THE OTHER, SMALLER Wars on Ter­ror

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

In late 2001 the United States launched Op­er­a­tion En­dur­ing Free­dom, a sweep­ing mil­i­tary re­sponse to the at­tacks of 9/11. Both Tal­iban-con­trolled Afghanistan and postSad­dam Iraq con­sti­tuted pri­mary bat­tle­fields for the Bush Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “Global War on Ter­ror.” Less well doc­u­mented, how­ever, are the U.S.-led ef­forts in a va­ri­ety of ‘small wars’ since 2001, cam­paigns that have taken Amer­i­can sol­diers from the Horn of Africa to the south­ern ar­chi­pel­ago of the Philip­pines.

In proac­tively ad­dress­ing the threat of global ter­ror net­works, the U.S. has of­ten found it­self as a par­tic­i­pant in a set of smaller in­sur­gen­cies. By deny­ing ex­trem­ists the sanc­tu­ar­ies they of­ten find in th­ese re­mote cor­ners of the globe, West­ern forces have threat­ened the tra­di­tion­al­ist norms that char­ac­ter­ize many of th­ese pre­mod­ern so­ci­eties. This has had the po­ten­tial to bring demo­cratic re­form and — per­haps most crit­i­cally — West­ern aid, but it has also repo­si­tioned the cen­ter of grav­ity from the in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist to the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion.

David Kil­cullen, a 20-year vet­eran of the Royal Aus­tralian Reg­i­ment and one of the world’s fore­most ex­perts in coun­terin­sur­gency doc­trine, sets out to de­scribe U.S.-en­gage­ment in th­ese “hy­brid wars.” In a trans­formed amal­ga­ma­tion of tra­di­tional counter-ter­ror and coun­terin­sur­gency ef­forts, wars are now be­ing fought against two “dis­crete but of­ten in­ter­con­nected and loosely co­op­er­at­ing classes of non­state op­po­nent— ter­ror­ist and guer­rilla, post­mod­ern and pre­mod­ern, ni­hilist and tra­di­tion­al­ist, de­lib­er­ate and ac­ci­den­tal.” By tak­ing the fight to the of­ten im­pla­ca­ble ter­ror­ists, the U.S.-led forces have alien­ated the lo­cal guer­ril­las who have granted ex­trem­ists safe haven. Th­ese “ac­ci­den­tal guer­ril­las” fight not for in­ter­na­tional ji­had, but in small wars of re­sis­tance against the West­ern in­vader.

If there is an ex­pert to tell this story, it is Kil­cullen. From com­mand­ing mil­i­tary ad­vi­sory teams in In­done­sia to serv­ing as a con­sul­tant in Iraq to Gen­eral David Pe­traeus dur­ing the Surge, Kil­cullen has con­sis­tently been on the front lines of coun­terin­sur­gency. “The Ac­ci­den­tal Guer­rilla” charts im­por­tant trends in warfight­ing, draw­ing on Kil­cullen’s the­o­ret­i­cal anal­y­sis as well as his ground-level ex­pe­ri­ence in Afghanistan and Iraq. The book then looks to other, smaller con­flicts in East Ti­mor, South­ern Thai­land and Pak­istan, along with rad­i­cal­iza­tion in Euro­pean cities, ex­am­in­ing the ac­ci­den­tal guer­rilla syn­drome in prac­tice.

It is Kil­cullen’s eye for de­tail re­gard­ing th­ese smaller con­flicts, and his abil­ity to place them in the greater con­text of U.S. ef­forts since 9/11, that sep­a­rates this work from the host of other books on the U.S. ven­tures in Iraq and Afghanistan. His case stud­ies are care­fully cho­sen, though oth­ers might be in­cluded in a more com­pre­hen­sive ac­count, most notably So­ma­lia, North Africa, and the Philip­pines. The key strate­gic logic un­der­ly­ing th­ese smaller wars is the in­di­rect ap­proach, lim­it­ing US in­volve­ment to train­ing and sup­port­ing lo­cal forces in a largely ad­vi­sory role.

