Further thoughts on Diana West’s criticisms of Gen. McChrystal
(Note 9/26: several comments
have been added today, including Diana West’s quotoations of Petraeus’s counterinsurgency manual for the surge with its discussion of hearts and minds, and James P.’s quotations of Indian articles showing how the Sri Lankan government successfully suppressed the Tamil insurgency by deliberately rejecting current international opinion and notions of avoiding harm to civilians. James writes: “You will notice that the Sri Lankans did pretty much the exact opposite of what the new U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Manual recommends and of what we’ve been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan for umpteen years.”)
(Note: Diana West replies to me below, and I reply to her. The question becomes: is Gen. McChrystal’s extreme hearts and minds strategy a bizarre add-on to our counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, an example of PC ideology run amock, or is it a logically necessary element of the counterinsurgency?)
Here is the strange thing. It is not just population protection that Gen. McChrystal wants. After all, population protection is a standard feature of counterinsurgency warfare. It’s what worked under Creighton Abrams in Vietnam after the failure of Westmoreland. It’s part of what worked under Petraeus in the surge after four years of failure. Not that the surge could lead to permanent success, as I’ve consistently said. But the surge did, along with the crucial Sunni turn against al Qaeda, lead to much less violence and greater safety and stability.
If our government’s aim is to keep the Taliban from regaining power in Afghanistan, then more and more of the country must be secured from the Taliban, and the way we do that is by creating areas that are immune from the Taliban. So, within the terms of our government’s aims, population protection would seem to be a rational measure.
Of course, Diana West (and I agree with her) doesn’t think that we have an interest in preserving any particular government in Afghanistan. Diana West (and I agree with her) believes that Islam as such is our adversary, and that our strategic goal should be to protect our nation and civilization from Islam, not protect some Islamic factions from other Islamic factions. The idea of sacrificing American men’s lives to preserve the sharia regime of Afghanistan is obscene. So it seems to me that the real difference that West has with McChrystal is not over whether our forces should be doing population protection. It is over whether we should be in Afghanistan at all. However, for those who do seek to maintain the present government, counterinsurgency and population protection would, as I said, seem to be rational.
Where McChrystal gets strange, and where, it seems to me, he really alarms Diana West, is that he’s not just talking about population protection. As she quotes him in her syndicated column (which is also posted at her site and discussed by me earlier), he’s talking about a “struggle to gain the support of the (Afghan) people,” a campaign to “connect with the people,” to achieve emotional closeness between U.S. soldiers and Afghans, in the pursuit of which we must stop being concerned about protecting our troops.
West writes at her site:
McChrystal is equally critical of the command he has led since June 15. The key weakness of ISAF, he says, is that it is not aggressively defending the Afghan population. “Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us—physically and psychologically—from the people we seek to protect…. The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves.”
McChrystal is plainly implying that the success of counterinsurgency requires psychological as well as physical closeness between American forces and Afghans. The notion that American soldiers could achieve psychological closeness with Afghan Muslims is weird and delusional, just as West says it is. Also, I’ve never before seen counterinsurgency expressed in terms that in order to carry out the mission of protecting the population, we have to stop being pre-occupied with protecting our own troops. For example, in the surge under Petraeus, U.S. troops moved into violent neighborhoods in Baghdad and stayed there, creating safety for the populace. There was no sacrifice of troop safety for population safety. And I never heard Petraeus say that the surge required our troops to get on intimate emotional terms with the locals, let alone struggle
to achieve such intimacy. The surge was about keeping Iraqis from being killed, not about singing kumbaya with them.
However, such an approach—the kumbaya plus the disregard for our men’s safety—seems to be what the general has in mind. Our men must start living among the Afghan civilians as their friends, and, in order to do that, they must stop regarding the Afghans as possibly dangerous. They must drop their guard against them. Such rules of engagement—rendering white Americans helpless before the violent and treacherous Other—would seem suitable to the Obama administration, and maybe McChrystal is adapting his strategy to what he sees as the president’s preferences.
Where I don’t follow West is her assumption that counterinsurgency as such must involve sacrificing the protection of our forces for the protection of the population. However, in McChrystal’s hands, that’s what it seems to mean.
- end of initial entry -
Diana West replies to an e-mail I sent her earlier today of which the present entry is an expansion. I reply to her below.
Diana West writes:
I don’t buy counterinsurgency, period. It depends on a PC zeal for universalism—namely, the messianic belief in the universal appeal of our way of doing things—if only the “locals” could just see it. [LA replies: I don’t see a necessary connection between counterinsurgency and universalism, unless you mean by hearts and minds is an intrinsic feature of counterinsurgency. (I get an answer to this question below.)]
There is no historical precedent for COIN success that I know of—trying to “win the hearts and minds” is hunting for unicorn. They already like you or they don’t. You fight wars to kill enemies, you don’t fight wars to win friends—and certainly not by using restrictive ROEs , being forced to mix with treacherous population to get them to like us, etc., spreading cash and major infrastructure projects (jizya), putting women soldiers in hijabs, etc. In Islamic terms it’s perfect dhimmi behavior. In other situations, it’s always a PC “limited war” strategy that doesn’t accomplish anything permanent worth the blood and treasure.
