Go Back   Professional Soldiers > UWOA > Insurgencies & Guerrilla Warfare

Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 03-03-2004, 15:32   #1
Roguish Lawyer
Roguish Lawyer's Avatar
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: Free Pineland (at last)
Posts: 8,784
Marine Officer on Insurgency

I don't know if this has been posted before, but I came across it while looking for something else and thought I'd post it.


Insurgency: The Unsolved Mystery

AUTHOR Major Eric N. Nyberg, USMC

CSC 1991




The purpose this paper is to present some of the basic
characteristics of an insurgency.

Both civilian and military leaders have predicted that the most
likely form of future conflict will fall on the lower end of the
conflict spectrum. During the last decade much has been written
about fighting low-intensity conflicts, but there is still alot of
ground to cover. One of the most complex forms of warfare is
countering an insurgency and a great deal of education and training
is required to be successful in this type of an operation.
Insurgent movements owe a great deal to the circumstances in which
they are conceived. As new causes of unrest arise, with fresh
aspirations for change, so will insurgent methods be developed and
tailored to meet the needs of the moment. An insurgency does not,
therefore, follow any set pattern, nor does it lend itself to
precise definition. There are, however, certain basic elements and
certain common characteristics which recur. It is not within the
scope of this paper to discuss all of these common elements, nor to
develop any of the elements in detail.

After covering a basic definition and description of an
insurgency, it is necessary to consider the problems that exist in
developing nations and how these problems contribute to the nature
of the insurgency. It is equally important to understand the
leaders of the insurgency and how their backgrounds, personalities,
and ideologies shape the character of the movement. The leaders
establish the strategic, operational, and tactical objectives that
further mold the insurgency and guide it toward the desired end
state. Insurgencies develop organizational and operational patterns
from the interaction of all of the factors previously mentioned.
Though no insurgency will follow one pattern exclusively, they serve
as a starting point for a comparative analysis. Finally, successful
insurgencies progress through common stages of development.


Thesis Statement: Military leaders must begin their education for
operating against the insurgency threat by gaining a basic
understanding of the nature of an insurgency.

I. Definition and description of an insurgency

II. The emerging nation

III. Insurgent leadership

A. Single and group leadership

B. The study of individual leaders

IV. Insurgent ideology

V. Objectives of the insurgency

A. Strategic objectives

B. Operational objecitves

C. Tactical objectives

VI. Organizational and operational patterns

A. Subversive model

B. Critical-cell model

C. Mass-oriented model

D. Traditional model

VII. Stages of an insurgency

A. Passive stage

B. Active stage

C. Counteroffensive stage


Marines have a rich heritage in low-intensity conflicts. During

the late 19th and early 20th centuries Marines conducted a variety of

operations that fall within the low end of the conflict spectrum. A

record of the lessons learned during these operations was published in

1940 in the Small Wars Manual which has been reprinted and retains

uselfulness in the conduct of modern "small wars." The next

significant encounter with low-intensity confict came with the Vietnam

War. Our failure in Vietnam inspired a deep-seated public resistence

to protracted U.S. military involvement abroad and also contributed to

the discrediting of the doctrines and a dismantling of the forces that

had participated in the counterinsurgency effort in Indochina. In the

latter part of the 1970s the focus of planning and training shifted

back to mid- to high-intensity conflict.

By the mid 198Os strategists were recognizing that serious

threats to U.S. interests were developing in the form of regional

insurgencies. In 1987, the President issued National Security Defense

Directive 88, U.S. Capabilities to Engage in Low-Intensity Conflict

and Conduct Special Operations, which outlined policy and stategy for

low-intensity conflict. Four categories of military response were

identified: (3: 31)

- Insurgency and Counterinsurgency
- Peacekeeping Operations
- Peacetime Contingency Operations
- Combating Terrorism

During the last five years the Marine Corps has increased its focus on

our role in this type of conflict. In the October 1987 issue of the

Marine Corps Gazette, General A.M. Gray stated: (6: 18)

I believe there will be a war in the next decade. Probably
some Third Word scenario. The time to think about it is now.
We need to be able to conduct low-intensity warfare. We need
to be able to conduct revolutionary warfare and defeat it.
Sure, we have to be prepared for NATO contingencies, but we
must not lose sight of the kind of conflict that's most apt to
confront us. We must be effective at the low end of the
warfare spectrum, in the protracted conflicts that so often
occur in the Third World.

