By Gary Anderson
Best Defense office of hard lessons
Over the course of the past 20 years, I have observed or participated in counterinsurgency campaigns in South Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan in both military and civilian capacities. Some were done poorly, some successfully. The one thing that I have learned is that each is unique in its own way and there are no templates that will work in all cases. Mali is a good example of uniqueness, and there are some lessons from each of my experiences that pertain to that particular situation.
As a U.N. observer in Lebanon, I watched the Israelis go from liberators to hated occupiers in a way that was completely unnecessary, and caused them needless grief. Like the French in Mali, the Israelis chased off an unwanted foreign presence -- in their case, the Palestinians were viewed occupiers by the largely Shiite southern Lebanese population. Unfortunately, the Israelis had a tendency to view any armed Muslim Arab as a threat. Consequently, Israel opted to arm a minority Christian-led militia. This action inadvertently created Hezbollah, which became a far greater threat to Israel than the Palestinians ever could present. The Israelis would have likely been far better off arming individual villages for self-protection without taking sides in the ongoing Lebanese civil war and positioning themselves as an honest third-party broker in the inevitable civil disputes in South Lebanon.
Mali is a civil war as much as an insurgency. The southern third, and the government, are dominated by blacks while the northern part has a considerable population of light-skinned Tauregs of Berber origin. Although heavily armed al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) foreign fighters have provided the Taureg separatists their military advantage, in the recent past the Tauregs have shown an inclination to negotiate, and will likely do so again if the jihadists can be ejected. This is where the French need to avoid Israel's Lebanon mistake and become facilitators of real negotiations.
In Somalia, we learned the lessons of cultural ignorance the hard way. After a largely successful humanitarian intervention to stop mass starvation, we and the United Nations ignored the traditional clan system of the Somalis and made the mistake of trying to supplant it with alien Western style democracy. Ironically, the attempt by the former Somali dictator to ignore the influence of the clans was what began the disastrous civil war that caused the collapse of Somalia to begin with. The Americans and United Nations overreached in Somalia. The Malian government understands that it needs to rebuild the democratic institutions that were toppled by the disastrous military coup that initiated the current crisis. We could help in reestablishing Malian governmental legitimacy.
In Iraq, we succeeded largely because we were able to separate the foreign jihadist insurgents from the indigenous Sunni nationalist insurgents through a soft power combination of diplomacy and money. The use of soft power such as this in driving a wedge between the Tuareg people and AQIM will be critical to any potential success.
In Afghanistan, we continue to learn perhaps the most difficult lesson of all. To successfully help a host-nation government fight an insurgency requires that the host-nation government wants to address the root causes of the insurgency. The Afghan government never accepted that principle, and may never will. That does not mean that governance cannot be improved in Mali. Good governance is not necessarily expensive. I have come to the conclusion through bitter experience that the more development money we throw at a country, the worse the government gets, as money breeds corruption. In Mali, we would be better advised to spend small amounts of money on rule of law training and local management techniques for local officials, particularly Tauregs and other local officials in the north. Insurgencies are like politics in that they are basically local.
In rebuilding the Malian military, we need to remember that the organizer of the coup debacle was American trained. As Western trainers try to retool the Malian Army, we need to remember human rights training and the importance of civilian control over the military as much as small unit training, patrolling, and other tactical skills. In addition, the Department of State and French Foreign Ministry need to stress civil-military relations in training national level Malian officials.
I am one of those opposed to U.S. intervention in Syria. The infestation of Islamic radicals in the ranks of the rebels is even greater than it was in Afghanistan during the revolt against the Soviets. I favor a negotiated settlement with the Baathists that will allow them a reasonably soft landing as we brokered between the government junta and the rebels in El Salvador two decades ago, but Mali is different.
If we use Special Operations Force troops to train local militias and retool the Malian Army into a professional force capable of supporting a democratic civilian government, we can do so cheaply and effectively; that is the SOF mission. More importantly, they could help build village-level self-defense militias in the north to prevent the now hated Islamists from returning. Again, a relatively inexpensive operation.
