The Phoenix of Counterinsurgency -

The Phoenix of Counterinsurgency

Thomas R. Mockaitis
DePaul University


For the last three decades of the twentieth century, soldiers and academics confidently proclaimed the death of counterinsurgency (COIN) as a major form of warfare. They asserted that the vast majority of COIN campaigns occurred at the end of the colonial era as nationalist insurgents ushered European powers out of Africa and Asia. The passing of empires meant the end of this most vexing form of warfare, so the reasoning went. The United States, in particular, turned its back on unconventional conflict, embittered by the experience of Vietnam and committed to the defense of Western Europe and South Korea. The end of the Cold War had little impact on this mindset, especially when the first Gulf War seemed to vindicate faith in conventional arms. The complex humanitarian missions of the 1990s bore a striking resemblance to COIN for those who wished to look beneath the surface differences. The Somalia debacle, however, reinforced the conviction that irregular operations should be avoided, not studied. Only the inescapable realities of Afghanistan and Iraq have forced the rediscovery of effective COIN methods and then only after much blood and treasure had been wasted. This article traces the evolution of COIN and argues that it will remain a prevalent form of warfare for the foreseeable future.


1 When I began to study counterinsurgency (COIN) over 20 years ago, most analysts had relegated it to "the dustbin of history." They equated it with a series of disastrous colonial wars that had unceremoniously ushered the European powers out of Africa and Asia. The few successful campaigns, such as the Malayan Emergency, appeared to do little more than delay inevitable independence and ensure that the successor state would be at least somewhat favorable to the former colonial master. In Northern Ireland, the British had achieved a desultory stalemate with the Provisional Irish Republican Army, but even this conflict seemed an echo of a dead imperial past that might eventually produce yet another British withdrawal and a unified Ireland. Few saw in the campaign any lessons worth capturing for future use.

2 With the exception of the British, who had little choice, no Western military establishment embraced COIN as a core task, least of all the Americans. The bitter experience of Vietnam had disillusioned the US Army and Marine Corps to such an extent that they practically expunged the term "counterinsurgency" from their lexicon. The Southeast Asian war was seen as a diversion from their proper task of defending Western Europe and the Korean peninsula.1 It had so damaged morale and effectiveness that many officers in the mid-1970s referred to a "broken army" that would have to be rebuilt as an all-volunteer force. Under the circumstances, American officers could be forgiven for wanting to have nothing more to do with COIN.

3 Reluctance to face them, however, could not make unconventional threats disappear. The US military needed to retain at least some irregular warfare capability. The Nixon doctrine proclaimed that in the future the United States would not take the lead in opposing insurgency, but it might help a threatened state to do so. This approach relegated COIN to "Aid for Foreign Internal Defense," one task under the new heading "Low Intensity Conflict" (LIC). There it would remain for the next two decades, although the category to which it belonged would change first to "Military Operations Other than War (MOOTW) and then "Stability and Support Operations (SASO)." This shifting terminology and the relegation of COIN to these catchall categories revealed a strong distaste for anything but kinetic warfare in which armored divisions could kill people and break things.

4 Doctrine, of course, does not carry out missions. The US military still needed someone to perform the odious tasks grouped under LIC, MOOTW, and SASO. The task fell naturally to Special Forces: Green Berets, Navy Seals, and, after the disastrous mission in the Iranian desert, Delta Force. The creation of Special Operations Command by the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act in 1986 reinforced the tendency to treat unconventional operations, especially COIN, as a specialist function. This approach worked well enough for the remainder of the Cold War, but it had a serious, unforeseen consequence. The vast majority of US soldiers received little or no training in COIN, a task they believed they would never perform.