The Marine Corps has signed up to fight in the low-intensity

conflict arena, but as Major Hammes points out in his article;

"Insurgency: The Forgotten Threats," the Marine Corps is not prepared to

conduct counterinsurgency operations. He concludes: (8: 44)

The challenge facing Navy and Marine Corps officers is to
understand this threat and how to combat it. From this
understanding, we must develop doctrine, command
relationships, and plans for how to rapidly reorganize, train,
and deploy our current forces for the most complex form of
conflict known to man.

Major Hammes presents us with an impressive collection of challenges

which begins with an understanding the threat. Military leaders must

begin their education for operating against the insurgency threat by

gaining a basic understanding of the nature of an insurgency.

The official Department of Defense definition of insurgency is

stated in JCS Pub 1 as, "An organized movement aimed at the overthrow

of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed

conflict." This definition is expanded by the description of an

insurgency provided in FM 100-20, Military Operations in Low Intensity

Conflict: (4: 2-0)

An insurgency is an organized, armed political struggle whose
goal may be the seizure of power through revolutionary
takeover and replacement of the existing government. In some
cases, however, an insurgency's goals may be more limited.
For example, the insurgency may intend to break away from
government control and establish an autonomous state within
traditional ethnic or religious territorial bounds. The
insurgency may also only intend to extract limted political
concessions unattainable through less violent means.

The contest between the insurgency and the ruling government is

one of legitimacy. Each player strives to demonstrate that it is

better capable of meeting the needs and expectations of the people.

The effort of the contestants is to capture the loyalty of the

uncommitted majority through some combination of intimidation,

promises of reform, and appeal to grievances. This struggle may take

place within any political or economic system as long as there exists

sufficient conditions that contribute to the disatisfaction of one or

more segments governed by that system. Insurgency is a product of

unsatisfactory conditions, social change, and a belief in the

prospects for improvement. Characteristically, the aspirations of the

people or a segment of the society are not being met by the government

or ruling elite and there is an organized effort to further discredit

and dispossess the existing leadership. (5: 3) Most insurgencies are

associated with developing countries because they are characterized by

many of the unsatisfactory conditions upon which the insurgents base

their cause.

[continued next post]
Roguish Lawyer is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-03-2004, 15:34   #2
Roguish Lawyer
Roguish Lawyer's Avatar
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: Free Pineland (at last)
Posts: 8,784
[continued from previous post]

To begin to understand the nature of an insurgency, we must

understand the environment in which that insurgency is born. Most

insurgencies develop in the furtile ground of emerging nations. As

the world passed through the Industrial Revolution and is now in the

midst of the Technological Revolution, many nations are struggling

toward becoming economically and socially advanced nations with

efficient, popularly supported governments. To accomplish these

goals, these nations must overcome handicaps which are characteristic

of an underdeveloped society. These handicaps include: a static

economy, limited technology, immobile social structure, and rule by

custom and traditional process. (5: 1) The early stages toward

development are expensive and do not always result in benefits which

are tangible to the people. The speed with which the modern media

spreads information and ideas has created rising expectations, causing

people to be impatient for immediate, visble evidence of progress.

The process of modernization brings societal and psychological turmoil

which creates exploitable conditions for those who seek power or the

redress of social grievances.

The insurgent leadership uses the unsatisfactory conditions that

cause discontentment among the people as the rallying point of the

insurgency. The leadership provides the vision, direction, guidance,

coordination, and organizational coherence that focuses political and

military actions. In order to be successful, the leaders must gain

popular support by establishing the credibility of their movement.

They must break the ties of the people with the government, replacing

the government's legitimacy with that of their own. (4: 2-2)

Some insurgent organizations depend on a single leader with a

charismatic personality to provide cohesion, motivation, and a

rallying point for the movement. Single leadership organizations can

produce decisions and initiate new action rapidly, but are vulnerable

to disruption by removing this key leader. Other insurgencies

de-emphasize individual personalities, basing their success on a group

of leaders. Collective leadership is more resilient to change due to

the distribution of the responsibility for making decisions; however,

they are more vulnerable to penetration.

