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1 PETER ÁLMOS KISS 1 Militia – the Critical Mass in Asymmetric Conflicts (1.04) Abstract: In asymmetric conflicts the state can prevail only if its security forces can carry the fight to the non-state belligerent and at the same time maintain permanent dominance over the affected regions. This requires manpower in very large numbers. The best way to obtain the necessary numbers is to raise local self defense volunteer forces and keep them under firm government con- trol. Through brief case studies the author analyzes the organization and em- ployment of militias and shows the advantages and risks involved. Key phrases: militia, asymmetric warfare, fourth generation warfare, in- surgency, counterinsurgency 1. THE ASYMMETRIC CHALLENGE As a result of political, economic and social developments following World War II, fundamental changes have occurred in warfare. Independence movements broke up the colonial empires; revolutionaries have toppled conservative gov- ernments; ethnic and religious minorities have been fighting against central governments; the adherents of radical Islam have been trying to force their ide- ology on the world. Since 1945 about 85 percent of armed conflicts have been such internal wars (Strachan, 2007). Asymmetry characterizes these conflicts: the forces, goals and means of the belligerents cannot be measured by the same yardstick. The state possesses vastly superior forces, but partly due to the enemy's nature and tactics, and partly due to changes in international politi- cal conditions, it is unable to exploit its superiority. The enemy is usually a citizen of the state against which he wages war – an opponent or an adversary, rather than an enemy. He is a member of the society whose social cohesion he is trying to disrupt. Maneuvering on the borderlines of political activity, rabble-rousing demagoguery, armed combat and ordinary crime, he demands the legal protection due to political activists, soldiers and 1 The author is a retired US Army soldier. At present he is a PhD student of the Zrinyi Miklós National Defense University, Budapest, Hungary. Szerkesztés alatt Contemporary Military Challenges, Ljubjana, Slovenia, 2011/3

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a study of the employment of militia forces in asymmetric conflict


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    Militia the Critical Mass in Asymmetric Conflicts (1.04)

    Abstract: In asymmetric conflicts the state can prevail only if its security forces

    can carry the fight to the non-state belligerent and at the same time maintain

    permanent dominance over the affected regions. This requires manpower in

    very large numbers. The best way to obtain the necessary numbers is to raise

    local self defense volunteer forces and keep them under firm government con-

    trol. Through brief case studies the author analyzes the organization and em-

    ployment of militias and shows the advantages and risks involved.

    Key phrases: militia, asymmetric warfare, fourth generation warfare, in-

    surgency, counterinsurgency


    As a result of political, economic and social developments following World War

    II, fundamental changes have occurred in warfare. Independence movements

    broke up the colonial empires; revolutionaries have toppled conservative gov-

    ernments; ethnic and religious minorities have been fighting against central

    governments; the adherents of radical Islam have been trying to force their ide-

    ology on the world. Since 1945 about 85 percent of armed conflicts have been

    such internal wars (Strachan, 2007). Asymmetry characterizes these conflicts:

    the forces, goals and means of the belligerents cannot be measured by the

    same yardstick. The state possesses vastly superior forces, but partly due to

    the enemy's nature and tactics, and partly due to changes in international politi-

    cal conditions, it is unable to exploit its superiority.

    The enemy is usually a citizen of the state against which he wages war an

    opponent or an adversary, rather than an enemy. He is a member of the society

    whose social cohesion he is trying to disrupt. Maneuvering on the borderlines of

    political activity, rabble-rousing demagoguery, armed combat and ordinary

    crime, he demands the legal protection due to political activists, soldiers and

    1 The author is a retired US Army soldier. At present he is a PhD student of the Zrinyi Mikls

    National Defense University, Budapest, Hungary.

    Szerkeszts alatt Contemporary Military Challenges, Ljubjana, Slovenia, 2011/3

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    criminals, yet rejects all responsibility normally associated with these catego-

    ries. He rejects all moral or legal restrictions that hamper his freedom of action

    and makes use of tactics and procedures that are prohibited both by national

    laws, and by universally accepted rules of warfare (hostage-taking, execution of


    Since the non-state belligerent is generally much weaker than the state's securi-

    ty forces, he directs his attacks against the state's social foundations: symbols

    of state power, civilian morale, infrastructure. His final goal is to create a "so-

    cietal Stockholm syndrome,"2 thereby break society's resistance and force a

    significant number of citizens to support (or at least not oppose) him. The battle-

    field is the people itself: the people on the streets, in their homes, in shops and

    markets, everywhere, anywhere. Battles may be fought among civilians, against

    civilians, or in defense of civilians. Civilians may be targets, human shields, po-

    tential supporters or belligerents and often it is difficult to determine what role

    they are playing at any given moment. This "war amongst the people" is the

    new paradigm of warfare (Smith, 2005: xiii-xiv).

