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The Ugly Truth: Insurgencies are Brutal

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The Ugly Truth: Insurgencies are Brutal


by Dr. Robert Bunker

Download the Full Article: The Ugly Truth: Insurgencies are Brutal

The recent release by of over seventy thousand classified U.S. Military documents pertaining to the insurgency in Afghanistan has generated immense media and public interest and is being compared in scale to the release of the 'Pentagon Papers' in 1965 by Daniel Ellsberg. Immediate U.S. governmental condemnations concerning unnecessarily placing troops in harm's way, on the one hand, combined with war crimes accusations, on the other, have only served to heighten the rhetoric surrounding the posting of these documents on the Web. The criminal and unauthorized manner in which this massive volume of documents was leaked has only helped to further politicize and emotionally galvanize commentators taking sides on this issue.

The intent of this short essay is to move past the hype, rhetoric, and passions of the moment and get to the core of the issue at hand. The ugly truth has nothing to do with who released the documents, why they were released, or even what political outcomes and potential policy fallout will occur after the dust settles. The core issue at hand is that insurgencies, by their very nature, are inherently brutal. This point was recently driven home after doing a considerable amount of research and reflection on issues pertaining to insurgent use of targeted killing, via both the techniques of assassination and political execution, and engaging in subsequent discourse on this topic with insurgency warfare scholars and practitioners. Further sensitizing me to this truth is that, prior to the insurgent analysis, I was recently involved in an edited book project on Mexican drug cartels and the criminal insurgencies taking place within the lands of our Southern neighbor with over twenty-five thousand dead since December 2006.

Download the Full Article: The Ugly Truth: Insurgencies are Brutal

Dr. Robert J. Bunker holds degrees in political science, government, behavioral science, social science, anthropology-geography, and history. Training taken includes that provided by DHS, FLETC, DIA, Cal DOJ, Cal POST, LA JRIC, NTOA, and private security entities in counter-terrorism, counter-surveillance, incident-response, force protection, and intelligence. Dr. Bunker has been involved in red teaming and counter-terrorism exercises and has provided operations support within Los Angeles County. Past associations have included Futurist in Residence, FBI Academy, Quantico, VA; Counter-OPFOR Program Consultant (Staff Member), National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center—West, El Segundo, CA; Fellow, Institute of Law Warfare, Association of the US Army, Arlington, VA; Lecturer-Adjunct Professor, National Security Studies Program, California State University San Bernardino, San Bernardino, CA; instructor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA; and founding member, Los Angeles County Terrorism Early Warning Group. Dr. Bunker has over 200 publications including short essays, articles, chapters, papers and book length documents. These include Non-State Threats and Future Wars (editor); Networks, Terrorism and Global Insurgency (editor); Criminal-States and Criminal-Soldiers (editor); Narcos Over the Border (editor); and Red Teams and Counter-Terrorism Training (co-author— forthcoming). He has provided over 200 briefings, papers, and presentations to US LE, MIL, GOV, and other groups in the US and overseas. He can be reached at

Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is an Adjunct Research Professor, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College and Adjunct Faculty, Division of Politics and Economics, Claremont Graduate University. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Distinguished Visiting Professor and Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College; Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico, VA; Staff Member (Consultant), Counter-OPFOR Program, National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center-West; and Adjunct Faculty, National Security Studies M.A. Program and Political Science Department, California State University, San Bernardino, CA. Dr. Bunker has hundreds of publications including Studies in Gangs and Cartels, with John Sullivan (Routledge, 2013),  Red Teams and Counterterrorism Training, with Stephen Sloan (University of Oklahoma, 2011), and edited works, including Global Criminal and Sovereign Free Economies and the Demise of the Western Democracies: Dark Renaissance (Routledge, 2014), co-edited with Pamela Ligouri Bunker; Criminal Insurgencies in Mexico and the Americas: The Gangs and Cartels Wage War (Routledge, 2012); Narcos Over the Border: Gangs, Cartels and Mercenaries (Routledge, 2011); Criminal-States and Criminal-Soldiers (Routledge, 2008); Networks, Terrorism and Global Insurgency (Routledge, 2005); and Non-State Threats and Future Wars (Routledge, 2002).


Firstly I am a Buddhist. Secondly from my working with foreign forces as a liaison officer, religion was rarely discussed.

Buddhism is a religion of peace, and rarely used to justify combat with an opponent (I expect there is something somewhere) but you would be hard pressed to use as a tool in an interrogation. Many Thais and Sinahlese are Buddhist but it doesn't conflict with their fighting. The monks bless them that they survive but not to kill their adversaries.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 08/23/2010 - 12:59am

Bill M:

Going back and analyzing the period of 2005 through 2007 actually might be interesting even from a religious perspective.

In 2005, Gen. Casey was in the process of redistributing/repositioning the BCTs into new
AORs which would have allowed him to in 2006 bring back one BN per AOR which would have been a solid drawdown beginning---specific BCTs were also tasked to potentially reposition in such a way as to allow for a 2nd BN to be redrawn as well but some BCT Cmdrs balked at the risk involved in covering down on an ever larger AOR with just three BNs.

