Wrong assumptions behind guerrilla warfare

Posted by Admin on Tuesday, 6 January 2004 | Opini

The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Tue, 01/06/2004 2:52 PM

Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo, Former Governor, National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas), Jakarta

The capture of Saddam Hussein made the American leaders very happy. It was not only that one of their objectives in fighting a war against Iraq was achieved, but they also thought that it would end the physical resistance and guerrilla warfare on the part of some Iraqi groups.

It is, however, a mistake to assume that the capture of Saddam Hussein will automatically finish the guerrilla war against the Americans. That assumption is wrong because it has been far from clear all along that the guerrillas were really led by Saddam Hussein and that their effectiveness depended very much on Saddam’s leadership.

Moreover, the continuation of a guerrilla war is in the first place not decided by its leadership, although the role of an effective leader can have a significant influence on a guerrilla war.

The Dutch colonial government made a similar mistake when they came up against Indonesian resistance in 1948. They thought that by capturing President Sukarno, Vice President Mohamad Hatta and almost the entire cabinet, the Indonesian armed forces and the people would stop fighting. They did not understand that the main motivation of the resistance against the Dutch was the achievement of the full independence of Indonesia.

That could only become a reality when the Dutch were forced to leave Indonesia or were willing to recognize the sovereignty of the newly born Republic of Indonesia. The Dutch were, therefore, very disappointed when the fight continued, in spite of Sukarno’s capture.

The continuation and effectiveness of a guerrilla war is more dependent on the minds and the tenacity of the guerrilla fighters to pursue their objectives and the support they receive from the people in the area of operations. In the case of Iraq, the motivation to fight a guerrilla war against the Americans and its allies is very much influenced by the patriotic and nationalistic sentiments of some Iraqi people, who cannot accept the occupation of their country by foreign forces.

As long as the Americans cannot change this mental attitude among such Iraqis, they will continue to encounter physical resistance and guerrilla warfare. The capture of Saddam Hussein, however significant for maintaining a positive mood among the American people, is far from enough to have the fighting in Iraq terminated.

The most important strategic achievement that the Americans could make to end the resistance is to create a change in mental attitudes among those who are resisting. And that means that the Americans and other occupation forces must be able to fight a counter-insurgency war and win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people as the number-one objective. All activities, whether purely military operations or political and economic operations, must be geared to achieving that number one objective.

In Indonesian Army terms, these are called territorial operations, and involve physical and psychological aspects. These kind of operations require harmonization between all activities of the civilian government and military forces. Everybody involved in the counter-insurgency must understand fully that the main objective is to win the hearts and minds of the people.

It is amazing that the Americans with their bloody Vietnam experience do not know or understand this reality. With their well-known capabilities in research and development the Americans should have known better and prepared themselves for the troubles they now face in Iraq. In Vietnam, the Americans had total air control and used all their technological superiority in their attempt to defeat the Vietnamese guerrillas.

However, the use of all kinds of weapons systems except nuclear weapons, including the use of the defoliant Agent Orange and the methodical carpet bombing of North Vietnam, was still not able to make the Vietnamese surrender. What happened was instead the strengthening of Vietnamese resistance and ultimately the capture of Saigon and the defeat of the Americans, with all the traumatic effects that have ensued until today.

However, the other side also seems to be making wrong assumptions about guerrilla warfare. Until today, al-Qaeda and its affiliates, like the organization that calls itself Jamaah Islamiyah (this name for a terrorist organization is an insult to the Muslim community!) are doing their fighting through terrorist actions.

Terrorism and guerrilla warfare may actually be placed in the same category. Namely, both cannot achieve their political objectives by themselves.

While guerrilla warfare and terror are certainly able to harm societies and their peoples, they cannot achieve their political objectives unless the guerrilla actions are supported by diplomatic efforts in the international arena. Without this parallel endeavor, a guerrilla force is just a nuisance for the occupation force or the ruling government.

Indonesia achieved Dutch recognition of its independence and sovereignty because of its effective diplomatic efforts in the UN and other international bodies. Of course, the guerrilla fighting was very instrumental in strengthening the international diplomacy. But it was at the diplomatic table that the Dutch were forced to leave Indonesia. It was a harmonious game of guerrilla warfare and diplomacy that ultimately secured Indonesian independence and national sovereignty.

If guerrilla forces become so effective that they can establish regular military capabilities, victory can also be secured through military means. Such regular forces must be able to defeat the occupation forces and achieve a decisive military result by forcing the occupation force to surrender or make them flee the country. That happened in Vietnam when the Vietnamese tank units entered Saigon and forced the Americans and their Vietnamese supporters to hastily leave the country.

Al-Qaeda and Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) are not availing of either of these two alternatives to achieve their political objectives. They seem to be satisfied with bomb attacks that might cause a lot of consternation but do not have a distinct political effect. The political objective of JI is reportedly to establish a new caliphate in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, some parts of Thailand and the Philippines, and even some parts of Australia.

But how can JI achieve this political objective if it is only fighting a terrorist war, mostly involving bomb attacks. Of course, the Bali and Marriott bomb attacks caused a lot of problems for Indonesia. But they did not change the political situation in any way that could be to the advantage of achieving JI’s political objectives.

On the contrary, they hardened the stance of moderate Muslims against the terrorists. Indonesia is not coming under any diplomatic pressure that could encourage it to accommodate JI’s political objectives. The same goes for the other Southeast Asian nations and Australia. Also, JI does not seem to have the capability to build a regular military force that could be used as an instrument to achieve a decisive political victory.

If this situation does not change, JI will definitely degenerate into a mere criminal organization that can harm the region very badly, but which is nevertheless nothing more than that. Would that suite the JI leaders who always propagate their ""holy"" intentions? It would perhaps be more effective for them to try to achieve their political objectives through peaceful means.

Having said that, it must be recognized that in the minds of Muslim people in Southeast Asia, there is no intention at all among the majority of establishing a nation of Islam (Darul Islam), let alone a new caliphate.

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