    Until quite recently "war amongst the people" was a relatively easily handled

    internal political problem. In the centuries prior to the 1960's, revolutions and

    the rebellions of colonial peoples were suppressed without special counterin-

    surgency doctrines, by regular forces relying on the standard weapons and tac-

    tics of the age. Their operations were characterized by the swift and determined

    application of ruthless, irresistible military force. This method of dealing with

    insurgencies still works.3 However, today's international legal and political envi-

    ronment limits the government's freedom to respond with force to the challenge:

    2 In 1973, in the course of a failed robbery attempt in Stockholm the perpetrators took several

    hostages. During the following several days the hostages were subject to abuse and death threats, but also experienced some attention, care and superficial kindness on the part of the perpetrators. In a short time the hostages became attracted to their captors, identified with them and viewed the police (that was trying to free them) as the common enemy. This psycho-logical defensive mechanism is a commonly seen phenomenon among seriously threatened and defenseless persons. It has became widely known as the "Stockholm syndrome." The ori-ginator of the expression "societal Stockholm syndrome" is K. P. S. Gill, Director General of the Punjab Police. (Mahadevan, 2008).

    3 See for example the Syrian government's suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982, Sri Lanka suppressing the Tamil Tigers in 2009 - or the Syrian security forces' current operations against rebellious citizens.

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    the state has practically lost its right to deploy overwhelming force within its own

    borders to suppress its internal enemies. It must adapt to a new way of waging

    internal war. The conflict is primarily a political and media contest, with limited

    armed action; it requires doctrines, tactics, training and equipment that marked-

    ly differ from those employed in conventional conflicts. Even more important, it

    requires fundamentally different thinking from the political elite that exercises

    control over the security forces; from the intellectual elite that shapes society's

    values, and from the security forces themselves.


    In a "war amongst the people" type of conflict one of the most important tasks of

    the security forces is to prevent the development of the "societal Stockholm

    syndrome" by isolating and protecting the people from the impositions of the

    non-state belligerent. This requires undisputed territorial dominance and the

    constant presence of the state's power and authority. There can be no gaps in

    public order and security or in the availability of basic commodities; children

    must go to school every weekday, and government officials must move around

    and perform their official duties without fear or hindrance; every element of eve-

    ryday governance must function, from street lighting through trash removal to

    dog vaccinations.

    With their peacetime strength, the state's regular forces are seldom able to es-

    tablish this comprehensive territorial dominance: they simply do not have the

    numbers to control every village, every town, every wood and every field. The

    non-state belligerent exploits this: he appears when security forces are not

    present; disappears just before a patrol turns the corner, then appears again

    after the patrol has passed. His concealed and intermittent presence is general-

    ly sufficient to maintain contact with the people and gradually gain dominance

    over it through propaganda, intimidation, coercion and incentives, and extort

    popular support, or (often just as important) silence.4

    4 In some cases areas that the political and military decision-makers think secure, are in fact

    under the control of the insurgents. In 1953 in Vietnam the operational maps of the French forces showed, that they were in firm control of the Red River delta (Hanoi, Haiphong, and over 8 000 villages). However, the colonial government was not collecting taxes in most of the

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    This problem can be solved only by increasing the numbers of the security

    forces, until they reach critical mass sufficient numbers to carry out several

    concurrent tasks:

    - establish and maintain permanent, indisputable territorial dominance;

    - secure and protect the people of the affected regions;

    - execute continuous, high intensity operations against insurgent forces;

    - maintain law and order in unaffected regions of the state.

    Historical experience has shown, that contrary to military logic the most im-

    portant factor in determining the required force level for these tasks is not the

    strength of the enemy forces, but the population of the affected area. The actual

    number of personnel and the proper ratio of forces to population depend on fac-

    tors that are unique to the particular conflict, but broad guidelines, or rules of

    thumb do exist. The normal peacetime ratio of security forces and the popula-

    tion is somewhere between 1:400 and 1:200;5 as an internal conflict grows, this

    can increase to 1:100, and in a seriously challenging insurgency to 1:50 (Quinli-

    van, 1995). Table 1. below shows the security forces to people ratios in several

    asymmetric conflicts.

    If the insurgency affects only a few provinces, the required force increase can

    be achieved by temporary redeployment of available personnel, but this is a

    limited option: security must still be maintained in the unaffected areas, and a

    significant portion of the military forces must still be held in readiness to meet

    outside threats. Furthermore, an insurgency that has taken root among the

    people may last for many years, and in such cases there is no alternative to

    force increase.

