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[] Bruce Hoffman: Irak ist Netwar,

"what we find in Iraq is the closest manifestation yet of "netwar," a
concept defined in 1992 by the RAND analysts John Arquilla and David
Ronfeldt as unconventional warfare involving flat, segmented networks
instead of the pyramidal hierarchies and command-and-control systems (no
matter how primitive) that have governed traditional insurgent


The Atlantic Monthly | July/August 2004

Plan of Attack

Insurgents in Iraq are forging improbable alliances to fight what some
analysts call a "netwar." The United States needs to adapt?and to
relearn some old lessons

by Bruce Hoffman


"We know we're killing a lot, capturing a lot, collecting arms,"
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reportedly told a meeting of defense analysts
and retired officers at the Pentagon last year, commenting on U.S.
attempts to thwart the growing insurgency in Iraq. "We just don't know
yet whether that's the same as winning." Rumsfeld's remark encapsulates
the confusion and frustration that have plagued U.S. counterinsurgency
efforts around the world for more than half a century?most notably in
Vietnam, El Salvador, and now Iraq. The United States is not alone,
however. It is the latest victim of a problem that has long afflicted
the world's governments and militaries when they are confronted with
insurgencies: namely, a striking inability to absorb and apply the
lessons learned in previous counterinsurgency campaigns.

Guerrilla groups and terrorist organizations, on the other hand, learn
lessons very well. They study their own mistakes and the successful
operations of their enemies, and they adapt nimbly. The past year in
Iraq has been a case in point: insurgents have moved from sporadic,
relatively unsophisticated roadside bomb attacks to more coordinated,
even synchronized attacks, with brutally successful results: growing
numbers of coalition soldiers and Iraqi civilians are dying; security in
much of the country remains fragile or elusive; Iraqi resentment of the
United States is increasing; and international political support for the
American occupation, never exactly formidable to begin with, is
withering. By many measures the insurgents are succeeding and we are

Regardless of the ultimate outcome in Iraq, in the decades ahead the
United States is likely to be drawn into other military occupations and
nation-building efforts; America's superpower status and the ongoing war
on terrorism make this prospect almost inevitable. To a very important
degree our ability to carry out such jobs effectively will depend on an
approach to counterinsurgency that makes intelligent use of the lessons
that countries around the world have confronted repeatedly throughout
history. At root those lessons are basic: First, always remember that
the struggle is not primarily military but political, social, economic,
and ideological. Second, learn to recognize the signs of a budding
insurgency, and never let it develop momentum. Third, study and
understand the enemy in advance. And fourth, put a strong emphasis on
gathering up-to-the-minute local intelligence.

Political considerations?applied to doctrine, planning, implementation,
and, especially, operational coordination?must be at the foundation of
any approach to counterinsurgency. The vigorousness of the insurgency in
Iraq today stems directly from the fact that the United States did not
plan well enough for the occupation; we lost a critical window of
opportunity because we failed to anticipate the widespread civil
disorder and looting that followed the capture of Baghdad. Despite the
detailed planning for occupying postwar Iraq that was under way in many
parts of the U.S. government (see "Blind Into Baghdad," by James
Fallows, January/ February 2004 Atlantic), the officials directly
charged with running the war and handling its aftermath appear not to
have seriously considered the possibility that a sustained resistance
effort might emerge and snowball into an insurgency. We were simply not
on the lookout for the early signs of a social climate favorable to
resistance; as a result, we were not able to suppress the insurgency
before it had a chance to grow and gain momentum.

In the early 1990s I was the co-author of two RAND Corporation reports
that together analyzed seven historical counterinsurgency and
counterterrorist campaigns, involving Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, Northern
Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Rhodesia. In every case we noted that
because authorities failed to detect the signs of incipient insurgency,
and because the government was not sufficiently integrated with the
military to mount a decisive initial response, the insurgents or
terrorists had time to entrench themselves in the civilian population
and to solidify their efforts. All was not necessarily lost, but time,
money, and many lives were needlessly expended. In Iraq, as in the
countries we studied, by the time the authorities realized the
seriousness of the situation, they had squandered invaluable
opportunities to bring the insurgency to heel.