5 The chaotic decade that ignited the end of the Cold War offered several conflicts that demonstrated the continued need for unconventional war doctrine and training. The humanitarian interventions in Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo resembled counterinsurgency campaigns more than they did either traditional peacekeeping operations or conventional war.2 However, the 1991 Gulf War seemed to confirm and validate America’s faith in a purely kinetic approach to armed conflict. The brief and disheartening Somalia mission reconfirmed the wisdom of staying out of someone else’s war. When American troops deployed to Bosnia in 1996 and Kosovo in 1999, they went in heavy, hunkered down in fire support bases, like Camp Bondsteel, and sallied forth in armed humvees with GIs in full "battle rattle" (Kevlar flak jackets and helmets). The difficult task of working closely with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local civil institutions fell, once again, to specialists. Civil Affairs battalions drawn overwhelmingly from the Reserve component relieved regular units of the need to perform tasks that might have better equipped them to conduct operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

6 Counterinsurgency has repeatedly proven itself the phoenix that will not die, no matter how much regular armies wish for its demise. How best to educate, train, and equip security forces to conduct COIN campaigns, however, remains a particularly vexing question. The study of successful campaigns to derive broad lessons that may shape contemporary theory and practice offers one useful approach to the problem.

Defining Terms

7 Imprecise definition often hinders clear understanding of insurgency, which some analysts and many policy makers equate with terrorism. Insurgency is an organized effort to gain control of a country from within through a combination of subversion, guerrilla warfare, and terror. Insurgencies grow out of bad governance. Insurgents try to persuade disaffected groups that they can meet the needs of ordinary people better than the current regime. Once the insurgents erode support for the government, they use guerrilla warfare to undermine further its credibility. As the military arm of the insurgency, they use hitand-run tactics against police, administrators, and small military units, melting back into the sympathetic population after each operation. Guerrilla tactics wear down government forces and/or provoke those forces into retaliating against the population in which the guerrillas hide, thus encouraging more people to support the insurgents.

8 Insurgents employ terror, but unlike contemporary terrorist organizations, they do so very selectively. "Agitational terror" attacks on government buildings and assassinations further weaken the regime, while "enforcement terror" keeps reluctant supporters in line.3 Overuse of either costs the insurgents the popular support they require to succeed. Limited use of terror and clear political objectives distinguish classical insurgency from utopian terrorism, which aims at broad ideological goals, has few other tactics except terror, does not distinguish between military and civilian, and seeks mass casualties.

9 Beyond these common characteristics, insurgencies have taken many forms. Mao Zedong developed a strategy for communist insurgency based on gaining support in rural areas and isolating cities. He saw insurgent guerrillas swimming in a sea of peasants that would eventually drown cities.4 His writings provided the theoretical framework for many rural insurgencies, including the Ho Chi Minh’s war of national liberation against the French in Indochina. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara used a variant of this approach, known as the foco theory, to take over Cuba.

10 Few insurgencies in the post-colonial world gathered enough momentum to overthrow an established government. They might, however, provoke the security forces into over-reacting to such an extent that the international community intervenes on behalf of the insurgents. The Kosovo Liberation Army used this strategy with great effect against the Yugoslav Army. Ethnic cleansing drew condemnation from the international community, which led to intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1999.

11 Often insurgencies improve the quality of life for the people, even if they do not seize power. The Basque insurgent organization Fatherland and Liberty (ETA in the Basque language) has yet to achieve an independent state and probably never will, but it has secured from the Spanish government considerable autonomy, use of the Basque language, and respect for Basque culture. Although the Fabrundo Martí National Liberation Front failed to overthrow the Salvadoran government, it became a legitimate political party in a more open, democratic process. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) did not drive the British from Northern Ireland, but it brought attention to discrimination against Catholics, which led to improvements in their quality of life and earned Provisional Sinn Fein – the PIRA’s political arm -- a share in political power.

12 Counterinsurgency includes all efforts taken to defeat insurgency. Successful COIN requires a comprehensive strategy that attacks the root causes of unrest while working to destroy the insurgent organization without harming the general population. Most disaffected populations seek improvements in their quality of life. Jobs, schools, clinics, and better infrastructure go a long way in defusing popular anger at the government. Once these basic needs have been met, political participation in a truly democratic process can undermine support for the insurgents.

