About counterinsurgency theory

I dislike counter-insurgency (COIN) theory (and practice) because of my fear that the gained expertise might some day be used against legitimate (maybe even domestic) resistance.
I'm therefore quite reluctant to contribute anything to or about COIN theory.

Nevertheless, I want to share this* as a frame for the understanding of what's going on in regard to COIN theory.

The methods for bending or breaking an opposing or neutral will can be violent and non-violent.

Guerrillas first bend/break the will of the population to get access to what they need for their own survival and to attempt to break the will of organized armed opposition with a chance of success.

This leaves several opportunities for the organized armed opposition:
1) be determined and fight (no-brainer)
2) protect the population (COIN's fashion of the day)
3) bend/break the will of the population yourself (hearts & minds, "Hama" method)
4) deport the population (Stalin's strategy)
5) establish militias and possibly move rural people into defensible settlements

Strategy (1) is the minimal requirement. There's no way of succeeding against guerrillas than to stay active and keep fighting till the end of the hot conflict. This is the no-brainer and the starting point for those officers who are/were not educated on COIN.

(2) is the current fashion of the day in counterinsurgency theory. The reason is probably simply that ISAF and OEF are failing in it due to lack of quantity. There aren't enough troops to really protect the population, and I strongly suggest that there will never be enough for it.
nevertheless, the need to 'protect the population against insurgents' is the talking point de jour.

(3) has been the great fashion of the day among COIN theorists for a while now. They emphasized the non-violent "hearts and minds" style. "Hearts and minds" isn't much different from "divide et impera" in a conflict.
The proponents of (1) resist the idea of (3), and it's really about the right balance. Great military theorists and leaders have warned many times in history about the dangers luring behind the idea of winning without fighting. Most of them criticized primarily ideas about defeating armies by out-maneuvering them without a final battle, of course.

The "Hama" option is the other extreme of option (3); it's about breaking will without even trying to bend it. An excessive employment of violence can instil so much fear and organizational shock that the resistance collapses. The Hama massacre was one of the most recent examples and is often used as a representative for a millennia-old strategy ("Alexander the Great" was 'great' at it).

(4) deprives the guerrilla of all support by taking away the population like taking away water from a fish. Stalin was a ruthless master of this strategy; that's how he handled and broke the resistance of small nationalities in the USSR.

(5) is obviously a two-edged sword. The loyalty or at least neutrality of the civilians is critical to the success of any program that seeks to protect them by arming them.
It may be necessary to force rural population into defensible and controllable compact settlements. This has the potential of provoking even more unrest, so it's a good idea to provide a superior living standard and acceptable access to agricultural areas in the new settlements. The strategy of armed and resilient population that keeps the guerrillas away with only minimal army support (at minimum a radio for calling help in every settlement) is a way to go for numerically weak armies.
The American "Sons of Iraq" program of auxiliary militias was a version of (5), British indirect rule in its Empire was another, more distantly related, version.

This framework should dispel the 'magic' from every fancy and supposedly great counter-insurgency strategy. Counter-guerrilla activities are always about resisting/confronting the violent opposition and/or depriving it of its support. It becomes easily visible that the ideas used are new only in detail and all have their difficulties attached.

There's no easy solution, and that's a good thing. I wouldn't want to live in a world where state governments could quell any (even armed) opposition easily.

*: It's mine, not really a quote. I like the format for the purpose..

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