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A (very) short course in the history of insurgency and counter-insurgency

Wars of Insurgency

Insurgency (defined as an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict) in the post 19th Century era has been a spotty thing.

United States experience in the Philippines
1899 - 1902 Philippine American War
1902 - 1913 Philippine Insurrection (defeated, duration 14 years)
1913 - 1934 Occupation
1935 - 1941 Philippines as U. S. Commonwealth
1942 - 1945 Japanese conquest and occuupation of the Philippines
1945 - 1946 Phillipines as U. S. Commonwealth
1946 - present Philippine independence, Republic of the Philippines

British Commonwealth and the Malayan Emergency
1948 - 1960 British and Commonwealth troops defeat insurrection
1960 - 1989 Last insurgents surrender to Malasian Government

Algerian War of Independence
1954 - 1962 Algeria forces France to withdraw

1961 - 1975 MPLA with Cuban assistance overthrows Portugeuese rule
1975 - 2002 Angolan Civil war between MPLA and UNITA

Eritrean War of Independence (from Ethiopia)
1961 - 1991 Eritrea becomes independent in 1991.

First Indochina War

1947 - 1954 French Colonial forces defeated by Viet Minh, Partition of Vietnam.
Second Indochina War
1955 - 1968 Republic of Vietnam with U.S. Assistance defeats Viet Minh insurgency
1969 - 1971 Republic of Vietnam maintains control
1972 - 1973 North Vietnamese Invasion (Easter Offensive) fails to overthrow South Vietnam
1970 - 1973 U. S. Forces are withdrawn from South Vietnam
1975 Second North Vietnamese Invasion overthrows South Vietnam

Operation Enduring Freedom (unconvential war)

2001-2004 Taliban "Government" defeated and Karzai government elected.
Afghan Insrugency
2003-Present Ongoing

Operation Iraqi Freedom (conventional war)
20 March - 30 April 2003 Conventional forces (primarily US and UK) invade Iraq and overthrow Ba'athist regime of Sadam Hussein.
Insurgency / Counter Insurgency
01 May 2003 - 22 Nov 2008 US and allied forces defeat Iraqi insurgents (and foreign fighers) supported by Syria and Iran.

Box Score: Total Insurgencies, 9
Successful 4 (Algeria, Angola, Eritrea, Indochina I)
Defeated 4 (Philippines, Malaya, Indochina II, Iraq)
Ongoing 1 (Afghanistan)

Geographical Factors: Note that all four successful insurrections featured land borders and the opportunity for cross border support and no-go zones, while two of the four suppressed insurgencies were isolated archipelagos. Note also that the third suppressed insurgency (Indochina II) was subsequently reversed by a series of conventional invasions.

The British and Commonwealth forces formerly held the prize for shortest with the Malayan Emergency (12 years).  The United States overtook them for first with the Iraqi insurgency (5 years) and retains the third and fourth place finishes with the defeat of the insurgency portion of the Second Indochina War in 13 years and the Philippine Insurgency in 14 years. Note that the Eritrean War of Independence dragged on for 30 years, as did the last hold outs in the Malayan Emergency.

Also worth noting, two of the four successful insurgencies were won against French counter-insurgency efforts (making the French 0-2) while three of the successful counter-insurgencies were won by the United States (3-0) and all four were won by English Speaking Nations.

The average length to put down an insurgency is (now) 11 years.
Modified and updated from material originally published on SayAnythingBlog (since lost in a site update) and LiveJournal by the author.


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Comments (5)

Realistically, the U.S. or ... (Below threshold)
Paul Hooson:

Realistically, the U.S. or NATO are probably unlikely to outright defeat the Taliban or al Qaeda, meaning only that we must continue to damage them, keeping their numbers down , preventing worse terrorism or damage from them. These terrorists act much like cockroaches operating in the shadows, and are difficult to completely eradicate. This is far different warfare than WWII or any conventional warfare by far. It is much closer to battling crime than normal warfare, as much of terrorism is planned in secret, compared to battlefield warfare.

If the U.S. doesn't share a bipartisan approach to continue to battle terrorism, then we only invite more terrorist attacks against U.S. interests all over the world, including at home.

Maintaining a huge military presence in Afghanistan is the only way to limit the Taliban and al Qaeda there. In Vietnam, it took a peak U.S. strength of a little under 700,000 troops to prevent the fall of Vietnam to to either North Vietnamese regulars or Viet Cong insurgents. Once this was gone, the country fell. In Afghanistan, we can only expect the Taliban and al Qaeda to return to power should we quit the battle there.

Teeth to tail. I really wis... (Below threshold)
Mike Giles:

Teeth to tail. I really wish that people who quote the figure for US troops in South Vietnam would make that difference plain. In reality, about 1 out of every 6 of the troops in Vietnam were actually combat troops (some studies place it as low as 1 out of 11) - the Grunts and the air assets supporting them. The rest? REMF's shuffling papers stacking boxes, giving the Grunts a hard time. It simply gives a truer picture of the situation.

Hooson @ 1,al Qaed... (Below threshold)
Rodney Graves Author Profile Page:

Hooson @ 1,

al Qaeda and the Taliban survive (both are greatly reduced) because they have relatively safe rear areas from which they can operate. The raid on Abbottabad proved those areas to be less safe than the terrorists and their sponsors thought they were. The warfare approach of tracking them to their lairs and killing them is the only practicable and efficacious approach.

Mike Giles @ 2 correctly notes:

Teeth to tail. I really wish that people who quote the figure for US troops in South Vietnam would make that difference plain.

Indeed. In some ways the tooth to tail ratio is even worse now, but the combat troops are without peer. The blood price we have paid for Victory in Iraq and the current undecided situation in Afghanistan is less than we paid on some days of combat in WWII and our own Civil War.

The application of treasure and sweat in time of peace has allowed us to be incredibly effective while keeping our blood price in Iraq and Afghanistan to an unprecedented low level.

Sorry, a few small nits mus... (Below threshold)

Sorry, a few small nits must be picked. A conspicuous absence from the list is Korea. How was that conflict different from Vietnam except for the absence in Vietnam, until the 1973-75 offensives, of massed and mechanized communist armies?

The term Viet Minh applied to the Vietnamese communist party controlled front group which fought a "nationalist" struggle to expel the French. The effort partially succeeded with the division of the country into North and South. At that point the communists quickly took control in the North and began devising strategy and tactics for the eventual conquest of the South to "unify" the country.

By 1959, when the North began supplying southern communists with arms and soldiers, the name applied became Viet Cong, or Vietnamese communists of the South. That's where the more well done identifiers such as VC and "Victor" "Charlie" originated.

Now we could begin a discussion of whether the South Vietnamese "defeated" the Viet Cong since the war was always funded, supplied and administered by the North Vietnamese communist government. The virtual elimination of indigenous forces in the South did not affect the goal; it simply forced a modification in Northern strategy and tactics. The Vietnamese communists most certainly were not "defeated" in 1968.

boqueronman @ 4 writes:... (Below threshold)
Rodney Graves Author Profile Page:

boqueronman @ 4 writes:

A conspicuous absence from the list is Korea.

I wrote about Insurgencies and Counter Insurgencies and provided my working definition:

...an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict.

Korea does not qualify as an insurgency.

Vietnam, you will note, is broken out into distinct phases.

Phase I (First Indochina War) was a successful insurgency.

Phase II (Second Indochina War) was a failed insurgency.

Phase IIIa (Easter Offensive) was a conventional invasion which failed.

Phase IIIb Second Invasion from DPRV was a conventional invasion which succeeded (because we failed to abide by our treaty with South Vietnam).






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