This drawdown was in fact signalled to the 3/4 BCT as they deployed into Iraq in 2006--matter of fact they were told that they were in Diyala just to turn it over to the IA---this attitude allowed the 3/4 BCT to largely ignor the Sunni insurgent buildup to occur in Diyala after the 3/3BCT had largely pushed them back--which led the 1Cav to refight the fight in 2007 that the 3/3BCT had in 2005.

What is interesting is the fact that I really do believe that AQI through extensive recon pull detected these repositioning manuevers-especailly the shift of an tank BN by the 3/3BCT to support the Marines as a number of Diyala fighters had been previously in Fulluja and Ramadi before coming to Diyala through all of 2005.

Part of the AQI thinking was centered around fighting the US and causing losses of men and equipment-so if you see your enemy basically looking to pull out how does one stop it---through the use of religion--did in fact AQI shift to the provocating idea of ethnic cleansing by bombing/attacking a series of Shiia events just prior to the Golden Dome attack knowing how the Shiia would respond and at the same time knowing that the US would be forced to stop their withdrawal plans and then turn around and send more troops just to separate the ethnic warring groups in order to restore stability in order to not lose political face.

So the interesting question is were we played by AQI and was Bush denied the political gain of bringing troops home in 2006? If so could have extensive analysis using the "conflict ecosystem" have detected it as Kilcullen had written about it in 2004?

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 08/23/2010 - 12:24am

Bill M:

Even if interrogators thoroughly understood the historical development of Islam and the different directions of pull ie Salafi, Takfiri, Sufi or even the historical split between Sunni and Shiia or the five pillors of Islam would be a vast improvement and one does not need to be a Muslim soldier. Creating cognitive dissonance via the limited knowledge of the Quran does not get you anywhere agreed-but holding a long session using parables from the Quran with a Sunni Imam who is a strong leader in this community and I have talked with a large number of Imams who would get rolled up for alledged anti US Friday prayers as some BCTs during the rough years of 2005-2007 would take anything said against the US as an indicator of being AQI so we would see waves of Imams as we would see waves of sheep herders who were alledgely lookouts of IEDs and who worked for AQI.

I keep going back though to the captured journal of the IAI leader who hand wrote the entries from a few days after the start of the war in 2003 through the end of 2005---you would be surprised just how much of the journal was religious in nature and reflected his deep faith and it must have been deep as a number of leaders of the other Sunni groups spun out of the IAI and they had at one time or another all been from the same mosque or specific prayer group--so in case of the Sunni insurgent groups religion fostered a deeper resistance to the "infidel occuppier" which in turn reinforced the religion.

Again if the BCTs of the 2005-2007 period fully understood what Kilcullen meant by "conflict ecosystems" and were constantly monitoring the two sides maybe the ethnic cleansing would not have occurred as brutally as it did but honestly a large number of BCT commanders where just trying to get their soldiers home safe and sound especially since the 2005 election had gone off without a hitch.

Parallels now exist as they were in 2005 --namely the creation of the government after Dec 2005 dragged on forever allowing the vaccum to be filled by AQI who promptly bombed the Golden Dome triggering Mehdi Army into action---it is striking to see the same issue after this election and now the bombings are starting again and it is striking to see former high level Mehdi commanders coming back into Bagdad from Iran who had previously driven the ethnic cleasning of Sunnis in Bagdad-this is not an accident that history is repeating itself but an unfulfilled 1400 year old Islam conflict playing out with this time no US military pushback.


I don't know the answers to any of your questions, but suspect the appeal of religion (opium for the masses according to one communist leader, either Lenin or Stalin) will continue well beyond our short stay on this planet, and the more social upheaval we experience due to globalism and other factors the greater the gravitational pull of anything that provides identity (religion certainly does that).

As for U.S. interrogators shying away from using the Koran during interrogation, I'm not so sure that is as unwise you imply. Attempting to use the Koran with only a superficial knowledge of it during interrogation may backfire if the detainee demonstrates greater knowledge. If we develop a degree of deeper understanding of Islam (the Koran) in a select few (preferably Muslim Soldiers), then it would probably be a powerful tool. I have seen interrogators ask detainess how they justify violating the ethics of their religion, and occassionally that created some cognitive dissonance, but to what end? The Germans for the most part claimed to be Christian and I'm not sure greater knowledge of the bible would have assisted in stopping their campaing of mass murder. Buddists are also supposed to be non violent, but throughout history have been motivated to commit atrocities also. You may be able to reduce the zeal of some using religion, but religion is rarely the only motivating factor (if ever). Thoughts?

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 08/22/2010 - 12:18pm

Bill M:

Tend to agree with your comments---but there still remains the question as to why is still today religion or quasi religion still at the heart of most of conflicts---it is easier to mobilize individuals to fight under the banner of some religious edict or is it easier to fight under a "political reason" banner---seems to me that the insurgency groups of Iraq (both Sunni and Shiia) as well as those insurgency groups in Afghanistan have a religious foundation to them if so when why does the military shy completely away from explaining this to the troops and their commanders as the COIN theory they are operating under seems to run from it as an explanation of the driving forces of both insurgencies.

