Small Wars Journal

Second-party Counterinsurgency

Mon, 12/09/2013 - 1:43pm

Second-party Counterinsurgency by Mark O’Neill, PhD Dissertation, University of New South Wales.


This dissertation examines the theory and conduct of counterinsurgency operations by interventionist states, defined and labeled herein as second-party counterinsurgency. The conduct of such second-party counterinsurgency has been (and is) commonplace in the contemporary era, yet a large proportion of extant counterinsurgency theory and practice – indeed much of the commonly accepted counterinsurgency paradigm – fails to meet the challenge of its subject adequately.

In line with this assertion, contemporary Western counterinsurgency practice has all too often defaulted to a formulaic approach, characterised by an overly simplistic ‘hearts and minds’ archetype. This model has held the imagination of counterinsurgency theory and scholarship since the early 1960s. It is a basic argument of this dissertation that blind acceptance of the ‘hearts and minds’ paradigm has often led second-party counterinsurgents to adopt of inappropriate ways and means to attain their strategic objectives. This increases the risk of defeat in what is already a complex and difficult enterprise. The most important original contribution made by this study is to identify the need for, and propose, a suitable alternative framework for the conduct of second-party counterinsurgency. The central hypothesis is that the principles of counter violence, counter organisation, counter subversion and pre-emption, supported by the enabling concepts of intelligence and adaptation, provide a new and more appropriate theoretical framework to inform the successful conduct of second-party counterinsurgency. Central to the proposed framework is a method that seeks to focus and capitalise on the relative ubiquity of insurgent ways in order to create a defeat mechanism that invokes Clausewitz’s rational calculus.

The research underpinning this study derives from a literature review and analysis of archival, primary and secondary source material, the conduct of personal interviews, the use of research questionnaires with select personnel, and the establishment and verification of the framework using three critical historical case studies. The key conclusion of this thesis is that strong correlation appears to exist between the dependent variables of the proposed second-party counterinsurgency framework and successful counterinsurgency operations.

Read on.


Robert C. Jones

Tue, 12/17/2013 - 5:59am

I look forward very much to reading your work in detail. I am confident that it will be a very helpful experience and valuable resource regardless of where one falls in their conclusions as to what the problems with recent COIN efforts have been, or what the most appropriate cures for those problems might actually be. My initial thoughts upon review of this short introduction are as follows:

“It is a basic argument of this dissertation that blind acceptance of the ‘hearts and minds’ paradigm has often led second-party counterinsurgents to adopt of inappropriate ways and means to attain their strategic objectives. This increases the risk of defeat in what is already a complex and difficult enterprise. “ ( I personally believe the problem is not H and M per se, but rather our very liberal and literal interpretation of this concept that seems to overly focus on “buying” the loyalty and support of the population through gifts of development and services provided by the second party and efforts to improve the effectiveness of the first party at providing the same things. When one thinks of H and M as a poetic name for earning perceptions of political legitimacy in the minds of the aggrieved segment of the population the insurgent emerges from and is supported by, one comes to a very different family of viable approaches than those practiced in recent years)

“The most important original contribution made by this study is to identify the need for, and propose, a suitable alternative framework for the conduct of second-party counterinsurgency. The central hypothesis is that the principles of counter violence, counter organisation, counter subversion and pre-emption, supported by the enabling concepts of intelligence and adaptation, provide a new and more appropriate theoretical framework to inform the successful conduct of second-party counterinsurgency.” (This appears to be both too “counter” and too focused on the operational arm , the insurgent, rather than upon the conditions of insurgency that exist across the much broader segment of the population that such groups emerge from and equally rely upon for their sanctuary, support and sustainment across all classes of supply, not the least of which is “personnel.”)

“Central to the proposed framework is a method that seeks to focus and capitalize on the relative ubiquity of insurgent ways in order to create a defeat mechanism that invokes Clausewitz’s rational calculus.” (This appears to promote the belief that success comes when we approach all insurgencies in a more war-like manner such as promoted by Clausewitz. My concern is that only resistance insurgency, where the goal of the second party counterinsurgent is to bring the population of their opponent also under their foreign control following the defeat of their government and Army, seems to fit this model (e.g., Germany in the territories they occupied during WWII). Sustained control of a population is not typically the mission of second party counterinsurgents in the modern era. Most insurgencies are revolutionary in nature, where some internal element of a system of “Government-Army-People” is seeking to coerce change in part or whole on their own system of governance. I don’t believe that Clausewitz’s rational calculus applies very well to these types of internal conflicts that are probably better thought of as civil emergencies than as war, regardless of how destructive and violent they may become.)

Congratulations upon completing this major addition to the body of work on counterinsurgency. I think most can agree that current interpretations of the history of such operations are not working in the modern era. Reasonable minds will always differ as to what these emotionally charged conflicts are, why they emerge, and how to best resolve them; but projects such as this help collect and clarify the facts surrounding key issues in a way that all can benefit from.



Bill M.

Tue, 12/17/2013 - 1:01am

In reply to by Bill C.

It seems obvious you didn't read the dissertation, so at a minimum read the introduction and then determine if you think your "standard" comment above is applicable.

"The primary aim of undertaking counterinsurgency is to defeat the insurgency."

As relates to such interventionist powers as the former USSR then and the United States today, we may wish to consider whether the above statement and thought is accurate.

