March 05, 2008

Le Ratissage

THE French cut off the medina with three cordons of troops, through which no Arab could escape. Inside the medina were detachments of Foreign Legionnaires, colonial infantry with tanks, barefoot Berber goumiers, whose hatred of the Arabs is legendary, and French police from whose wrists swung weighted truncheons. Police men, working with maps, split the medina into half a dozen sectors. Then the legionnaires, working systematically, began breaking down the doors of every house.

Once a door was smashed, in went the goumiers and drove out every male, except small boys. Women cried out in terror, and were beaten back with clubs or gun butts.

On top of a low hill in Port Lyautey's medina is a dusty sheep market. Legionnaires drove the Arab men there and herded them under the muzzle of a Patton tank. A dozen policemen formed a gauntlet, six on either side. One by one, the Arabs were thrust forward, each with his hands on his head.

"Entrez done, Monsieur," said a reserve police colonel. "The session is about to begin." He smiled broadly, then hit a middle-aged Arab with his right fist, below the belt. As the Arab went down, the colonel kneed him in the groin. The Arab tried to get up; another cop caught him across the jaw with a club. Down went the Arab and the next cop kicked him, twice. He got up again and ran into the arms of still another policeman, who poked him into a sitting position with the muzzle of a carbine.

Abu Muqawama has been searching in vain for something in the news to highlight today, but the only thing being covered in most newspapers is Hillary Clinton's continuing and hilarious efforts to get John McCain elected president. That said, via Angry Arab, Abu Muqawama came across this report from TIME Magazine's correspondent in Morocco, in 1954, on the brutal counterinsurgency tactics employed to pacify one of the troublesome Arab quarters. The fact that this particular quarter was in Port Lyautey (now Kenitra) is ironic.* Hubert Lyautey -- along with Bugeaud and Gallieni -- was one of the first theorists of population-centric counterinsurgency. (There is a good chapter on him in Paret's Makers of Modern Strategy, authored by Douglas Porch.)

Not too long ago, Thomas Rid was kind enough to send along a copy of Lyautey's famous Du Role Colonial de L'Armée (Paris: Armand Colin & Co. 1900). As Porch makes clear, the French never really bought into population-centric COIN in the way that Lyautey would have liked. And he himself found such tactics difficult to employ in practice. But Lyautey & Co. are important because their ideas form the intellectual basis for the writings of David Galula and Roger Trinquier, which in turn help form the intellectual basis for that copy of FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency sitting beside you. For all the great French contributions to the theory of counterinsurgency, though, they never really nailed it down in practice, did they? Comparatively, the U.S., in Iraq, has had much more success executing population-centric COIN than the French ever did in Morocco, Indochina, or Algeria.

Ah, but it's like what the French bureaucrat said: "I see how it works in practice, but how does it work in theory?"

*There was also, apparently, a Cold War-era U.S. Naval Air Station in Port Lyautey. Abu Muqawama has passed through Kenitra on the train but has never visited.