Best Practices in Counterinsurgency

This September 2004 article in Military Review:

Best Practices in Counterinsurgency
Kalev I. Sepp, Ph.D.

Analyzed dozens of 20th century guerrilla wars and came with this chart of helpful and unhelpful counterinsurgency practices:


  1. Emphasis on intelligence.
  2. Focus on population, their needs, and security.
  3. Secure areas established, expanded.
  4. Insurgents isolated from population (population
  5. Single authority (charismatic/dynamic leader).
  6. Effective, pervasive psychological operations
    (PSYOP) campaigns.
  7. Amnesty and rehabilitation for insurgents.
  8. Police in lead; military supporting.
  9. Police force expanded, diversified.
  10. Conventional military forces reoriented for
  11. Special Forces, advisers embedded with
    indigenous forces.
  12. Insurgent sanctuaries denied.


  1. Primacy of military direction of counterinsurgency.
  2. Priority to “kill-capture� enemy, not on engaging
  3. Battalion-size operations as the norm.
  4. Military units concentrated on large bases for
  5. Special Forces focused on raiding.
  6. Adviser effort a low priority in personnel assignment.
  7. Building, training indigenous army in image of
    U.S. Army.
  8. Peacetime government processes.
  9. Open borders, airspace, coastlines.

I'd like to see some debate on whether the current plan of escalation-lite has more successful or unsucessful best-practices.

Obviously I start from the view that current plan starts with more of the unsucessful practices that failed to work in the past and won't work now.

Specifically, I believe the President's plan incorporates seven of the unsuccessful practices (1,2,3,4,5,7 & 9), and only three of the successful practices (3, 11, 12), given my most generous reading of the President's plan.

This isn't an academic exercises. This is based on an examination past guerilla wars. We know what works and what doesn't.

Ironically, some of the highly valued best practices (Amnesty and rehabilitation for insurgents) cannot be carried out under any US Administration because we're too hostile to the idea and would chop any Iraqi gov't at the knees that tried it. We have already blocked two or three amnesty programs. This despite the fact the proposed recipients killed many more Iraqis than Americans. If the Iraqis were willing to grant amnesty, I think we should have let them try.

So about comparing the current plan with identified best and worst practices, am I misjudging the negatives of the current plan? If so, which ones and how? Am I not giving the President enough credit for successful practices? If not, which successful practices do you think the President is carrying out and what evidence can you provide that they are?

Finally, for those not familiar with Military Review, it is published by the Army's Combined Arms Center and I think can be depended on not to print the ravings of America haters.

As with most DoD journals, the individual articles should be taken as representing the view of DoD or the publishing service. But I think it's fair to say they're into publishing stuff that's useful to warfighters.


What I like about this post is that it starts where conversations about the war, especially from its supporters, trails off."We need to win. Failure is not an option. We will fight them over there so we don't fight them here."Platitudes. No one ever says exactly how they plan to do any of it, why it will work and why other options won't work.And the weird thing is that it's not like this is cribbed from a Jane Fonda book. Official Army publications, as was my cite of Gen. Petraeus' book on counter-insurgency.Time after time people who should be listened to were and are ignored. Former Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki told Congress, under questioning, that he thought 300,000 or more troops were need to secure Iraq. That advise was ignored.The following CoS, Peter Schoomaker, has said more than once that the escalation backed by the President will "break" the all-volunteer Army.

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