Likewise, the State Department and USAID now have hard-earned Iraq and Afghanistan experience in coaching good governance and anti-corruption at the national, provincial, and local levels. This ought to be exploited before it atrophies. Again, this can be done affordably. Mali is not hopeless, and it can be a model for the right way to stabilize governments and fight Islamic extremists.
Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps colonel who was a governance advisor in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is an adjunct professor at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.
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Vicki Huddleston, a former U.S. ambassador to Mali, says that the French government paid $17 million to ransom French nationals in recent years. She further alleges that these payments funded al Qaeda-linked operations in Africa.
The French are wrong to do this. Not just mildly wrong, but massively wrong. Not only are they funding terrorism, they are increasing the chances that their people will be nabbed.
I say this as someone who feared getting kidnapped in Baghdad. This was at a time when Iraqi criminals supposedly were nabbing people and then selling them to al Qaeda. I was once in a group of reporters summoned to the Green Zone for a briefing from an American security official. He informed us that Baghdad was the most dangerous city in the world, that we were the most lucrative targets in the city, and that he thought we were nuts. Thanks fella!
Bottom line: I felt that my best defense was the U.S. government policy of not paying kidnappers. I still do.
By J. Dana Stuster
Best Defense office of Arab seasonal affairs
In the earliest days of the Arab Spring, Algeria appeared poised to join Tunisia in its revolution. Protests swept through the country weeks before the first stirrings in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya or Syria. According to The Economist's tongue-in-cheek attempt to quantify the factors generating the unrest ("the shoe thrower's index"), Algeria seemed less likely to be stable than its revolutionary neighbor and far outpaced Bahrain in factors contributing to potential unrest.
Algeria isn't stable now, but it has managed to avoid reaching a critical mass of domestic upheaval through a measured police response that has been severe without being so brutal that it incites more anger, as well as economic concessions that reduced the cost of staple foods and legal reforms that include the repeal the country's twenty-year-old emergency law. While it remains to be seen whether these concessions will stick in the long-term, they seem to have bought some time for the Algerian government.
The next potential crisis will be the country's legislative elections, scheduled for May. The country is only dubiously democratic; true power resides with a cabal of political and military officials informally know as Le Pouvoir, and there are concerns that, if a truly democratic election is held, the military may intervene to prevent an Islamist landslide in the parliament. The last time the military stepped in was 1992; what followed was a military coup, the institution of the emergency law, and an ugly civil war. The Algerian government is only now walking back the many effects of 1992, and if Le Pouvoir intervenes in May it would be a significant setback for the country, but so too could be a polarizing election.
Speaking at CSIS recently, Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci expressed his full confidence that the military will support the results of the election and downplayed the significance of a potential Islamist election, pointing out that an Islamist party (condoned by the government) has participated in the parliament since the late 1990s. Listening to Medelci, it is easy to get caught up in his optimism for Algeria. He boasts about his country's progress toward meeting the United Nations' Development Program's Millennium Development Goals and speaks eloquently about the political and economic reforms underway. Speaking to a collection of Arab media, businesspeople, think tank experts, and diplomats, he touted the increasing privatization of the economy, the large college-educated population (the majority of which are women), the proliferation of trade agreements, and the government's attempts to diversify the economy, including a large solar array to reduce Algeria's reliance on oil exports. He tied the new flurry of reforms to Algeria's efforts over the past decade to better incorporate minority groups, though he didn't go into detail on these. He seemed pleased with the new reforms, which include expanded press freedoms, a new quota system for women's representation in the parliament, an increased role for the judiciary in elections to make them more independent from the administration, and an upcoming revision of the constitution.
It all sounds very promising, and if done right, it could be precisely the sort of gradual reform that the United States has encouraged the monarchies in the Gulf to embrace. But even ignoring the questions about how healthy Algeria's economy truly is (only last year, Issandr El Amrani called Bouteflika's economic policy "an unmitigated disaster"), Algeria has only a narrow window of opportunity for this to succeed - Bouteflika's term expires in 2014, but he is physically ailing and there is no clear means of succession if he passes while in office. If Algeria cannot prepare its democratic institutions for this essential transition, it will face a two-front struggle: a crisis within Le Pouvoir, and also the remobilization of the disenfranchised and disheartened public that took to the streets in January 2011. Eurasia Group's James Fallon pointed to Algeria for a potential renewal of upheaval last November, and while the protesters in Algiers had difficulty expressing a set of common grievances, they will no doubt learn from the successes in Egypt and Tunisia.
