May 17, 2013

Defense analyst discusses counterinsurgency

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - Military leaders from across the region are exploring new solutions for tomorrow’s threats.

The growing problem of counter-insurgency was the focus Thursday as they gathered at the Joint Warfighting Conference in Virginia Beach. Having commanded a tank platoon in Operation Desert Storm and serving as a Senior Fellow at the Center for New American Security and at the U.S. Naval Academy, Dr. John Nagl is quite versed in counterinsurgency. He says this country is getting better at fighting a threat that was well known to our founding fathers. The growing threat from China and North Korea is becoming the focus of our national defense strategy but analysts like Nagal say threats to America are more likely to come from failing states than from aggressor states.

"American interests are at risk not from enemies that are too strong, which was the case throughout the 20th Century, but from states that are too weak to control what happens inside their borders,” Nagl told And current events seem to support this theory. Currently, the United States and our allies are fighting insurgents in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Philippines and the Horn of Africa.

"The historical record reveals that the United States engages in ambiguous counterinsurgency and nation building far more often than it faces full-scale war," said Nagl. History also suggests that America should have a better understanding of the effectiveness of guerilla warfare. "There's great historical irony in the fact that the United States, which was formed through a very successful insurgency led by George Washington, has struggled to conduct counterinsurgency."

Insurgents have viewed recent history with a much more discerning eye. "They saw what America's technology and firepower did to Sadam's army in 1981 and again in 2003 and they've seen what IEDs are doing to the American Military today,” Nagl said. The threat hit close to home last month in Boston. Dr. Nagl believes there will be other attacks on American soil, but even more alarming is the difficulty we face preventing such attacks.

"We're not going to be able to catch all of them. We've had an enormous success rate but some are going to get through."Nagl says our enemies have learned that when they fight America conventionally, they lose horribly in days or weeks. They have a much better chance using terrorism and guerilla tactics.  This is a threat that America should be preparing for. Although he acknowledges that China is a developing power, he does not view it as a real threat to America.