As discussed in the last post, the military organization that fights a counterinsurgency war isn't necessarily designed for that type of conflict. In fact, it's rare to find one, right out of the shrinkwrap, that has been preparing to fight guerrillas.
While, in the midst of fighting guerrillas, the military is making adjustments to its doctrine, organization, training, and equipment, soldiers are by necessity working alongside civilians also involved in the same counterinsurgency effort. Spies, diplomats, aid workers, technical advisors—if they're needed to move along the societal reforms that are part of the counterinsurgency strategy, they'll be there. However, that does not mean that they are all working together, or even see the conflict the same way. Centrifugal force is a fact of life in large organizations, including very large ones like the US government.
Again, the early years of the Vietnam War provide a cautionary tale. Between 1965 and 1968, it's hard to talk about "the US war effort" without a bit of a smirk. In fact, there were several different war efforts, often managed from outside Indochina altogether. The general in charge of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) only controlled the ground war. The air and naval "assets" also fighting the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front were controlled by high ranking generals or admirals in Hawaii or Washington, DC. The CIA had a decent working relationship with the Special Forces, but far less effective collaboration with the rest of the US military. In an era long before a joint special operations command was created, the different American special operations forces (SOFs) focused on different parts of the war. While Army's Special Forces advisors trained regular and militia units, the Navy's SEALs carried out operations up and down the rivers and coasts of Vietnam. The Agency for International Development (AID) delivered economic assistance according to a program set by legislators and bureaucrats in Washington. The US embassy in Saigon tried to exercise leverage on the South Vietnamese government and military, without control over the inducements and punishments delivered through separate agencies like AID.
Later in the war, US officials pushing reform on the South Vietnamese had to engage in some administrative reform of their own. A genuine partnership between the MACV commander and the US ambassador. The civilian and military bureaucracies merged to the point where civilians sometimes operated as the superiors of military personnel, and vice-versa. New endeavors, such as the controversial Phoenix Program, passed muster only if their output benefited the overall war effort. It may be surprising for many not familiar with the full history of the Vietnam War to hear the success of these reforms, which in turn made it possible to exercise leverage over the South Vietnamese more effectively. The Tet Offensive, which devastated the NLF, made it possible to capitalize on these reforms immediately. By late 1968 and early 1969, some districts that were once too dangerous for Americans to travel without an armed escort were relatively free of mines, snipers, and ambushes. Unfortunately, this part of the Vietnam story was lost in the clamor over the continued strategic bombing of North Vietnam and the expansion of the war into Cambodia.
In short, it's possible to overcome bureaucratic resistance within the US government to tighter integration of effort. The job of fostering this type of integration in an allied government is much trickier, especially when it runs counter to other reforms we are trying to foster. The United States might appear to be sending mixed signals when it simultaneously demands, on the one hand, a more effective unified chain of military and civilian command, and on the other, the devolution of central power through elections and other political reforms.
It's possible to do both simultaneously, without sacrificing one objective to another. Once again, the Huk Rebellion in the Philippines gives a few pointers in the right direction. The US advisory group fostered good relations with the Defense Minister, Ramon Magsaysay, members of this staff, and key military commanders. Over time, this group gained greater control over the fractious Filipino military. That control translated into the ability to keep military from making mistakes, such as allowing local commanders to run extortion rackets. It also made it possible for the military to operate more effectively, such as conducting psychological warfare campaigns, and breaking down the scale of operations to a more effective company and battalion size
Meanwhile, the government was also carrying out administrative reforms, before playing the election card. For example, judges, who also frequently abused their position for personal gain, fell under greater scrutiny. Mayors and other local officials were also targets of the government's anti-corruption campaign. The energetic Magsaysay made a point of following up on complaints, no matter how small or parochial, to build the perception that important reforms were already underway. The government carried out these programs, in concert with military clear-and-hold operations, in one district after another, to ensure that it could focus on making and consolidating reforms before it moved on to the next region.
By 1953, the scheduled date for national elections, the government's legitimacy was already on the rise. The United States' preferred candidate for president, Magsaysay, had already built a reputation for integrity and effectiveness. An increasing number of civilian and military leaders could be trusted in districts where the government had focused its attention. Therefore, the elections were about something important, control over an increasingly better government. Afterwards, whoever held an elected position could consolidate the gains of the government against the Huks, since officials could be better trusted.
The US mission in the Philippines that accomplished these successes with its Filipino partner was itself very small. During the critical years of the Huk Rebellion, the primary arm of US assistance, the Joint United States Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG), counted only 32 officers and 26 enlisted men. Clearly, for the US to help an allied government defeat guerrillas, size matters far less than other factors, including coordination of effort.
