Small Wars Journal

Counterinsurgency: Planning Demobilization, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration First

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 12:05am

Counterinsurgency:  Planning Demobilization, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration First

Phil Walter

As a young second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, I was taught helicopter operations at the Basic Officer Course and the Infantry Officer Course.  Fifteen years later, I revisited the five stages of planning for helicopter operations: Ground Tactical Plan, Landing Plan, Air Movement Plan, Loading Plan, and Staging Plan.  What was true then and is still taught today at the Basic Officer Course is that in helicopter operations the Ground Tactical Plan is developed first and is the basis from which other plans are derived. [i]  In helicopter operations, the use of the helicopter is not an end unto itself, but done to support the Ground Tactical Plan.  In a similar manner military, intelligence, and law enforcement efforts in counterinsurgency campaigns should not be ends unto themselves.  They should support the plan to demobilize, rehabilitate, and reintegrate former insurgents.  This demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration plan should be developed first and be the basis from which other plans are derived.

The demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration plan focuses on those who may be swayed.  The population with unshakable loyalty to the insurgency should be pursued by military and intelligence organizations.  The population with unshakable loyalty to their government should be prepared to make sacrifices to address some of the issues that spawned the insurgency.  The actions taken by the population in between these extremes will determine the duration of the insurgency and the success or failure of the counterinsurgency campaign. 

To sway the population between the extremes, all efforts must focus on setting the conditions for them to choose, on their own, a different way of life.  The different way of life must be sustainable and backed by an organization that the population views as credible such as a tribe, city, province, state, central government or a partner nation.  The government and other countries supporting the counterinsurgency campaign must not let perfect become the enemy of good enough.  If a population between the extremes becomes loyal to a tribe or provincial government and stops participating in the insurgency, this may be good enough.  Developments like this should not be discarded in pursuit of perfection, which may be viewed as the entire population loyal to a central government. 

Military, intelligence, and law enforcement organizations play an important role in counterinsurgency campaigns.  The military will conduct operations against the population with unshakable loyalty to the insurgency and, along with law enforcement organizations, provide physical security for the population who may be swayed.  All of the above will be informed by intelligence.  Of equal importance to military, intelligence, and law enforcement organizations are those organizations that will demobilize, rehabilitate, and reintegrate former insurgents.  The organization initially receiving insurgents who choose to demobilize is of particular importance.  This organization, and its actions, will set the stage in the insurgent's mind as to how the rest of his or her life might play out.  Rehabilitation may be undertaken by a variety of social support entities.  Demobilized insurgents may have post-traumatic stress disorder or other similar issues that cause friction in their pursuit of a different way of life.  Reintegration is more than simply giving the former insurgent a job.  It is a deliberate reintroduction of a former insurgent into a society from which he may have been estranged.  For some, this experience may be overwhelming.  Any major flap during this process could motivate former insurgents to return to their life supporting the insurgency.    

Planning for the demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration of former insurgents first may seem backward to some.  However, if there is one thing that stands out in the conflicts since the attacks of 9/11 it is that military might alone is not sufficient to end an insurgency, only slow it down. [ii]  Though military might may cause an insurgent to choose, on his own, a different way of life, without a future path to follow the former insurgent's return to the insurgency is virtually guaranteed.  As governments worldwide conduct counterinsurgency campaigns, though demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration efforts are slow, unglamorous, and not as decisive as military action, they are keys to eventual victory and enduring peace. 

[i] Helicopter Capabilities / Operations B2C3197. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2014, from 

[ii] Tyson, A. (2008, July 16). Gates Warns of Militarized Policy. Retrieved December 21, 2014, from

About the Author(s)

Phil Walter is the founder of Divergent Options.  Phil has served in the infantry, the United States Intelligence Community, and in strategy, policy, and program analyst roles.  All of his written works and podcasts, which do not contain information of an official nature, can be found at


Note that this author "gets it."

To wit: he understands that the job is to cause the population to, if not embrace, then at least learn to deal with, a very different way of life.

(In this regard, see the author's third paragraph above.)

What the author does not address specifically -- but does seem to understand -- is that this normally requires that the general population, over time, must:

a. Abandon the values, attitudes and beliefs (and institutions based thereon) upon which their current, time-honored way of life is based. And, in the place of these

b. Adopt values, attitudes, beliefs (and institutions) which, at present, the population may find totally alien and generally profane.

What strikes me rather hard and harshly, however, is that:

a. This job, which used to be associated with the communists and communism (and, thus, had a bad connotation -- largely because of the horrors that the populations had to undergo to achieve "transformation" sufficent to satisfy the communists);

b. This has somehow, post-the Cold War, become our job. And, as such, is thought of in a positive light. This, in spite of the (similar?) difficulties that these populations must undergo to satisfy, in our case today, we capitists.

In this regard, and in reading the above, I could not help but be reminded -- "re: demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration" -- of the (very different?) methods used by the communists (for example: their "re-education" camps) to achieve these ends.

Herein, the insurgents (those fighting to preserve their way of life), then as now, having to be convinced (by force of arms or otherwise) that their way of life was, indeed, no longer their perview.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 01/19/2015 - 10:48am

It should not seem backward to any professional policy maker, strategist or military planner. But alas history does not support me.