IE-have never seen in a recommended reading list for military personnel core Islam history books-have though seen some officers pickup on their own a few of the titles---but it was never widespread---or can any officer of enlisted personnel really give a simple thumb nail historical overview of the development of Islam? Have never seen interrogators or screeners knowingly review the Quran which if used correctly was a massive assistance in dealing with detainees--in fact mention the combination of the Quran and interrogators and the entire system would run for the hills---even today the USAISC stays away from it-- knew of only two that used the religious aspect in interrogation work and it was extremely effective---why are we so afraid?

In fact if one looks at the early Kilcullen writings he would have included religion in the analysis of a "conflict ecosystem".


It is almost impossible to separate religion from most conflicts, even if religion was not the underlying cause of the conflict, it is frequently championed later in the fight by all sides (except the communists) to add legitimacy to their cause and mobilize fighters. Even communism had a religious like appeal to it to many, and some historians said it affected people much the same way that religion did. By no means do I want to downplay the significance of religious wars or religion in conflict, but simply reinforce the author's message that all wars are brutal.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sat, 08/21/2010 - 4:35pm

Bill M;

1. did not the 30 and 100 Year Wars wipe out virtually all central Europe and they did not care if you were Catholic or Protestant, young or old, women, children, and men all were killed or starved out of central Europe

2. all of the German military under Hilter marched and fought with the belt buckle inscription "In God we Trust"

3. we could also look at the Turkish/Armenian conflict along the way

4. we could as well go back to the intra fighting on the Islam consolidation periods and the Crusader incursions

While maybe not matching in sheer numbers these religious wars left a major impact on the areas where they occurred-for hundreds of years if my history serves me well.

I would as well venture a guess that the Salafi jihadi revival is tied to some of these previous relgious wars.

The Taiping Rebellion killed an estimated 20 million people over a 20 year time period. WWI resulted in 16 million dead, and WWII resulted in 60 million dead (combined 76 million dead) in about half the time. Both Stalin's and Mao's purges killed more than 20 million in a fraction of the time. While I still think casualties from wars of religion pale to secular wars, the Taiping Rebellion does appear to be an interesting case study worth looking into more.

Outlaw 7 (not verified)

Sat, 08/21/2010 - 12:58pm


This is why you always need a sliding scale definition of what you are observing---this individuals resume is a perfect example of the resume of a climbing insurgent leader-on the Shiite side. Starts out on the criminal side, and works his way over to the violent insurgency side as his reputation grows---happens all the time in Iraq, Afghanistan, Columbia, Mexico etc.

Good example of the development of brutality in an internal ethnic cleasning operation that many were calling Shiite insurgent groups.
There is some indication that since the Sunni insurgent groups have retrained, and rearmed that Iran feels that the Shiite insurgent groups must be placed back into play and regardless of what one thinks they definitively do not toe the current Shiite government line.

Abu Dura, whose real name is Ismail Hafiz al Lami, served in Saddam Hussein's army up until 2000, when he deserted. He joined the Mahdi Army after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 , and quickly rose through the ranks by running criminal enterprise, extortion, kidnapping, and assassination rings, and by slaughtering Sunnis in Baghdad.

Read more:…


Sat, 08/21/2010 - 10:05am

What we need is 2700 chaplains who pray to Crom, then we could show these puny Christians and Muslims what a real religious war looks like...

Backwards Observer

Sat, 08/21/2010 - 9:01am


<em><blockquote>In the immortal words of Thulsa Doom...

That is power</em></blockquote>

Crom's cool...except last time I got in a hoedown I got my ass kicked. So to hell with him!

<i>The giveaway was that the link to that article appeared in google before I hit the search button.</i>

In the immortal words of Thulsa Doom...

<i>That</i> is power

Backwards Observer

Sat, 08/21/2010 - 7:55am


<em><blockquote>It may reassure you to know that the remarks to the Southern Baptists were a devious smokescreen, designed to be read and believed by The Enemy.</em></blockquote>

The giveaway was that the link to that article appeared in google <em>before</em> I hit the search button.

It may reassure you to know that the remarks to the Southern Baptists were a devious smokescreen, designed to be read and believed by The Enemy. It's a tactic meant to distract from the true Dastardly Plan, which is of course the ongoing effort to convert the women to whoredom and the men to homosexuality. Some of the kinkier SF types wanted to do it the other way round, but our essential conservatism prevailed.

It's all terribly secret and I'd insist that you burn this thread after reading it, but it'll all be out on WikiLeaks by next weekend, so it seems kind of pointless. Remember, you read if first on SWJ.

Somebody needs to lock this thread right now.

Backwards Observer

Sat, 08/21/2010 - 7:08am


<em><blockquote>I claimed cynicism, not wisdom, though perhaps at times they are the same.</em></blockquote>

I have oft been told that this is so.

I claimed cynicism, not wisdom, though perhaps at times they are the same.

In any event, if the wars were in fact a pretext to free the chaplains to convert, the conspiracy has failed so miserably as to be of no great concern. I doubt that the combined chaplains of Iraq and Afghanistan have converted enough Muslims to fill an average pew.

