HIAF Final

Alex Laverty

20 March 2007

HIAF 113

1. Rebellions in countries around the world are often confronted with a opponent that is stronger and more advanced than the rebels themselves. When in the underdog position in a conflict, that side is more likely to resort to untried and unorthodox methods as a way of combating the overwhelming opposition. Tactics such as hit and run, bombing civilians, and brutal mutilations have been used by opposition and rebel groups worldwide to strike at government forces. In the countries studied in class, Algeria, Peru, Sierra Leone, and Iraq, each insurgent group has build on top of measures employed by rebel groups that had come before them.

            In Algeria, the National Liberation Front (FLN), began the push for full independence from France in the mid 1950s. By 1954 the FLN had 500 supporters and begin attacking colonial government targets. Soon, the FLN had the support of foreign countries, notably President Nasser in Egypt, a Pan-Arab nationalist. He gave the FLN an office in Cairo from which to coordinate their effort.

            From the outset, the National Liberation Front targeted sympathizers of the colonial government as well as rural French farmers. These attacks were very successful and many French abandoned their farms. However, while successful at hitting Euro farms, the FLN was not capable of maintaining or holding any territory. The terrorist attacks on farmers had achieved recognition of the FLN, but they were still not taken seriously. The FLN thus turned their attacks against the European quarter in Algiers. Hit and run attacks, as well as the coordinated bombings that were shown in the Battle of Algiers, were the primary weapons of the FLN against the French colonial government. It was these bombing, which were targeted against French Algerian civilians in the European quarter of the city that resulted in French Paratroopers from mobilizing throughout the city and setting up checkpoints around the Euro district. This represented a partial victory for the FLN, because the French Algerians had been so terrorized by their bombing that an actually military force had to be called in to supplement the ineffective police. While the French paratroopers eventually captured most of the FLN resistance, the FLN had established a strong precedent for insurrection campaigns that targeted civilians with bombs.

            In Peru the Shining Path led a Maoist-based resistance against the government of the 1980s and 1990s. Originating out of the High Andes, these terrorists came to be known as Senderistas to the local population. There name, and perhaps role, was based on a speech by the leader of the Peruvian Communist Party in the 1960s. He said that Marxism would lead Peru along a shining path. The Shining Path was also partially in response to the government that had been ruled by military dictatorship for 12 years by 1980. The leader that would become associated with the Shining Path’s founding was a university professor, Abimael Guzman. His image was plastered on all of the Shining Path’s propaganda and in the process became a cult personality. The Senderistas, like most resistance movements, began as a grassroots movement that was heavily tied to the community. They recruited from the locals and relied on the local community for intelligence and hand outs of food and shelter. They lacked many of the basic resources and relied upon simple terrorist attacks on military outposts or against government installations. When the government allowed elections, the Shining Path told the public not to vote, as they believed the elections were a ruse by the government. The Shining Path would attack polling stations and burn ballot boxes in their effort to disrupt the elections. The ideology of the movement did not gain much traction with the local population as the locals never truly bought into Maoism. Perhaps frustration from this lack of success, the Shining Path became very violent against the population they were supposedly fighting for. As seen in the Dancer Upstairs, any defectors from the Shining Path were killed, as well as close friends or family as a deterrent from leaving the group. With declining rural support the movement in the 1990s, they Shining Path was only able to stay in operation through the illegal drug trade, specifically cocaine. Like the FLN, they soon turned their attention at civilian targets, hoping to garner more attention.

            When the government did begin to turn their attention to the Shining Path, a state of emergency was called by the president and the police and military were granted permission to detain many citizens. When the Shining Path retaliated with electrical sabotage in the cities, particularly in Lima, the government responded with even harsher tactics. As the violence escalated, the Shining Path bombed government offices, assassinated officials, and in 1992 bombed an affluent neighborhood of Lima. After this bombing, public opinion against the Shining Path skyrocketed and the public permitted the government to use any force necessary to catch members of the Shining Path, much like in Algeria. In an attempt to hold onto the countryside, which at its height in 1991 included large parts of the country, the Shining Path would close rural markets and block trade links between rural Peru and Lima. While mostly ineffective, these measures coupled with the banning of fiestas and alcohol, fueled anti-Senderistas sentiment, which came into the form of the ‘Rondas’, self-defense organizations set up by rural Peruvians that resented Shining Path treatment. In the end, with Rondas support, the government was able to defeat the Shining Path, but only by disregarding human rights, which created a government that was more tyrannical and permitted less civil rights than the original government the Shining Path aimed to defeat.

            While in both cases, the rebel groups were eventually defeated by the government, the tactics used by the FLN and the Shining Path, were implemented by groups like the RUF in Sierra Leone and Islamic insurgents in US-occupied Iraq. The RUF was best defined for their brutal looting and amputations against the rural population after their ‘ideology’ did not gain support in the country, like the Senderistas in Peru. In Iraq, the insurgents have adapted the FLN’s bombing strategy to include attacks on both military and civilians targets through IEDs (Improvised Explosive Device) and suicide bombings. From Christian’s Parenti’s first hand account in The Freedom it is obvious that IEDs can have a crushing effect on a traditional military, as it presents them no real target to fight. An added bonus is that the insurgents can protect themselves through these tactics, as they do not have to risk their own lives in engaging the Americans, they simpy plant their explosives and walk away to wait for an enemy convoy or patrol.

            In Algeria and Peru the effectiveness of targeting civilians in achieving the government’s attention is not questioned. Algeria eventually gains independence when the anti-colonial movement is picked up by the Algerian population as a whole, but in the Peru the Shining Path only create a more hard-line government than the one they set out to attack. In Sierra Leone and Iraq, radical tactics were taken from almost the onset, perhaps because they knew from past history that a mild approach against traditional military forces had little success. Also, brutal attacks against civilians have caught the attention of the worldwide media to a greater degree than attacks against standard military forces. In the end, insurgents look to create the most fear through their tactics as a means to achieving their goals.