With certain intervening great powers, such as the former USSR then and the United States today, the primary aim of engagement (diplomatic, military, etc.) would seem to be to transform outlying states and societies along the intervening power's own political, economic and social lines.

This causing such things as "defeating an insurgency" to take a back seat to this overriding political objective; which the former USSR then and the United States today seem to have in common.

Thus, the overriding political objective of outlying state and societal transformation often (1) dictating how the former USSR then and the United States today conducted a counterinsurgency campaign, (2) determining whether success was likely to be achieved and, if so, (3) at what cost in time, blood, political capital and other treasure.

So, as relates to the former USSR then and the USA today, not garden-variety counterinsurgency campaigns -- where the goal is simply to defeat the insurgency -- but something more complicated than this -- in which the goal of the interventionist power is much more entailed and much more grandiose in nature.


Mon, 12/16/2013 - 11:07am

It is an accurate move to consider renaming operations involving foreign intervention, and especially the toppling of the existing government as minimally a different sort of counterinsurgency. It was frustrating hearing recent lectures on the "history of counterinsurgency," by Max Boot, roll over these distinctions and then draw out conclusions based on a failure to distinguish in kind. The early phases bear more in common with classic occupation and the mopping up of residue resistance than "foreign internal defense" of an allied or longer-term friendly government.

Mark O'Neill

Sun, 12/15/2013 - 10:26pm

In reply to by Bill M.


Thank you for the feedback. The point you make about my definition of subversion is a fair one. I will have a look at the UW doctrine as I look at adapting the thesis into a manuscript.



Bill M.

Sun, 12/15/2013 - 10:17pm


Up to chapter V and I'll have to hold off on the case study chapters until next weekend. I think this dissertation adds a lot to the ongoing COIN debate, and frankly I tend to favor your theory over the others I have read and studied. I'm somewhat an outspoken critic of our current COIN doctrine based on nation building and social/political reform. You addressed the illogic in this approach brilliantly.

I believe it was chapter IV, you pointed out what I consider to be obvious, how does "attempting" to win hearts and minds address conflicts related to identity, religion, and culture? I would take it a step further, and state our development efforts frequently inflame the issues of identity and culture. In short I agree with your premise that focusing on hearts and minds doesn't align with our end of defeating an insurgency. Myths die hard if they die at all, so I suspect while your paper is well argued up to this point it won't change our cultural bias towards embracing hearts and minds.

The one area in your paper that I found a little weak was your description of subversion. I encourage you to look at our UW doctrine for a fuller and perhaps more relevant description as a starting point, not an ending point. Subversion can take many forms beyond the three principle actions you described.

Mark O'Neill

Sun, 12/15/2013 - 10:23pm

G'Day Bill M.

While all three case studies involved Second-party Counterinsurgents being engaged in direct combat, I do not regard participation in combat as an 'essential element' of Second-party counterinsurgency - although my sense is that it will be more common than not. Hence the definition specifically refering to 'counterinsurgency activity' rather than something more specific like 'counterinsurgency related combat'.


Bill M.

Sat, 12/14/2013 - 11:30pm


Just read through the introduction and I look forward to wading through the remainder of the dissertation. One point that isn't clear yet, which is hardly fair after only reading the introduction, is the definition of the second party counterinsurgent. Your definition in the introduction is clear to a point, but I want to clarify your intent in my pea brain. It appears that in all your case studies the 2d party counterinsurgent is engaged in combat operations against the insurgents. Does this definition for the purpose of your study and findings still consider the U.S. (for example) a second party counterinsurgent if it is conducted limited FID and no combat operations against the insurgents?

Mark O'Neill

Sat, 12/14/2013 - 6:04am


Bill C.

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 6:47pm

In reply to by Bill C.

A hearts and minds campaign, to wit:

"A unified political, economic, diplomatic, administrative and social effort to win broad popular allegiance alongside a strictly limited military campaign to destroy the politically marginalized insurgency."

This description of one's campaign (hearts and minds) might work in those instances in which:

a. The wants, needs and desires of the population of the outlying state were generally similar to and, therefore, compatible with the wants, needs and desires of the interventionist state and its society and

b. The unified political, economic, diplomatic, administrative and social effort of the interventionist state worked to provide for these commonly-held wants, needs and desires.

In the circumstances such as these (generally similar and therefore compatible wants, needs and desires), the interventionists state's efforts might indeed be called "hearts and minds," in that these efforts are indeed likely to provide that the interventionist state might "win broad popular allegiance," "conduct a strictly limited military campaign" and "politically marginalize the insurgency."

On the other hand, the "hearts and minds" label would not seem to work in those cases in which:

The wants, needs and desires of the interventionist state and its society are diametrically opposed to and, therefore, incompatible with the wants, needs and desires of the population of the outlying state.

In instances such as these (diametrically opposed and, therefore, incompatible wants, needs and desires), a unified political, economic, diplomatic, administrative and social effort by the interventionist state to (1) achieve its ends at (2) the expense of those of the population of the outlying state; one would think that these such efforts should be viewed more in terms of "folly" rather than as "hearts and minds." This because these such efforts would seem to antagonize and galvanize the population against the interventionist state rather than provide that it (the interventionist state) might:

a. Win broad popular support,

b. Conduct a strictly limited military campaign and/or

c. Politically marginalize and/or defeat an insurgency.

