Friday, December 11, 2009

Counterinsurgency: is it the population or the enemy?

There seem to be two dominant schools of thought regarding counterinsurgency. One is population focused. One is enemy focused. I just came from a lecture with the author of a recent book who thinks a third approach is more leadership focused. So which is most correct? I wonder if the answer is none of the above. Instead I wonder if there is an alternative option that is issue focused. What I mean is that each insurgent situation is unique. Granted there are similarities between all insurgencies and the counterinsurgent efforts against those insurgencies. But, they are all still different. Therefore, I wonder if in reality they each require a unique approach. If so, then the alternative, an issue centric approach, might make sense. Thoughts?


  1. I'm not sure I follow this one. What do you mean by population focused and enemy focused?

  2. In a counterinsurgency strategy there needs to be some focus. One school of thought suggests the population is the most important aspect to focus on. So, strategy is geared around securing the population and making sure the population is able to be protected from the enemy, i.e. the insurgency.

    A second school of thought suggests the focus should be on the enemy. The idea is that if the enemy is targeted and eliminated or severely reduced and the insurgency will dissolve. That train of thought is like playing whack-a-mole.

    Of course you can combine the two strategies to create a combination of the two, but I think there is still a focus. My point is that I think there are other focuses that can be unique to each situation. For instance, whatever worked in Iraq or in the Philippines or in Malaysia, may not necessarily work in Afghanistan or Pakistan. It is a fine line I’m drawing, but the idea is that each scenario requires a deep study of the situation. After the situation is understood, then apply whatever means to resolve that situation. The resolution may not be population driven or it may not even be enemy driven.

  3. The problem is attempting to simplify insurgency and counterinsurgency terms. Catagorical focus on population and enemy is a vague approach and easy for an "expert" speak about. Since it doesn't label specific approaches to expel a threat it leaves room for the next "expert" to expand the term to leadership...or a specific mantra of a political party...or economic stability. The resolution is specific only to the area of responsibility.

  4. I cannot help but wonder whether these counterinsurgencies are just like a flock of sheep, each following the other, not really knowing the reason for going one direction or another. Do they even know what their 'cause' is, as it pertains to each individual counterinsurgent group? Or is that they simply follow-the-leader to gain attention to their own? I can't say I know anything factual, but but I cannot help but wonder if they know the facts either??

  5. I think they are unfulfilled, purpose-seeking sheep that are desperate for meaningful lives based on something other than daily survival. So why not follow a leader to belong to something 'greater than themselves'. Eventually the once-upon-a-time poor citizen, gains power and influence through usurping anything, anyone, or any establishment. An oddly self-serving status upgrade for some; set in motion by manipulation of the psychological effects of a mob.....I don't believe they see things farther than the perceived threat, think about the ramifications, or even accept the complete mantra of the group. They just want to be part of something. The beauty of a religiously motivated insurgency is that they don't have to know the facts. Religion without question makes for the 'true believers' and easier control....No Infidels allowed in the club.


Thank you for commenting. I appreciate your interest in the topic. It adds a little more to how we understand our world.