Stratfor and the wild women of Wongo

Friday, June 29, 2012

Since I'm on vacation (having a good time, wish you were here, etc., etc.) I'm not going to make my usual comments about the article, which concerns insurgency and counterinsurgency. The beginning is excerpted below, with a link to the full article after the excerpt.

I'm sure that when you read the article you'll immediately see why I chose the wild women from the movie The Wild Women of Wongo as the article's Hot Stratfor Babe(s). Some things, like bacon and eggs, just go together.

The Wild Women of Wongo is cinematic tour de farce, er...I mean force set in the prehistoric days. It is introduced by Mother Nature herself who explains that on the island of Wongo a tribe of hot cave babes is stuck with ugly hunters as potential mates. One day a handsome and studly caveman shows up with warnings of a tribe of ape men attacking his village -- which is coincidentally full of manly-men and ugly women.

Well, this touches off a panalopy of cinematic drama: lust, jealousy, an eeevil witch doctorettee, alligator Gods, alluring cave babe dances, ape men attacks and a talking parrot that comments on it all. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll repeatedly check your watch wondering when this damn movie is ever going to end.

But, although it will seem to be an eternity, end it will. And when it ends you'll learn a valuable lesson: ugly women belong with ugly men and babes belong with studs. Oooops, I guess I should have warned you before spoiling the ending. Sorry about that.

Insurgency and the Protracted War

By Scott Stewart, June 28, 2012

In recent weeks, insurgent forces in several countries have been forced to withdraw from territories they once held. Somalia's al Shabaab, which was pushed out of Mogadishu in October 2011, was ejected from Afmadow on May 30. The group now runs the risk of losing its hold once again on the port city of Kismayo, an important logistical and financial hub for al Shabaab.

In Syria, the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups were forced out of the city of Idlib and Homs' Baba Amr district in March. They also withdrew from Al-Haffah on June 13.

Meanwhile in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been forced to retreat from towns it took control of last year in southern Abyan province, including Jaar, Shaqra and Zinjibar. The organization controlled the area it seized from the government through its Ansar al-Sharia front organization. AQAP was able to capitalize on the infighting that began in Yemen in 2011 and successfully diverted the government's focus away from AQAP and other militant groups. But in February, the election of new Yemeni President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi allowed the rift created by the infighting to be slowly healed. As a result, a combination of Yemeni soldiers and local tribesmen, backed by U.S. intelligence and fire support, have been able to push back AQAP and Ansar al-Sharia in recent weeks.

Losing these cities will immediately and significantly affect AQAP's ability to reach its goal of establishing an emirate based on Sharia law in southern Yemen. However, the loss of this territory will not mean an end to the group, just as losses of territory by militants in Somalia and Syria do not mean those insurgent groups have been defeated definitively. The reason for this rests in the very nature of insurgent warfare. To insurgent groups, the loss of territory is a setback, but is only one episode in what they intend to be a very long war.

Ebbs and Flows

One of the basic tenets of modern Western warfare, as articulated by theorists such as Carl von Clausewitz, is the desire to destroy the enemy in quick, decisive battles that break the enemy's ability -- and will -- to fight. In contrast, one of the basic doctrines of insurgent warfare, as articulated by theorists such as Mao Zedong and Vo Nguyen Giap, is to decline decisive battle when the odds are not favorable and to live to fight another day. The insurgent wants to prolong the battle and create a drawn-out, grinding war that will gradually wear down the stronger enemy while insurgent forces build up enough strength to fight a conventional war and defeat their opponents. Western military leaders, then, seek to quickly resolve a war, while insurgents seek to prolong it by any means -- even if this means ceding control of territory until they can amass the strength to take it back.

In the modern jihadist context, this strategy was seen clearly in Afghanistan. The Taliban, when faced with overwhelming U.S. airpower in 2001, declined combat and permitted Northern Alliance ground forces to take control of Afghanistan's cities, rather than stand and fight until they were destroyed. The Taliban then launched a classic rural-based insurgency from the mountains using Pakistan as a haven for logistics and training. Iraqi government forces also took this approach when confronted by U.S. forces during the 2003 invasion.

Similarly, following the December 2006 Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, Islamist militants from the Supreme Islamic Courts Council -- many of whom would later go on to form al Shabaab -- declined to fight decisive battles and instead took to harassing the Ethiopian army's extended supply lines. This forced the Ethiopians to pull back from key cities they had captured, like Kismayo, and allowed the militants to regain control of large portions of southern Somalia. It is not unusual, then, for insurgent forces to take territory, only to surrender it and reclaim it again later.

For insurgents, the operational concept is that if the enemy attacks in force, they retreat; if the enemy stays in place, they conduct harassing attacks; if the enemy tires, the insurgents press the attack; and if the enemy retreats, the insurgents pursue. The idea is to apply prolonged pressure, both physical and psychological, and to create a mounting number of casualties over time. At the same time, the insurgent organization works to strengthen its own organizational support base and military capability. The basic doctrine of counterinsurgency is to deny insurgents the ability to establish and strengthen their support base and improve their capability.

The support base is a critical element for any insurgency. By gaining the sympathy of the population -- the human terrain -- the insurgents can rely on the population not only for material support, recruits and shelter, but also for intelligence. It blurs the human terrain, making it more difficult to distinguish insurgents from the population. This is why the political element of the insurgent effort was stressed so heavily in the theories of men like Mao and Giap, who viewed their actions in terms of the people's war. They also believed that a population's long-standing grievances give the people the ability to endure suffering and heavy losses. The people therefore have a stronger will to fight than the privileged government combatant or the foreign imperialist invader. Having favorable human terrain also permits insurgents to apply pressure to the enemy by using unconventional warfare in rear areas with operations like sniper attacks, improvised explosive device attacks, assassinations and kidnappings.

Controlling Territory

It requires far more resources and effort to control and govern populated cities and towns than it does to conduct an insurgent campaign from the jungles or mountains. Maintaining control of a city requires many people to provide security while meeting the population's need for food, water, electricity and medical care. Such demands would use up many of the resources an insurgent organization would require to fight a protracted war of attrition, so it is not unusual for insurgents to abandon cities and foist the responsibility of caring for their populations upon the government. The goal in this approach is to force the government to expend its resources in order to meet the needs of the population, including security.

The insurgents can then come back to the cities with a small force to conduct harassing attacks on security forces or those cooperating with security forces, thus causing the government to invest even more resources in protecting the cities and reducing the number of forces available to pursue and fight insurgents in the countryside. Simply put, conducting insurgent attacks or terrorist attacks against the government's power center takes far less resources and manpower than it does to secure a town or city. Because of this, withdrawing from a city or town allows a militant group to actually increase the resources it has available to conduct attacks. But though there are benefits to harassing attacks, insurgents must be careful to avoid too many civilian casualties, because a high civilian death count can turn the population against the group, as happened with the umbrella militant organization Islamic State of Iraq in 2007.

Read more: Insurgency and the Protracted War | Stratfor