    The two usual ways to increase manpower is to expand the regular forces or to

    mobilize military-age male citizens. Both levy economic and political burdens on

    society. The regulars' pay and benefits (e.g. billeting, family supplements) take

    a big part of the budget; mobilizing citizens subtracts both productive force and

    consumer demand from the national economy. The question of reliability cannot

    8 000 villages, and most teacher positions were vacant: the taxes were collected by the insur-gents (the Viet Minh), and the teachers were Viet Minh cadres. (Fall, 1965)

    5 In Hungary this ratio is 1:230, in Switzerland 1:390, in France 1:240, In Poland 1:380 (OSCE website).

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    be dismissed either: in an

    asymmetric conflict friends,

    brothers, relatives face each

    other, and it is an open ques-

    tion, whether imposed (and

    onerous) duty or family and

    friendship will determine the

    behavior of the mobilized indi-


    There is a third and perhaps

    better way: raising local vo-

    lunteer self-defense forces (mi-

    litias) that serve part-time in the

    immediate vicinity of their home

    towns or districts, while retain-

    ing their civilian occupations.

    Several factors recommend

    this solution. Militias are cost-effective; they have detailed local knowledge; they

    are a permanent armed presence, and they are highly motivated. However, mili-

    tias (especially those organized by local private initiative) tend to dilute the

    state's monopoly over lawful violence and police power; therefore many gov-

    ernments are extremely wary about allowing them. 6 Since France's defeat in Algeria and Yugoslavia's in Kosovo are well known historical facts,

    the evaluation of these conflicts as "success" for the respective governments requires an ex-planation.

    In Algiers the 1:33 ratio included the total European and Arab population. This ratio allowed the French to dominate the area and maintain an intensive tempo of counterinsurgency opera-tions (200 patrols daily; dusk-to-dawn curfew; an effective intelligence gathering program; fo-cused raids and arrests). By the end of the Battle of Algiers the insurgent organization in the city was destroyed, its members were killed or arrested; its supporters were thoroughly intimi-dated. Eventually France did lose the war in Algeria, but the Battle of Algiers was one of the success stories.

    In Kosovo in 1998-99 the ratio of the security forces to the population was 1:48; and this ratio steadily improved as much of the Albanian population fled from the province. This ratio, coupled with relative lack of restraint on operations and serious mistakes by the Kosovo Libe-ration Army allowed the security forces to reestablish the authority of the government through-out most of the province. By the spring of 1999 they practically won the war and were well on the way to destroying the KLA. It was only NATO's interference that turned the tables.

    Table 1. Ratio of security forces to population in some asymmetric conflicts.

    Conflict Ratio Outcome for

    the Government6

    The Battle of Algiers Jan to Mar 1957 1:33 success

    Rhodesia, 1972-1978

    1:300-1:200 failure

    Rhodesia, 1979 spring 1:92 failure

    Northern Ireland, 1980's 1:65 success

    Punjab, 1991-94 1:69 success

    Kosovo, Oct 1998 to Jun 1999 1:48 success

    Kosovo NATO occupation Jun 1999 1:50 failure

    Basra, 2003 1:300 failure

    Baghdad Security Plan 2007 1:50 success

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    A review of the conflicts in which militias played a significant role shows an ex-

    tremely variegated picture. Militias can be raised and funded by the government

    and for all intents and purposes become a part of the armed forces; they can be

    raised with government approval by local initiative and private funding, but mili-

    tias have also been organized in defiance of strict government prohibitions. As a

    general rule, militias either government sponsored or private form when a

    local security vacuum deelops.

    3.1. Punjab, 1984-96

    Punjab is India's most developed state, with large cities and a highly developed

    infrastructure. The terrain (intensively cultivated, rolling hills) provides little cover

    and concealment, thus the insurgency was primarily urban terrorism, rather than

    a classic rural guerrilla war. The insurgents' goal was to establish Khalistan, a

    sovereign Sikh theocratic state. They sought to realize their goal by terrorism

    and by creating the greatest possible chaos. They expected that either Indian

    society and government would tire of the cost in blood and treasure and accept

    Khalistani independence, or the international community, once it got tired of the

    stream of bad news from the Punjab, would force India to grant it.7

    The security forces, relying on the resources of all India, kept pace with the

    growth of the insurgents' military strength. However, Punjab's police chief, Kan-

    war Pal Singh Gill, knew that even with the large forces at his disposal he would

    not be able to guarantee the security of every village and every city. He had his

    staff draw up a plan to create volunteer police units in the most affected areas,

    in order to oppose the insurgents at the lowest local level.