13 But development cannot occur in an environment of insecurity. Military and police forces must protect threatened populations and attack insurgent guerrilla units. In doing so, however, they must keep the use of armed force focused on the insurgents and proportional to the threat. Such control and restraint can only be maintained when the security forces have good intelligence on the insurgents. Defeating insurgents, as British General Frank Kitson observed, consists "very largely in finding them."5 The best intelligence comes not from coerced confessions but from voluntary cooperation by people persuaded that the government really cares about their well-being. As living conditions improve, even insurgents may become disillusioned enough to surrender, especially if they are offered amnesty and perhaps cash rewards for accurate information on their erstwhile comrades.

14 Counterinsurgency becomes even more complicated for a foreign government supporting a threatened state that it wishes to help but does not control. The threatened regime may accept military aid to fight the insurgents but resist demands for reforms that would erode their privileged positions.6 This problem occurred in the case of El Salvador. US advisors encouraged the Salvadoran military to respect human rights, but the Salvadoran government knew perfectly well that the Reagan administration placed a higher priority on combating communism than it did on promoting human rights or social justice in Latin America and thus did little to improve their performance and image in this field.7

Anti-colonial Insurgencies and British Counterinsurgency

15 Numerous insurgencies occurred during the period 1945 to 1970 as part of the process of decolonization. European states weakened by the Second World War faced nationalist movements determined to gain independence. Virtually all of these conflicts resulted in European withdrawal, although a few left pro-Western regimes in place. The steady stream of insurgent victories led some observers to assert that no conventional army could defeat an insurgency that enjoyed popular support, the central theme of Robert Taber’s 1965 classic, War of the Flea.8 This misreading of history prompted J. Bowyer Bell to respond with, The Myth of the Guerrilla: Revolutionary Warfare and Malpractice, which clearly demonstrates that insurgent victories came primarily against "soft" colonial targets.9

16 Few conventional militaries have had as much experience of counterinsurgency as the British Army. For most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the British engaged in a continuous series of border skirmishes, internal security operations, and full-scale counterinsurgency campaigns. They conducted these operations in a variety of settings throughout an empire covering a quarter of the earth’s land surface and encompassing 25 percent of its populations. Out of this diverse and extensive experience, the British fashioned a flexible approach based on three broad principles: minimum force; civil-military cooperation; and decentralization of command and control.10 Although far from a magic formula for defeating insurgents, the British approach had yielded more success than that of any other nation faced with internal conflict.

17 Despite its impressive record, British counterinsurgency has received considerably less attention than it deserves, particularly in the United States, where British victories have been explained away or dismissed outright. Failure to appreciate fully the value of the British approach stems from several factors. First, the American experience in Vietnam created an understandable distaste for counterinsurgency in general and British counterinsurgency in particular. Abortive efforts to apply British methods developed during the Malayan Emergency (1949-60) produced few results and could not recoup the deteriorating situation. As a result, US officers concluded that the two conflicts differed so much that little of value could be transferred from Malaya to Vietnam, save perhaps in the area of jungle tactics.11 American receptiveness to British ideas was not helped by Sir Robert Thompson, head of the British Observer Mission to South Vietnam, who was openly and vociferously critical of the American approach without fully appreciating significant differences between the two campaigns.12 Thompson, who had helped design the winning strategy in Malaya, rightly pointed out that both the South Vietnamese Army and its American allies misapplied most of the British methods, and that, in any event, these methods could not compensate for serious shortcomings in the American approach. Such sentiments, freely and frequently expressed, did not endear Thompson to his American "advisees." In fairness to the Americans, Vietnam never was a purely counterinsurgency campaign.

18 Not only was the post-Vietnam military disinclined to learn from the British, they wanted little or nothing to do with counterinsurgency at all. Many considered the war in Southeast Asia a wasteful episode fought under difficult circumstances with insufficient political support and far too much interference from on high. The conflict diverted valuable resources from the military’s proper task of defending Western Europe and South Korea. The US Army, with its preponderance of heavy divisions and commitment to maneuver warfare, seemed ill suited to unconventional war, which was best left to Special Forces. The Nixon doctrine shifted counterinsurgency to the umbrella category of "Low-intensity Conflict," and relegated it to Special Forces, who would advise and assist threatened friendly governments as part of "aid for foreign internal defense."13