I don’t think Vietnam works as a parallel example of success.
I actually think population protection was a priority in the surge and at other times in Iraq; look at the ton of bricks that came down on the Haditha Marines, for example. This is form a 2007 column of mine about a military investigation into the Haditha case:
Here’s what happened: A convoy of Marines trolling insurgent-riddled Haditha was hit by a huge IED. A Humvee was destroyed. One Marine was killed (split in two). Two other Marines were wounded (one grievously). There was a lot of shooting at an approaching Iraqi car. There was a lot of shooting at two nearby Iraqi houses where Marines heard, as The New York Times put it, “the distinct metallic sound of an AK-47 being prepared to fire.” As one Marine witness explained, “the squad leader thought he was about to kick in the door and walk into a machine gun.” In the end, no additional Marines had died, but 24 Iraqi civilians, including some children, had been killed.
I’m still looking into it, but so far I think the main difference in ROEs between Iraq and Afghanistan is that during Iraq, it was hard to learn the ROEs. They came out in dribs and drabs. I remember asking questions and being told they were never written down/published so enemy wouldn’t see them. In this summer of McChrystal, he has been broadcasting far and wide his emphasis on population protection at any cost—and we are able to link this to many new casualties.
And here lies a hunk of the politically correct outrage fueling prosecutorial fires. According to a leaked report chiding Marines for not investigating further, Army Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell was apparently appalled by “statements made by the chain of command” that “suggest that Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as U.S. lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business. …” Maj. Gen. Bargewell was also apparently exercised by the Marine consensus that “civilian casualties were to be expected” due to such insurgent tactics as hiding among civilians. “Although this proposition may accurately reflect insurgent tactics,” he wrote, he heard it so often “that it almost appeared rehearsed.”
Rehearsed? Notice the contorted way military brass disparages the exculpatory reality of the Iraqi battlefield.
Meanwhile, three cheers for the Marines. If only someone would mention to the Waughian-named Maj. Bargewell that when the “business” is war, the chain of command darn well better consider “U.S. lives” more important than “Iraqi civilian lives” (many “civilian” in name only), or guess what? Too many U.S. lives will be lost and the United States won’t win.
[end of quote]
I forget if I sent you this latest post. It’s a heartbreaker—but very significant for what it reveals.
Victory, however, isn’t the objective of our increasingly PC military. This is becoming more and more apparent as the war continues. Which calls into question our very capacity—not military, but psychological—to wage war. It also calls into question our continuity with our forbears—Capt. Stone’s grandfathers, for instance. They might know the uniform but, watching their grandson’s show trial, I doubt they’d recognize much else.
Of course I don’t buy counterinsurgency either, and particularly in dealing with Muslims. That’s why I’ve been saying for many years that we should never be involved in the internal affairs of a Muslim society, and if we have to destroy a dangerous Muslim regime or terrorist group, we should do so with dispatch and then withdraw, because if we remain in the country, we put ourselves in the defensive position against the inevitable counterinsurgency. I have said numerous times that it would be infinitely less costly to launch a three week invasion of a troublesome Muslim country once every five or ten years than to have a perpetual occupation. As I indicated in the initial entry, you and I are agreed that our forces should not be in Afghanistan. So, to reach greater clarity on the issues before us, we need to separate out our general disagreement with the U.S. presence in Afghanistan from the particular concern you and I share about McChrystal’s odd and alarming policy statements about the need for our soldiers to get psychologically close with the locals and not to be preoccupied with force protection (PC/NPFP for short). The question before us is: is PC/NPFP a discretionary choice, or a necessary aspect of COIN, even the key to the whole enterprise?
To answer the question, it would be useful to start by quoting from Wikipedia’s useful article on counterinsurgency. The article begins:
In the context of an occupation or an armed rebellion, counter-insurgency (abbreviated COIN) is a military term for the combat against an insurgency, by forces aligned with the recognised government of the territory in which the armed conflict takes place.
The article goes on to say that “The majority of counter-insurgency efforts by major powers in the last century have been spectacularly unsuccessful.” This is because the inherent advantages the insurgents have against the forces aligned with the government that are trying to suppress them.
While in theory the term refers exclusively to armed conflict against insurgents, in reality military intelligence may be unable to distinguish between an insurgent and a supporter of an insurgency who is a non-combatant. As such, counter-insurgency operations have often rested on a confused, relativistic, or otherwise situational distinction between insurgents and non-combatants.
As such, the term “counter-insurgency” is somewhat cognate with the armed “suppression” of a rebellion, coupled to tactics such as hearts and minds which hope to fracture the links between the insurgency and the population in which the insurgents move and claim to represent.
… 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.
We see from the above that winning hearts and minds is not a mere discretionary measure or adjunct to COIN. It is central to COIN.
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. [emphasis added.]…
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. [emphasis added.]
[end of Wikipedia quote.]
But if winning hearts and minds is indispensable, and if it’s so difficult, how do we explain the relative success of COIN under Abrams in Vietnam and under Petraeus in Iraq? Both situations had special factors we must consider.
As the Wikipedia article explains, COIN in Vietnam required social engineering on a drastic scale: relocating entire civilian populations into armed safe zones. Such extreme measures are out of the question in Afghanistan.
