Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Thesis Defense

Yesterday I successfully defended my thesis "COIN and the LRA" before a panel of professors at Boston University.  After a 15 minute overview of my paper the panel quizzed me for 45 minutes, and in the end, I passed without any need for revision or correction.  The questions the panel asked were interesting and mostly not related to my study of the Ugandan counterinsurgency strategy targeting the Lord's Resistance Army. 

One professor claimed that the LRA did not meet the model of a traditional insurgency in the past ten years as they have relied more on child abductions for recruitment. I countered that there are many insurgent groups in Africa and other places that recruit child soldiers so the LRA is not a singular example.  Also, the use of abducted children changes the way the community interacts with the insurgents as their own children are forced to participate against their will.  Community support of the insurgents is always critical to the success of an insurgency.  I also cited the 2000 Amnesty Act and traditional reconciliation methods such as Mato Oput that eased the return of former combatants.

Another professor focused on criticizing US military COIN doctrine that I referenced in my paper.  The US military published new counterinsurgency doctrine in Field Manual 3-24 in 2006.  The new doctrine was put together by General Petraeus and a panel of experts and based on the thinking of David Galula.  Galula published his book in 1964 "Counterinsurgecy Warfare: Theory and Practice" based on his own counterinsurgency efforts in Algeria as a platoon commander.  However, the professor on my panel questioned the legitimacy of the doctrine as he claimed that Galula embellished his successes.  The other examples upon which the new US doctrine was based were mostly from failed efforts so they were unlikely to result in success.  This is something that Martin van Creveld also argued in his 2008 piece "The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq."  The panelist also argued that the new US COIN doctrine did not result in success in either Iraq or Afghanistan and the only reason why Iraq quieted down was the US paying off Iraqi leaders (what I call the "Cash as COIN" policy).  Paying off insurgents isn't in US COIN doctrine, but it appears its a tactic that the US frequently uses.

I countered that even though US COIN doctrine in FM 3-24 may be based upon failed counterinsurgency efforts there are many good points that the government of Uganda used to defeat the LRA.  I believe that appropriating the causes of the insurgency through northern development programs, cutting off Sudanese support for the LRA, and military operations to drive the LRA far from Ugandan territory were critical in defeating the LRA.  The military manual lists many different tactics that can be helpful in defeating an insurgency but before a comprehensive COIN strategy is developed the government must first study the insurgency and try to understand it to develop a customized COIN plan.  Unity of effort is critical as well as demonstrated in the Ugandan LRA example where President Museveni shorted the Bigombe talks in 1994 by demanding an immediate surrender from Kony.  Instead, Kony and the LRA fled to southern Sudan where they established bases, were financed and supplied by the Sudanese government, and increased raids on Uganda. 

Another example of successful COIN a professor on my panel cited was the extermination of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka by military operations.  The professor claimed that if the government doesnt care about international outcry and killing lots of people its not necessary to follow my more gentle COIN recommendations.  My counter-argument was that even though the insurgents may have been wiped out, the underlying problems still remained and protests and insurgency would probably return when conditions allowed or it was worth the risk.

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