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Tackling Insurgency

Col. K C Dixit was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • December 29, 2009

    Military operations must aim at creating a sense of security by preventing insurgent depredations on the people, and forcing misguided elements to seek an honourable negotiated settlement. Our conventional training philosophy, which is based on dehumanizing a man, motivating him with an ardent regimental spirit and building in him a very specific image bordering on arrogance and flamboyance, is not ideally suited to carry out counter-insurgency operations. Thus, changes in attitudes are mandatory to achieve the primary objective of winning over the hearts and minds of the people. But sudden transitions are always difficult to manage, since it will often mean discarding conventional military wisdom. In fact, military hawks usually term it as appeasement or a live and let live approach adopted by weak-kneed commanders. Hence, reorientation training for counter insurgency environment is mandatory both for political masters and the army.

    Even at the tactical level, there is scope for refinement. It must be remembered that during the conduct of operations, tactical successes are necessary to retain initiative, to maintain morale and motivational levels of own troops and to force the insurgents to remain always on the run. But if tactical operations are executed in an uncontrolled manner, they directly contribute to the achievement of insurgent strategy of creating a sea of hostility. Thus, there exists a contradiction. We must accept that fighting back is a fundamental human instinct, and even soldiers will retaliate in self defence if their own survival is threatened by insurgents and their supporters, notwithstanding clear directives to field commanders to attempt apprehension of hostiles first, and open fire when hostiles resist or attempt escape. Anyone will retaliate, if their own survival is at stake. Therefore, it must be emphasized during training that security forces are carrying out extremely delicate tasks under serious tactical constraints. Patience and perseverance are the prime requirements in such scenarios. Also security forces must develop consummate, calculative and deft, tactical, psychological and political sophistication to come up with correct answers to numerous unforeseen situations that can crop up in an insurgency environment; be it during ambushes, or search operations, or interrogation of hostiles or their supporters, or innocent civilians. Unfortunately, it is unrealistic and impractical to produce templates for application.

    We need to re-confirm if employment of army using conventional concepts and infantry tactics but with restrictions on the use of fire power is the only answer? Obviously, the answer to the problem, particularly in the initial stages of insurgency, is the first step and must start with the identification of the problem and accurate visualization of pattern of insurgent operations to include their initial, intermediate and final objectives. Furthermore, their capabilities must be accurately reviewed and tasks likely to be executed correctly identified. Of course, the overall aim of all clandestine and subversive activities would be to expand their influence over people by attraction or coercion with a view to assert their credibility in the minds of masses and to gain initiative in the military field. Expressed in terms of tasks, all insurgent activities include: guerilla operations to acquire military capability and ascendancy, recruitment to expand politico-military base, tax and ration collection to sustain expanding capability, selective killings to coerce non-partisans to extend support and political initiatives to gain and widen external and internal support. Perforce, security forces’ tactical operations must be designed to combat such insurgent activities with least inconvenience to the people and contain insurgency. Therefore, counter insurgency operations automatically include: population control and denial, psychological operations, civic action programmes and search, ambush and raid missions to isolate and capture insurgents and destroy their camps. In such a complex situation, conduct of uncontrolled operations usually results in real and contrived excesses and loss of credibility. Thus, ironically excessive use of military force by uninitiated commanders and troops will always be counter-productive and must never be attempted.

    To amplify further, general cordon and search operations are usually counter-productive and need to be replaced by selective cordon and search operations conducted on the basis of real time actionable intelligence, to prevent causing avoidable harassment and humiliation to people. Furthermore, excessive employment of road opening parties, convoy escorts and other security measures, particularly curfew restrictions, though defensive by nature, are not only counter-productive but also offer lucrative targets to the insurgents to inflict casualties and achieve their overall strategy. Therefore tactical operational activity should only be directed at insurgents and their active collaborators/ sympathizers with least disturbance caused to neutral and friendly people. Of course, intelligence capability will be the most vital Key Result Area to conduct such operations. Logic automatically dictates employment of special forces, operating from designated firm bases, to launch surprise strikes aimed at capturing maximum number of insurgents and arms or destroying their camps, vis-à-vis conduct of large scale and un-controlled operations during the initial stage. However, during later stages of insurgency, if guerrilla activity gets widespread, there is a need to move into open conventional warfare. In both situations, the army will be forced to counter insurgent activity adopting conventional tactics with restricted fire power, but once again supported by a psychological warfare effort. The overall object will continue to remain winning over the hearts and mind of the people.

    Commanders and troops must understand that they are operating in a ‘No Win’ situation and their overall aim will always remain achievement of a more perfect peace. It simply implies that there is no such thing as a quick military victory. Conduct of counter-insurgency campaigns will invariably extend over a number of years. None should attempt to achieve ‘quick-end’ results, particularly by excessive use of force. Excessive use of force is counter-productive and must be avoided. Patience, perseverance, warmth and genuineness must be displayed by totally committed, dedicated and motivated leadership at all levels. Undeniably, counter-insurgency environment demands a very high order intellectual acumen unimagined ever before in conventional setting. Since it is a ‘No Win’ situation, performance evaluation may not be based on head count of number of insurgents captured/ destroyed and weapons captured or on number of hearts and minds won over. At the same time there is no room for ‘Zero Error’ or ‘live and let live’ approach to the problem. Such is the nerve racking complexity of the problem that the need for ensuring correct type of mental conditioning at all levels assumes vital significance. Fighting insurgency in this backdrop tends to create tremendous pressure on the minds of security forces’ personnel due to contradictory requirements and as such needs to be addressed appropriately at various levels.