As for the surge in Iraq, important qualifications need to be made. The surge was not intended to defeat the insurgency. It was intended to prevent a catastrophic collapse of the country due to spreading sectarian murder. It did this by stationing U.S. troops permanently in troubled areas, especially the most violent Baghdad neighborhoods, so that the people there would be safe. This measure was successful as far as it went. It reduced violence, stabilized the situation, allowed normal life to resume in the protected areas, and removed the immediate threat of the disintegration of the country and a humiliating U.S. exit.
The success of the surge went much further than anticipated, however, because of an event the U.S. had not planned on: the Sunni turn against al Qaeda. That is what led to the remarkable retreat of al Qaeda and the (temporary) reduction of violence in Iraq to almost zero.
The surge “succeeded” so spectacularly because of the Sunnis “awakening.” The Sunni awakening was the functional equivalent of a successful hearts and minds strategy. But we did not win the Sunnis’ hearts and minds. Rather, the Sunnis on their own initiative, for their own reasons, began to oppose al Qaeda, thus becoming our (temporary) allies.
Thus the Iraqis situation proves the correctness of the point in the Wikipedia article, that the indispensable condition of a successful counterinsurgency is that the hearts and minds of the public be separated from the insurgency. But again, in Iraq, it was not the U.S. forces that performed this separation; it was the Sunnis themselves who performed it—on themselves, an event wholly unexpected and unplanned-for by us. That’s why the surge went beyond a “reduction of violence” campaign and turned into what seemed like a victory over al Qaeda campaign.
What does this tell us about Afghanistan? As you or someone has said, there is no reasonable possibility of the same happening in Afghanistan that happened in Iraq, because, unlike al Qaeda who were foreigners in Iraq, the Taliban are the fellow countrymen and clansmen of the Afghans. The Afghans are not going to turn spontaneously against the Taliban. If the hearts and minds of the Afghans are to be separated from the Taliban, the U.S. is going to have to do the separation. And that, as you and I understand, is simply impossible. But our man McChrystal does not accept that it is impossible. He is a man with a job to do. His job is to defeat the Taliban and assure the long-term survival of the present government. If the job is to succeed, the Afghans must be won to our side. To win them to our side, we (meaning our forces) must become the Afghans’ pals, their buddies, their bros, their daddies, their benefactors, their friends. We must get physically and psychologically up close and personal with them. Which requires that we drop our guard when we are around them and stop being preoccupied with our safety. It means that we care no more about own safety than we care about theirs.
So now we understand that McChrystal’s whacky and alarming statements are not extrinsic to the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, but intrinsic to it. Since the Taliban are of the same country, the same religion, and often the same ethnic group and even the same tribe as Afghan civilians, only the most thoroughgoing, the most extreme “winning hearts and minds” operation in history has any chance of separating the civilians’ hearts and minds from the Taliban and leading to a U.S. success. And this explains McChrystal’s zealotry and fanaticism that you have remarked on: his zealotry is not based on ideology. It is based on a logical thought process as to the only way the counterinsurgency has any chance of being successful. The same logic also explains why McChrystal says that unless the administration adopts his extreme policy, we should abandon the mission altogether.
Of course McChrystal’s hearts and minds strategy, as logical and necessary as it may seem within the premises of his assignment to defeat the Taliban, is wholly and insanely impracticable in this world. Which is why America should take up McChrystal on his second alternative and abandon the mission. The delusory liberal logic of winning the war on terror by winning over moderate Muslims, or moderate sharia Muslims, or moderate jihadist Muslims, or moderate radical apostate-executing Muslims, or moderate radical extremist Buddhist-monument destroying Taliban Muslims, has run its course. Islam is the problem. We must defend our civilization from Islam, not try to make Muslims into our friends.
James P. writes:
“If our government’s aim is to keep the Taliban from regaining power in Afghanistan, then more and more of the country must be secured from the Taliban, and the way we do that is by creating areas that are immune from the Taliban.”
What is the Taliban? It is the political expression of the Pashtun Muslims who live in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I am highly skeptical that you could have a government in Afghanistan without the Pashtun, and in effect, to say that you want to secure Afghanistan from the Taliban is to say you want to secure Afghanistan from its own people (40% of its people anyway). As you say later in the post, the Afghan people are not going to turn against the Taliban, because the Afghan people are the Taliban. The usual approach in this situation would be to support the Tajiks and allow them to keep the Pashtun in check, but that means expending a great deal of effort to allow one group of primitive brutal Muslims to gain ascendancy over another. Why do we want to do this? Why should we care who runs Afghanistan? Far easier and cheaper to isolate ourselves from the basic problem (Islam).
“Victory, however, isn’t the objective of our increasingly PC military. This is becoming more and more apparent as the war continues. Which calls into question our very capacity—not military, but psychological—to wage war.”
It is not the military that does not want victory, it is their political masters. The military is forced to wage war in the criminally stupid manner and for the futile objectives prescribed in Washington. I will say, though, that I have met a great many military officers who are infected with belief in the liberal “hearts and minds” approach.
“The majority of counter-insurgency efforts by major powers in the last century have been spectacularly unsuccessful.”
