Taliban Resemble Successful Insurgencies

CSM reports on a RAND study by Ben Conable and Martin Libicki of 89 major insurgencies in the 20th century and early 21st, and what they might tell us about the likelihood of Obama succeeding in Afghanistan.

Connable found that weak governments prevail militarily against insurgencies only 10 percent of the time.

RAND’s own news release and link to the full study is here.

Among the findings are that modern insurgencies go on for about a decade, and the longer they continue the more likely it is that the government will find a way to defeat them.

Where an insurgency has external state support, loss of that outside help is often fatal to the uprising.

Where the government attempting to face down the insurgency claims to be a democracy, in those instances where it is really only a pseudo-democracy it often proves unable to defeat its foe.

Where the insurgency has a safe area to which it can retreat at will, that external base of operations helps it prevail.

Where insurgents can learn to be careful not to kill innocents, they have a better chance of coming to power.

The Taliban and other Afghan insurgents look like winners in this scenario.

This conclusion in part lies behind Tom Englehardt’s impassioned plea for the US to just withdraw from Afghanistan.

It seems clear that NATO is planning a withdrawal. Although abandoned governments often fall, so too do those perceived as puppets.

You couldn’t have a more pseudo-democracy than that in Afghanistan. The president, Karzai, stole the presidential elections last August-October. The ministries are inefficient and riddled with corruption.

Based on this historical study, you’d have to admit that things don’t look good for Obama’s grand toss of the dice in Afghanistan.

13 Responses

  1. In 1982, ten years after I served in Vietnam as a soldier, I wrote a thesis for my Anthropology MA. Originally “The Effects of Unconventional Warfare on Tribal Populations: Case Studies From Vietnam.” (It is at Amazon as “Tribal Soldiers of Vietnam.”) I mention this fact only to point out I do know something about what I am talking about. Just as one fallacy, “experts” always trot out the local militia concept. I have a short section how this always leads to crime, corruption and criminal organizations. Vietnam, expecially the Tai HIghlands in the First Indochina War, was a leading opium producer. Sound familiar? Opium is a winter crop so keep your eye on when military offensives happen. The Viet Minh used the opium to fund their war, so the French tried to purchase it–using the Corsican Mafia–to keep it out of their hands. Yeah, that worked; been there done that. My second major complaint, as an anthropolgist, is that counterinsurgency experts always overlook the insurgents’ use of “parallel hierarchies.” Hamas and Hezbollah, just like the Taliban, have thier own courts (efficient), hospitals (cheaper and better) and parallel government. After Israel bombed Lebanon, notice how Hezbollah had a rep out there immediately paying people for damage, months before the Lebanese government? I used a combination of Barth’s New Elite Theory as well as Clifford Geertz’s theories of assumed and primoridal blood ties, in which the latter included the Kurds, Baluchis, etc. Whenever we get involved in counterinsurgencies, there are three typical outcomes: 1) the tribe (or group) becomes incorporated into the larger society, usually at the low end, 2) accept minority status and probably become assimilated, 3) emphasize ethnic identity, thereby creating a new movement (or a new state.)

    I see no good coming out of this war at all.

  2. When Rudyard Kipling wrote his poem about the Colonel’s horse and what happened to it the world was a different place. Today skies are darkening for all of mankind and people are becoming aware of threats affecting us all. It’s clear people of the world must act together to save the Earth. No study of 87 conflicts can deny what happens when resources become too scarce about how people are likely to treat each other if stresses become so great that societies start to break down. It’s a place no man would want to go nor, if he had a mind to think about it would he want to wish it on his worst of enemies. The only enemy I fear at the moment is not being brave enough to speak up and try to change things. Resources need to be concentrated on the common good.

  3. I haven’t read the study, but I wonder if it encompasses the case where a weak, corrupt government is being supported by a foreign army in going against an indigeneous insurgency, and porvides a frequency of the insurgency being defeated in such cases.

  4. I disagree- not brutally suppressing and murdering civilians seem to be beyond the jihadis; as an Iraqi journalist put it, ‘they stop all life’(NYT in Nov 2006). Gangs of young sociopaths imbued with an ideology that allows, in fact encourages, them to see anyone that opposes them as the enemies of God for whom no penalty is too severe- how are they consistently capable of restraint? And how have they fared? They alienated the Afghans, who with US air support, ran them out in a matter of weeks in 2001; the Sunnis, hence the’ Awakening’, the real engine of our success in Iraq; and even the Pakistanis, who are finally being forced to recognize that their tame attack dogs are chewing their arm off – the tipping point seemingly being the Taliban breaking the deal over Swat in a matter of days.
    Our problem is-how do we go long? Because, in the long run, given the sound doctrine the US military has adopted, we’ll be preferred to them, foreigners and infidels or not. The wasted years of the Bush administration result in a weariness of the whole enterprise, when we are effectively nearer the beginning than the end. I suspect the Obama administration intends to muddle through to staying the ten years, while continuing to ‘withdraw’.