Backwards Observer

Sat, 08/21/2010 - 6:49am


<em><blockquote>Possibly these wars were just a pretext to get those chaplains in a position to get out there and convert the heathen, or possibly somebody's just telling an audience of Southern baptists what they want to hear. I incline to the latter view, but I've always been cynical about presumptions of ulterior motive.</em></blockquote>

Wheels within wheels, I defer to your greater wisdom. Perhaps, to paraphrase Churchill, Truth is now so precious that she must be attended by a Bodyguard of Absurdity.

Backwards Observer

Sat, 08/21/2010 - 6:36am


<em><blockquote>It's also sometimes difficult to determine, especially in retrospect, the extent to which "religious war" is actually driven by religion. Many a ruler has draped worldly ambition in a religious cloak: "defend/spread the faith" is an easier sell than "I want all the money".</em></blockquote>

Agreed. Look, I believe religion is a force for good. The Jefferson Bible is cool, as are many other religious texts. I also believe the United States of America is a force for good. Without the US participation in the Pacific Theater, I'd probably be a f*****g geisha or something. That would've sucked. Are human beings capable of always choosing wisely within the constraints of their time? This is often less than clear.

In all sincerity, thanks for the discussion.

Possibly these wars were just a pretext to get those chaplains in a position to get out there and convert the heathen, or possibly somebody's just telling an audience of Southern baptists what they want to hear. I incline to the latter view, but I've always been cynical about presumptions of ulterior motive.

Backwards Observer

Sat, 08/21/2010 - 6:13am

Dayuhan, thanks for your reply:

<em><blockquote>The word I used was "unlikely", but if you prefer "insane", so be it.</em></blockquote>

From Baptist Press:

<em><blockquote>Prior to Carver's remarks, NAMB's interim president, Richard Harris, told the group, "I can tell you that we could not be doing what we're doing to reach the world with the Gospel without our military, institutional, law enforcement and corporate chaplains.

"While we've been debating and discussing the Great Commission over the last year, our chaplains have been doing the Great Commission," Harris said.</em></blockquote>

So be it.

<em><blockquote>It's always tough for a European conflict to match an Asian score...</em></blockquote>

Is that what all the ROE discussions are about?

<i>To suggest such a thing would clearly be insane.</i>

The word I used was "unlikely", but if you prefer "insane", so be it.

It's always tough for a European conflict to match an Asian score... maybe we should rank them according to percentage of possible victims that are actually killed?

It's also sometimes difficult to determine, especially in retrospect, the extent to which "religious war" is actually driven by religion. Many a ruler has draped worldly ambition in a religious cloak: "defend/spread the faith" is an easier sell than "I want all the money".

Backwards Observer

Sat, 08/21/2010 - 2:57am


<em><blockquote>Are you suggesting that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are veiled crusades, fought to advance the spread of Christianity?</em></blockquote>

To suggest such a thing would clearly be insane.

Bill M:

<em><blockquote>couldnt find any credible estimates for casualties from wars of religion</em></blockquote>

Noone expects the Tai Ping Rebellion:

<em><blockquote>The Taiping Rebellion was a widespread civil war in southern China from 1850 to 1864, led by heterodox Christian convert Hong Xiuquan, against the ruling Qing Dynasty. About 20 million people died, mainly civilians, in one of the deadliest military conflicts in history.</em></blockquote>

World War 1 casualties:

<em><blockquote>The total number of deaths includes 9.7 million military personnel and about 6.8 million civilians.</em></blockquote>

This suggests that a single war begun by a Christian evangelist killed more people than World War 1. Respect.

When has there been a century that wasn't brutal? For all the mess that goes on today, it's worth remembering that the world as a whole is a lot more peaceful than it's generally been. Whether that's progress or a lull remains to be seen, but it's hard to see it as a bad thing.

Re this:
Were we ever successful in supporting a counterinsurgency where we sent large numbers of U.S. combat troops besides the Philippines? Our successes in El Salvador, Greece, and the Philippines (during the Huk rebellion when Lansdale supported Magsaysay) seem to have a common denominator, which is minimal U.S. overt presence in the insurgency. </i>

The extent to which these were "our" fights or "our" victories is debatable. From my own very limited slice of expertise I'd question the "success" of our current engagement in the Philippines, and I'd also question the "success" of efforts against the Huks, who were temporarily suppressed but subsequently re-emerged as the new People's Army.


I did some casual (read sloppy) online research, and couldnt find any credible estimates for casualties from wars of religion. However during the 20th Century according to conservative estimates the communists alone killed over 200 million people (not hard to imagine when you think of Stalin, Mao, the Khmer Rouge, etc.), and of course then you throw in the millions of civilian and military deaths caused by the two World Wars, plus the post colonial wars, other insurgencies, and other wars it is clear we just transitioned from a terribly brutal century into the unknown, but I suspect it will also be brutal.