19 More serious objections to the British approach came from scholars who saw British victories as too closely tied to colonialism to be of much use in the postcolonial world.14 They pointed out that in Malaya and elsewhere British forces enjoyed an extraordinary degree of control over local populations and could promulgate quite draconian emergency regulations with little accountability to domestic opinion in the United Kingdom or international scrutiny. These critics further noted that British "victories" were little more than holding actions to delay the inevitable imperial withdrawal and perhaps handover to pro-British successor governments. Finally, they could point to rather ignominious defeats in Ireland (1919-21) and Palestine (1945-47).15

20 While such criticisms are not without merit, they overlook several important points. British counterinsurgency did not end with the empire. One of its most spectacular successes came in Oman (1970-75), and even the Troubles in Northern Ireland seem to be ending on terms that do credit to the British Army’s handling of the crisis. The army adapted its counterinsurgency experience to the task of Wider Peacekeeping, as the new United Nations humanitarian interventions of the 1990s came to be called.16 The British contingent in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Kosovo Force has performed better than most of its counterparts in the difficult tasks of security and rebuilding.17

21 Furthermore, those who fail to see the continued efficacy of the British approach often mistake specific tactics, which cannot be copied, for broad principles, which can. Finally, the performance of British troops in the current Iraq insurgency demonstrates learning from past campaigns and the continued efficacy of the British approach.

22 A clear distinction must be made between methods and principles. Copying specific tactics from one campaign and applying them slavishly to another will almost certainly result in failure. The Americans learned this in Vietnam where efforts to copy New Villages used in Malaya led to the disastrous Strategic Hamlet program. Oddly enough, critics of the British approach continue to latch onto a single objectionable tactic from a single campaign to dismiss the whole approach.18 Tactics, however, change with time and circumstances. Some must be rejected as ineffective or unacceptable. The basic principles remain the same.

23 Of all the nations threatened by insurgency during the second half of the twentieth century, Britain alone has enjoyed any success in combating it. From 1948-60, British forces defeated a communist insurgency in Malaya, one of the few such victories of the Cold War. During the same period, they suppressed revolts in Kenya and Cyprus. From 1970-75, seconded British officers and special forces units helped the Sultan of Oman defeat a communist insurgency launched from neighboring Yemen. In the most challenging campaign of all, British forces spent more than 30 years combating a tenacious insurgency in Northern Ireland. A truce brokered in 1998 has, with a few exceptions, held up, Sinn Fein has moved into legitimate politics, and the Irish Republican Army recently announced its intent to disarm.

24 The British have, however, experienced some significant failures. They withdrew from the mandate of Palestine in May 1948 following an unsuccessful campaign against Zionist insurgents seeking to establish the state of Israel. In 1967, they pulled out of Aden after a desultory war in that country. In each case, though, the British determined fairly quickly that the insurgency could not be defeated or was not worth the cost of trying to do so. No hearts and minds campaign could have matched the powerful, emotive force of Zionism and the international sympathy it drew after the Holocaust. The struggle lasted just over two years, cost the British 338 dead, and the insurgents even fewer.19 Withdrawal from Aden resulted more from a reassessment of Britain’s role east of Suez undertaken by the Labour government when it came to power in 1966.20 Again, the British lost few people in a relatively brief campaign. Nothing like an Algeria or Vietnam tarnishes the British record.

25 Further evidence of the continued value of the British approach to counterinsurgency may be found in the peace enforcement operations of the 1990s. Building upon methods developed during a century of imperial policing and counter-insurgency, the British army adapted its methods to operations in Bosnia and particularly Kosovo. The effectiveness of this approach, presented in the manual Wider Peacekeeping, may be seen in a comparison of the sector in Kosovo with that of other coalition members. The British had foot patrols on the ground in Pristina virtually from the time they arrived. They thus prevented retaliation against Serbs common in other brigade areas, including the American.21 A similar failure to preserve law and order following the invasion of Iraq produced consequences that plague the US military to this day.