Regardless of the number of individuals leading the insurgency,

knowledge of their education, background, family, social connections,

and experiences will provide insight into how they think, what they

want, and how they will fulfill their goals. Insurgent leaders study

the masters of their trade. They read the works of Sun Tzu, Mao,

Lenin, Giap, Guevarra, and other revolutionary leaders. Often a

preference is shown toward a particular revolutionary leader and his

strategy. To properly analyze the nature of an insurgency we must

understand the functions of the leadership, identify how the

leadership is organized, and know the personalities, aspirations,

politics, and ideologies of those leaders.

The next aspect of an insurgency that requires our awareness is the

ideology that guides the insurgents in offering their society a goal.

The insurgency must have a program or a body of ideas that explains

what is wrong with the present political and social system, and how

the new insurgent government will remedy these deficiencies. (4: 2-2)

Revolutionary ideolgy following World War II centered around

nationalism (anticolonialism). Communist inspired insurgencies label

their ideology as `Wars of National Liberation' or revolts against


The insurgent leadership selects an ideology that has great

appeal to important sectors of society in order to win their support.

Ideological conflicts within the movement create a vulnerability that

can be exploited by the government; therefore, the insurgency's future

plans must be vague enough for broad appeal and specific enough to

address important issues. Additionaly, insurgents will likely project

some ambiguity to accommodate differences in aims among the various

groups within the society. It is difficult to sort through the

ideological machinations of an insurgent movement; however, we must

attempt to distinguish the true ideals that fuel the movement from

propaganda. By analyzing ideology we can gain a better understanding

of the insurgency's objectives.

The insurgency can be considered as a nation at war. The

leadership establishes strategic objectives that give focus to both

political and military action. The strategic objective is the

insurgent's desired end state. This end state goes beyond the

overthrow of the existing government and addresses how the new

insurgent government will use its power to accomplish specific social,

economic, and political reforms. The polictical aim or end state of

any insurgency forms the structural basis for all else that occurs

during its course.

The fact that insurgencies have strategic objectives, highlights

the aspect of total war against the existing government with its focus

of effort directed at the political-social institutions. Political

mobilization, psychological warfare, propaganda, and terrorism are

major weapons of revolutionary conflicts. Armed conflict is important

but it is primarily an adjunct to the major struggle. Political

mobilizers and cadres are more important, in the long run, than

battlefield soldiers.

Operational objectives are those intermediate goals pursued as

part of the overall process of destroying government legitmacy and

progressively establishing the desired end state. Some common

operational objectives include: (4: 2-3)

- Isolation of the government from diplomatic and material

support, and increased international support for the insurgency.

- Destruction of the self-confidence of the government's leaders

and armed forces, causing them to abdicate or withdraw.

- Destruction of the government's credibility and authority.

(Political and military actions are designed to throw the government

off balance, cause panic in the population, and dislocate the


- Establishment of civil services and administration in areas

under insurgent control.

- Capture of the support (or neutrality) of critical segments of

the population.

Within the framework of the operational objectives, the

insurgents establish tactical objectives or the immediate aims of

insurgent action. Achieving these immediate aims leads to

accomplishment of operational goals. Tactical objectives can be

psychological in nature, such as the distribution of propaganda

leaflets. Tactical objectives of a physical nature may include

capture or destruction of a key facility.

The objectives established by the insurgency influence the

development of certain organizational and operational patterns. These

patterns or forms of insurgency have been described in many ways.

However described, we need to appreciate that each insurgency is

unique and will not follow one model exclusively. FM 100-20 proposes

four general patterns: (4: 2-5)

- Subversive.
- Critical-cell.
- Mass-oriented.
- Traditional.