While all wars are brutal, to include insurgencies, despite the title of the article I dont think the authors main point was that insurgencies are brutal. He wrote that his research on the Cartel insurgencies in Mexico simply reminded him about their brutality. I think his main point (besides his good advise to look very carefully before we leap into a situation that could become a quagmire) is that insurgencies have many gray areas and are drawn out for years. Another factor that makes insurgencies so tough to deal with are that they change in character over time, so the original reason that we agreed to enter the fight may no longer be so clear a few years down the road, but once were in pulling out is seldom a desirable option for multiple reasons. Afghanistan and Iraq may not the best examples, since we invaded and overthrew the existing governments, but they still illustrate the point. The invasion of Afghanistan was widely supported as legitimate (and just) after 9/11, but a few years down the road were now battling an enemy that is largely only indirectly related to Al Qaeda. In the meantime we are now supporting a government that has little to no legitimacy with its people, which is tarnishing our image and draining our resources. I dont think any policy maker saw that coming on 9/12/2001.

In Iraq we invaded supposedly to remove Saddam and find his weapons of mass destruction. A lot of other theories have been offered on why we may have invaded, but we didnt find WMD and after we captured Saddam the nature of the conflict changed and we found ourselves not only fighting an Al Qaeda franchise, but also in the middle of a major ethnic conflict. Perhaps policy makers should have seen that one coming, but again over time the character of the war changed, which made it harder to defend our presence.

In Vietnam, we were basically supporting our containment policy, but once we deployed combat forces we didnt have the option of withdrawing without losing face, and we gradually (or not so gradually) became entangled in war that we shaped as the free world against communism (which it was, at least to us), but many of the Vietnamese saw it differently. Again we found ourselves in bed with a host nation government that wasnt viewed as legitimate by its people (gray areas).

Were we ever successful in supporting a counterinsurgency where we sent large numbers of U.S. combat troops besides the Philippines? Our successes in El Salvador, Greece, and the Philippines (during the Huk rebellion when Lansdale supported Magsaysay) seem to have a common denominator, which is minimal U.S. overt presence in the insurgency. So maybe the lesson from the article and subsequent discussion is we should only commit to supporting nations that are experiencing insurgencies with one foot (CIA, Special Operations, State Department), and leave the other foot on solid ground so we can pull our other leg out if the character of the conflict changes to something we dont desire to support anymore. That way we can allow our general purpose forces to rebuild and prepare for the next fight that sadly is coming, even if we dont where it will come from.

Their insurgency problem may touch our interests, but it is still their fight.

<i>Um, (cough)...yes, certainly. So one would hope.</i>

Are you suggesting that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are veiled crusades, fought to advance the spread of Christianity? And here I was thinking it was All About Oil...

Always difficult to disprove such things, but it seems an unlikely theory from where I sit...

Anonymous, I don't have the stats at my finger tips, but I doubt that religious wars are more responsible for more deaths, or are more brutal than other causes of war. I think it would be highly improbable to assume that wars of religion have killed more than the millions killed during WWI and WWII, or the millions killed in the internal purges conducted by both Stalin and Mao.

Anonymous (not verified)

Fri, 08/20/2010 - 11:12am

Have not more people been killed in the name of any religion that most of the wars together?

Secondly--in this campaign against terror have not the Salafi/Takfiri Islam groups been killing far more Muslims than individuals of other faiths?

So to bring the conversation back to the original thesis---religious wars/insurgencies are always brutal period.

Now we can if we define the use of drugs to create wealth -maximum wealth that is---if we can equate that to being a religion then we could also say more people in say Mexico are being killed in the name of wealth ie religion than say in the civilian population of Afghanistan from the effects of military operations.

Backwards Observer

Fri, 08/20/2010 - 2:22am


<em>Certainly one would hope not to see the US Government applying it's resources to promote the spread of Christianity.</em>

Um, (cough)...yes, certainly. So one would hope.

Certainly one would hope not to see the US Government applying it's resources to promote the spread of Christianity. However, many individual Americans seem quite willing to place funds and time at the disposal of that cause, and there's not always a great deal that Government can do, legally, to stop them. An awkward situation, as the distinction is not always appreciated by the target audience.

I've witnessed the impact that a few individuals possessed by absolute conviction, loud voices, and a large supply of money can have, and the havoc they can wreak. I've often wished there was a way to escort them to some quiet place and apply a roll or two of duct tape, but there are, to put it mildly, complications.

Backwards Observer

Fri, 08/20/2010 - 1:40am


<blockquote><em>Surely we shouldn't (and couldn't) run about the globe trying to settle every fight out there. There's way too many of them.</em></blockquote>

Agreed. But does the little scheme of marching up and down the globe to convert the rest of the world to Christianity in order to fulfil the Great Commission increase or decrease the likelihood of fights?


<blockquote><em>A Word from God

As-Salaamu Alaikum!
I would like to share some Good News with you today, my Muslim friend.

God the Creator
Jesus is more than a prophet of God. Unlike Abraham, Moses, and Noah, He is God, the Living Word. As the Holy Qur'an states, "O Mary! Allah giveth thee Glad tidings of a Word from Him; his Name will be Christ Jesus" (Surah 3:45). This means that Jesus is a Word that God put in the womb of Mary.</em></blockquote>

Correct me if I'm mistaken, but Judaism itself seems to dispute the claim that Jesus is the Messiah because he cannot trace a patriarchal lineage through the Davidic line.