  5. What do you mean by “looks like”, and “insurgency”?

    It IS a successful COUNTER-insurgency.

    Don’t forget who invaded who, and how desperately the US is looking for a graceful way out, even WITH Russian logistical support.

  6. The only reason I can support for being in Afghanistan is that the President has real intelligence, not phonied up Scotter Libby fantasies, but verifiable info that there are Taliban and/or original Al Qaeda with nuclkear material.

    Everythng else is not important.

  7. Re Obama’s 1st term war policy:

    Consider these drivers and factors favoring US war expansion in 2011.

    1. Obama’s need to appear consistently ‘strong on defense’ as he positions for 2012.
    2. Congressional Democrats (Republicans too) have trended to the right for the last decade, thru fear, attrition and candidate selection.
    3. No real alternative to Obama for the left/peace wing of the party.
    4. An Af-Pak COIN/counterterror war strategy that is hugely under-resourced.
    5. A recent history of counteroffensives following Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008
    6. Availability of recently extracted force from Iraq, as required by the 2008 Withdrawal agreement (assuming the Gulf doesn’t threaten to blow and drive oil prices up)

    I’m reminded that a 1964 Hanoi white paper was predictive of rapid US war expansion. LBJ’s campaign rhetoric seemed to promise peace, but escalation was already in the pipeline. Hanoi was receiving our secret diplomatic threats, and predicted that those would become US policy.

    LBJ’s advisors didn’t want a bigger war then, and Obama would prefer to use the war money here at home today. But shitty shit happens, when ‘the peace candidate’ takes over ‘the long war’ department. It appears to me that the kinds of pressures that influenced LBJ’s advisors to keep doubling our losing bet in Viet Nam are operating on Team Obama.

  8. “Among the findings are that modern insurgencies go on for about a decade, and the longer they continue the more likely it is that the government will find a way to defeat them.”

    Should “likely” be “unlikely”?

    • No, the study found that governments have an advantage in very long insurgencies. If you are going to make a revolution, get it over with.

  9. imho It is inconceivable that the Obama administration would begin unwinding the $4+ billion USD/month supplemental U.S. WAR ECONOMY, or in any way changing the public (or private) timetables for the withdrawal of NATO-American military occupation forces from either IRAQ or AFGHANISTAN a mere ~6 months before the mid-term national election cycle.

    The best we can hope for is that responsible members of the NATO-American officer corps realize that their land-locked forces are engaged in meaningless endeavour of occupation ennui, act rationally to limit their own as well as indigenous peoples’ KIA + WIA, and successfully stifle Generals Petraeus and McChrystal from initiating any more fantastical “assault strategies” = grand-scale military solutions to vanquish rag-tag gangs of “criminal combatants,” or to prop up corrupt crony capitalist “governments in name only.”

  10. A general rule when it comes to wars of occupation (with few exceptions) is they only end one two ways: genocide of the local populace or defeat of the occupier. Either the occupier commits crimes so heinous that those killed never re-attain a population necessary to defeat them (e.g. Australia, North America, Tibet), or the occupiers lose because they are not willing to “go that extra mile” to commit war crimes, or they lose the moral war (e.g. Vietnam, India, Afghanistan many times).

    Wars of occupation are exactly what the word means: they involve occupying someone else’s country. Unless the home team can no longer fight for it because they’ve lost the numbers game, they will eventually win because it’s their land and they will never give it up. Even Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan took on the attitude of “You’ll have to kill us all to defeat us” when the war turned against them.

    Another fact in the war in Afghanistan is that since the US gained independence, the US has never won a long war that it started. The US has won short wars of under a year (Iraq 1, Granada, Mexico, Philippines) and it has won long wars where it was the defender against foreign aggression (World War II), but the US has never had the stomach to fight a long war with massive losses of soldiers when it began wars to occupy and control foreign nations.

    This is exemplified in the US’s obsession with weaponry and fighting from a distance (missiles, planes, gunships, etc.). The US military and US public cringe at the loss of even handful of soldiers (4,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan, 50,000 in Vietnam, etc.) while their opponents are willing to die by the millions. And that’s despite the massive number of Americans and military and financial resources available to the country.

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