    Raising the militias was difficult: at first village elders rejected the initiative, be-

    cause they were afraid that at this sign of resistance the insurgents would take

    their revenge on the whole village. Only after many visits and lengthy debates

    7 The conditions of the Punjab Sikh insurgency are far closer to the situation in Europe, than

    those in Iraq and Afghanistan. And unlike Iraq or Afghanistan, where foreign expeditionary forces have played a very big role in fighting the insurgents, the Punjab insurgency was sup-pressed by Punjabi Sikh policemen under the command of a Punjabi Sikh police general.

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    were they convinced that K.P.S. Gill wanted an effective self-defense organiza-

    tion, rather than some spectacular, but useless exercise in morale-building. Fi-

    nally, Gill's persistence was rewarded: the first volunteer units were raised and

    trained; detailed village defense plans were drawn up; defensive perimeters

    were constructed, and small police detachments were assigned to provide tem-

    porary support, until the new militias found their balance. In case of attack, the

    militias could count on quick support: due to Punjab's highly developed infra-

    structure, to the resources available, and to Gill's demanding leadership, quick

    reaction forces were on location 15-20 minutes after an alarm. During the first

    months (up to April 1989.) village defense committees were formed in 450 vil-

    lages; a year later they were operating in over 1 100. The number of volunteers

    grew from 15 000 in 1999 to nearly 40 000 in 1994.

    The insurgents were still able to carry out carefully planned and rehearsed hit-

    and-run raids, ambushes and sniper attacks, but they were gradually isolated

    from the people. With the constant presence of the militias it became very diffi-

    cult to hold meetings and carry out propaganda among the villagers, and even

    secret midnight visits with their own families became dangerous. Protected by

    Gill's Village Defence Scheme, the people were willing to share with the authori-

    ties the information they had on the insurgents. Based on such information the

    security forces could target and neutralize the terrorists without causing colla-

    teral damage. The successful operations yielded further information, which led

    to further successful operations. As the people's confidence in the final success

    of the security forces increased, so did the flow of information.

    The insurgents recognized the danger inherent in the village militias, and

    mounted an intensive campaign against them. Even family members were tar-

    geted, but the militias did not back down: fewer than 600 requested discharge,

    and the Village Defence Scheme played a significant role to the very end of the


    3.2. Northern Ireland, 1969-2007

    In the late 1960's police in Northern Ireland were proving incapable of stemming

    the increasing violence between Catholics (nationalists) and Protestants (loyal-

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    ists).8 In August 1969 the British government decided to deploy military forces

    to establish law and order Operation Banner was launched. As violence be-

    tween the communities ebbed and flowed, the strength of the security forces

    grew or decreased: in 1972, at the peak of the conflict, it was 21 000; in 1980

    11 000; in 1985 9 000; at the end of the 1980's 10 500; in 1992 18 000.9

    Before the deployment of the armed forces, law enforcement and maintenance

    of public order was the task of the local police, the 3 000-man Royal Ulster

    Constabulary (RUC). During the conflict RUC's strength grew to 5 300 in 1976,

    to 8 000 in 1982, and to 13 000 in the late 1980's. RUC was nearly 100 percent

    Protestant, and in the eyes of the Catholics it was a seriously biased organiza-

    tion. RUC could not change this image to the end of the conflict.

    RUC was supported by an 8 500-man reserve police force, the Ulster Special

    Constabulary (USC), commonly known as the "B Specials." As a reserve force,

    it could be mobilized only for short periods. The Catholics considered the B

    Specials even more biased than the RUC. Since this opinion was not un-

    founded, the B Specials were disbanded in early 1970 Its members could apply

    for service in a newly raised force, the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) but

    their acceptance was not automatic: the authorities tried to screen out the radi-

    cal loyalist elements.

    The Ulster Defence Regiment was raised in April 1970. Its personnel with the

    exception of a few officers and non-commissioned officers seconded from regu-

    lar regiments were locally recruited; 70 percent of them retained their civilian

    occupations and served part time.10 Conditions of service and pay scales were

    same as those of the reserve forces, with one important difference: the regiment

    could not be obliged to serve outside Northern Ireland. In April 1970. there were

    4 000 men in seven battalions. In 1976 the number of battalions was increased

    to eleven, and in every battalion one company of full-time soldiers was orga-

    8 The equation sign between political goals and religious affiliation is a huge oversimplification

    however, the purpose of this study is not the analysis of Northern Ireland's political history. 9 The military forces deployed in Northern Ireland were grouped into three brigades under the

    command of a Lieutenant General. Most of the battalions making up these brigades served 30-month tours, while others were on short (four and a half to six month) rotation.