From Outreach Judaism:

<em><blockquote>Christendom paid no small price for becoming the repository of pagan lore. The consequences for adopting the doctrine of the virgin birth created a theological disaster from which the church has never recovered and rendered every royal and priestly claim it has made for Jesus impossible.</em></blockquote>

Maybe some attention should be paid to these matters by the Abrahamic faiths before initiating religious confrontations in regions that aren't ready to assimilate them peacefully.

Bill M.

Thu, 08/19/2010 - 11:15pm

Getting back to the article and a question proposed by anon, why did someone have to tell us what we already knew, which is that insurgencies are brutal? In my opinion it is due to excessive political correctness in our ranks, which came from the universities that produced our current crop of officers. Political correctness is about perceiving the world in a way that follows certain rules, but has NOTHING to do with the way the world really is. It is the new Greek mythology on steroids.

99.9% of all insurgencies are brutal (to include the vast majority of successful ones, that is a reality). Gandhis movement while impressive didnt convince the Brits to pull out of India, that decision was already made (it made have influenced their timeline). What isnt mentioned is the millions killed when East and West Pakistan was created, and the additional tens of thousands of killed when East Pakistan (Bangladesh) separated from West Pakistan. What is also masked with the focus on Gandhi is that India has and currently has more active (brutal militant ones) insurgencies than any other nation in the world. This example is intended to show the world as it really is, versus the world projected by those who wear PC blinders.

Im not sure the author is correct that we feel more compelled now to get involved in than in previous periods in our history, as I recall getting involved in quite a few during the Cold War and politicians debating getting involved in others. I would like to see a historian compare the number of insurgencies (of course we need an accepted definition) were experiencing today compared to the number experienced during the Cold War. I think with the exception of Vietnam, we were just smarter then and largely let State, CIA, and SF assist the host nation, which kept the insurgency the host nations to win or lose. When we park the Marine and Army divisions in that country, then it is our insurgency to win or lose.

Many of us strongly agree with the paragraph COL Maxwell quoted, and I think we need politicians and policy makers that are more swayed by their individual wisdom and courage than by political advisors focused on poll numbers. If they sincerely believe that an internal struggle is truly in our national interest, then how they shape our involvement is critical. Ideally well shape our support as simply support to the host nation, and be clear in our words that the conflict is will be won or lost by the host nation, were just supporting a friend because it is in our national interest to do so. We dont need to say that if the host nation is not effective, well cut our losses and leave and let history take its course, and deal the best we can with the aftermath.

Political advisors will tell policy makers scary stories about how pulling U.S. support will equate to a political disaster, but in reality, Reagan survived pulling out of Lebanon when it was untenable, Clinton survived pulling out of Somalia, and LBJ probably would have survived pulling out of Vietnam before we committed combat troops (especially if his domestic policies were successful). The real danger isn't in pulling out (during the early stages) or not getting involved in the first place, but in getting entangled in a war that can't be won (without extreme brutality).

It doesn't matter what decision a politican makes, he/she will always be attacked by the opposition. Maybe if we had seen more courageous political leadership we wouldn't have had many of the problems we experienced with other nation's insurgencies?
We need to get back to relying on wisdom instead of political pressure. Losing over 50,000 thousand men in Vietnam in a questionable war so LBJ would look strong against communism isn't much different than the political pressure felt today that is forcing less than wise decisions to appear strong against terrorism.

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 08/19/2010 - 10:43pm


If I'm looking at a conflict I want to strip it of labels and assumptions, start from the ground up, and understand it for what it is, not for what my definition says it should be.

This is the core---without a description or a generalized description with indicators HOW do you even know if you are looking at a conflict--the violence side easy as violence is something that can be seen and felt but is it an insurgency-ie narco terrorism, ship highjackings---are they part and parcel of an ongoing insurgency some might say yes, some say no.

Now if it is non violent without a defintion to work with what do you do---if you notice the definition is to get you closer to an explanation of what you are seeing--I did say that one needs then a detailed analysis of what you are observing-so I think we are saying the same thing.


Re this:
A definition should never be a be all end all concept---it should though get you into the ball game of potentially explaining just what the heck one is observing thus it can in effect appear to be all inclusive.</i>

I'm a little less ambitious: I'm just trying to make sense of the conversation. Of course in my own personal world I'm not trying at all to get into the ball game, just trying to avoid being hit by the ball!

I only stress the definition question because I note that SWJ conversations on "insurgency: often seem to go awry because different participants are talking about very different things. Robert Jones, for example, has a quite narrow and targeted definition of insurgency; yours is extremely general. Not for me to say that either is better or worse, right or wrong, but it's going to make it difficult for the two of you to have a useful discussion of insurgency, or counter insurgency.

I personally believe that generic studies of "insurgency" by any definition are of limited value in understanding any given insurgency, and to the extent that they create preconceived expectations may actually obstruct understanding. If I'm looking at a conflict I want to strip it of labels and assumptions, start from the ground up, and understand it for what it is, not for what my definition says it should be.