Thus, because we were unable to "read" various populations, I would suggest that we may not have been engaged in a "hearts and minds" campaign after all but, rather, a campaign which tended/tends to antagonize and unify populations against us.

a. "A unified political, economic, diplomatic, administrative, and social effort to win broad popular allegiance alongside a strictly limited military campaign to destroy the politically marginalized insurgency."

The above would seem to be wrong somehow and the following would seem to be more correct:

b. "A unified political, economic, diplomatic, administrative, and social effort to (1) undermine and eliminate the way of life and way of governance of the outlying states and societies (the "root cause" of many present difficulties) and to (2) replace these with a way of life and way of governance which are more similar to and, therefore, more compatible with that of the interventionist state and its society."

Note that in my item "b" above, I do not suggest that one can, via this method, "win popular allegiance," conduct "a strictly limited military campaign" or "politically marginalize (the) insurgency." Such would seem to depend on whether one could prove that the interventionist states' way of life and way of governance held some magical and "universal appeal" with each and every population in the world. And as we and many other interventionist states have learned, such is not the case.

Thus, if a "better peace" (see my item "b" above) is what the interventionist states are after (and I suggest that it is), then they must concede that this cannot always be achieved via hearts and minds.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 12/17/2013 - 7:31am

In reply to by Mike in Hilo

Mike---use to laugh about the term advisor---the SF answer was yes we are until the first bullet went downrange and then suddenly the advisor became the commander and yes the success was that we fought side by side---only when your indigenous personnel see you taking the same risks, taking the same fire and after it was all over laughing, joking and eating with them would they follow you anywhere and into any situation.

The sad thing was they fought for the advisor and I for them-not for flag, country or mother's apple pie---I was for the 18 long months an extension of the indigenous personnel themselves.

My point man for the recon team was 15 and he had been fighting since 13 and he loved to carry the BAR---I though carried the resupply. He was the one that taught me to track and I got as good as he did-sometimes even better.

But as an advisor you were responsible for them---meaning there were patrols where the tracks told me we were in over our heads based on the size of the NVA unit we were tracking---on those days even in the face of the massively new tracks you smiled at your team, and with a straight face said in all seriousness the tracks are old--my point man would simply smile--- then I would say lets go home---all would node agreement and home we went.

Guerrilla forces live by the motto--survive to fight another day--I was never risk adverse but when one has lives in your hands and your own---winning battles sometimes took second place.

Mike in Hilo

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 10:01pm

In reply to by carl

Outlaw: You all did absolutely outstanding work.

Carl: As you can see from Outlaw's comments, the successes depended heavily on intimate US involvement. In other words, the "machinery" to ensure success wasn't institutionalized by the Vietnamese. So our side, including Herrington specifically, had some remarkable intel successes, and yes, as you've suggested, these depended on motivated Vietnamese individuals rather than a sound Vietnamese system. Phuong Hoang (aka Phoenix), while US came up with the idea, was a Vietnamese-run op that suffered on account of a number of Vietnamese systemic, institutional weaknesses.

In West's accounts, we made a difference because we were living with our host country partners, "there 24/7," sharing their risks, not "commuting" to the war, and engaging in combat side by side with them.


Outlaw 09

Tue, 12/17/2013 - 7:37am

In reply to by carl

Carl--movement, op sec, speed of march---for example when would one in VN not hear a single copter in the sky--lunch time which lasted from about 1200 to about 1430 literally never a copter in the sky---if one was on the HCM trail then it was time to move---ambushed countless times NVA personnel who were just walking down the trail AKs on their shoulders and or AK on the the shoulder hand holding the barrel.

NVA movement during lunch time was massive---it felt like one needed a traffic light system to regulate the numbers who were the move.

They would maintain a number of kms between moving units in order to avoid being hit by B52 arclight strikes---we would wait and slide into the gap and move in the direction of movement until we found another trail heading in the general direction we were moving towards then changed trails.


Fri, 12/13/2013 - 7:59pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09:

How did a VC/NVA unit act on the trail, what did they do that you guys could emulate?

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 1:24pm

In reply to by carl

Carl---the problem with the concept the Army currently calls COIN is that in VN virtually every Corp from the North to the South was different ie due to ethnic mix, environment meaning topography, amount of US troops in the area as well as the amount and quality of SVN Army personnel.

We on the SF side had in the Cambodian border region of III Corp camps with a mix of minority units ie Cambodian, Vietnamese etc. and we usually supported villages in and around our SF camps with the exception of A334 which was a border recon camp which monitored the HCM trail and War Zone C.

As part of working the villages we/SF recruited and ran our own agent networks using intel personnel assigned to SF---info collected on the VCI ---VC infrastructure ----was usually name, village, persons' location inside the village and position in the VCI ie soldier, tax collector, political officer, guide etc. Most of these teams were run under the VN National Police with US advisors usually SF/CIA types and or personnel recruited via members of the SF camp forces who had family members in the various villages.

We would then target a specific village via kill or capture missions usually ambushes in and around the village and when say in one village we knew of six VCI we usually were able to kill or capture 3/4---taking either the person and or body back into the village and asking questions about the remaining individuals----and then would get feed back via the agent network. In conjunction with the kill and capture side we ran specific psych war missions to reinforce the messaging we wanted for a specific village and usually the remaining VCI were walk in surrenders.

All the while the targeted village usually remained neutral---meaning if we use the term black, grey and white ---initially the village would be black as it contained VCI, then if we could get the numbers down it would go grey---we never got to a white classification.

As in Herrington's book---in VN the villager had been use to so much war from the Japanese to US and to them if it appeared one side was winning they would simply watch to see just how long the winner would remain in the area---since we were constantly sweeping and never remaining to protect the villages the villagers would sit on the fence---if we got the village to go neutral that was a plus. On the other hand the propaganda used by the VC especially in rubber plantation villages was effective as the French tended to pay low wages for long hours and the villagers owned no land in the area---plus the violence caused by Army sweeps tended to reinforce their messaging.

This though was different from villages associated around SF camps where we had direct contact into them on a daily basis---yes there were occasional VCI in them but we tended to know who they were.

IE in my Vietnamese recon platoon I knew I had at least two VCI--I would tend to make a run once every quarter into Saigon to allow them to shop with their families as a award for doing well on recon missions---we had to run Highway 13 to Saigon which was always heavily mined---I would let my recon team know the date and times two weeks before the run in order that the info made it back to the VC sappers along the highway who I had correctly assumed did not want to blow up their own---then I would pack everyone into two trucks and off to we went to Saigon---usually we were the first in line at the MP checkpoints and they would not allow us onto the road until the engineers had swept the road---we ignored their warnings since they had no control over SF units and went first down the highway---we never hit a mine on any of the trips---the MPs were always astounded.

In a guerrilla war one just needs to understand the thinking process of the other side and use it.

IE many US infantry types refused to run trails out of fear of ambushes--we ran them and had the highest kill capture rates and moved into and out of say War Zone C without any loses---we just learned to move and act as a VC/NVA unit on the trail---one just had to be prepared for frontal engagements and we had to envelop faster than the other side.

But again this was our particular AO and in other areas the stories were different.


Fri, 12/13/2013 - 11:56am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09, Mike in Hilo and anybody else:

Outlaw brought up Silence Was a Weapon. In that book if I remember correctly, what good results were achieved were achieved because of a key local individual or key local individuals. In the West's The Village, it was the same as it was in the other West's The Snake Eaters and Malkasian's War Comes to Garmser. It seems from reading those that a key thing to do at the village or local level is to find the critical local people, get them on your side if they aren't already, back them powerfully and keep them alive so they can do their work.

Could you guys comment on that?

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 8:38am

In reply to by Mike in Hilo

Mike in Helio---Herrington is doing fine in retirement in California--a great intel officer who drove the Russians crazy when he was in Berlin because we knew all lines were being monitored---he spoke Vietnamese with a select few all the time knowing the Russians did not have the translation capacity.

I worked the III Corp Tay Ninh side near An Loc---worked out of the SF camp called Tong Le Chan on the Fish Hook Cambodian border area and we worked the Vietnamese villages along the edges of the rubber plantations up to Loc Ninh from 1969 to mid 1970.

Even though we knew literally by name on most of the VC per village getting the population to break their silence was tough. We got great results via kill or capture operations and via psych war ops we usually got the remaining few to come in.

From those that came in I got great information results by turning the prisoners into Chen Hoi line crossers as they knew the difference in treatment between a POW status and a Chen Hoi status.

Mike in Hilo

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 3:22am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw, Concur re: Herrington and his book.

Looking at the Hau Nghia Province monthly report for April 1972 (the Easter Offensive),which is available on-line, I take note of the section on Phuong Hoang/Phoenix. Although the report bears then-COL (later, MG) Gerry Bartlett's signature, this section would necessarily have been drafted by Herrington. I see that of the 32 VCI cases adjudicated by the Province Security Council, 15 were sentenced, but only 2 were sentenced to one year or more. Eleven were released. In the remarks accompanying the statistics Bartlett's/Herrington's frustrations are palpable as they decry the leniency and express hope for initiation of "...a more stringent policy." It was no different next door in Tay Ninh Province, where I was on the CORDS team at the time. The general capture and release policy for VCI is why I consider Phoenix a failure in Military Region 3.


Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 6:54am

To understand how the SVN villager was reacting towards anything resembling COIN suggest reading the 1982 book Silence Was A Weapon---The Vietnam War In the Villages by Stuart A Herrington

He worked as an officer in the Phoenix Program, spoke fluent Vietnamese and was one of the last off the Embassy roof in 1975 and went on to command the elite counter intelligence unit in Berlin and then commanded the Foreign Counterintelligence Team at INSCOM.

Well worth the read as so the Vietnam villagers reacted so reacted the Iraqi and Afghans toward both sides of the their conflicts---namely sitting on the fence in silence until one side was winning.

Mark O'Neill

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 6:42am

Thank you Mike,

Those men probably came from the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATV) . The Team remain. The most decorated unit in our Army's history .


Mike in Hilo

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 2:16am

In reply to by carl


1) Re: Fall. I know what you mean. I have made reference a number of times here at SWJ to Fall's comparison (as I recall, made in that Industrial College of the Armed Forces presentation that Mark cites in his bibliography) of "competing" offerings made to Vietnamese farmers by us and by the VC: Ours was to get them superior pigs for breeding stock, or some such..The VC's was beheading and disembowelment of the village chief and his family...The two "competing" menu items were just not on the same plane....