This is not true. Before about 1950 most insurgencies were suppressed, because the governments had the will to suppress them, military force was used with little regard for friendly or enemy casualties, and the liberal media did not have easy access to the battlefield. These wars were won using methods that today’s liberals find repugnant. Liberals do not want to win counterinsurgencies (or indeed any type of foreign war), and anytime a counterinsurgency effort seems successful they will howl for new, even more restrictive rules. A counterinsurgency fought under liberal rules is basically unwinnable and should not be fought.
Ok, then, can you tell me about a counterinsurgency that succeeded without hearts and minds?
I ask this, because the logic I used in my reply to West was based on the statement in the Wikipedia article that hearts and minds are indispensable.
Also, whether the Wikipedia view of the centrality of hearts and minds is correct or not, it is clearly the U.S. view, so my above analysis of McChrystal’s thinking and policy proceeds correctly from McChrystal’s premises.
James P. replies to LA:
Before World War I, the European powers generally had little problem suppressing insurgencies. They did not believe in “winning hearts and minds,” they believed in winning the war, usually through vigorous employment of the Maxim Gun. Fairly classic examples were the Second Boer War and the suppression of the Herero and Nama uprisings in South West Africa, neither of which was won with much concern for hearts and minds.
After World War I, the British were less determined to win, and let the Irish go after centuries of successfully crushing uprisings in Ireland. However, in 1920, the British basically bombed and strafed a rebellion in Iraq into submission, and then installed a puppet ruler to keep order. The British defeated other Arab revolts in Palestine and Jordan in the 1920s and 1930s with similar methods.
The Greek Civil War of 1946-49 was won without a hearts and minds approach. Wikipedia writes:
Rural peasants were caught in the crossfire. When DSE partisans entered a village asking for supplies, citizens were either supportive (years previously, EAM could count on 2,000,000 members across the whole country) or could not resist. When the national army arrived at the same village, citizens who had supplied the partisans were immediately characterised as communist sympathizers, and suffered the consequences, which were usually imprisonment or exile. Rural areas also suffered as a result of tactics dictated to the National Army by U.S. advisors; as admitted by highranking CIA officials in the documentary “NAM: the true story of Vietnam,” a very efficient strategy applied during the Greek Civil War, as well as in the Korean War and Vietnam War, was the evacuation of villages under the pretext that they were under direct threat of Communist Army attack. This would deprive supplies and recruits to the partisans, while simultaneously raising antipathy towards them.
Some of the most outstanding examples of successful counterinsurgency after 1945 were conducted by Communist governments. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army fought the Soviets from 1944 to 1948, and the Forest Brothers fought the Soviets in the Baltic States from 1944 into the early 1950s. These were not low-level efforts; the Soviets devoted many thousands of troops, and took significant casualties, suppressing Ukrainian and Baltic resistance. Needless to say, the NKVD did not take a gentle approach. Mass arrests, ethnic cleansing, torture, atrocities against the civilian population, and the taking and executing of hostages was the order of the day. ChiCom annihilation of guerrilla resistance in Tibet was similarly ruthless and effective.
Of course we can never use these types of methods ourselves today, but it’s not because these methods don’t work.
Diana West writes:
Your question basically is: is COIN warfare intrinsically PC? Is that right? I do think there is a new degree of intensity and publicity to the PC-ness of the doctrine now expressed by McChrystal (even before Bob Woodward published the “assessment”), but I’ve been nagged by knowing there is a definite connection between Afghanistan doctrine and similar doctrine used in Iraq. I went back to the much ballyhooed Counterinsurgency manual by Petraeus et al that came out in 2007. Here are a few excerpts. (McC paraphrases some of this in his assessment.)
(Caps as printed in manual):
SOMETIMES THE MORE YOU PROTECT YOUR FORCE, THE LESS SECURE YOU MAY BE. Ultimate success in COIN is gained by protecting the populace; not the COIN force….
The manual I found online was only partly searchable, so I’m going to pick up a copy and and continue with this. There are a lot of spots in the manual where the kind of assumptions I would describe as arrogantly universalist (and delusional) appear—namely, assumptions about what any “host nation” will obviously and reflexively and without any possible doubt do after the U.S. executes its population-centric COIN war for “minds.” This assumption is the PC rationale behind the “surge”—that Iraqis will do X after we do Y (didn’t happen), and it is the same rationale is behind the cuurent strategy for Afghanistan. Certainly as codified by the latest Army manual, political correctness—blindness to cultural difference—undergirds counterinsurgency doctrine
THE MORE SUCCESSFUL THE COUNTERINSURGENCY IS, THE LESS FORCE CAN BE USED AND THE MORE RISK MUST BE ACCEPTED … More reliance is placed on police work, rules of engagement may be tightened, and troops may have to exercise increased restraint. Soldiers and Marine may also have to accept more risk to maintain involvement with the people. [LA replies: I was not aware of this hearts and minds and “accept more risk to maintain involvement with the people” aspect of the surge at the time. The surge was described many times in the media in terms of holding and protecting areas, not in terms of “getting close” to Iraqis. So I’m thinking, even though this “accept more risk for the sake of involvement” stuff was part of the manual, it was not that central to the actual surge in practice. Also I watched and commented on the key parts of Petraeus’s testimony to Congress in September 2007 and I didn’t hear him strike any PC-sounding notes. His entire approach was businesslike, technical, logical: how to get the job done.]