U.S. op­er­a­tions in the Philip­pines have acted as a poster-child for the in­di­rect ap­proach. The mis­sion there cen­ters on a joint spe­cial op­er­a­tions task force launched in 2002 to help the Armed Forces of the Philip­pines root out Abu Sayyaf, Jema’ah Is­lamiyah and other Is­lamist el­e­ments that have taken refuge in the south­ern is­lands of Min­danao and the Sulu ar­chi­pel­ago. Op­er­a­tion En­dur­ing Free­dom-Philip­pines, along with many of the low in­ten­sity coun­terin­sur­gency ef­forts Kil­cullen doc­u­ments, of­fers a dif­fer­ent model from Iraq and Afghanistan. The sta­tus of forces agree­ment in place be­tween the two al­lies lim­its the rules of en­gage­ment for US troops. The spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces spread across the south­ern is­lands of the coun­try are sta­tioned along­side their Philip­pine coun­ter­parts, with a man­date to aid in the fight against th­ese pre­dom­i­nantly do­mes­tic ter­ror groups while not di­rectly en­gag­ing in com­bat op­er­a­tions.

For the ma­jor­ity of U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tors in the Philip­pines, con­duct­ing op­er­a­tions ‘by, with, and through’ the Philip­pine forces is no doubt frus­trat­ing. But as with any del­i­cate po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, sup­port from the U.S. must come with a heavy dose of sen­si­tiv­ity to the sovereignty of the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment.

The U.S. is able to pro­vide in­valu­able sup­port in the form of in­tel­li­gence shar­ing, force train­ing, and fund­ing for civil-mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions. As Colonel Bill Coul­trup, com­man­der of the joint task force, ex­plained, “The goal is to set con­di­tions for good gov­er­nance, and you do that by re­mov­ing the safe havens of th­ese ter­ror­ist groups and ad­dress­ing the spe­cific con­di­tions that con­trib­ute to those safe havens.”

In this model there are fewer doors to kick down or en­emy camps to strike. Progress is achieved by help­ing gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary forces be­come the face of law, or­der and de­vel­op­ment in hos­tile re­gions where poverty pro­vides con­di­tions con­ducive to ter­ror­ist sanc­tu­ar­ies. Net­work-based ter­ror groups thrive on any heavy-handed gov­ern­ment com­bat where col­lat­eral dam­age to the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion serves as an ef­fec­tive re­cruit­ing mech­a­nism for what Kil­cullen terms the “ac­ci­den­tal guer­rilla.”

Work­ing “by, with, and through” other forces in th­ese low-in­ten­sity con­flicts is not ap­pro­pri­ate in ev­ery case. On the suc­cess of op­er­a­tions in the Philip­pines, Ma­jor Gen­eral Sal­va­tore Cam­bria, Com­man­der of Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Forces in the Pa­cific, is quick to point out, “This is a model, not the model.” The in­di­rect ap­proach is also heav­ily de­pen­dent on the po­lit­i­cal vi­a­bil­ity and in­tegrity of the part­ners we choose to sup­port. Find­ing lo­cal so­lu­tions to lo­cal prob­lems is es­sen­tial to the fu­ture vi­a­bil­ity of Op­er­a­tion En­dur­ing Free­dom and corol­lary ef­forts around the globe.

With am­bigu­ous terms like “ter­ror­ist,” “in­sur­gent,” “guer­rilla,” and “re­sis­tance” be­ing thrown about hap­haz­ardly by many in the main­stream me­dia, there has been an acute need for a timely, in­ci­sive work such as Kil­cullen’s.

Per­haps one of the great­est dan­gers of con­flat­ing global ter­ror­ists with lo­cal in­sur­gents is the way in which the United States has un­in­ten­tion­ally made a false equiv­a­lency into an ac­cu­rate—and deadly—threat. By mis­tak­ing guer­ril­las for ex­trem­ists, the U.S. has of­ten acted as a force-mul­ti­plier for the global ter­ror­ist net­work. One hopes Kil­cullen’s crit­i­cal dis­tinc­tion be­tween ter­ror­ist and ac­ci­den­tal guer­rilla will help the United States dis­ag­gre­gate and dis­tin­guish be­tween its en­e­mies in the fu­ture wars it fights, both large and small.

Richard Ben­net is a Re­search As­so­ciate in Na­tional Se­cu­rity Stud­ies at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions.

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