Small Wars Journal

The "Lone Guerrilla Paradox"

The "Lone Guerrilla Paradox" and the Failure of COIN Doctrine in Afghanistan - Greg Grant, Defense Tech.

The New York Times runs a story today from reporter Rod Nordland in Kandahar about the shift in strategy there away from a military headlined offensive to more aid and reconstruction efforts, with a gradual increase in coalition constables walking the streets...

These are surprising statements coming from somebody as well versed in counterinsurgency as McChrystal. Insurgents don't typically "raise the flag," except perhaps in the final stages of an insurgency when they've won the political contest. As far as Kandahar is concerned, the fact that Kandahar city is "functioning" doesn't mean the insurgents don't control Kandahar.

One of the many fatal flaws in U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine is the failure to understand the "lone guerrilla paradox," a concept that has vexed counterinsurgents from Algeria to Vietnam to now Afghanistan...

More at Defense Tech.


Mike Few (not verified)

Fri, 06/11/2010 - 12:16am

Thanks slap. I'm gonna give a day to let your thoughts and ken's simmer and await greg's response.

When that pot boils to fruition, I'll sample a taste a provide a response :).

slapout9 (not verified)

Thu, 06/10/2010 - 9:18pm

Mike Few,if you check I think you will find that Jeff Rice is talking about classic Marxist theory where there is a difference between "force" and "power". Power is a social movement, class warfare type stuff, social movements. Force usually involves weapons but not always. I think the article is all wrong myself,doesn't make since from what I remember of reading Jeff Rice. It has been a long time since I read it so I could be wrong.
If!!!!you were the lone ARMED guerrilla in an UNARMED village you when be king in the use of force but you would not have a lot of POWER, as Ken White has pointed out, when you lie down and go to sleep at might just wake up dead from a lot of people that have power in the village.

Ken White (not verified)

Thu, 06/10/2010 - 11:35am

The so called lone guerrilla paradox is a severely flawed theory. A lone insurgent in a village has a monopoly of force and that is a recurring theme in US Western movies also, the bad guys rule the town...

Both are fiction. While potentially true and almost certainly such things occurred, do and will occur, they are the exception rather than the norm. In the fictional west, there were far too many armed Civil War veterans for that situation to be at all common.

The problem in real life is that 'lone guerrilla' is a person and the other villagers are people and people react in unpredictable ways. Said lone guerrilla may find himself visited in the night by his friends and neighbors with nothing more than clubs. You never know when people will tire of harassment or attempts at intimidation...

More common is the lone 'guerrilla' who doesn't terrorize anyone personally but has connections to the insurgency and informs on others -- even that person is subject to collective attack by the potential victims. For every one that is successful in that role, there is at least one other who's run out of town. There's also a military way to remove the problem but the academy and the media object to that as extra judicial killing.

More problematic is the traveling band of hoodlums / guerrillas or whatever who flow from the bush into town in strength and proceed to extract information and blood for various reasons. That is impossible to preclude without masses of troops and / or superior intelligence (which is extremely difficult to obtain, particularly so for third parties).

That NYT article seems reasonably objective, if disappointed due to no 'action' to report -- Media types hate that...

Grant's recycle of his <a href=… 2009 article </a> is noted.

The issue is of course that 'COIN' as a technique is designed for a government to counter a Maoist insurgency. The <u>theory</u> -- and it is just that, no more -- is not a good fit for a third party intervenor in a civil war or non-Maoist combat actions. Particularly if inadequate troop strength may be a problem or the host government shows signs of independence and own ideas...

Since Afghanistan is effectively on autopilot and downslope and the co-opting of Kanadahar was an excessively optimistic idea, the real news is that there is no news.

Media types hate that...

Mike Few (not verified)

Thu, 06/10/2010 - 9:20am


I'll have to recheck the "monopoly of force" reference. I was taught that in the beginning, guerrillas have a monopoly of infomation (they can see the gov't and the gov't cannot see them) while the state holds the monopoly of force (Army and security forces).

Otherwise, interesting commentary.


Chuck Chappell (not verified)

Thu, 06/10/2010 - 9:12am

Getting a 404 error on that Defense Tech link.