The military side of the equation cannot be neglected, of course. But in
any military operation it is essential to acquire, coordinate, analyze,
and disseminate "actionable intelligence." Here, too, the United States
has fallen far short of the mark in Iraq. The Washington Post has
reported that the CIA station in Baghdad may well be the largest in the
world by now, with more than 300 full-time case officers and nearly 500
employees (including contractors) in total?a figure that, according to
the Post, is up from an originally planned complement of only
eighty-five officers. Yet intelligence collection remains a problem,
especially in our efforts to determine how many insurgents are present
and who they are?two of the most basic and necessary pieces of
information for understanding and fighting any insurgency. The generally
accepted number, cited by General John Abizaid last November, was 5,000;
most are thought to be Sunni Muslims who belonged to the Baath Party or
served in the military, the police, or the security and intelligence
services. Tellingly, U.S. officials still estimate the number to be
between four and six thousand, despite obvious signs that the insurgency
has grown. U.S. and other sources believe that more than 90 percent of
the violent acts carried out by the insurgents are the work of these
FREs (former regime elements), who are reported to be either doing the
job themselves or paying others (often criminals or unemployed "angry
young men") to do it. Despite repeated claims from official Washington
that a large number of foreign volunteers are converging on Iraq,
American military commanders report no indications that this is the
case; the most frequently cited figure is around 500, although some
estimates put it at 1,000 to 3,000. Of the 5,000 insurgents already in
custody (a number strongly suggesting that official U.S. estimates are
too low), only about 300 are foreigners. No doubt the search for weapons
of mass destruction in Iraq explains some of the inadequacies in this
area. Indeed, it was not until late November?when the daily pace of
guerrilla attacks on U.S. troops rose to some forty a day?that many
intelligence officers and analysts were reassigned from that search to
focus on the insurgency.

Although determining the size of the insurgency is critical to combating
it, recent history has shown that to a certain degree the exact numbers
are immaterial. For more than twenty years a hard core of just twenty or
thirty members of the Baader-Meinhof gang terrorized West Germany?a
stable country with much more sophisticated and reliable police,
security, and intelligence services than Iraq is likely to have for some
time. Similarly, some fifty to seventy-five Red Brigadists imposed a
reign of terror on Italy; the worst period, in the late 1970s, is still
referred to as the "years of lead." And for thirty years a dedicated
cadre of 200 to 400 IRA gunmen and bombers frustrated the effort to
maintain law and order in Northern Ireland.

These examples are clearly not parallel to the situation in Iraq, but
they do illustrate an important principle: there will always be a
fundamental asymmetry in the dynamic between insurgency and
counterinsurgency. Guerrillas and terrorists do not have to defeat their
opponents militarily; they just have to avoid losing. In this respect
the more conspicuous the security forces are and the more pervasive
their operations become, the stronger the insurgency appears to be.
Insurgents try to disrupt daily life and commerce with their attacks;
they hope that security-force countermeasures will alienate the
population and create a public impression of the authorities as
oppressors rather than protectors. This, in a nutshell, is what is
happening in Iraq.

General Abizaid has described the current conflict in Iraq as a
"classical guerrilla-type campaign." In important ways, however, it is
not. The Iraqi insurgency, unlike most others, has no center of gravity.
Secular Baathists and other FREs are cooperating with domestic and
foreign religious extremists. As a senior official with the Coalition
Provisional Authority wrote to me in February, two months before this
phenomenon crystallized in the fight for Fallujah, "Here the
Baathist-Islamic divide does not exist in a practical sense. I wouldn't
have thought it possible, as they were so diametrically opposed to each
other during the [Saddam Hussein] regime?but it is happening." The Iraqi
insurgency today appears to have no clear leader (or leadership), no
ambition to seize and actually hold territory (except ephemerally, as in
the recent cases of Fallujah and Najaf), no unifying ideology, and, most
important, no identifiable organization. Rather, what we find in Iraq is
the closest manifestation yet of "netwar," a concept defined in 1992 by
the RAND analysts John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt as unconventional
warfare involving flat, segmented networks instead of the pyramidal
hierarchies and command-and-control systems (no matter how primitive)
that have governed traditional insurgent organizations. The insurgency
in Iraq is taking place in an ambiguous and constantly shifting
environment, with constellations of cells and individuals gravitating
toward one another?to carry out armed attacks, exchange intelligence,
trade weapons, and engage in joint training?and then dispersing,
sometimes never to operate together again. It is a battlefield situation
that a conventional military often cannot cope with, and we must learn
to adapt. We must build effective indigenous intelligence capabilities
so that we can identify the signs of an incipient insurgency; establish,
train, and forge close cooperative relations with a functioning and
capable police force; improve the safety, security, and living
conditions of the local population, thereby gaining their confidence;
and take advantage of the training capabilities, language skills, and
cultural awareness and sensitivities of American special-operations
forces, whose mission specifically includes the training of foreign
militaries. In the end, however, no matter how sophisticated a response
we develop, and no matter how new the insurgents' strategies are, a
simple lesson that has been learned and forgotten again and again still
applies: Don't let insurgencies get started in the first place.

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