2) Thanks for the kind remarks, which are undeserved but not unappreciated.



Wed, 12/11/2013 - 1:07pm

In reply to by Mike in Hilo

Mike in Hilo:

You commented:

"He elaborated that under no circumstances would the rural Vietnamese be allowed to choose, without dire intimidation, which side to support."

That reminds me of Fall's comment about the VC outgoverning the RVN. It was hard to figure out what he meant until I read the article in which he made the comment. The mechanics of 'outgoverning' confused me greatly. They didn't once I read that what Fall was talking about was the VC killing off RVN administrators. It is simple to outgovern the other guy when all his people are dead.

Please comment more frequently. Your comments are sort of a small war fighting course in and of themselves.

Mike in Hilo

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 10:05pm

Mark--Thanks for an absolutely outstanding paper.

A couple of notes of historical interest:

(1) Strikes me this is an opportune time to mention that when I arrived in Military Region 3 (earlier, III Corps)in 1971, CORDS was obviously overwhelmingly US--but not entirely so. Australians filled a number of important positions. The numbers were small, but the contribution notable. Inter alia, the CORDS Regional (i.e., III-Corps level) Senior RF/PF Adviser was an Australian full colonel (Sorry, I can't recall the name); and two out of the three or four CORDS District Senior Advisers in Phuoc Tuy Province (the Australian AO) were Australian army officers...

(2) US CORDS District and Province Senior Advisers, largely US army field grade officers plus a handful of civilians (of which I was privileged to be one)routinely underwent training (up to nearly one year)prior to being deployed to VN, at the State Dept.-run Vietnam Training Center (VTC) in Arlington, Virginia. In 1970-71, the VTC COIN expert, periodically in attendance on a recurring TDY basis, was Dennis Duncanson, for years a close collaborator of Sir Robert Thompson's and at the time a leading theoretician of the British so-called "drain the swamp" school of COIN. (The VTC staff were convinced that Duncanson was Sir Robert's ghost writer, but this is entirely unconfirmed.) Duncanson (voicing what had become the official line) made it clear that the COIN state of the art had put paid the idea of WHAM as a relevant COIN element. As he put it, referring to the idea that the rural Vietnamese would choose between competing friendly and communist menus, "The South East Asian peasant has historically never been, nor is he now, the master of his own destiny." He elaborated that under no circumstances would the rural Vietnamese be allowed to choose, without dire intimidation, which side to support.


Mark O'Neill

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 7:58pm

In reply to by Carl Prine

Thanks Carl, good to hear from you . Hope you are well. I hope to get it published, have not really looked into it in any detail as yet,

Carl Prine

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 1:06pm

Congratulations, Mark! I eagerly anticipate reading the dissertation. Have you arranged for publication yet?

Mike in Hilo

Mon, 12/16/2013 - 3:05am

In reply to by Mark O'Neill


Ollivant's insightful 2011 New America Foundation paper Countering the New Orthodoxy appeared here at SWJ. The paper, which took note of the significant impact of attrition, rang a bell with me, as it would have with my fellow VN advisers, who viewed the attrition of the enemy units by the intense kinetic activity of 1967-69 as an essential precursor to (or, for that matter, initial element of) COIN.

Also, I share your recognition of the importance of the Leites and Wolf Rand study, Rebellion and Authority, which I would go so far as to recommend as essential reading for COIN practitioners. The behavioral principles described therein accord with what I saw on the ground in VN. I found it particularly interesting that L&W equated legitimacy with "discernment" in law enforcement (as, for example, accurate targeting of, say, suspected VCI); as opposed to some variant of historical determinism in the manner of a number of western writers.

On a personal note, my younger son Frank was an army captain on Ollivant's team 2006-7, so your paths may (or may not) have crossed...Years later, when working toward his MBA at Univ of Chicago, his program included studying for a while at Univ of NSW, an institution about which he couldn't speak more highly.


Mark O'Neill

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 6:48am

In reply to by 101st Ranger

Cheers Ranger,

In my opinion, Doug Ollivant is one of the people who made a difference , notwithstanding all the self-aggrandisement of certain people in the beltway and journos who claim 'credit' .

101st Ranger

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 11:08am

Being honest: I only read the abstract, the Iraq case, and portions of the conclusions. Being succinct: Tremendous addition to the existing literature. I benefitted from the comparison of counter organization and counter violence tactics versus the "Hearts and Minds" illusion. I also appreciated the planner's perspective provided by interviews with Ollivant.

Interventionalist nations would seem to use the opportunities and excuses available to them -- as provided by various and sundry difficulties presenting in other nations -- to try to achieve a "better peace" in these other nations. This "better peace" is often defined as the problem state and society being transformed along the political, economic and social lines of the intervening nation.

Thus, powerful intervening states, such as the former Soviet Union, might seek to transform the way of life and the way of governance of a problem state and society along communist lines and, in this manner, achieve their strategic objective (peaceful, well-functioning neighbor; organized, oriented and ordered, in this instance, along communist political, economic and social lines; this providing the intervening power with optimal access to and use of the human and other resources of this state and its societies).

