Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Lone Guerilla Paradox

Over at DefenseTech, Greg Grant has a brief piece on a particular difficulty of COIN operations called The Lone Guerilla Paradox. Basically, as Grant puts it:

In a village, a single insurgent fighter represents a “monopoly of force,” controlling that village even if challenged by an entire battalion of government troops doing continuous battalion sweeps.
The only time the lone guerrilla doesn’t control the village is the few hours when the counterinsurgents sweep through, once they leave, the guerrilla’s monopoly is re-established.

The comments section of the DT post are unsurprisingly alive with a bunch of back-and-forth about current ISAF practice, the pseudo-history of guerilla warfare (complete with bullshit examples) and some partisan hackery. Oh, and a bit of Obama-bashing just for flavor.

All of the discussion about whether or not the U.S. Army (or the Marines) can effectively wage counter-insurgency warfare, or whether they have in the past, misses the basic point. I guess that's to be expected, since Grant misses the salient issue as well.

Certainly, ISAF/Army/Marines has to be better at waging counter-insurgency campaigns. There's been much improvement in the last few years, and there will be more going forward. Also true is the fact that the ANSF needs to be be better at protecting their own people and more effective in the field. Again, they've improved but they still have a long way to go.

But, contrary to what Grant (and his commenters) seem to think, this was will not be won by ISAF, the U.S. Army or Marines. It will not even be won by the ANA and ANP. No conventional security forces will ever have the breadth and depth of coverage to truly eliminate The Lone Guerilla Paradox. They cannot be everywhere all the time.

To return to Grant's quote from above:
The only time the lone guerrilla doesn’t control the village is the few hours when the counterinsurgents sweep through, once they leave, the guerrilla’s monopoly is re-established.

Not necessarily true. This war will be won when we reach a point where, in the absence of a security sweep, that Lone Guerrilla tries to exercise his "monopoly of force" over villagers and they turn on him and beat him to a bloody pile of rags. Because they believe it is in their interests to do so. That is the ultimate goal of counter-insurgency. It's not hunting bad guys with SOF night raids, it's not joint battalion-sized sweep and clear missions, it's not even improved irrigation and some reconstruction funding. It's convincing the general population to pick the right side and act upon that choice. All of those other elements are necessary but insufficient conditions for victory.

The Afghan people are not simply victims in this conflict; they are also the prize and, ultimately, the solution to the Paradox.


Matt said...

You know what is interesting with the lone guerrilla paradox, is that it applies to gang warfare in the US as well. We have violent gangs who apply the same pressures onto the local populations here in the US. There are areas in Los Angeles that are 'gangland' and you enter at your own peril. In those areas, people won't even report who murdered a person, for fear of being killed themselves. So who is in charge in these areas, the police or gangs? Tough problem for Los Angeles, and for Afghanistan.

PaladinSix said...


There are certainly areas (entire districts) of A-stan that are similar to what South Central LA or the west side of Chicago was like back in the 80s. Very bad places for outsiders to be.

But here's the thing: even in the worst areas, the vast majority of the population is not a member of a gang or the Taliban. However, they usually know who is, and this whole enterprise turns a corner when those local people decide that they've had enough and start to cooperate with the good guys. It takes good policing and some proper policy decisions to reach that point, but it is reachable. That's the fabled "tipping point." Whether or not we ever see it in A-stan, well that's an open question.