupied territory's population. If that can be achieved, then the rebellion will be deprived of its supplies, shelter, and, more importantly, its moral legitimacy. Unless the hearts and minds of the public can be separated from the insurgency, the occupation is doomed to fail. In a modern representative democracy, in the face of perceived incessant losses, no conflict will be tolerated by an electorate without significant show of tangible gains.
It should be noted that though the United States and its ARVN allies won every single major battle with North Vietnamese forces and their opponents suffered staggering losses (2 million+ casualties), the cost of victory was so high in the opinion of the US public (58,193 U.S. casualties) that it came to see any further possible gains as not worth the troop losses. As long as popular support is on their side, an insurgency can hold out indefinitely, consolidating its control and replenishing its ranks, until the occupiers simply leave.
Military historian Martin van Creveld, noting that almost all attempts to deal with insurgency have ended in failure, advises:
The first, and absolutely indispensable, thing to do is throw overboard 99 percent of the literature on counterinsurgency, counterguerrilla, counterterrorism, and the like. Since most of it was written by the losing side, it is of little value.
In examining why so many counterinsurgencies by powerful militaries fail against weaker enemies, Van Creveld identifies a key dynamic that he illustrates by the metaphor of killing a child. Regardless of whether the child started the fight or how well armed the child is, an adult in a fight with a child will feel that they are acting unjustly if they harm the child, foolish if the child harms them and wonder if the fight is necessary.
Van Creveld argues that "by definition, a strong counterinsurgent who uses his strength to kill the members of a small, weak organization of insurgents - let alone the civilian population by which it is surrounded, and which may lend it support - will commit crimes in an unjust cause," while "a child who is in a serious fight with an adult is justified in using every and any means available - not because he or she is right, but because he or she has no choice." Every act of insurgency becomes, from the perspective of the counterinsurgent, a reason to end the conflict, while also being a reason for the insurgents to continue until victory. Dang Xuan Khu, second in command to Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, wrote in his Primer for Revolt:
The guiding principle of the strategy for our whole resistance must be to prolong the war. To protract the war is the key to victory. Why must the war be protracted? ... If we throw the whole of our forces into a few battles to try to decide the outcome, we shall certainly be defeated and the enemy will win. On the other hand, if while fighting we maintain our forces, expand them, train our army and people, learn military tactics ... and at the same time wear down the enemy forces, we shall weary and discourage them in such a way that, strong as they are, they will become weak and will meet defeat instead of victory
Van Creveld thus identifies "time" as the key factor in counterinsurgency. In an attempt to find lessons from the few cases of successful counterinsurgency, of which he lists two clear cases: the British efforts during The Troubles of Northern Ireland and the 1982 Hama massacre carried out by the Syrian government to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood, he asserts that the "core of the difficulty is neither military nor political, but moral" and outlines two distinct methods.
The first method relies on superb intelligence, provided by those who know the natural and artificial environment of the conflict as well as the insurgents. Once such superior intelligence is gained, the counterinsurgents must be trained to a point of high professionalism and discipline such that they will exercise discrimination and restraint. Through such discrimination and restraint, the counterinsurgents do not alienate members of the populace besides those already fighting them, while delaying the time when the counterinsurgents become disgusted by their own actions and demoralized.
General Patrick Walters, British commander of troops in northern Ireland, explicitly stated that his objective was not to kill as many terrorists as possible, but to ensure that as few people on both sides were killed. In the vast majority of counterinsurgencies, the "forces of order" kill far more people than they lose. In contrast and using very rough figures, of the approximately 3000 British killed during The Troubles, 1700 were civilians and 1000 were British soldiers and members of security forces, translating into an three-to-one kill ratio in favor of the terrorists.
If the prerequisites for the first method - excellent intelligence, superbly trained and disciplined soldiers and police, and an iron will to avoid being provoked into lashing out - are lacking, van Creveld posits that counterinsurgents who still want to win must use the second method exemplified by the Hama massacre. In 1982 the regime of Syrian president Hafez al-Assad was on the point of being overwhelmed by the countrywide insurgency of the Muslim Brotherhood. al-Assad sent a division under his brother Rifaat to the city of Hama, known to be the center of the resistance.
Following a counterattack by the Brotherhood, Rifaat used his heavy artillery to demolish the city, killing between ten and 25 thousand people, including many women and children. Asked by reporters what had happened, Hafez al-Assad exaggerated the damage and deaths, promoted the commanders who carried out the attacks, and razed Hama's well-known great mosque, replacing it with a parking lot. With the Muslim Brotherhood scattered, the population was so cowed that it would years before opposition groups would dare disobey the regime again and, van Creveld argues, the massacre most likely saved the regime and prevented a bloody civil war.
Cordon and search is a military tactic to cordon off an area and search the premises for weapons or insurgents. It is one of the basic counter insurgency operations. Other related operations are Cordon and Knock and Cordon and Kick.
It has taken over the old term of a simple house search. It is part of new doctrine called Stability and Support Operations or SASO. It is a technique used where there is no hard intelligence of weapons in the house and therefore is less intense than a normal house search. It is used in urban neighborhoods. The purpose of the mission is to search a house with as little inconvenience to the resident family as possible.
Air power can play an important role in counter-insurgency, capable of carrying out a wide range of operations:
British forces were able to employ the relocation method with considerable success during the "Malayan Emergency". The Briggs Plan, implemented fully in 1950, relocated Chinese Malayans into protected "New Villages", designated by British forces. By the end of 1951, some 400,000 ethnic Chinese had moved into the fortifications. Of this population, the British forces were able to form a "Home Guard", armed for resistance against the Malayan Communist Party, an implementation mirrored by the Strategic Hamlet Program later used by US forces in South Vietnam. Despite British claims of a victory in the Malayan Emergency, military historian Martin van Creveld has pointedly noted that the end result of the counterinsurgency, namely the withdrawal of British forces and establishment of an independent state, are identical to that of Aden, Kenya and Cyprus, which are not considered victories.