The British Approach

26 British counterinsurgency developed out of a unique legal framework and more than a century’s experience handling civil unrest. At the core of the British approach lay the common law principle of "aid to the civil power." English common law requires anyone to aid the civil authorities when called upon to do so and makes no distinction between soldier and civilian. During a state of war British forces do not operate in aid to the civil power and are subject to the Mutiny Act (the equivalent of the Uniform Code of Military Justice) and international law, such as the Geneva Convention. Internal conflicts, however, occur under conditions in which civil authority still operates. This legal framework would have profound implications for the conduct of internal security operations ranging from riots to full-scale rebellion.

27 To begin with, aid to the civil power put the civilian authority firmly in control of handling unrest. A magistrate would typically request troops to quell a disturbance and provide general guidance for their employment. He would not exercise tactical control of the troops, but the military would be held accountable for its action under ordinary civil law. Quelling temporary disturbances such as riots proved to be relatively straight forward. Full-blown insurgencies presented a more complex challenge requiring the civil authorities to work in close partnership with the military and police. This partnership resulted in a comprehensive approach that was intended to address the causes of unrest while countering its violent manifestations.

28 Aid to the civil power also placed significant restrictions on the ability to use force. Like police and those called upon to aid them, soldiers were bound by the common law principle of minimum force. According to this principle, soldiers could use just enough force to achieve the immediate effect of stopping violent unrest in a particular location. Following the infamous massacre at Amritsar, India in 1919, General Reginald Dyer faced disciplinary action not because he opened fire on an illegal meeting, but because he continued firing after the crowd had begun to disperse. As long as the offenders were British subjects, soldiers had to exercise restraint when facing unrest ranging from riot to insurgency. "There is, however, one principle that must be observed in all action taken by the troops: no more force shall be applied than the situation demands."22 A legal principle could not, of course, prevent excesses from occurring, but it did have the desirable affect of subordinating use of military force to a broader political strategy aimed at addressing the causes of unrest and winning the hearts and minds of disaffected people.

29 Winning hearts and minds has become a much-maligned, often-misunderstood concept that conjures up images of soldiers building playgrounds for smiling children, diverting personnel and resources from their proper task of fighting wars. A hearts-and-minds campaign, however, consists of little more than soberly assessing what motivates, then addressing, people to rebel. In most cases unrest stems from bread and butter issues. Lack of jobs, decent housing, electricity, running water, health care, and education can motivate people to accept or even actively support insurgents. Once their basic needs have been met, however, people may desire political freedoms, the absence of which can also fuel an insurgency.

30 The realization that insurgency demands a political solution and the legal limits placed on the amount of force the military could use led the British to develop a comprehensive approach to counterinsurgency. Soldiers and police (collectively dubbed "security forces") provided a shield behind which political, social, and economic reform took place. Improving conditions encouraged ordinary people to provide intelligence on insurgent activity. This intelligence in turn allowed the security forces to take the offensive. Successful operations often encouraged insurgents to surrender (provided they were granted amnesty and perhaps a cash incentive) producing more intelligence leading to further success.

31 Combining the various elements of the British approach into a coherent and effective counterinsurgency campaign required a mechanism of coordination. During the Malayan Emergency the British developed a committee system at district, state, and federal levels. At the lowest level, these committees consisted of the district commissioner (a civil administrator), the local chief of police, and the commander of troops in the area (usually a lieutenant colonel commanding a battalion). The High Commissioner and Director of Military Operations, Sir Gerald Templer, insisted that committees meet at least once a day, if only for "a whiskey and soda."23 The system worked well in Malaya and could be adapted to a variety of situations right up to and including Northern Ireland and Iraq.

32 The British facilitated cooperation with the police and civil authorities through extended military postings. Dubbed "framework deployment," this approach kept units in a specific locale for extended periods rather than moving them around. Soldiers, like police officers on a beat, have to know an area intimately. They met the locals, learned who belonged and who did not, and developed good relations with community leaders. This prolonged contact sometimes yielded valuable intelligence on the insurgent organization and operations. At the very least, soldiers learned to spot "the absence of the normal and the presence of the abnormal."24

