Musa Dagh, the Magic Mountain – IV

COIN (Counterinsurgency)

U.S. general David Petraeus, who got famous losing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, made COIN a household acronym with his widely-publicised COIN (Counterinsurgency) Manual published in December 2016. The “protecting civilians” and “minimum force” mantras in Petraeus’s “COIN Guidance,” carrying echoes of the “hearts and minds” rhetoric of the Vietnam War, made it sound like the US military would henceforth win wars against the people it sought to conquer by holding hands with them and singing Kumbaya.

In reality, both the COIN hype and the “troop surge” that accompanied it were smoke screens for what Petraeus was really doing in Iraq, namely executing the “Salvador Option,” consisting of unleashing death squads to ethnically cleanse the troublesome Sunnis. To this day, the punditry and the general public alike believe that the US achieved a momentary success in Iraq with the fabed “surge” and the “Sunni awakening,” whereas nothing could be further from the truth. The Sunni insurgency was temporarily checked simply by indiscriminately killing, torturing, and otherwise terrorising the Sunnis.

In Afghanistan, Petraeus’s understudy Stan McChrystal continued on the same tack, talking the “sharing caring” COIN talk while savaging civilians with an unprecedent number of night raids, drone strikes, and “civcas” (civilian casualties) to drive home the message that backing the Taliban “isn’t cost-free.” Petraeus and McChrystal were not anomalies, however. They were a continuation of the counterinsurgency approach that dates back at least to the Vietnam War’s Operation Phoenix – if unbridled savagery can be called an “approach.” As we demonstrated in part 2 of this investigation, nothing much has changed in the U.S.’s “approach” to counterinsurgency since waterboarding was invented – it was called the “water cure” and was invariably fatal back then – at the dawn of the 20th century during the U.S. war on Filipino freedom fighters.

In part 2, we also noted that the British and German empires had adopted highly brutal and genocidal methods of counterinsurgency against populations unwilling to be conquered. Counterinsurgency was “refined” in later years by the French army in Indochina and Algeria: more torture, less killing. However, COIN has always been about state terrorism because there is simply no other way to subdue, even partially or temporarily, a popular rebellion, which is what we call an insurgency. There is no such thing as an invading or occupying army “winning hearts and minds.” It is from this operational and historical perspective that we have to examine an important claim made by military historian Edward J. Erickson in his article “Bayonets on Musa Dagh: Ottoman Counterinsurgency Operations – 1915” [1] that the Ottoman army in the Musa Dagh area operated within the strict limits of contemporary counterinsurgency doctrine, whose brutal nature hasn’t much changed since then.


[1] Edward J. Erickson, “Bayonets on Musa Dagh: Ottoman Counterinsurgency Operations – 1915” The Journal of Strategic Studies Vol. 28, No. 3, June 2005, pp.529-548


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