SOME OF THE BEST WEAPONS FOR COUNTERINSURGENCY DO NOT SHOOT … Arguably, the decisive battle is for the people’s minds … While security is essential to setting the stage for overall progress [notice the assumption that something called “overall progress” will just naturally follow “security” and consider how this has NOT followed in Iraq], lasting victory [no Iraq Victory Medal has been issued] comes from a vibrant economy, political participation and restored hope [according to whose definition of hope?] … Depending on the state of the insurgency, Soldiers and Marines should prepare to execute many nonmilitary missions to support COIN efforts. Everyone has a role in nationbuilding, not just Department of State and civil affairs personnel … [LA replies: I disagree with Diana’s editorial comment. The manual is not saying that progress just naturally flows from security, but that security is an indispensable condition for progress.]
[end of quotation of manual]
Your argument against the surge is weakened by the fact that most people perceive the surge as being a success, yet you are starting from the premise that the surge was a failure and that everyone knows this. So I think that before you argue that the surge failed because it had all these PC elements, you first need to demonstrate that the surge was a failure. Otherwise readers are not going to be sharing your premises.
For example, you attack the surge counterinsurgency manual for saying, “Ultimate success in COIN is gained by protecting the populace; not the COIN force.” But the fact is that U.S. casualties dropped very dramatically after the surge. You can’t simply ignore that fact and act as though the surge were some total failure and everyone knows this.
Diana West replies:
I have written in the past for publication (not more shorthanded emails) that “the surge” was a Two Part Strategy. Part 1 was US military responsibiity to bring security to Iraq. (Part 1 succeeeded because (just as any police chief knows) putting more cops on the street brings down crime. Part 2 was supposed to result from Part 1: namely, that Iraq, with Part 1-provided security, would come together and become a stable nation/ally. Didn’t happen. Won’t happen. Which is why “the surge” is a failure.
Take a look at this.
As far as the two parts of the surge are concerned, yes, of course. And Petraeus (who to the extent I followed him was always honest in his assessments) and his more honest exponents never said otherwise. They didn’t claim that the surge had resulted in the “political progress” that was its ultimate goal. But of course “political progress” by the Iraqis is something completely outside of the hands of U.S. armed services in any case! The part of the surge that was within the power of the U.S. armed services was successful, and your argument is weakened by your failure to acknowledge that and by your treatment of the surge as though it were a complete failure.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying and never said that the surge could result in a “victory” in Iraq. From the start of the surge I said repeatedly (1) that its strategy of protecting civilian areas would certainly help reduce the horrible violence and keep the country from total chaos and collapse, but (2) that as soon as the surge ended, the same problems would re-appear again. However, that didn’t make the surge nothing. If the U.S. were to pull out, it needed a relatively stabilized Iraq. It couldn’t pull out while Iraq was falling into mass murderous chaos.
Jack S. writes:
I read with interest your exchange with DW. When I read the part about the lady marines in hijabs (here’s a further story on it), I couldn’t believe it but truth is stranger than fiction.
This is a new low in idiocy. But then what would you expect from a commanding general with a stripper name.
James P. writes:
This is an Indian assessment of the Sri Lankan government’s victory over the Tamils. You will notice that the Sri Lankans did pretty much the exact opposite of what the new U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Manual recommends and of what we’ve been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan for umpteen years. The “Fundamentals of Victory” over the Tamil insurgency were: a ruthless approach, disregard for civilian casualties and the “international community,” tight control of the press, complete operational freedom for the military, and no deals with the bad guys.
Eliminate and Annihilate: that’s what you do if you actually want to win. If you’re not willing to do these things, you have no business fighting in the first place.
Fundamentals of Victory against terror Sri Lankan Example—Indian Defence Review
The July-September 2009 issued “Indian Defense Review” carries a detailed article on the Eight Fundamentals of Victory or the ‘Rajapaksa Model’ of fighting terror by V. K. Shashikumar.
In an in-depth analysis of the Sri Lankan government’s defeat of the LTTE, the ‘Indian Defence Review’ has identified Eight Fundamentals of Victory.
These are listed as the ‘Rajapaksa Model of fighting terror’ and are described as:
Unwavering political will
Disregard for international opinion distracting from the goal
No negotiations with the forces of terror
Unidirectional flow of conflict information
Absence of political intervention to pull away from complete defeat of the LTTE
Complete operational freedom for the security forces
Let the best men do the task
Accent on young commanders
Keep your neighbors in the loop
Here is the text of the article by VK Sashikumar:
The news about the killing of Prabhakaran sparked mass celebrations around the country, and people poured into the streets of Colombo, dancing and singing. Looking back at the war General Fonseka made two insightful observations that must surely resonate in the minds of military strategists dealing with terrorism and insurgency in other parts of the world. The first is on the commitment of the political leadership to eliminate terror.
Eelam IV war began as a poll-promise. President Mahinda Rajapaksa rode to power four years ago vowing to annihilate the LTTE. In the early hours of Tuesday the fight for Eelam, a separate homeland for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, begun in 1983 ended in a lagoon, the Nanthi Kadal. Velupillai Prabhakaran’s dead body, eyes wide open, top portion of the head blown off, the thick bushy moustache in place, was found in the lagoon by the Sri Lankan forces looking for remnant LTTE stragglers.