Much of the thinking was informed by the work of earlier leading French theoreticians of colonial warfare and counter-insurgency, Marshals Bugeaud, Gallieni and Lyautey.
While McClintock cites the 1894 Algerian governor, Jules Cambon, as saying "By destroying the administration and local government “we were also suppressing our means of action.” “The result is that we are today confronted by a sort of human dust on which we have no influence and in which movements take place which are unknown to us.“ Cambon's philosophy, however, did not seem to survive into the Algerian War of Independence, (1954-1962).
Post-WWII doctrine, as in Indochina, took a more drastic view of "Guerre Révolutionnaire", which presented an ideological and global war, with a commitment to total war. Countermeasures, in principle, needed to be both political and military; "No measure was too drastic to meet the new threat of revolution". French forces taking control from the Japanese did not seem to negotiate seriously with nationalist elements in what was to become Vietnam, and reaped the consequences of overconfidence at Dien Bien Phu.
It occurred to various commanders that soldiers trained to operate as guerrillas would have a strong sense of how to fight guerrillas. Before the partition of French Indochina, French Groupement de Commandos Mixtes Aéroportés (GCMA), led by Roger Trinquier, took on this role, drawing on French experience with the Jedburgh teams. GCMA, operating in Tonkin and Laos under French intelligence, was complemented by Commandos Nord Viêt-Nam in the North. In these missions, the SOF teams lived and fought with the locals. One Laotian, who became an officer, was Vang Pao, who was to become a general in Hmong and Laotian operations in Southeast Asia while the US forces increased their role.
The French counterinsurgency in colonial Algeria was a savage one. The 1957 Battle of Algiers resulted in 24,000 detentions, with most tortured and an estimated 3,000 killed. It may have broken the FLN infrastructure in Algiers, but it also killed off French legitimacy as far as "hearts and minds" went.
Counter-insurgency requires an extremely capable intelligence infrastructure endowed with human sources and deep cultural knowledge. This contributes to the difficulty that foreign, as opposed to indigenous, powers have in counter-insurgent operations. One of France's most influential theorists was Roger Trinquier. The Modern Warfare counterinsurgency strategy described by Trinquier, who had led anti-communist guerillas in Indochina, was a strong influence on French efforts in Algeria.
Trinquier suggested three principles:
Trinquier's view was that torture had to be extremely focused and limited, but many French officers considered its use corrosive to its own side. There were strong protests among French leaders: the Army’s most decorated officer, General Jacques Pâris de Bollardière, confronted General Jacques Massu, the commander of French forces in the Battle of Algiers, over orders institutionalizing torture, as "an unleashing of deplorable instincts which no longer knew any limits." He issued an open letter condemning the danger to the army of the loss of its moral values "under the fallacious pretext of immediate expediency", and was imprisoned for sixty days.
As some of the French Army protested, other parts increased the intensity of their approach, which led to an attempted military coup against the French Fourth Republic itself. Massu and General Raoul Salan led a 1958 coup in Algiers, demanding a new Republic under Charles de Gaulle. When deGaulle's policies toward Algeria, such as a 1961 referendum on Algerian self-determination, did not meet the expectations of the colonial officers, Salan formed the underground Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS), a right-wing terrorist group, whose actions included a 1962 assassination attempt against de Gaulle himself.
France has had taken Barnett's Leviathan role in Chad and Ivory Coast, the latter on two occasions, most significantly in 2002-2003. The situation with France and Ivory Coast is not a classic FID situation, as France attacked Ivorian forces that had attacked UN peacekeepers.
There have been many insurgencies in India from its creation in 1947.
The Naga Insurgency was the first insurgency after the nation was formed. Addressed by both political and military means, it resulted in the creation of state of Nagaland and a peace accord between Indian government and the rebel group.
The Punjab insurgency was driven by the Khalistan movement. Kanwar Pal Singh Gill (KPS Gill), was credited with breaking the back of this insurgency in the early 1990s, after it peaked in the 1980s with widespread terrorism, bank robberies, murders and intimidation. There are allegations that this insurgency was supported heavily by Pakistan through weapons and training. The Indian border with Pakistan was fenced and Punjab police and Indian Government armed forces were eventually successful in suppressing the violence.
The Kashmir insurgency, which started by 1989, is largely blamed on mismanagement of polls by Indian and state governments. It was brought under control by Indian government and violence has been reduced. The Army's elite Rashtriya Rifles (RR) played a major role in putting down the insurgency. The RR was well supported by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF) and state government police. Successful conduct of a state election was a major victory against insurgents. In a effort to keep the insurgency alive, Pakistan-based foreign militants allegedly sneak through the border.
The Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) is located in the north-eastern town of the Indian state of Mizoram. Personnel from the countries such as the US, Britain, France, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Vietnam have attended this school. Soldiers from India and the United States participate in long exercises in guerrilla warfare in the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Vairengte in Mizoram. Graduate level, high quality education by a joint staff of highly trained special operators at Camp Taji Phoenix Academy and the Counterinsurgency Center For Excellence is provided in Iraq. This facility is used to train the US military training team members (MTT) as well as many Iraqi Officers.
The United States has conducted counterinsurgency campaigns during the American Civil War, the Philippine–American War, the Vietnam War, the post-2001 War in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in increased interest in counterinsurgency within the American military, exemplified by the 2006 publication of a new counterinsurgency field manual, FM 3-24.