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Libyan Newswire

Understanding insurgency warfare

InsurgencyUnderstanding insurgency warfare

Published 2 November 2016

A new book explores the history and details of 181 insurgencies since the end of the Second World War, providing lessons for those fighting insurgent campaigns today in such countries as Syria, Libya, and Iraq. The book finds that there has been a significant increase in the past decade in the number of insurgencies involving extremist Islamic groups. The book also finds that insurgent groups are most likely to lose when they perpetrate large-scale brutality against civilians and fail to secure outside support from great powers.

A new book from terrorism expert Seth G. Jones of the RAND Corporation explores the history and details of 181 insurgencies since the end of the Second World War, providing lessons for those fighting insurgent campaigns today in such countries as Syria, Libya, and Iraq.

RAND says that the book, Waging Insurgent Warfare: Lessons from the Vietcong to the Islamic State, finds there has been a dramatic shift in the type of insurgencies over the past decade, with a significant increase in the number of insurgencies involving extremist Islamic groups. The book also finds that insurgent groups are most likely to lose when they perpetrate large-scale brutality against civilians and fail to secure outside support from great powers.

“Based on the modern history of insurgent warfare, the Islamic State’s consistent targeting of civilians is a major long-term vulnerability,” Jones said. “It will lead to their demise. Virtually no insurgent group that has used such ruthless tactics has won an insurgency, since it severely undermines local support.”

The United States should more aggressively conduct information campaigns that highlight the Islamic State’s brutality and develop programs that encourage defections by disillusioned fighters, according to Jones. In addition, the history of insurgent warfare suggests that U.S. support should come from special operations and intelligence units, rather than conventional forces. These types of forces are better trained and prepared to work with local partners against the Islamic State.

The book describes how insurgencies have become alarmingly common in the twenty-first century. Over three dozen violent insurgencies are taking place today.

“Many policymakers don’t realize that most insurgencies end on the battlefield, not at the negotiating table,” Jones said. “Roughly three quarters of insurgencies ended with a battlefield victory by either the government or insurgents.” 

Jones explores data and current events, including examples in high-profile countries that are struggling with violent insurgencies, offering a comprehensive look at how insurgent groups function. It is critical that policymakers and those involved in counterinsurgency strategy deepen their understanding of the root causes and history of insurgencies successfully to combat them, Jones writes.  

RAND notes that Waging Insurgent Warfare is one of the first books to look at insurgency rather than counterinsurgency, but the implications will be important for waging counterinsurgent warfare as well.

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