3. When confronted by a cunning enemy that you can not see, frustration among military forces builds until it resorts to often the same scale of unmitigated violence that insurgent groups use against them. To defeat a less skilled, inadequately equipped, and poorly trained enemy that resorts to unconventional tactics, traditional militaries have to adopt untried techniques to counter the insurgents. Beginning with British forces in colonial Kenya, traditional militaries have adapted their counter-insurgency strategies over the years. The British were the first, of the examined countries, to implement mass detentions and interrogations in order to control the terrorists. Counter-insurgency tactics, like insurgent tactics have evolved over time, each conflict building upon the success against past insurgencies right up until present day in American-controlled Iraq.

            In British Kenya, the rebel group Mau-Mau led a anti-colonial resistance movement in 1952. When a state of emergency was declared by the minority run government, Great Britain sent 55,000 troops to secure the peace in their colony. Media portrayal of Mau-Mau as brutal savages, specially their satanical ‘oathing’ process, allowed the British military to engage in violent counter-insurgency measures while not alienating the British public. Torture, mass detentions, and random killings became the British counter-insurgency tactics of the day. After the arrests of 2,000 people within the first 2 weeks of British troops on the ground had no effect on the movement, the Kenyan colonial government instituted a draft to fight Mau-Mau. British forces also acquired operatives that would infiltrate Mau-Mau camps and pose as Mau-Mau forces as a way of intelligence gathering and disrupting Mau-Mau operations. Another tactic used by British forces was the process of ‘villiagization’ that removed people from the reserves, which had been set up by the colonial government, to other villages. In total, this affected over a million non-white Kenyans. Eventually, due to British crackdown, Mau-Mau lost most of its resources and the general leading the movement was ultimately killed by British forces, quashing the revolt.

            In Peru, anti-Senderistas opinion allowed the Peruvian government to violate basic human and civil rights in their quest to exterminate the Shining Path. Ski-mask wearing (to avoid detection) paramilitary forces were the government’s primary weapon in combating Senderistas. Rape and murder became prevalent among government forces and as we witnessed in The Dancer Upstairs many innocent civilians were victimized by the mass detentions and police beatings. The government also equipped civilian self-defense organizations, ‘Rondas’, in an effort to strike at the Shining Path in the countryside. The ‘Rondas’, which were made up by 5,000 different groups, were the key to turning the tide against the Senderistas and resulted in their defeat.

            In Sierra Leone, the national government had little response to the Revolutionary United Front, as many government troops would often defect to the rebels. In fact, crossing lines became such a common occurrence, the name ‘Sobel’ (the combination of soldier and rebel), came to describe much of the fighting forces in the country. The Civil Defense Forces (CDF), much like the ‘Rondas’ in Peru, become the key weapon in defeating the rebels. Just like in Peru, the government began to supply and sometimes train civilians in combating the rebels. Also, the government called on ECOMOG (Economic Community of West Africa-Peace Monitoring Group) to enter the country and establish peace. ECOMOG entered Sierra Leone in 1998 and took back the capital, Freetown, and executed any accused rebels. While the fighting continued back and forth, with the rebels funded by blood diamonds, peace was eventually negotiated and the UN sent peacekeepers in 2001.

            When the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003, the thought of a prolonged fight against resistance fighters was not even contemplated. Four years later, the fight between Islamic insurgents and Americans and British forces still wages on. American checkpoints dot the Iraqi landscape as a way of monitoring movement. In one of Christian Parenti’s anecdotes about Fallujah, the checkpoints are meant to act as a blockade around a certain region or city to keep insurgent contained, or to keep a specific areas such as the Green-zone protected. Like the British in Kenya, the Americans have set up mass detention centers, and apparently have abused many of those prisoners who were housed at Abu Ghraib prison. On the ground, American forces conduct on foot patrols to gather intelligence and occasionally target insurgent safe houses. When confronted with IEDs and car bombs, the insurgents’ primary weapons, the American military has been at a loss to stop most of these attacks. While checkpoints are meant to contain terrorists, the inability to distinguish hostiles from civilians has been a major predicament for the US military. Full-scale head on attacks have been infrequent, but when they do occur, the Americans attempt to use their airpower to bomb insurgent bunkers or hideouts. Unfortunately, to use their superior airpower the Americans need on the ground intelligence. Infiltration of al-Queda or Iraqi insurgent grounds has been minimal when compared to the British success in Kenya.

            After examination of these cases as a whole, government counter-insurgency operations have little ability to combat insurgents that do not play on a well defined battle field. Instead the governments that have been successful often relied on civil defense organizations that are frustrated with the rebels as much as the government. It would seem that when small lightly armed, but difficult to track militias are mobilized against an insurgence movement, the results are more positive than when a conventional military tries to fight the movement with traditional tactics. As seen in Peru and Sierra Leone, it is only after the introduction of rural defense organization made up of disgruntled citizens that the tide begins to turn against the revolt. In comparison traditional counter-insurgency goals vary little from the actual insurgents’: to instill fear in the other. Through detention and interrogation, the military hopes to literally ‘beat’ the fight out of captured insurgents. However, since the military is often fighting an ideology along with a literal enemy, intimidation tactics rarely work against the insurgency. Only when the population as a whole turns on a rebellion does the insurgency conclude. The conventional military cannot create the kind of pressure on insurgent groups that civil defense organization are able to apply. It is only after the public as a whole comes to resent the insurgency and takes action that the counter-insurgency tactics employed by the traditional militaries begin to have success. 

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