[continued next post]
Roguish Lawyer is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 03-03-2004, 15:38   #3
Roguish Lawyer
Roguish Lawyer's Avatar
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: Free Pineland (at last)
Posts: 8,784

Subversive insurgents seek to penetrate the political structure of the government to control it and use it for their own purposes. They selectively use violence to coerce voters, intimidate officials, and disrupt and discredit the government. The political arm of the insurgent organization, while maneuvering for control of the existing political structure, directs the military arm to conduct carefully planned and coordinated violence. (14: Chapt 9,10) Employment of violence is designed to show the system to be incompetent and to provoke the government to an excessively violent response which further undermines its legitimacy. A subversive insurgency is suited to a more permissive political environment which allows the insurgents to use both legal and illegal methods to accomplish their goals. The Nazi rise to power in the 1930s is an example of this model. When conditions dictate, this type of insurgency can quickly shift to the critical-cell pattern.

In the critical cell model, the insurgents also seek to infiltrate the government's institutions, but their object is to destroy the system from within. The use of violence remains covert until the government is so weakened that the insurgency's superior organization seizes power, supported by the armed force. One variation of this pattern is when the insurgent leadership permits the popular revolution to destroy the existing government, then emerges to direct the formation of a new government. The Sandanistas' takeover of the Nicaraguan revolution provides a excellent example of this type of critical-cell model. Another variation is seen in the Cuban revolution and is referred to as the foco (or Cuban model) insurgency.

This model involves a single, armed cell which emerges in the midst of degenerating government legitimacy and becomes the nucleus around which mass popular support rallies. The insurgents use this support to establish control and erect new institutions.

Unlike the two previous models, mass-oriented insurgents emphasize the creation of a political and armed legitimacy outside the existing system. These insurgents patiently construct a base of passive and active political supporters, while simultaneously building a large armed element of guerrilla and regular forces. They plan a protracted campaign of increasing violence to destroy the government and its institutions from the outside. They have a well-developed ideology and carefully determine their objectives. They are highly organized and effectively use propaganda and guerrilla action to mobilize forces for a direct political and military challenge to the government. The communist revolution in China, the Vietcong insurgency, and the Shining Path insurgency in Peru are examples of the mass-oriented model. Once established, this type of insurgency is extremely difficult to defeat because of its great depth of organization.

The final model is the traditional insurgency. It differs from the other types of insurgencies because it normally grows from very specific grievances and initially has limited goals. The traditional insurgency involves tribal, racial, religious or linguistic groups who perceive that the government has denied their rights and interests and work to establish or restore them. They seldomly seek to overthrow the government or control the whole society; however, they frequently attempt to withdraw from government control through autonomy or semiautonomy. The Mujahideen in Afghanistan, the Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka, and the Kurdish revolt in Iraq illustrate the traditional pattern of insurgency.

Another means of analyzing the nature of an insurgency is by recognizing that they develop through common phases. Though FM 100-20 does not identify specific phases, it states: (4: 2-4)

Successful insurgencies pass through common phases of
development. Not all insurgences experience every phase, and
progression through all phases is certainly not a requirement for
success. The same insurgent movement may be in another phase of development in other regions of a country or theater. Successful insurgencies can also revert to an earler phase when under pressure, resuming development when favorable conditions return.

Insurgencies are not sudden events. They occur over an extended period of time. Their beginnings usually go unnoticed, progressing and growing to the enventual overthrow of a government. FMFM 8-2 organizes the insurgency into three stages: (5: 11-14) The Passive Stage, the Active Stage, and the Counteroffensive Stage. These stages are similar in nature to Mao Tse-Tung's strategy which develops through three phases: (7: 20-22) Latent and Incipient Insurgency, Guerrilla Warfare, and War of Movement.

The first stage (or phase) of the insurgency is the initial period of the conflict and is the most difficult and protracted. During this phase the insurgents establish an infrastructure, actively recruit, focus on gaining popular support, and demonstate that they can provide a better alternative to the existing government. Preservation is emphasized to ensure the completion of the necessary political and military preparations for the succeeding stages. Many of the activities of the first stage are continued in the subsequent stages.

The second stage is initiated to extend political control and increase military action in armed resistance against government forces. The organization continues to expand. Emphasis is shifted to establishing insurgent-controlled areas and providing an alternate government structure. The insurgents use guerrilla warfare to tie down and frustrate government security forces while building their own military force. Through additional acts of terrorism, inciting civil disobedience, inciting labor strikes, and promoting general disorder among the people, the insurgents cause the government to lose confidence in its ability to control the situation.