33 The British approach to counterinsurgency did not offer a panacea. The British made serious mistakes even in successful campaigns and experienced significant failures. Some insurgencies cannot be defeated even with the best of approach, as the British learned in Palestine (1945-47) and South Arabia (1964-67).25 Nonetheless, the British have a better track record in counterinsurgency than any other nation. This success comes not from any special wisdom or unique gifts possessed by British soldiers. It stems from an accident of history. Britain’s insularity spared it the need to field a large conventional land force. With the navy as the first line of national defense, the British army developed as an imperial police force, whose primary task was to secure and maintain order within an empire covering a quarter of the globe. Given so much experience with internal security, British soldiers got relatively good at it. Even the inevitable disengagement from empire during the second half of the twentieth century occurred in relatively good order. The army then adapted what it learned in half a century of colonial conflicts to the postcolonial tasks of peace operations in Bosnia and Kosovo and to their operations in Northern Ireland and Iraq.

Other National Experiences

34 What I have called the British approach to counterinsurgency is not exclusive to Britain. The military history of many nations, particularly those with empires, offers relevant examples of successful counterinsurgency based on the same broad principles of minimum force, civil-military cooperation, hearts and minds, and decentralization of command and control. The conventional war focus of most Western armies, however, prevented scattered historical COIN experience from significantly impacting their institutional culture and doctrine. Nonetheless, a brief overview of other national experience reveals that any conventional army can adapt to unconventional threats and successfully combat insurgency.

35 Like Britain, France acquired an extensive overseas empire. Unlike the island nation, it always needed a large conventional army to defend its extensive land borders. Of necessity that army focused on conventional conflict, which comprised the bulk of its military experience. Nonetheless, the French military enjoyed considerable success in its campaign to pacify Morocco during the interwar period. Field Marshall Lyautey developed an "oil spot" strategy, clearing insurgent areas and holding them with garrisons who then swept the surrounding countryside, spreading like pools of oil over troubled waters. Unfortunately, this success did not produce an effective COIN doctrine that survived into the turbulent post-war era.

36 France fought two disastrous counterinsurgency campaigns in the post-1945 period. In Indochina it faced a protracted conflict following its reassertion of colonial control in 1945. The communist Viet Minh leader Ho Chi Minh conducted a classic Maoist "people’s war" beginning with insurgency and leading up to a conventional victory over the French at Dien Ben Phu. While France could probably not have maintained colonial control much longer, it might have handed power to a more stable, pro-Western regime. Unfortunately, the French made every conceivable mistake a threatened regime can make. It fielded a heavy, road-bound army, over-relied on firepower, and relinquished control of the countryside to the Viet Minh. Most significantly, France had nothing to offer the Vietnamese people to address the demand for independence.

37 Far from teaching the French the value of a different approach, the experience of Indochina had little positive effect on France’s next colonial conflict, the Algerian civil war. Although French forces enjoyed some success in routing out rural insurgents, they faced a more formidable challenge in the capital city of Algiers. Determined not to fail again, the army launched a brutal but ultimately successful campaign in the city. Making liberal use of torture, they assembled a detailed intelligence picture of the insurgent organization dubbed an organogram. This information allowed them to neutralize the National Liberation Front in Algiers.26 However, the political fallout from the "Battle of Algiers" destroyed any tactical gains it achieved. Support for the insurgency grew in Algeria as support for fighting it waned in France. The French granted the former colony independence in 1962. Algiers provides the clearest example of how easy it is in counterinsurgency to win the battles but lose the war.

38 The US military also had substantial counterinsurgency experience in the first half of the twentieth century. It fought and defeated nationalist insurgents following conquest of the Philippines during the Spanish American War of 1898 and conducted successful interventions against guerrillas in Latin America during the interwar period. These operations required a skillful combination of small-unit, counter-guerrilla operations and civic development to win the hearts and minds of local people. Unfortunately, the experience of World War II washed away the memory of these conflicts so thoroughly that the American military entered Vietnam having forgotten most of the counterinsurgency lessons it had learned in the preceding 50 years.

