Friday, March 03, 2006


One of the rules of counter-insurgency is that you never break contact with the enemy. If the insurgents are allowed to retreat, they, by virtue of sheer survival, have won. Throughout most of Cuba's revolution, Castro did almost nothing, because he knew that he could win by not losing. The repressive measures necessary to fight an insurgency naturally turn a population against the government, and the inability of a government to defeat an insurgency further undermines its legitimacy.

Constant harassment of the insurgents by police and military forces is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for counter-insurgent victory. Though it will kill a lot of insurgents, if their numbers are constantly replenished and their morale is high, you can go on killing them forever. Constant fighting tends to do two things to the insurgents: it lowers their morale, since when one is constantly on the run one is constantly cold, wet, tired, hungry, and fearful; and it reduces their ability to recruit since these conditions offer neither an attractive lifestyle nor time to propagandize the people. If morale is low enough, desertion will become a major problem for the insurgents. Such deserters are doubly useful, in that they provide excellent intelligence, and can even be "persuaded" to fight in mixed special forces/turncoat units, as in Rhodesia's Selous Scouts.

But, if surrender/desertion (which are very much the same thing, as deserters are easily apprehended) is not an attractice option, the insurgents will continue to fight, in fact, fight much harder, despite low morale. What could make surrender a poor option? Oh, simple things, like torture, "enhanced interrogation," and indefinite detainment outside of the law. Even the brutal prison system in Kenya during the Mau-Mau revolt ended once the prisoners had completed the cycle of interrogation and reeducation. That's why treating prisoners better than they deserve is important. Even if the detainee is pure evil, there are others who are not, and who will not surrender because of how the evil one was treated. There was a saying in Germany during World War II: "Be brave, my son. Join the infantry, and surrender to the first American you see." Would anyone give that advice today?


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