March 14, 2008

COIN Analogy of the Day: The Staircase

Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely offered up the following analogy today in response to the misguided assertion that counter-insurgency depends upon killing all the insurgents. Abu Muqawama thought this worth paraphrasing and sharing with the readership:

An insurgency is like a staircase. At the top of that staircase, you have the insurgent leadership. Below them, you have the actual bomb-throwers or gunmen. On the step below, you have the primary enablers -- the people who provide the bombs or the rifles. Below them, you have secondary enablers -- like look-outs. Below the enablers, you have the neutral population. And below the neutrals, at the bottom of the staircase, you have the openly friendly elements of the population.

Bad counter-insurgency strategy and tactics have the effect of turning the staircase into an escalator. If you wage a counter-insurgency campaign by kicking down doors and smashing heads against the wall, you move everyone up on the staircase: primary enablers become actual insurgents, secondary enablers become primary enablers, neutrals become enablers, and the friendly population either gets killed or becomes neutral.

Good population-centric counter-insurgency strategy and tactics, by contrast, throw the escalator effect into reverse. Neutrals become friendly and enablers become neutral.

Sir John would be the last person to say the British Army has it all figured out with respect to COIN and is himself suspicious of the notion that the British have an advantage in places like Iraq and Afghanistan because of their institutional experience in Northern Ireland. But the general himself is a serious COIN intellectual, and Abu Muqawama gained permission to post his useful analogy through an intermediary (a certain over-exposed U.S. Army lieutenant colonel).

See, also: Kiszely, "Learning About Counter-insurgency" (.pdf)