In the decades since the Vietnam War, the US government has taken some deliberate steps to ensure it would not repeat the mistakes of that earlier counterinsurgency campaign. Other changes inadvertently helped, including in ways that enhanced the coordination of effort within a single country or a region. One such "accidental reform" was the increase in the significance of the commanders-in-chief of the regional combat commands, such as CENTCOM and SOUTHCOM. The "CINCs", as they're informally known, acted almost as the viceroys of American power, handling more than just military duties in troubled regions like the newly-independent Central Asian countries, the "Stans" (Tajikstan, Uzbekistan, and the like).
Unfortunately, the CINCs' considerable influence made many people inside and outside the Defense Department nervous. Some were traditionalists who wanted a return to the neatly hierarchical model, with the chief of each service exercising more control over US forces deployed to than the regional commander who happened to be assigned there. Others were military reformers, who for a variety of reasons wanted to shift the CINCs' power to other parts of the Pentagon. One such reformer, long before the 9/11 attacks gave him greater latitude to implement his set of changes, was Donald Rumsfeld.
In early to mid-2001, Rumsfeld was fighting an uphill struggle to take power out of the hands of the CINCs. Rumsfeld wanted to alter the US military along the lines first proposed in the 1980s as the "Light Infantry Division" model. Rather than deploying large forces in potential battle zones, the US government would secure basing rights in these regions. The military—and in particular, the US Army—would be whittled down to a smaller number of "forward deployed" troops, augmented by a quick reaction force that could be airlifted or sealifted quickly wherever they were needed. Even the classic divisional-centric organization of the US Army would change, to be replaced by smaller units that could be deployed in smaller chunks. In Rumsfeld's mind, these reforms would cut the overall cost of the military budget, play to the US military's strengths (highly mobile, highly trained troops armed with superior equipment), and put control over national security policy squarely where he believed it belonged: in Washington, DC, not the regional headquarters of the combat commands.
This model might make sense, if the only conflicts the US fought were like the long-threatened second Korean War. On defense, Allied troops and the small US contingent fight a delaying action against an aggressor, while commanders in the United States quickly shift the mobile reaction force to the battlefield. On offense, US reaction forces would build up to the point where they considered themselves ready to start shooting. War plans could then be predicated on a replay of Operation DESERT STORM, where the US could use its undisputed advantage fighting conventional wars to win the day.
Obviously, this model might fits the Korean Peninsula, but is completely out of place in Somalia, Colombia, Tajikstan, Bosnia, or other countries torn by internal wars. Not only does it deploy the wrong type of troops for counterinsurgency warfare (with a few exceptions, such as the special operations forces), but this strategy instantly raises the political stakes beyond the point where people in the field can effectively fight a counterinsurgency war. It's no accident that the most successful post-9/11 counterinsurgency efforts, in places like the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia or Basilan Island in the Philippines, are the ones outside the spotlight.
The progress in Afghanistan, which received just as much media attention as Iraq initially, is also where the Rumsfeld strategy was not fully applied. Since conventional forces could not be mobilized fast enough to reach Afghanistan by the opening shots of the 2001 invasion, the special operations forces (SOFs) numbered far higher than they would in a "normal" operation. That fact, combined with the greater participation of NATO allies, has made all the difference in the occupation. While far from being as successful as it should have been, Afghanistan is in no way the messy debacle that Iraq has become.
The Rumsfeld approach shares the same defects as the LAPD's approach to policing Los Angeles before the 1992 riots. As the Christopher Commission and other critics argued, the LAPD had become addicted to its own version of the quick reaction force, two uniformed officers in a squad car. Rather than walking a beat to prevent crimes, the LAPD would rush to the scene of a crime that was already committed. While the post-riot commentary focused on how this approach created a divide between the police in the squad car and LA citizens requiring assistance, that was hardly the only problem. The police officer walking the beat (difficult, to be sure, in the suburban megalopolis of Los Angeles) built contacts within the community that amounted to both an intelligence network and good PR for the department. The beat cop also was a deterrent—not only because he could be coming down the street at any moment, but because people in the neighborhood who trusted him would relay any information they had about a crime to him. Clearly, one police officer with feet on the street could accomplish more than two, four, or ten in patrol cars.
At a much broader plane, the CINCs were, like it or not, closer to "the cop on the beat" than the alternative, a minimalist invasion force that clearly failed. The world's policemen landed in Iraq, truncheons swinging, and quickly overwhelmed the opposition. However, keeping a street corner in Inglewood or Karbala safe requires much, much more.