So when regime change has been accomplished and/or the insurgency begins, the manner in which the counterinsurgency is conducted is often heavily influenced by this "better peace" definition, and the strategic objective, as outlined in my first and second paragraphs above.

Thus, winning "hearts and minds," in these scenerios, would seem to mean winning the population over by way of the attractiveness of the foreign intervening power's way of life and way of governance.

Herein, the "blind acceptance" of the intervening nation that its way of life and way of governance had some kind of "universal appeal" -- and, therefore, great utility re: counterinsurgency -- this often dooms the project from the outset. This, because numerous populations either will not or simply cannot make the radical and rapid transition to such an alien and, in their view, profane way of life and way of governance.

Would this be an example of second-party interventionalists using inappropariate ways and means ("hearts and minds") to try to achieve their strategic objective?

(In my second paragraph above, I used a former USSR/communist example for variety and interest, but this flawed "universal appeal"/"hearts and minds" method would also seem to be a/the classic approach to counterinsurgency used by intervening western/capitalist nations.)

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 9:35am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

"Thanks for sharing and for all the hard work. I can't imagine the time and effort that went into this."

+ 1 to this

Mark O'Neill

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 7:07am

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

'Silly hat' day was yesterday . Weird feeling when the Chancellor calls you 'doctor' . I suspect that , just like various mil ranks over the years , it is a title that I will never wear easily. So let's stick to 'Mark' ...


Tue, 12/10/2013 - 12:14pm

In reply to by Mark O'Neill


Of the four primary lines of effort, Counter Violence, Counter Organization, Counter Subversion and Preemption, none of these are tied to the "hearts and minds" concept. And while I agree that "... counterinsurgency is neither ‘armed social work’, ‘nation building’ nor ‘a governance competition’... it may be complementary to other social, political and economic objectives, its end is finite and discrete – the defeat of insurgency" it seems like the concept of Counter Subversion would require a "don't add fuel to the insurgent's fire" approach. Is that a fair statement?

In a future paper I argue that US Doctrine needs to remove the democratization, or as RAND defines it, "Nation Building" components from both our COIN and Stability doctrine. It seems like your thesis distills the essential elements of second-party COIN. Was that your aim?

When can we start calling you Dr. O'Neill?

Mark O'Neill

Mon, 12/09/2013 - 11:14pm

In reply to by TheCurmudgeon

Hi C,

Thanks- and an excellent question. My answer is yes, but it is necessarily qualified by context - that of the second-party counterinsurgent. The enduring results from two of the case studies - SW Africa and Dhofar, can still be assessed to day as largely positive with respect to the strategic ends that the second-party counterinsurgents sought. And a case can be argued that the surge delivered the imperative that the Bush Administration sought....

As to long-term positive results for the host nation - my sense is a little more 'yes and no'. 'Yes' because the second-party counterinsurgency framework is successful it will get the insurgency to the point where compromise and more normative forms of non-violent negotiation with the host nation are a real possibility. Possibly 'No' because it requires the host nation to recognise and grasp the moment... and as we have seen in Iraq, sovereign will is a funny old thing that interventionist states may ultimately have little influence over. The bottom line is that one of the limitations second-party counterinsurgency must accept is that it cannot solve domestic political issues - it sets the conditions for the host nation to do so.




Mon, 12/09/2013 - 10:06pm


Thanks for sharing and for all the hard work. I can't imagine the time and effort that went into this.

I will read it in full some day (I promise), but my short question is "Can a second-party counterinsurgency ever yield long term positive results?"

BTW, my son is a graduate of UNSW

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 12:36pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Thanks! Don't have time now but will have to think about this as I read the dissertation (when I get the chance).

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 2:38pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Madhu---here is the response you asked for---key is if one discusses the "wars of national liberation" that occurred in southern Africa starting around 1959 up to 1989 one cannot simply use Mao as the basis---one must look intently at the inherent developments historically in that country --- here the dissertation case of Nambia and SWAPO.

Definition of Strategy: A method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem.

I personally like keeping definitions generic and not based on any military definition which often muddies the water.

Strategic strategy as taken from the SWAPO German literature in 1961--- "1) Nationale Befreiung, 2) Nationale Wiedergeburt, 3) Rückgabe der Nation an das Volk----Literal translation means National liberation, National rebirth, Return of the country to its rightful citizens"

One can argue that the ideas might have come from Mao or Ho or Che--but they were voiced by SWAPO thus are SWAPO's strategic strategy to own if anything one could call them Nationalistic in nature if one does not want to muddy the waters with the term Communistic.

It was not discussed in the article that in reality SWAPO was the continuation of a series of rebellions first against the Germans and then against the Afrikaans and then the stepping stone as the final step for SWAPO was due to the Old Location Massacre from 1959 in Windhoek similar in nature to Sharpsville for the ANC.

If in fact the strategic strategy was the three items mentioned in a German text from 1961 JUST what did the SADF do to counter the three objectives---OR was the combat in Nambia by the SADF really a tactical response to the SWAPO strategy or just what did the SADF actually do to counter the above three objectives of the SWAPO strategic strategy?

Actually the SADF only addressed the National liberation piece and failed badly on the other two.

Sound similar to Iraq?

Totally missing from the SWAPO example.

