Monday, February 12, 2007


[posted by Callimachus]

Martin J. Muckian's article on the Iraqi insurgency has been widely cited and praised in the sites that generally pay attention to military wonkery and defense policy publications.

It ought to get even wider circulation than that. Enough hot air might be spared about Vietnam and Malaysia and Greece and Nicaragua to stave off global warming for a decade.

A modern, networked insurgency, such as the one in Iraq, is structurally very different from the Maoist movements of the twentieth century. Simply rehashing old strategies will not work. An effective counterinsurgency needs to understand the structure of this new insurgency and adapt its strategies accordingly.

The first step is to understand that the enemy is a network, not a hierarchy. Imposing a hierarchical framework on an amorphous organization will only hinder efforts. As Georgetown University’s Professor Bruce Hoffman writes, “The problem in Iraq is that there appears to be no such static wiring diagram or organizational structure to identify, unravel, and systematically dismantle.”

The next step is to understand that networks are very difficult to destroy, but they can be disrupted. As Dr. Steven Metz and Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Millen stated, operations should focus on “fracturing, delinking, and deresourcing” the insurgency. Several avenues for disrupting the insurgent network have been discussed in this article—critical nodes, narrative, support sources, and information technology.

First, attack critical nodes for maximum disruptive effect. Modern insurgencies do not have a hierarchy that can be pulled apart. Targeting the ostensible leadership is not likely to have a significant disruptive effect. People or cells with special skills or who act as critical communication links or perform non-redundant functions are key vulnerabilities of a network.

Second, networked insurgencies do not necessarily have strong political cohesion. Attack the narrative by forcing the insurgency to respond to issues that are outside its scope—this can disrupt or even fracture the movement as each group responds to the issue according to its own ideology. Ideological differences are a primary cause of fracturing within networked groups. A counterinsurgency should take every opportunity to disrupt its adversary by promoting internal dissension.

Third, attack the sources of support. This cannot be done effectively through traditional population control measures; the counterinsurgency must understand where the movement obtains its resources. This may involve international cooperation to stop overseas funding streams. Given that insurgencies are increasingly turning to crime for financing, priority should be given to reducing crime and corruption in an effort to disrupt insurgent financing.

Fourth, attack the information technology infrastructure of the network. A network is absolutely dependent on robust communications to function. It may be that information technology controls are the modern equivalent of the population controls that were used so successfully against Maoist insurgencies. One extreme proposal is to completely shut down the information technology grid in the insurgent areas—telephones, cellular towers, and so on. This could certainly have a disruptive effect on a networked organization, but more research is needed in this critical area.

This is not just an Iraq problem, of course. This is the new face of the global battlefield for America, and it ought to be in the minds of a great many people who seem only dimly aware of it, from the purchasers at the Pentagon to the activists taking out full-page NYT ads insisting President Bush do something about the genocide in Darfur.

As a minor aside to all this, is it possible that spontaneous horizontal networks of military and non-military individuals with common goals could be a terrificly effective tool in counter-insurgency?

This is a story of can-do in a no-can-do world, a story of how a Marine officer in Iraq, a small network-design company in California, a nonprofit troop-support group, a blogger and other undeterrable folk designed a handheld insurgent-identification device, built it, shipped it and deployed it in Anbar province. They did this in 30 days, from Dec. 15 to Jan. 15. Compared to standard operating procedure for Iraq, this is a nanosecond.

Sometimes, maybe, whether you win or lose on a battlefield really does have nothing to do with who's in the White House or how competent he or she is. And perhaps the proud, contributing members of the Spirit of America network could point out to their chickenhawk-squawking detractors that, in some cases, they also serve who only stand and wait.

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