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Dirty Wars: A Century of Counterinsurgency

Dirty Wars: A Century of Counterinsurgency by Simon Innes-Robbins ©IWM

Dirty Wars: A Century of Counterinsurgency by Simon Innes-Robbins ©IWM

It was with great delight and pleasure that I received copies of my book, Dirty Wars: A Century of Counterinsurgency, which was published by The History Press on 6 October and will be published in North America in February 2017. This is the first book written for IWM by a member of staff to fully explore the origins and continuing importance and relevance of counterinsurgency.

‘Who is the enemy?’ This is the question most asked in modern warfare; gone are the set-piece conventional battles of the past. Once seen as secondary to more traditional conflicts, irregular warfare (as modified and refashioned since the 1990s) now presents a major challenge to the state and the bureaucratic institutions which have ruled the twentieth century, and to the politicians and civil servants who formulate policy.

Twenty-first-century conflict has been dominated by counterinsurgency operations, where the enemy is almost indistinguishable from innocent civilians. Conventional battles so prevalent in the two World Wars have been replaced by gunfights in jungles, deserts, and streets, and winning “hearts and minds” is as crucial as holding territory. From early struggles in South Africa, the Philippines and Ireland to more recent operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya, my book uncovers the strategy and doctrine of counterinsurgency operations, and the factors which ensure whether they are successful or not. Recently, ignorance of central principles and the emergence of social media, which has shifted the odds in favour of the insurgent, have too often resulted in failure to crush insurgencies. This has left governments and their security forces embedded in a hostile population, immersed in costly and dangerous nation-building, and fighting a war in the shadows against an elusive enemy.

The raison d’être of the book is to provide the layperson with a short introduction to the emergence of counterinsurgency as an important component of modern warfare in the last half of the twentieth century in response to revolutionary warfare which was originally inspired by Marxist ideology. I explore the historical background, philosophy and theory behind the increased relevance of counterinsurgency, evaluating the contribution by well-known experts, notably David Galula, Frank Kitson, and Robert Thompson, and the success or failure of some of the key personalities, such as Jacques Massu, António de Spínola, Gerald Templer, Walter Walker, and William Westmoreland. I investigate the rise of Special Forces, like the SAS, to undertake operations of this kind and the use of indigenous troops to combat guerrillas and terrorists on their own turf. Another major theme is the question of ethics arising from counterinsurgency methods, for example, the use of torture, surveillance and control of populations by the state, and the problems associated with intervention, counterinsurgency and ‘nation-building’ in the undeveloped Third World by First World nations including the USA, UK and their NATO allies.

Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq brought about a resurgence in interest in counterinsurgency particularly by the Americans, who hitherto had neglected this aspect of modern warfare. I also compare the past counterinsurgency campaigns of the Americans, British, French, Germans, Portuguese and Russians, exploring their different responses to the challenges of counterinsurgency and extracting lessons which have particular relevance to the new threat from the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Islamic State, et al and the formulation of current practice and thinking on counterinsurgency. Politicians and their security forces need to draw conclusions about the efficacy of modern counterinsurgency operations and the likely cost to democracies such as the UK and USA, not only of participating in places like Iraq and Afghanistan but also of failing to engage with and prepare for such campaigns.

 

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