While Algeria's problems are far from solved and new unrest may arise between now and then, for now, its role in the Arab Spring is restricted to its participation in the Arab League delegation to Syria. Medelci distanced his government from Anwar Malek, the Algerian monitor who resigned from the delegation and called it a "farce." Medelci has pointed out that Malek was representing a non-governmental organization and not the Algerian government, which remains committed to the mission in Syria. Justifying this commitment involved some verbal hurdles. Pressed by Ellen Laipson of the Stimson Center to reconcile Algeria's involvement in the Arab League's involvement in Syria with its policy of non-intervention, Medelci explained that he considers the Arab League mission as less a matter of interference, but an effort to prevent broader interference through providing an option for third-party mediation.
Medelci was nothing if not positive in his assessment. Speaking of its revolutionary neighbors in North Africa, he told the audience, "We hope that these countries now control their destiny and can join us as stronger partners. We need stronger partners, but we are not in a position to be hegemonic. We don't have lessons to teach but we share a revolutionary heritage." This July will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Algeria's independence from France, and while, for now, Algeria's non-interventionist intervention in Syria may be the center of attention, it is shaping up to be a dramatic year domestically as well. Here's hoping it lives up to the foreign minister's optimism.
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What he said. Thas a bold statement.
This should have been step one. Basic rule here: Indirect action is better than direct. Before you commit your own military forces, help the locals help themselves. This also helps with extracting yourself: You win when the locals can defend themselves.
Btw, this apparently is one reason the rebels have been doing better in western Libya lately.
French foreign minister Alain Juppé to reporters in Paris on Thursday: "The destruction of Qaddafi's military capacity is a matter of days or weeks, certainly not months."
American defense secretary Robert Gates to reporters in Cairo on Wednesday: "I think no one was under any illusions that this would be an operation that would last one week or two weeks or three weeks."
This is gonna get real interesting real soon. The Americans plan to get out and say it is gonna last. The French are supposed to keep it going, but say it isn't.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Several interesting commenters have crept up to our blog's campfire in recent days, joining our intimate little band (wow, did see those two going at in in the My Lai item?)
One of the newcomers, a perp self-identifying as "Jonny," got this advice from an old-timer around the cell block, "Don Bacon":
France doesn't seem reluctant, except in actually doing anything.
Nicolas Sarkozy has called for air strikes on Libya. It is less than 800 miles from Toulon to Tripoli, and yet France with its enormous military infrastructure is incapable of striking Tripoli? France needs the U.S. to do it? I wonder why?
Bunch of chicken-hawks.
Now, I know am at odds with many of the little grasshoppers, who want to stay far away from Libya. Still, whatever you advocate doing there, it is an interesting question: If France wants to do something, why not do something, Jacques? What are you waiting for?
Monsieur Tyrtaios, wanna handle this? Any other friends of la France out there who wanna step up?
That's not a bad thing. As I said the other day, there comes a point when action is necessary. I was worried that we would not move until there was a mass slaughter-and that might come too late.
But that emphatically does not mean that NATO should instantly move to a no-fly zone. Rather, there are a series of steps short of that to consider first. The point of departure should be that there are millions of Libyans willing to fight for their freedom. Let's first try to figure out how to help them. Here are the eight steps to take, in order:
--Indeed, the biggest air threat presented by Qaddafi's forces comes not from fighter aircraft but from helicopters, which are harder to deal with in a no-fly zone, because they can take off and land anywhere. But giving the rebels a few RPGs, plus some .50 caliber machine guns, or their East Bloc equivalent, can be a powerful deterrent.
--Provide targetting and troop movement information, especially from signals intercepts.
--Get food into rebel-held areas.