The final stage of the insurgency occurs when the insurgents believe they have gained sufficient military strength and popular
support to meet and defeat the government forces tn decisive combat. The characteristics of this combat are more conventional in nature; however, guerrilla action continues in order to assist in the eventual defeat of the government's military forces.

In the recent war against Iraq, our military forces achieved a remarkable victory. We enjoyed a technological advantage. We dominated our enemy both tactically and operationally. We fought an enemy who quickly lost his will to fight. The insurgency/counterinsurgency battlefield will be different. Our technology can be effectively neutralized. Our enemy will likely have the tactical and operational advantage. More importantly, the insurgent is willing to fight a protracted struggle, patiently using time to his advantage. Military leaders must appreciate the compexities of this type of conflict to determine effective courses of action. This appreciation must start with a basic understanding of the nature of an insurgency.


1. Charters, David and Maurice Tugwell, ed. Armies in Low-Intensity
Conflict. London: Brassey's Defence Publishers, 1989.

2. Dubik, Maj. J.M. "FM 100-5 and Counterinsurgency Warfare." Military
Review November 83: 41.

3. Flores, Maj. S.J. "Marine Corps Employment in Low-Intensity
Conflict." Marine Corps Gazette April 89: 30.

4. FM 100-2 Military Operations in Low Intensity Conflict. Washington
DC: Headquarters Departments of the Army and the Air Force, 1990.

5. FMFM 8-2 Counterinsurgency Operations. Washington DC: Department of
the Navy, Headquarters United States Marine Corps, 1980.

6. Gray, Gen. A.M. "The Art of Command." Marine Corps Gazette October
87: 18.

7. Griffith, BGen. (Ret.) S.B. trans. Mao Tse-Tung on Guerrilla
Warfare. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1961.

8. Hammes, Maj. T.X. "Insurgency: The Forgotten Threat." Marine Corps
Gazette March 88: 40.

9. Howard, Michael. The Causes of War. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard
University Press, 1984.

10. Klare, M.T. and Peter Kornbluh ed. Low Intensity Warfare:
Counterinsurgency, Proinsurgency, and Antiterrorism in the
Eighties. New York: Pantheon Books, 1987.

11. Manwaring, Col. M.G. and Lt. Col. John T. Fishel. "Strategic
Vision and Insurgency." Military Review February 89: 53.

12. McCuen, Lt. Col. J.J. The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War.
Harrisburg, PA: Stackepole Books, 1966.

13. Morelli, Maj. Gen. D.R. and Maj. Michael M. Ferguson.
"Low-Intensity Conflict: An Operational Perspective." Military
Review November 84: 2.

14. Pike, Douglas. PAVN: Peoples Army in Vietnam. Elmsford, NY:
Pergamon Press, 1989.

15. Staudenmaier, Col. W.O. and Alan N. Sabrosky. "A Strategy of
Counterrevolutionary War." Military Review February 85: 2.

16. Thompson, Sir Robert, Defeating Communist Insurgency : Experiences
from Malaya and Vietnam. London: Chatto and Windus, 1966.

17. Yates, Lawrence A. "From Small Wars to Counterinsurgency: US
Military Interventions in Latin America since 1989." Military
Review February 89: 74.

18. Zais, Maj. M.M. "LIC: Matching Missions and Forces." Military
Review August 86: 79.
Roguish Lawyer is offline   Reply With Quote

Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)
Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Mao as Guide to Fight in Iraq P36 Insurgencies & Guerrilla Warfare 0 06-26-2004 12:44
The Iraqi Insurgency Roguish Lawyer Insurgencies & Guerrilla Warfare 0 04-29-2004 14:01
Wis Officer Wins Competition ktek01 The Comedy Zone 0 04-19-2004 10:10
SF Officer Article The Reaper Special Forces Qualification Course 2 02-18-2004 19:06
Semper Fi! The Reaper General Discussions 13 01-29-2004 15:01

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 08:45.

Copyright 2004-2022 by Professional Soldiers
Site Designed, Maintained, & Hosted by Hilliker Technologies