Small Wars Journal

Some Advice for the Libyan Insurgents

Some Advice for the Libyan Insurgents by Lieutenant Colonel John Malevich, Canadian Army, at the US Army Counterinsurgency Center Blog. BLUF: "The good news is you have implanted the idea of freedom and government of the people, for the people by the people. Kadhafi's mercenaries might be able to defeat you, but not your ideas."


Robert C. Jones (not verified)

Sun, 03/20/2011 - 10:26am


True, not every insurgency is our concern, but these in the Arab core are the beating heart of the "Global War on Terrorism." AQ merely conducts UW to fan the flames; the Iraq conflict was never truly connected to the issues of GWOT; and Afghanistan lost its GWOT nexus some 8 years ago. Hunting and killing the UW actors; and stabilizing those two states are in fact distant sideshows that distract us from the main effort. The main effort has always been the relationships between the many people of North Africa and the Middle East and their governments, and in turn, the relationships between those troubled regimes and the U.S. and the West.

Preserving these governments and enabling them to drift into such impunity and despotic approaches to their own people are what have stoked the fires of rebellion. This is what AQ has successfully tapped into with their UW campaign. It is the perceived role of the US and the West in enabling those governments and insuring their survival with our blood and treasure that has made those external parties priority targets of those whose primary goal will always be nationalist liberty in their respective homelands.

To hold governments in protective amber as we have done for 60 years accepted as the lesser evil for the first 40, but has been growing increasingly less tolerated over the past 20. To continue to try to sustain the unsustainable would be a tragic mistake, making the causation for terrorism ever greater, even as our service men battle away on the fringes in places like Anbar and Helmand as described by Navguns. Just because we have made something our main effort, it does not mean it is the main effort of the larger problem at hand.

To allow these governments to all simple collapse to disorganized revolt is better than attempting to hold them static, but will lead to tragic chaos for the affected people and disrupt the world economy in major ways that we can only guess at.

So what lays between the false hope of holding governments static the false promise of revolution? Compromise.

Now is a time for compromise. A time for the US to shift to a more neutral role and to help hold the parties in check and to help open and guide the type of dialog that can shape such compromise and lead ultimately to the type of controlled evolution in governance that will bring true stability to this region, and truly address the COG of this thing we have simply labeled "GWOT."

Bill M.

Sat, 03/19/2011 - 10:31pm

I'm not sure that it is in our interest to get "in front of" of every popular uprising to help keep the current power in place. Socieities and governments evolve over time to adapt to their environments (to include the perceived needs of the populace), and this change tends to make those of us in the West nervous because we generally believe the devil you know is better than the devil you don't (at least from a business view point). We all too often tend to side with the losing side (Shah of Iran as an example) when change is unstoppable, and when the unstoppable change happens we're suddenly without friends in that country, so the good news is we didn't side with Qadhaffi.

Now that the Cold War is over with, in most cases we may be better off simply becoming a disinterested third party that will do business with whatever side prevails based on the desires of the people who live there (not imposing our ideology). If we're intervening in Libya based on principle then one wonders why we don't intervene in Burma/Myanmar, Sudan, North Korea and assorted other locations where governments brutalize their people?

I understand that the Arab League asked us to intervene, and since this "may" be part of a true transformational movement throughout the Arab World that will ultimately result in a more peaceful world there may be considerable merit in our support to their people as long as we don't get overly engaged and try to shape their future course like we did in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can suppress Libya's major military forces to provide some level of protection to the people, but ultimately after that it will be their fight to win or lose.