In the President’s Office in Colombo officials talk about the ‘Rajapaksa Model’ (of fighting terror). “Broadly, win back the LTTE held areas, eliminate the top LTTE leadership and give the Tamils a political solution.” Sunimal Fernando, one of Rajapaksa’s advisors, says that the President demonstrated a basic resolve: “given the political will, the military can crush terrorism.” This is not as simple as it sounds. Like most poll promises he did not have plans to fulfill his promise to militarily defeat the LTTE. Eelam I to III were miserable failures. So the ‘Rajapaksa Model’ evolved, it was not pre-planned.
FIRST FUNDAMENTAL: POLITICAL WILL
The first fundamental of this approach was unwavering political will. Rajapaksa clearly conveyed to General Sarath Fonseka: “eliminate the LTTE.” To the outside world he conveyed the same message differently: “either the LTTE surrenders or face, their end.” Rajapaksa instructed the Sri Lankan Army that their job was to fight and win the war. At whatever cost, however bloody it might be. He would take care of political pressures, domestic and international.
General Fonseka commented: “It is the political leadership with the commitment of the military that led the battle to success. We have the best political leadership to destroy terrorism in this country. It was never there before to this extent. The military achieved these war victories after President Mahinda Rajapaksa came into power. He, who believed that terrorism should and could be eliminated, gave priority do go ahead with our military strategies. And no Defence Secretary was there like the present Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa who had the same commitment and knowledge on how to crush the LTTE. Finally, they gave me the chance of going ahead with the military plan.”
SECOND FUNDAMENTAL: GO TO HELL
Following from the first, the second principle of Rajapaksa’s ‘how to fight a war and win it’ is telling the international community to “go to hell.” As the British and French foreign ministers, David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner, found out during their visit. They were cold shouldered for suggesting that Sri Lanka should halt the war and negotiate with the LTTE. As Rajapaksa said during the post-interview chatter “we will finish off the LTTE, we will finish terrorism and not allow it to regroup in this country ever; every ceasefire has been used by the LTTE to consolidate, regroup and re-launch attacks, so no negotiations.” Eliminate and Annihilate—two key operational words that went with the “go to hell” principle of the ‘Rajapaksa Model’. After Colombo declared victory the Sri Lankan Army Commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka used words used by Rajapaksa. That the SLA will not allow the LTTE to “regroup.”
THIRD FUNDAMENTAL: NO NEGOTIATIONS
Naturally, the third fundamental was no negotiations with the LTTE. “The firm decision of the political hierarchy not to go for talks with the LTTE terrorists until they lay down arms had contributed significantly to all these war victories,” affirms Fonseka. But this meant withstanding international pressure to halt the war, the humanitarian crisis spawned by the war and the rising civilian casualties. Rajapaksa did all of this by simply ensuring “silence” and information blackout under which the war was conducted. Rajapaksa’s biggest gamble was to give the military a free hand, shut the world out of the war zone.
When the United Nations, U.S. and European countries raised concerns of high civilian casualties, Rajapaksa, said that the international community was “getting in the way” of Sri Lanka’s victory against terrorism. “We knew that the moment the military is close to operational successes, there will be loud screams for the resumption of the political process of peace negotiations. But there will be no negotiations.” That was the rock solid stand taken and communicated by Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa to all visiting dignitaries and diplomats.
FOURTH FUNDAMENTAL: REGULATE MEDIA
With just one version of the war available for the media to report, the Sri Lankan government ensured an unidirectional flow of conflict information. The information put out by the LTTE’s official website, TamilNet, could not be independently verified on the ground because access to the war zone was regulated and controlled. This was a vital fourth principle in the strategic matrix of the Rajapaksa model.
“Presidents Premadasa and Chandrika Bandaranaike gave orders to the military to take on the LTTE. But when success was near, they reversed the orders and instructed the military to pull back, to withdraw from operations because of international concerns about the humanitarian crisis and civilian casualties. So we had to ensure that we regulated the media. We didn’t want the international community to force peace negotiations on us,” says a senior official in the President’s office who wishes to remain anonymous.
FIFTH FUNDAMENTAL: NO CEASE-FIRE
Rajapaksa’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who consistently maintained that military operations would continue unhindered. “There will be no ceasefire,” was Gotabaya uncompromising message. The clear, unambiguous stand enabled other prominent personalities in the Rajapaksa cabinet to speak in a uniform voice. “Human rights violations during war operations and the humanitarian crisis that engulfs civilians caught in the cross fire have always been the trigger points to order a military pull-back,” asserted Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Human rights and Disaster Management. “The LTTE would always play this card in the past. They would use the ceasefire to regroup and resume the war.”
President Rajapaksa was clear that he did not want to go down that route. That was the traditional way of fighting the LTTE—two steps forward, four steps back. The Rajapaksa brothers’ commitment to a military solution was cast in stone. And it was anchored in a deft political arrangement. But first it is important to reveal the idea behind the political arrangement. “It was to ensure that there would be no political intervention to pull away the military from its task of comprehensively and completely eliminating the LTTE,” says a senior official in the President’s Office. “Prabhakaran was aware of the political contradictions in Sri Lanka and so was confident that the SLA will not indulge in an adventurous, all guns blazing, a full onslaught against the LTTE.”
