What we learn from our COIN campaigns

…is that we don’t learn from them

Here’s a passage from my review of India & Counterinsurgency: Lessons Learned, a volume of case studies and analyses edited by Sumit Ganguly & David Fidler.

A recurring theme in the book is that lessons that were to be learnt in one counter-insurgency campaign were not learnt, and mistakes repeated over and over again. That is as much a damning indictment of the Indian armed forces—particularly the army—as it is of a political class that treats political violence as within the ambit of legitimate politics. But while the failings of political leaders are well-known and roundly condemned, the lapses of the security forces are masked by information asymmetries.

Shouldn’t a counter-insurgency doctrine help prevent mistakes from being repeated? Comparing the counter-insurgency doctrines of the United States and India, Dr Fidler writes that the exercise of developing the Indian Doctrine for Sub-Conventional Operations (DSCO) was “mainly one of codification—collecting in one document guidance accumulated over the course of more than fifty years. The objective was not to revolutionise how the Indian Army or government thought about how to fight insurgencies.” That sounds quintessentially Indian and evokes images of the Vedas, which were codified into written form after centuries of existence as oral tradition. It will be a challenge to translate this kind of a document into a strategy for current and future conflicts.

Dr Fidler also points out that India’s counter-insurgency doctrine “has not involved the civilian government agencies affected, such as the state and central police forces.” This is perhaps its biggest weakness—by its very nature, counter-insurgency is a problem of (re-)establishing governance. The Indian pattern has been one where, even after a successful campaign by security forces, the civilian government is somehow expected to miraculously appear and resume administration. Unfortunately, this does not usually happen, setting the state for the insurgency to resume. It is unclear if this broad point has registered at the highest levels of the Indian government. [Pragati—The Indian National Interest Review]

3 thoughts on “What we learn from our COIN campaigns”

  1. Easy to be an armcchair quarterback and pass comments about COIN.

    COIN ops are extremely difficult in general and require years of effort. Jus ask the Israelis. Or the US which got is behind kicked in Vietnam and now in Afg.

    Overall I would say India has done a preetty decent job. Especially when u consider that the main festering “insurgency” has been aided and nurtured by a nuclear armed neighbor!

  2. Arvi,

    Passing comments about comments is even easier than being an armchair quarterback, don’t you think?

    But don’t let that discourage you.

  3. Nitin,

    Isnt the comment a tad harsh. Ok, the counterinsuregency exp hasnt flitered down to the state level civil defense . But isnt the Counterinsurgency training school in Mizoram a first of the kind in the world.. isnt it akin to institutionalising. further , now all the officers of the army must have had their share of service in J&K and NE . So there is a continuing orgnaisation memory . But still no excuse for the police not being trained..

Comments are closed.