So the potential for violence should only concern us when it's labeled as an insurgency?
Violence or the potential for violence, whether it's labeled insurgency or not, concerns us if it has an impact on our interests. Surely we shouldn't (and couldn't) run about the globe trying to settle every fight out there. There's way too many of them.

Backwards Observer

Thu, 08/19/2010 - 1:31pm

Robert C. Jones wrote:

<blockquote><em>Often what is labeled as sectarian violence is wildly off base as religion is a great way to pick teams and motivate the masses to participate in all kinds of mischief.</em></blockquote>

I guess if folks assured of an E-ticket in the afterlife are all fired up to push inter-faith dialogue into the realm of kinetic energy exchange, there's not much can be done to prevent it. Spiritual brinkmanship for the faithful.

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 08/19/2010 - 12:38pm


A definition should never be a be all end all concept---it should though get you into the ball game of potentially explaining just what the heck one is observing thus it can in effect appear to be all inclusive.

The key is that the definition gets you in the game, then it is the individual analysis of that observation that is in fact the "game" itself---everyone fell all over the early writings of Kilcullen especially his "conflict ecosystem" but as we tend to be--discovered it involved a fair amount of grey cells to both understand and to be used as an analysis tool thus one rarely sees analysis centers using it as a key tool---there is only one analysis center that I can think of that uses it and has developed it into a major tool and focused it on combatting the flow of money to an inusregency and sometimes when they present their work the audience's reaction is really strange.

Again the sliding form of a defintion is the way forward in COIN---this prohibits to a large degree the institutionalization of the definition for as insurgencies evolve so must the defintions being used must be able to evolve as the old saying goes-nothing stands still in history-it only repeats itself if one is ready to observe intently.

Bob's World

Thu, 08/19/2010 - 11:05am

Often what is labeled as sectarian violence is wildly off base as religion is a great way to pick teams and motivate the masses to participate in all kinds of mischief.

The wars of reformation in Europe were between Catholics and Protestants, but were not about religion, they were classic insurgency to throw of the illegitimate governance of the Holy Roman Empire.

Similarly the troubles in Northern Ireland are often characterized as Catholic vs. Protestant; but again are classic insurgency to throw off the illegitimate British Government.

I would suggest looking to see if the established government favors one segment of the populace over the other as a basis of religion; and if the answer is yes, then you most likely are dealing with an insurgency that is employing a religion-based ideology to motivate the masses to rise up and effect political change.

Backwards Observer

Thu, 08/19/2010 - 9:51am

Hi Dayuhan, you wrote:

<em>Not terribly sure how that sort of sectarian violence qualifies as insurgency, though...</em>

So the potential for violence should only concern us when it's labelled as an insurgency? Thanks, that answers my question.

Sectarian violence in Indonesia has a fairly extensive history, and there's a good deal of blame to go arund on all sides of the equation. I doubt that you'd get a neutral view of affairs from <i>Christianity Today</i>. Sidney Jones at ICG has done some very good and generally even-handed work on the subject.

Not terribly sure how that sort of sectarian violence qualifies as insurgency, though...

Backwards Observer

Thu, 08/19/2010 - 6:23am

A more current follow-up to the question:

<blockquote><em>2. If non-violent insurgency is permitted to take place then the government and its arms of enforcement are operating in a more open society; so what are we worried about?</em></blockquote>

Religious Tensions Rise In Indonesia (Christianity Today Blog, July 6, 2010):

<blockquote><em>Christianity has been making significant gains in Indonesia, according to Time magazine, which reports that the number of evangelical Churches in communities like Temanggung in Central Java have gone from zero in the 1960s to more than 40 today. While Indonesias government and most of the nations Muslims are more moderate, more radical groups like the nine in Bekasi have become increasingly agitated.

According to the Post, Bekasis radical Muslim leaders say that area Christians have broken an unwritten rule against attempting to convert people who have already chosen a religion.

"If they refuse to stop what they're doing, we're ready to fight," said Murhali Barda of the Islamic Defenders Front, according to the Associated Press.</em></blockquote>…

Probably not a reason to worry, however. As history teaches us, religious tension rarely spills over into violence. This is likely due to the belief in a loving and merciful Creator.

I don't think it's possible to propose a definition of insurgency that doesn't have a little grey around the edges... but I also see no point in proposing a definition so expansive that it includes practically all political dissent and a fair amount of profit-oriented crime. If we do that, any discussion of countering insurgency would have to be prefaced by some sort of description of what sort of insurgency we plan to counter: are we talking about drug smugglers, rebels who want to overthrow a government, protesters waving signs about saving whales, special interest terrorists, or something else? It's not as if there will be a single strategy to counter all of them.

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 08/19/2010 - 12:22am


Just a side note you have a similiar sliding scale definition of what you are observing when you are working Indications and Warnings.

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 08/19/2010 - 12:15am

Dayuhan;---narrowing it down actually not, I would remain with the same definitions.