SIXTH FUNDAMENTAL: COMPLETE OPERATIONAL FREEDOM
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s appointment to the post of Defence Secretary was made precisely to break this political logjam. Gotabaya had a military past. He had taken voluntary retirement from the SLA. He had retained his long standing friendship with Lt General Sarath Fonseka. Gotabaya met Fonseka and asked him, “can you go for a win”? The battle-hardened veteran said “yes, but you will have to permit me to pick my own team.” Gotabaya and Mahinda agreed. “We will let the military do its job, while we hold the fort, politically,” they told Fonseka. This deft political arrangement worked because both, Gotabaya and Fonseka, were recruited and commissioned into the army at the same time.
This is the team Fonseka handpicked by August 2006—Major General Jagath Dias, commander of the 57 Division, Brigadier Shavendra Silva, commander of Task force One also the 58 Division (the SLA formation that has recorded the maximum victories against the LTTE), Major General Nandana Udawatta, commander of the 59 Division and Major General Kamal Gunarathne and Brigadier Prasanna Silva, commanders of the 53 and 55 Divisions respectively. Their task was to recapture 15,000 square kilometers of area controlled by the LTTE. The defection of LTTE’s Eastern chief, Karuna, helped the Army take over Batticaloa, Tamil Tigers’ eastern stronghold on July 11, 2007.
By the time of LTTE’s defeat in the East, the 57 Division under the command of Major General Jagath Dias started military operations north of Vavuniya. Eighteen months later, in January 2009, the 57 Division marched into Kilinochchi, the head quarters of the Tamil Tigers. Parallel to this the Task Force One (58 Division) under Brigadier Shavendra Silva achieved stunning success moving from Silavathura area in Mannar in the West coast, capturing Pooneryn and Paranthan. These troops then swiftly recaptured Elephant Pass, linked up with the 57 Division and further moved to Sundarapuram, Pudukudiyiruppu and finally the eastern coast of the country. Meanwhile, the 59th division of the Army, commanded by Major General Nandana Udawatta opened a new front in Welioya area in January 2008 and within a year marched into the LTTE’s administrative hub, Mullaitivu. Finally, troops from 53rd, 55th, 58th and 59th bottled up the LTTE in along a small patch of eastern coastal land in Mullaitivu and killed the top leadership, including Prabhakaran.
The decision to bring Fonseka out of retirement paid off because he was a hardcore advocate of military operations to crush the LTTE. With rock solid political backing Fonseka was able to motivate his troops and officers to go all out without fearing any adverse consequences. It’s not surprising why Eelam IV turned out to be a bloody and a brutal war. “That there will be civilian casualties was a given and Rajapaksa was ready to take the blame. This gave the Army tremendous confidence. It was the best morale booster the forces could have got,” says a Sri Lankan minister who wishes to let this quote remain unattributed.
Is it any surprise, therefore, that LTTE wanted to assassinate Gotabaya in 2006? Prabhakaran knew that if he could assassinate Gotabaya then the carefully constructed political-military architecture pushing the war operations forward would have been gravely undermined. Gotabaya escaped the assassination bid and the rest as the cliche goes, is history.
So even though Gotabaya came into the political set up virtually out of nowhere, he quickly became the bridge-head between President Rajapaksa’s government and the military. The Rajapaksa brothers fused political commitment to a pre-set military goal. “He (Gotabaya) was embraced and accepted by the military and his was a legitimate voice in the Army,” said a senior official in the President Office. Gotabaya communicated the military requirements to the government—men, material and weapons.
Captured LTTE weapons
His brother and head of the government, President Rajapaksa, ensured the military got what it wanted. He in turn instructed Gotabaya to tell the Army to go all out and get on with the task. The sixth fundamental of the Rajapaksa Model also had a clause—Basil, the youngest of the Rajapaksa brothers. “Neither Mahinda nor Basil saw their brother Gotabaya as a political threat to their political aspirations. So they gave him a free hand.” More importantly, Basil was used by President Rajapaksa for political liaison, especially with India.
SEVENTH FUNDAMENTAL: ACCENT ON YOUNG COMMANDERS
The other critical element was empowering young officers as GOCs to lead the battle. “I did not select these officers because they are young. But they were appointed as I thought they were the best to command the battle. I went to the lines and picked up the capable people. I had to drop those who had less capacity to lead the battle. Some of them are good for other work like administration activities. Therefore, the good commanders were chosen to command this battle.
In the Line of Duty
I thought seniority was immaterial if they could not command the soldiers properly. I restructured the Army and changed almost all the aspects of the organization. I made the Sri Lanka Army a more professional Army. Everybody had to work with a sense of professionalism.”
Eighth Fundamental: Keep Your Neighbors in Loop
The seventh fundamental was India and an unsigned strategic partnership agreed by New Delhi and Colombo. India played a crucial part in the Sri Lanka military operations by providing intelligence and other kinds of tactical support. “The moral support, whatever support India gave us, is what they should have given to us. It is their duty to help us in this stage,” is President Rajapaksa’s rather candid admission of the Indian involvement. “I can’t demand, I shouldn’t demand anything from a neighboring country. I request.” The first significant request from Colombo was naval intelligence and intelligence on the movement of LTTE owned merchant navy vessels.