Not every uprising is an insurgency, and this is hardly phase III of an insurgency, it is simply an unorganized popular uprising and the government has decided to suppress it with overwhelming force. Leaders will emerge with their followers over time, and I suspect as in most situations like this they will not be unified. If it doesn't come to a close relatively quickly we'll probably be looking at a combination civil war with emerging insurgencies and years of aimless violence. My concern at this time is that simply suppressing Libya's airpower, armor and artillery won't necessarily stop Libya from effectively employing their military and mercenaries who are presumably better trained and organized to eventually finish off the rebels. It may in fact simply prolong the struggle and suffering by creating parity. If our bureaucracy (U.S. and world opinion) allowed us to react quicker suppressing Libya's main combat elements may have allowed the rebels to prevail when they had momentum. That may not be the case now, so what happens next if this is insufficient?

Navguns (not verified)

Sat, 03/19/2011 - 6:55pm

I'm still shaking the dust off DCU's my from Iraq/al-Anbar and AFG/Helmand province (Sangin & Now Zad).

For the good of the order, let's not superimpose COIN on the Libyan drama just yet.

Bob's World

Sat, 03/19/2011 - 4:51pm

Ideology cannot be contained, Liberty cannot be denied.

I will add this caveat on Mao. Obviously Mao did not "invent" insurgency, he merely discovered it and described and organized the principles as he saw and applied them.

In places like Libya and across the middle east do not expect a slow, lock-step growth through the logical stages of insurgency as described by Mao. We will have instead what Galula desecribed as "unpredictable" and as an "accident" of explosive transition from peace to rebellion.

This is not nearly as accidental or unpredictable as Galula described it, but Galula looked at these events through the eyes of a man who had been a colonist or a suppressor of colonial insurgency his entire life. When a populace is denied the ability to organize and conduct the low level operations Mao described as part of phase I and II through harsh, oppressive intel and police work as Arab rulers employ so well those stages will not occur.

Instead, a situation that would support a phase II or even III insurgency is pent up, and when triggered by some event, explodes in the "accident" described by Galula. The danger of such suppressed insurgencies, is that when they go they are raw and unorganzized and tend to lead to a period of anrchy until some strong man or group emerges.

Western interests are probably far better served by "regime modification" than by "regime change" in such cases. Diplomats need to get in front of the wave, and rather than chasing insurgencies, engage the leaders where events have yet to be triggered to encourage the modifications of governance necessary to vent the pressure within the populace before it explodes.

A good short tutorial on Maoist insurgency from Lieutenant Colonel John Malevich, Canadian Army. Mao remains relevant and we are wise to continue to study his writings (after all, he studied Clausewitz and George Washington and the American Revolution in detail) A couple of things I would add. First as a corollary to the below advice, the best and fastest way for a conventional counterinsurgency force to defeat an insurgency is to allow (or perhaps entice or force) the insurgency to move to Phase III before it is ready. Whether because of miscalculation, arrogance, or lack of training and understanding of the "way" (in the Taoist sense!) of insurgency, if the insurgency moves to Phase III the conventional counterinsurgency force could have a field day on the battlefield. This is one of the ways that the application of mainly military force can lead to the defeat of an insurgency (or at least the military element of the insurgency - defeating the underground and auxiliary still requires intensive intelligence, special operations and/or law enforcement operations. And lastly of course the ideology behind the insurgency will need to be defeated as well but I digress).

In terms of advice (and external support) to the insurgents, if one wants to see success by the insurgent/rebel force there are two options. One is to hope that they develop a charismatic and capable leader who can hold the movement together for a long time through the difficult years (yes YEARS) ahead because it will need the equivalent of a long march and the ability to learn from their mistakes and adapt and develop their insurgent capabilities. The second option could be to provide advice and assistance in the form of support to an unconventional warfare campaign from an external source to include supplying resources as well as advisors. I am not necessarily advocating deploying US SF (though that would be the correct force to employ in this case) unless it is deemed in US interest and there is strategy and campaign plan to support. However, if one were to determine it is in our interest there are operations that can be conducted that would increase the chance of rebel/insurgent success (however we could define that!)

Lastly, per the advice below, we should understand that Phase I correctly executed provides the foundation for ultimate success. This is really where the insurgency is won or lost and something that counterinsurgents often overlook.