Afghanistan, Iraq, and the World of the Twenty-First Century

39 9/11 changed the world of military thought as it altered so much else. The need to invade and occupy Afghanistan to root out the Taliban and al-Qaeda revived a need to conduct effective counterinsurgency operations. The invasion of Iraq also underscored this need. In both wars, soldiers have relearned these lessons at great cost in blood and treasure, but the learning curve has been steep. American forces and their coalition partners have adapted to the difficult circumstances of unconventional war. Nowhere has this learning been more clearly demonstrated than in the US Army’s new COIN manual, FM 3-24: Counterinsurgency. This publication incorporates the broad principles of British counterinsurgency: winning hearts and minds, using force in a selective manner based on good intelligence freely given, and civil-military cooperation. Whether or not the new approach will succeed in Iraq or be a sad case of "too little, too late" remains to be seen. One thing at least seems certain, insurgencies and insurgent-style conflicts will occur for the foreseeable future and armed forces must prepare to deal with them. The phoenix may become dormant for a time but it is certain to be reborn yet again.

Thomas R. Mockaitis is Professor of History at DePaul University.


1 Peter Dunn, "The American Army," in Ian Beckett and John Pimlott, eds., Armed Forces and Modern Counterinsurgency (London: St. Martins, 1985) argues that defining Vietnam as outside the militaries’ proper task kept a generation of officers from learning from the experience.

2 For a discussion of COIN as a model for the new peace operations of the 1990s, see Thomas R. Mockaitis, Peace Operations and Intrastate Conflict: the Sword or the Olive Branch? (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999).

3 Thomas P. Thornton, "Terror as a Weapon of Political Agitation," in Harry Eckstein, ed., Internal War: Problems and Approaches (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1964), p. 73.

4 Mao Tse-Tung, Selected Military Writings (Peking, 1966), pp. 244-48.

5 Frank Kitson, Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency, Peace-keeping (London: Faber and Faber, 1991), p. 96.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Robert Taber, The War of the Flea: A Study of Guerrilla Warfare Theory and Practice (New York: Granada, 1965).

9 J. Bowyer Bell, The Myth of the Guerrilla: Revolutionary Theory and Malpractice (New York: 1971).

10 Thomas R. Mockaitis, British Counterinsurgency: 1919-1960 (London: Macmillan, 1990).

11 R.O. Tillman, "The Non-lessons of the Malayan Emergency," Military Review (1966).

12 Sir Robert Thompson wrote several books highly critical of the US military in Vietnam. See Defeating Communist Insurgency: Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam (London: Chattis and Windos, 1965); No Exit from Vietnam (New York: David McKay, 1970); and his autobiography, Make for the Hills (London: 1990).

13 Military Operations in Low-Intensity Conflict, FM 100-20, Joint Army-Air Force publication, 7 March 1989.

14 See, for example, John Newsinger, British Counterinsurgency from Palestine to Northern Ireland (London: Palgrave, 2002).

15 See Anthony Short’s review of Mockaitis, British Counterinsurgency, in Times Higher Education Supplement, 2 May 1991.

16 Wider Peacekeeping, fifth draft (London: HMSO, 1996).

17 Thomas R. Mockaitis, Civil-Military Cooperation in Peace Operations: the Case of Kosovo (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 2004).

18 Caroline Elkins, "The Wrong Lesson," The Atlantic Monthly (July/August 2005), pp. 34-36, focuses on abuses in Kenya to argue that the British approach has little to offer in Iraq, ignoring its success in Oman and Northern Ireland.

19 Mockaitis, British Counterinsurgency, 1919-1960, p. 44.

20 Ibid.; Thomas R. Mockaitis, British Counterinsurgency in the Post-Imperial Era (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1995), p. 63.

21 Ibid.; Mockaitis, Civil-Military Cooperation in Peace Operations.

22 Notes on Imperial Policing and Duties in Aide of the Civil Power (London: HMSO, 1949), p. 5; for a discussion of the evolution of the principal of minimum force, see Mockaitis, British Counterinsurgency, pp. 21-27.

23 Mockaitis, British Counterinsurgency.

24 Conversation with serving officer, unattributed.

25 The British made serious errors in both campaigns, but ultimately the lack of any commensurate benefit to justify the continued cost in blood and treasure led to withdrawal.

26 See Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-62 (New York: Viking, 1978).