April 24, 2010

COIN 101: Watching the Watchers

Hopefully some jewels are hidden within RAND's latest study: How Insurgencies End; Key Indicators, Tipping Points, and Strategy. So far the report is standard COIN, good in a way but hardly industry-leading material.

“Researchers analyzed 89 insurgency cases and concluded it is possible to shape insurgency endings with sufficient forethought, strategic flexibility and sustained willpower.” They awarded 28 wins for governments, 26 wins for insurgencies, with 19 mixed results and 16 ongoing conflicts. Some major conclusions RAND came to:
"Modern insurgencies last approximately 10 years and the government's chances of winning increase slightly over time.
Withdrawal of state sponsorship cripples an insurgency and typically leads to its defeat, while inconsistent or impartial support to either side generally presages defeat.

Pseudo-democracies do not often succeed against insurgencies and are rarely successful in fully democratizing.

Insurgencies with more than two clear parties involved have longer, more violent and more complex endings.

Insurgent cadres formed around a traditional, hierarchical structure are more often successful than fragmented networks, and insurgencies rarely succeed in middle-income and urbanized countries, but fare better in rural or a mix of rural and urban terrain.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, governments tend to outlast insurgents, mainly because they are typically stronger, better organized and more professional than non-state forces.

Terrorism often backfires and the use of indiscriminate terror is often a sign of overconfidence or weakness. However, weak insurgencies can win, particularly if the government also is weak, loses the war through sheer ineptitude or if the causes of the insurgency are strong enough to carry the fight to its ending. The RAND study found weak insurgencies won in 50 percent of the decided cases."
COIN 101 in a nutshell. Rather than innovate new strategies, RAND’s job appears to be following Washington’s lead and copying from the Army COIN manual; after all it is stocked with current and former government officials. Perhaps our opinion will change as we read deeper, but the PR already suggests this is all we get.

“A lot of the things being done in the current (U.S. military) plan are along the lines of successful things we've seen in the study," said Ben Connable, the lead author of How Insurgencies End. "The key is if the U.S. recognizes it is working with an anocracy (a weak central government) and recognizes the limits of that kind of government, you can work on solutions to that problem."

While a shift in strategy from Bush to Obama cannot be completely denied, key aspects haven’t changed to the degree being portrayed. One is President Hamid Karzai, who US officials woo and scold every other week. This problem became compounded in Kandahar, where Karzai is facing local resistance to a military campaign and US officials are downplaying the limits of tribal leaders.

Another perpetual breakdown in US strategy is Pakistan. Though relations between the two countries have undoubtedly improved since their low point in 2008-2009, this is largely because America had to pay up and Pakistanis still want more compensation.

Apparently aid is already disappearing.

Meanwhile arrests of Taliban commanders were for bargaining, not justice, and North Waziristan has become a haven for TTP fighters. This is because Islamabad has a truce with TTP commander of North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, even though Afghan Taliban also use his territory to attack US troops.

Conversely, Pakistan is blaming America for weakening its own military surge.

The ISI was not only implicated in Benazir Bhutto’s death, it also obstructed the UN’s investigation. And now Afghanistan's police force says it has arrested a Pakistani army officer after breaking up a group planning a suicide operation on Kabul.

"Just a couple of days ago the police arrested 16 people. Nine of them were actually suicide bombers, all trained outside of Afghanistan," Mohammad Hanif Atmar, the Afghan interior minister, told Al Jazeera.

Asked whether he saw evidence of the involvement of Pakistan or parts of the Pakistani security forces in the alleged plots, Atmar replied, "The evidence speaks for itself. We are investigating into this matter and we will be soon talking to our Pakistani colleagues. And then basically show this evidence to them and say is this happening based on a policy or is it just a couple of rogue people doing this."

What does America really have in Afghanistan? A lot of firepower, some local support, a weak government, ambiguous allies like Pakistan and India, and encroaching threats like Iran, Russia, and China. Maybe America wants to follow a classic COIN strategy like RAND outlines, but it has a long, long way to go. Longer than the White House and Pentagon expect.

The Taliban still possess many advantages of a winning insurgency and, with the average insurgency lasting 10 years, there’s clearly nothing average about the 20 year old Taliban.

We will out-RAND RAND in later analysis.

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