Monday, December 06, 2004

Winning Insurgencies

What makes an insurgency succeed?

National Review (print version) has published an article by Alistair Horne on the struggle in Algeria against the French, eventually won by the insurgents. At first glance it is very depressing. Consider especially

The first year of the Algerian war ended in stalemate, with France's forces, trained for war in Europe, unable to eradicate the FLN, and the FLN too weak to inflict serious damage on the French. Then, in a deadly move, the FLN switched to attacking the government's Algerian auxiliaries: local caids or magistrates, administrators, and above all, the police and their families. This strategy paid off handsomely. The Muslim police suffered many casualties; they were demoralized by fear, and remained paralyzed in their stations. They had to be protected by French army units that should have been deployed on offensive missions.

Next the FLN targeted villages friendly to the French, and outlying pied noir (French civilian) settlements. Using the bestial technique favored by Islamists to express contempt for the infidel, they slit the throats of women and children. Result: On the one hand, the French steadily lost support to the FLN for failing to protect the loyal, or uncommitted population; on the other, a terrorized civilian workforce left in droves.

This, of course, sounds disturbingly familiar.

But is this the right analogy? Note that the Algerian insurgents were not attacking Algerian civilians, but French civilians, who were against them anyway. In Iraq, the insurgents are slaughtering Iraqi civilians (as well as policemen and Iraqi national guard) for a simple reason not analogous to Algeria: the insurgents have popular support only among a geographically distinct minority, the 20% Sunnis. Further, it was pretty clear that French wanted to stay while the Americans want to leave. The enemy of the insurgents is not the Americans, but the 80% of the population that is not Sunni.

So a question: Has mass slaughter of innocent indigenous civilians ever been the path to a successful insurgency? Others have tried it (the Shining Path in Peru comes to mind), but I can't think of any where it worked.