The Sunni tribal uprising against Al Qaeda in Iraq, known as the Anbar Awakening, was the decisive event in the counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. To capitalize on discontent between the Sunni population and Al Qaeda, U.S. commanders on the ground in Anbar Province applied more creativity and opportunism than deliberate application of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine, which at that time did not fully grasp the importance of traditional social networks and irregular forces. The U.S. military is now attempting to capture the lessons of the tribal uprising in Iraq and incorporate those lessons into theory, doctrine and practice. More immediately, the U.S. must determine the applicability of those lessons to ongoing counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan and counterterrorism efforts across the region.
The paper argues that traditional social networks and irregular security forces represent a critical source of intelligence, political support and security for governments attempting to increase state control and legitimacy during an insurgency. Moreover, U.S. Army Special Forces are uniquely qualified to leverage traditional social networks and irregular security forces due to their unique training regiment, organization and experience in their capstone mission of Unconventional Warfare (UW). Ultimately these two claims provide the background for a central argument: the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) should refocus the counterinsurgency role of Army Special Forces on leveraging traditional social networks and employing irregular security forces to expand host nation control and security in contested, ungoverned or insurgent controlled spaces.
This monograph explains that tribes and traditional social networks continue to provide a degree of social order in some of the world's least governed and most volatile areas. Capitalizing on that underlying social order is critical to stabilizing remote areas and undermining insurgencies, especially when the government lacks favorable force ratios for counterinsurgency. The United States historically employed tribes and irregulars successfully in support of comprehensive counterinsurgency operations in the Philippines and Vietnam, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Army Special Forces have demonstrated a unique ability to organize tribal networks for self-defense and lead irregular forces to secure remote areas and isolate insurgents. The U.S. must capitalize on this core competency that exists within the special operations community to effectively deal with the ungoverned spaces that abound in current areas of conflict and prevent them from becoming safe-havens for insurgents and violent extremists.
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