The 15,000 sq km area controlled by the LTTE in northern Sri Lanka known as Vanni was cut off from all land access. The A9 Colombo-Jaffna road ran through it. But in the Southern end was the Vavuniya frontline at Omanthai and in the North beyond the Elephant Pass was the northern frontline. The only way for the LTTE to get its supplies, weapons and other essentials was through the sea route. It had eight ‘warehouse’ ships, vessels that transported “artillery, mortar shells, artillery shells, torpedoes, aircraft, missiles, underwater vehicles, diving equipment, radar, electro-optical devices and night vision equipment.” These ships would travel close to the Sri Lankan coast but beyond the reach of Sri Lanka’s coastal Navy. War material from these ‘warehouse’ ships would be transported into smaller boats protected by Sea Tiger units, which would then make its way to the Sea Tiger bases. This is how the LTTE sustained itself for decades and continually upgraded its conventional military capability through funding provided by the Tamil Diaspora.
India played a crucial role in choking this well established supply line of the LTTE. This enabled the Sri Lankan armed forces on the ground to make rapid advances. The Sri Lankan Navy led by Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, executed a maritime strategy based on intelligence on LTTE ship movements provided by India. In 2006 the SL Navy had tremendous success when, based on Indian intelligence, it launched operations to destroy six LTTE warehouse vessels. Subsequently, by 2007, two more were destroyed, which completely disrupted the LTTE’s supply line. Some LTTE warehouse ships were located at about 1700 nautical miles, south east of Sri Lanka close to Australia’s exclusive economic zone. SL Navy clearly does not have this capability and this shows how deep and extensive intelligence sharing between India and Colombo have been ever since 2006.
In a recent interview to the Jane’s Defence Weekly, Admiral Karannagoda said, “It was one of the major turning points in the last 30 years of the conflict. That was the main reason why the LTTE are losing the battle, we did not allow a single supply of replenishment ship to come into (Sri Lankan) waters over the last two and a half years since 2006.”
In the final analysis the Rajapaksa model is based on a military precept and not a political one. Terrorism has to be wiped out militarily and cannot be tackled politically. That’s the basic premise of the Rajapaksa Model.
(Courtesy: Indian Defence Review—July—Sept 2009—Vol 24(3)
Ken Hechtman writes:
Diana West is right about the big thing (counter-insurgency won’t work in Afghanistan) and so I hesitated a bit before criticizing her on the little things.
She’s thinking in terms of us having a fixed amount of enemies and once we kill them all, we get to declare victory and go home. That works when we fight set-piece battles with national armies. That worked in Panama and Grenada and Gulf War I. It even worked in World War II. But it doesn’t work in a low-intensity conflict fought in the middle of a civilian population.
In a situation like that, the force-protection doctrine can create more enemies than it kills. She asks, “where has abandoning force-protection ever worked?” In Malaysia, which has become the counter-insurgency textbook case. In Kenya. In most of the British decolonization wars of the 1950s and 60s. The British have done this so many times they have a catch-phrase for it—“getting the helmets off.”
Scott H. writes:
My son, who is currently fighting over in Northern Iraq with his Special Forces team, has told me that the reason the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is different is that the people are quite different. He states that when you break down a door to an Iraqi residence they’ll lay on the floor almost groveling, while the Afghani will fight you tooth and nail with whatever is at hand. He thinks the Afghans are the toughest fighters he’s faced, they don’t give up.
M. Jose writes:
I think all of the people discussing the Tamil Tigers, or the successes that the Soviet Union had in the Ukraine, Hungary, etc. ignore a vital point. Namely, what are you trying to accomplish?
Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 25, 2009 07:04 PM | Send
All of the commenters appear to be saying, more or less, that we can win in Afghanistan if we just get bloody-minded enough and kill enough people.
Of course, there is a fundamental difference between our fighting in Afghanistan and the Soviet Union suppressing its satellite states, Sri Lankan suppressing the Tamils, etc. Namely, they wanted to hold onto the land, we don’t.
Ignoring hearts and minds is fine if your goal is simply to hold onto a place. If Afghanistan had vast oil resources that we wished to exploit, but the native population stood in the way, we could just exterminate them or exterminate enough of them so that the rest leave to avoid death. Immoral, perhaps, but effective.
But if our goal is to build a society that can function on its own, this won’t work. We would have to occupy the country forever, putting down any rebellions with an iron fist. We could run Afghanistan with enough brutality, but why would we want to waste resources running Afghanistan?
The reason it worked in Sri Lanka was that the problem was domestic. They had to fight there, they were going to be there no matter what, so long-term occupation under iron-fisted rule was possible. The same is true of the Soviets; massively occupying the countries of Eastern Europe was consistent with its goals. If the goal of the USSR was to get the countries to become independent Communist states, it failed spectacularly, as the states de-Communized soon after Soviet influence ended.
Unless our goal is the extermination of the native populace, or a long-term American occupation en masse, I don’t see how brutality will help us.