The core problem in COIN has been the attempt to fit all COIN terms into doctrinal definitions which I believe in fact have out lived their usefulness as any insurgency changes from country to country, culture to culture and a one for all definition is what is giving the current COIN debate a perception of cognitive dissonance ie the belief that one could export the COIN theories and experiences used in Iraq straight into Afghanistan---I would venture a guess that the Iraq COIN models would as well not work with FARC or against Abu Sayaf or the remaining Tamil Tigers or for that matter the AQ groups in Somalia, Yemen, Morocco, or Algeria.

The definition must have the ability to fit the observed, and from the observed coupled with the theory of open source warfare and the theory of ecosystem insurgency (Kilcullens' conflict ecosystem)an analysis of the what is being observed can begin.

Make the definition to narrow and then you began the game of trying to redefine what it is that one is observing. IE how would one define the current Iranian Green movement which initially grew out of mass demonstrations/rallies that walked over the edge of violence and then dissapated when the government cracked down with it's own form of violence and now is virtually underground--now it would be interesting to see how they are surviving the hunt down by the counterinsurgent ie the government as struturally they must take on the insurgent organizational techniques in order to survive.

Which goes to what I previously have said sometimes simply surviving as an insurgent group or non violent organization is the supreme driving goal.


Wed, 08/18/2010 - 11:29pm


That's an extremely inclusive definition, embracing a great deal of activity that many of us would see as a normal part of political life. It embraces a great deal of activity that does not need to be (and in fact should not be) "countered", and a great deal that would elsewhere be called simple criminal activity best countered by domestic law enforcement.

I suspect that to draw any conclusion that's really relevant to a discussion of COIN you'd have to narrow that down by several orders of magnitude.

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 08/18/2010 - 11:55am

Part of the problem with the current COIN debate is that as it is institutionalized by the military into the doctrinal side---the military tends to structure the term in a fashion understood by the military thus in fact placing it in a straightjacket.

COIN in the 21st century has to be a breathing living entity in order to change as the insurgency reasons and environments change---and basically that does lend itself well to military terminology.

Producing what seems to me to be a term that is hard to use to explain some inusrgenices while it easily explains others.

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 08/18/2010 - 12:42am


In the tradition of the KISS principle here is a definition of insurgency that fits both the violent and non violent types and allows for the use of "conflict ecosystem and open source warfare analysis" into the reasons driving the evolution and resistance.

•insurgent - in opposition to a civil authority or government
1. If violent then guerrilla: a member of an irregular armed force that fights a stronger force by sabotage, harassment, targeted killings, swarm attacks, IEDs, virtually anything that is disruptive to the counterinsurgent ie government and that can even include corruption, smuggling, illegal money exchanges etc.
2. If non violent-- then a protestor using any form of ie civil disobedience, passive resistance, mass demonstrations, basically anything short of the use of violence against a civil authority or government

Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 08/17/2010 - 9:47pm


The narrow focus of the COIN debate in America will eventually end, but as long as irregulars defy state authority, police and military forces will employ a variety of means--some new, others stretching back thousands of years in origin--to combat them.

Well put my friend ---well put.

Kilcullen's 2004 article on "conflict ecosystem" applies as effectively to criminal insurgents as well as to Salafi based insurgents---it is the evolution of the groups that needs further explanations and the current COIN methodology being pushed by the Army or other organizations such as the Human Terrain approach simply do not provide the answers that are needed.

That is why Robb's theories of "open source warfare" go along way in explaining that evolution process-ie VBIEDs being used by Mexican narco gangs.

There has been some extensive work done in the area of quantum physics but the COIN field seems to not understand the results but individuals such as Robb fully understood the results as validating his theories.

DARPA's response to the research---"well when we get the hardware side gap narrowed then we will revisit it"---what the heck does that mean in light of the fact that the research has been completed and is running on laptops?


The definition question may sound pedantic, but in the context of any given discussion it's sometimes useful to know where people are coming from. I also feel that part of our problem with grasping "insurgency" is that we apply the term to such a wide range of conditions. In this discussion alone it's been applied, for example, to both criminal gang enterprises and non-violent movements for political change, a pretty broad spectrum. Expandin the definition to that extent makes it very difficult to come up with any generally relevant conclusion.

If we're looking at the rapid expansion of Sunni resistance, I'd have to think one factor would have been the imminent prospect of a Shi'a government, potentially an existential threat. Few things motivate violence as effectively as fear.

Survival is certainly desirable for any insurgency, but I still don't think it's an end in itself, or an adequate measure of success.

John P. Sullivan (not verified)

Tue, 08/17/2010 - 7:25pm


This is an excellent essay; followed by an equally impressive discussion. In the discussion thread, I especially found the distinction between the bazaar and <i>foco</i> in violent insurgencies a useful conceptual frame. I also agree that not all insurgencies are violent and that the violent ones can often be brutal.

I believe the current doctrinal defintions of insurgency are overly narrow and believe the "criminal insurgency" variant is on the rise (especially in Mexico and Latin America, but also in the Nigerian Delta). Lot's happening to learn from and refine our approaches.

In that vein, Adam Elkus and I have a new essay up at openDemocracy which might compliment Dr. Bunker's excellent piece and this important discussion thread. See John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, "Strategy and insurgency: an evolution in thinking," <i>openDemocracy,</i> 16 August 2010 at…