Wednesday, December 11, 2013

David H. Ucko and Robert Egnell's "Counterinsurgency in Crisis"

David Ucko is currently an Associate Professor at the College of International Security Affairs, National Defense University as well as Adjunct Fellow at the Department of War Studies, King's College London.

Robert Egnell is a Visiting Associate Professor and Director of Teaching in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University as well as Associate Professor of War Studies at the Swedish National Defence College.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Counterinsurgency in Crisis: Britain and the Challenges of Modern Warfare, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Counterinsurgency in Crisis throws the reader into a case study of British operations in Helmand, Afghanistan. The chapter has at this stage carefully described the challenges the British troops faced in this hostile environment, and the difficulty with which they adapted to this largely unanticipated setting. The final sentence of page 99 summarizes this process harshly: “The operations launched in 2007-2010 can be described as a number of misguided attempts to overcome a poor start at the time of deployment, followed by the ill-conceived attempt to make up for such errors through a counterinsurgency approach entirely unsuited to the resources provided.”

Page 99 thereby touches upon a number of the book’s key features and arguments. The heart of the book is indeed a detailed account of British counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as of the institutional responses to adapt to the challenges faced in these operations.

Long considered the masters of counterinsurgency, the British military still encountered significant problems in Iraq and Afghanistan when confronted with insurgent violence. Its efforts to apply the counterinsurgency principles and doctrine of previous campaigns reveal critical disconnects in how counterinsurgency is today planned and prosecuted. What emerges from this analysis is a troubling gap between ambitions and resources, intent and commitment. For Britain, this means a need to engage in serious soul searching regarding its ambitions and role in the world. The analysis of how the British military has responded to this challenge, and how it has realigned priorities and policy all against a backdrop of a financial crisis, is not encouraging.

For the broader military and strategic studies community, the book engages in a more general debate regarding the appropriate lessons of a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. A key point made is that counterinsurgency is again (as after Vietnam) in danger of being pushed off the table. It is in crisis. Thus, there is a need to rethink this topic in order to salvage the valuable lessons learned over the past 10-15 years.

Indeed, so long as the operating environment looks as it does today, so long as the character of conflict looks as it does today, the lessons at the tactical level of the last ten years remain highly relevant. Even if we can debate the concept of counterinsurgency and its application today and tomorrow, the lessons of operating in urban environments, foreign languages and foreign cultures will be relevant also in the future. Expeditionary powers cannot escape these challenges.
Learn more about Counterinsurgency in Crisis at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue