Insurgencies In Their Dreams

Last year, General George Casey asserted that:

The average insurgency — the average counterinsurgency in the 20th century was about nine years

In his dreams.

Of course, it all depends on how you define “insurgency,” but “nine years” is an extremely optimistic number.

Stephen Metz and Raymond Millen, in “Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in the 21st Century: Reconceptionalizing Threat and Response,” write:

Examples include the insurgency in Rhodesia, the one against the white minority government in South Africa, the Palestinian insurgency, Vietnam after 1965, the Afghan insurgency against the Soviet occupation

Their survey goes on to mention the Chinese insurgency, among others, but breaks that up into three sections, the first being “national” followed by one against the Japanese (a little questionable), and then again a “national” insurgency. It’s debatable whether it constitutes three separate insurgencies but, together, they went on for more than 20 years. Rhodesia’s civil war was eight years long. The struggle against apartheid in South Africa lasted for 40 years. The Palestinian insurgency, one could argue, has been going on for 50 years. The Vietnamese insurgencies began against the Japanese during WWII, turned towards the French and then towards the Americans, lasting, in all, more than 30 years. The Soviets combated an Afgan insurgency for a decade. All but one of these lasted more than nine years.

Then there is the insurgency/civil war in Columbia has been going on for 40 years. In Nepal, the insurgency by Maoist rebels has lasted for more than a decade. ETA, the Basque nationalist movement in Spain, has been fighting for 40 years. And the IRA in Ireland fought the British for close to 30 years.

Why, then, are we so willing to accept statements like Casey’s? Who established this “nine year” number? Who created the myth?

One more point: insurgencies aren’t solved by military force—except when the insurgents win. In almost all of the other cases the cessations are negotiated. Makes one wonder about the Bush Administration’s unwillingness to negotiate with anyone they consider “bad,” doesn’t it?