I would hope that those four steps already are being taken. The French intelligence services actually have a very good reputation for being operationally effective, so I would expect that at least some of this stuff is going on. If not, time for President Obama to get on the phone.
In addition, we should ready the next four steps:
--Announce harsh penalties for any foreign mercenaries caught fighting for Qaddafi, but offer amnesty for anyone who stops fighting now and leaves the country.
--Take very public steps for a no-fly zone, like flying half a wing each into the U.S. base in Sigonella, Sicily (which would handle the western end of Libya) and the U.S. base at Souda Bay, Crete (from which the eastern end of the country would be patrolled).
--Prepare to announce a no-fly zone, but only do it if we are sure we can do it and sustain it for several weeks or even months.
--As I've said before, if we decide to actually put in people on the ground, like for a snatch-and-grab of Qaddafi, we then would want to do a no-fly zone simultaneously, just to make it more difficult for Qaddafi to move around and to pour sand into the gears of his command-and-control system.
As it happens, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Brussels today so he likely will have some interesting conversations on all this.
You never know what a blog post will provoke. I was impressed with the level of detail in Lobot's comment in response to my comment about Taliban weaponry outranging the U.S. Army's in Afghanistan:
This is very reminiscent of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The French were armed with the new Model 1866 Infantry rifle (the Chassepot) that had an effective range of 1000 yards. Thoroughly outclassing the Prussian Dreyse Zündnadelgewehr, which was effective up to around 400-600 yards. State of the art in 1841, the needle rifle was showing its age by 1870. The French bullets, jacketed in linen instead of paper, were smaller (11mm as opposed to the Prussian 14mm). A French infantryman carried 105 rounds while his Prussian counterpart carried only 70. The Prussians, however, made up for this imbalance with tactics & modern, breech loading Krupps artillery. Also, the Sovs in Afghanistan found that often the main armament on their armored vehicles could not elevate high enough to be employed against the Muj in the mountains, the ZSU-23-4 ADA gun, with its -4° to +85° elevation, became a mainstay in the bronegruppa.
Nicolas Sarkozy, president de la France, condemned the assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai. He said that his country cannot accept such "executions."
Funny, I remember reading in Savage War of Peace how French agents whacked European arms dealers it believed were supplying the Algerian rebels.
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In this blog last Friday, we carried a photo of Petraeus sitting in one of his headquarters, I think with a French general at his side. Tom Nissley of Amazon, a prince among men, wondered aloud in his blog just what was the book Petraeus had on the table in front of him. It turns out to be Wildcat, a French tome about being an independent French journalist during the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq war. I wouldn't worry about this book -- being a French journalist is like being a German chef.
UPDATE on Belgian authors and French generals: Fwiw, I am told that the author of Wildcat is Belgian, not French. But the foreign officer sitting next to Petraeus in the photo is France's chairman of the joint chiefs, General Georgelin.
I about fell off my chair when I read this lead on a story in the National Post of Canada:
The Ottawa university professor accused of killing four people in the 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue will not be returning to work.
Hassan Diab's lawyer told a court on Monday that his client had expected to resume teaching a sociology class this week at Carleton University.
But in a terse statement released yesterday afternoon, the university said that a full-time faculty member "will immediately replace the current instructor, Hassan Diab."
Col. Gian Gentile, the original COINhata, has a fun piece in the new ish of Army History. His thesis is that the Army's new counterinsurgency doctrine is "narrowly defined and has become dogmatic," and relies too much on one school of thought, French theory of the 1950s and 1960s. This is the theory associated with David Galula, he says, that focuses on protecting the population and separating it from the insurgent.
But it seems to me that Gentile defines the theory too narrowly. It wasn't just the French who have argued that the people are the prize, to be won over and supported. British commanders in the revolution belatedly recognized this as the correct strategy. "I never had an idea of subduing the Americans," explained Gen. James Robertson. "I meant to asst the good Americans to subdue the bad."
Reading through the footnotes to the article, it occurred to me that two of the leading lights in the counterinsurgency debate, Conrad Crane (on the pro side) and Gentile (on the anti) are both Army officers who did their doctoral dissertations on airpower.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.