Excerpts from article:
The SWAPO / PLAN insurgency strategy invariably followed the ‘classic’ Maoist guerrilla model.43 The application and pursuit of this approach was consistent and often effective.
It was well understood by the South Africans that the key elements of SWAPO’s liberation stratagems were: ‘[t]he continuous mobilisation of the people and their unending quest for foreign political and military support’.47
Despite the useful attributes described above, the pursuit of SWAPO’s insurgent strategy was inevitably fraught with difficulties

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 12:43pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

If you have time and if you'd like, could you illustrate your point with a specific sentence or paragraph and then your critique of what was written? I am having trouble understanding this point as directed at this specific dissertation?

Sorry, but I am just missing something.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 12:30pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Madhu--went back over the dissertation case examples again and my chief complaint is that there is not a single discussion of the strategies used by each of the insurgent examples and how the counterinsurgent dealt with the insurgent strategy-without understanding the strategy one is doomed to failure regardless of how much COIN one throws at the problem.

Without understanding the core strategy driving the insurgent just how is the counterinsurgent to react---we definitely did not understand it in Iraq and AFG.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 11:44am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I couldn't resist and started reading the dissertation although it is slow going because I have to question and think about every single sentence.

Exhausting. No wonder I am good at thinking up questions but lousy at follow through on academic work.

<strong>Outlaw</strong>, I think your points are very important but they are addressed within the work, at least the part that I have read.

And I also think you are asking a slightly different research question.

One thing that I really like about what I have read so far is the attempt at a type of intellectual clarity while at the same time avoiding dumbing down the subject. We've seen both in the past decade or so of academic work, work that was either too simplistic or too lost in the weeds of jargon, "how many angels on the head of a pin" and misdirected quantification or "quant" work.

It's quite a high-wire act at the beginning. Interesting.

<em>"The second is the seemingly inevitable contingency of extant theory's paradigmatic focus upon the contextual ends of insurgency rather than the agency of insurgency."</em>

I read "agency of insurgency" as asking the same general category of question that Outlaw is asking. Did I read that correctly or am I misunderstanding something?

<em>"Similarly, it will become apparent that the term 'counterinsurgency' is taken literally to represent the study of 'counters' to insurgency rather than the manifest other tasks or meanings that have become popularly associated with the term."</em>

This sentence also gets at your points. This all goes back to a point made by early critics of population-centric counterinsurgency, that the best 'counters' were assumed, based on a faulty read of the past, or didn't leave sufficient room for improvisation based on a study of the 'other', so to speak.

Hope I'm getting that right. At any rate, your idea of what are reasonable categories of 'counters' may differ from the author (haven't finished the work, don't know) but the important thing is that the category is there for future counterinsurgents to understand.

A lot of the problem for the military and policy makers and strategists in the past decade or more is that people involved aren't thinking deeply, or, at least, at the most foundational levels. What we are getting is unexamined, well, even assumptions doesn't seem to get at the entirety of the blankness at the center of thought.


OTOH, doing is different from talking and any time I think I have a handle on something, events make that understanding look foolish.

Mark O'Neill

Thu, 12/12/2013 - 6:56am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Try reading chapters three and four... You would see that I establish an argument , supported by evidence rather than cant, that succinctly deals with this point . Insurgent ends are manifest. But their ways and means are ubiquitous . And that is the only thing that a second-party counterinsurgency can reasonably aspire to address.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 3:55pm

In reply to by Mark O'Neill

Mark--this is what I meant by understanding the strategic aims of an insurgent or insurgent type group taken from the recent SWJ Dave Maxwell article.

"Rather than focus on the terrorism conducted, we should really consider how such organizations actually conduct a form of unconventional warfare to achieve their strategic aims."

This understanding and mentioning their strategic aims was missing in your case examples.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 10:30am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Of course, the one insurgency that might have helped understand many dynamics in AfPak--and even the future land components of any Asia Pivot--remains woefully neglected.

*Cough*Punjab Insurgency/Khalistan movement*Cough*

One of these days someone will get it.

Unheeded Warnings: The Lost Reports of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare Volume 1: Islamic Terrorism and the West

But it ain't just terrorism in there, it's the self, the American Army and the American military and its understandings of the world and how to leverage power. (And no, I am not talking specifically about India. Dig deeper.)

One of these days....

Remember, you are still trying to understand land power in Asia for a variety of objectives, Army types. This is your blind spot.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 9:56am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

The other thing I've noticed as an outsider to all of this is the way in which many papers referenced here and on other milblogs(not referring to the dissertation here) stake out a position but don't include the counterarguments in a rigorous way.

I think part of this has to do with the civilian control of the military (a good thing!) which means that a lot of military papers on counterinsurgency start at the level of "substrategy" (operations/tactics?) and don't challenge certain larger overarching assumptions. The military doesn't do policy but there is still a gaping intellectual hole at the beginning of many papers.

No, seriously, look at the body of work circa mid 2000's that start out with an assumption of what was done in Malaya without first questioning, hey, just what was done in Malaya after all?

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 9:46am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

<blockquote>In line with this assertion, contemporary Western counterinsurgency practice has all too often defaulted to a formulaic approach, characterised by an overly simplistic ‘hearts and minds’ archetype. This model has held the imagination of counterinsurgency theory and scholarship since the early 1960s.</blockquote>

But aren't you two saying the same thing just in a different way? He is criticizing the same model you are criticizing.

Whether one agrees with the basic themes of the dissertation or not (and I haven't read it and won't be able to get to it until after the holidays), isn't it a good thing to have the discussion expanded beyond the same few rote insurgencies and themes and "traditional" or "classical" experts like Galula or Thompson that are routinely discussed within the American military and its intellectual circles?

I can't remember the article but someone (I think David Kilcullen?) surveyed the military literature (American) on insurgencies and found some way over-represented while others barely discussed. The body of knowledge is expanded with work like this and I don't necessarily see it in opposition to what you are doing around here, which is equally and vitally important.

How else to study a topic but to attack* it from as many different intellectual angles as possible?

These intellectual discussions are additive, it seems to me.

PS: You hang out on milblogs, your language becomes increasingly militarized :)

Outlaw 09

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 6:58am

In reply to by Mark O'Neill

Mark---has someone who spoke to hundreds of captured Revolution 1920, AQI, IAI, Ansar als Sunnah, JAM and Iraqi Hezbollah during the worst of worst years for a very long 18 months---what is missing from the thesis is a discussion of what the strategies were for each of your examples.

A core issue is that we as a counterinsurgent have often failed to understand exactly what the actual strategies of the insurgent have been---we always tend to react to the battlefield tactics but tactics are not countering the strategy that is driving the insurgent.

Your comment that in fact the objectives of the surge were successful---I would argue that in fact we were trying to find a way to leave and the myth of the success of the surge is a way of covering up the fact that we lost over 4K killed and over 200K wounded and in fact Iraq was a failure---so one could say the losses were the cost of doing business.

Your example of AQI and the fight for the cities is an interesting one and goes to the heart of what I mean---if we had over 54 BNs engaged in two rings around Baghdad who was watching the rest of the country?

Example---AQI now ISIL has been on their current strategy with a named operation covering the last two years which was composed of two items 1) release prisoners, and 2) take cities--last month they closed out the named campaign after releasing over 700 prisoners and the JRTN which is the former IAI having taken control of a number of towns and villages in Anbar and Diyala---again examples of battlefield tactics driven by a strategy via a named campaign.

And they are successfully taking the fight to all of Iraq and the current ISFs are failing in the eyes of the common Iraqi and the population losses are back to the 2006/2007 period.

If we really look at results from when you were in Iraq it was the constant targeting focused on AQI by JSOC that reduced the threat of AQI---so if JSOC was focused on AQI then in theory the BCTs should have been focused on the remaining Sunni insurgency.

Even with the Awakening Movement Sunni insurgents ie IAI and AAS still killed and wounded US personnel up to us leaving Iraq---not counting the efforts of JAM and the Iraqi Hezbollah with their EFPs.

In a recent article by David Maxwell concerning UW would have been interesting to incorporate in the study---he feels that if the national command authority fully understands UW then in fact they could articulate a national strategy towards events in the world where we might not have to place boots on the ground---but the core of understanding UW is understanding the strategies being voiced by the insurgents.

In Iraq the insurgency did have a strategy---we did not and we only reacted as a counterinsurgent to the battlefield tactics we were experiencing every day.

Mark O'Neill

Mon, 12/09/2013 - 8:15pm


The 'article' is not a casual opinion piece. It is a dissertation. As such it makes an evidenced based argument within a defined logical framework. It perhaps useful that the reader understands that framework and accepts it for what it is - and it is clearly not an evaluation of the Iraq War.

The quote you offer is acontextual. The thesis makes it explicit in several parts that the case study is not of the Iraq war per se, rather on whether finite elements of it during a bounded and finite period offer any correlation with a proposed framework. The specific dates used are 07, 08.

The paper assesses 'success' (as such) against the relevant aims of the second-party counter insurgency's 'surge' objectives, not whether the Iraq war was won. The war clearly remains unresolved. And unlikely to ever be resolved by any second-party. That idea is fool's gold.

Let me be blunt (and here comes the 'opinion piece'). I do not think that the surge was ever about winning the war in Iraq. It was a roll of the dice in order to mitigate a disaster into something a little less embarassing. And allow the US to exit with a modicum of grace. And on these limited criteria, it worked.

Also not sure that I do offer a purely 'outside looking in' perspective. My service in Iraq during 07/08 has undoubtedly informed and prejudiced my perspectives.

Cheers and regards,


Outlaw 09

Mon, 12/09/2013 - 3:02pm

The article while interesting as it comes from someone on the outside looking in ---the comments below that the surge appeared to be successful fail at explaining if successful then why is AQI now ISIL and the then Islamic Army of Iraq now JRTN are pounding away at a 300K man Iraqi security force quite successfully one might say for a supposedly defeated insurgency.

When we do these types of studies it would behoove the writer to extend the research to understand the current environment when judging the past as it is the past that tells us what the future will be and right now in Iraq based on the population losses we are back to 2006/2007 so again to say the surge was successful is a stretch at best. The years of 2006/2007 reflected in 2013 does not appear to validate the success of the surge.

"Of further considerable interest is that, despite the profound differences in the independent variables between the Iraq case study and the previous two, the second-party counterinsurgency framework appears to have, again, considerable explanatory value in accounting for the conduct of successful counterinsurgency operations."