    10 English military humor immediately named the UDR battalions "native levies."

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    nized. In 1990 the UDR battalions were re-designated Home Service Force

    (HSF) and became part of the Royal Irish Regiment.

    At first the UDR successfully bridged the gap between confessions: about 18

    percent of the volunteers were Catholics. The republican underground organiza-

    tions recognized the danger of Catholic-Protestant reconciliation and integration

    in the new regiment, and started a campaign of intimidation to prevent it. The

    effort was successful: the ratio of Catholics soon declined to only 2 percent. The

    UDR soldiers regardless of religious affiliation were in far greater danger

    than the regulars, who lived on more-or-less secure bases.11 Initially they could

    take home their service weapons (which contributed greatly to their readiness);

    later rifles had to be kept in unit arms rooms, but the soldiers were issued pis-

    tols for self-defense.

    The local knowledge of the UDR soldiers squeezed the activities of the under-

    ground armed organizations into narrow channels: although they could still carry

    out carefully planned and rehearsed operations with small forces (car bombs,

    sniper attacks), they were not invisible, untouchable ghosts any more. In many

    cases the UDR soldiers knew personally the local troublemakers, knew their

    habits, their families and friends. They immediately recognized strangers by

    their face, dress, behavior or accent while for soldiers from outside the prov-

    ince one Irish accent sounded much like any other. The UDR's constant pres-

    ence also encouraged local residents to share their information with the sol-

    diers; this led to successful operations against the republicans, which yielded

    information that led to further successful operations.

    UDR's part time solders served an average of two nights a week, and initially

    their tasks were to guard facilities, and in conjunction with the RUC carry out

    patrols, man checkpoints and control vehicular traffic. Performing these routine

    duties freed up regular forces for duties in tougher regions. As the skills and

    abilities of the UDR improved, the range of its tasks also expanded: by 1980.

    eight battalions out of the eleven had their own areas of responsibility, and were

    authorized to carry out any operation except crowd control (the latter was ex-

    cluded due to policy, not due to lack of capacity). 11Nearly 80 percent (162 people) of the Regiment's losses occurred off-duty (street, place of

    work, home). A further 60 individuals were killed after they had already been discharged.

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    Operation Banner came to a close in 2007. The HSF battalions were dis-

    banded; their personnel were discharged or absorbed into other units. The re-

    sults are far from perfect: the terrorist organizations renounced political violence

    and switched to organized crime. Mistrust between communities and the reli-

    gious segregation of residential areas did not diminish much; the strength and

    influence of the radical political parties increased at the expense of the mod-

    erates. It is far from certain, that the British success will be long-lasting.

    3.3. Basra, 2003-07

    The universally accepted rules of warfare oblige an occupation power to restore

    security, law and order and normal everyday life in areas under its control but

    common sense dictates the same thing. A secure environment and life returning

    to normal routine are two important sources of legitimacy for the occupier; they

    are the basic conditions for the support (or at least acquiescence) of the local

    population, and are also the basic instruments of population control. The com-

    manders of the British units occupying Iraq's southern provinces after the

    second Gulf War were well aware of this. When large scale combat operations

    ended, they did their best to restore public order and security, political stability

    and administration, and tried to restart the economy.

    To secure their area of responsibility (Iraq's five southern provinces) they

    needed a force of about 100 000, but had less than 30 000. Therefore, the effort

    to create a secure environment and restore the conditions of normal, everyday

    life were no more successful in the South than in other areas of Iraq. Looting,

    retributions and violent crime dominated the first days of the occupation. Due to

    the shortage of resources and to increasingly effective sabotage, water, electric-

    ity and fuel supplies were frequently interrupted and business life could not be

    sustained without security and energy. Saddam Hussein's police, state security

    structure and military forces ceased to exist as coherent organizations. What-

    ever was left was dissolved by the Coalition Authority. Thus, everything had to

    be started from scratch. The British armed forces, relying on their many dec-

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    ades of institutional experience in raising and employing local forces,12 recalled

    the local policemen to duty, and begun to recruit further security forces.

    Since the screening of volunteers was superficial, sectarian militias managed to

    infiltrate the new security organizations from the very beginning. Thus they not

    only acquired modern equipment, training and facilities, but the uniform also

    provided them a measure legitimacy as well. Impartial, strictly legal police pro-

    cedures were out of the question: most policemen advanced the interests of

    one or another of the militias or lined his own pockets; their activities discredited

    the few conscientious policemen as well. The local forces became part of the

    problem, rather than the solution, because the British commanders had lost

    control or perhaps never even had control over them.

    Radical Islamist organizations and Iranian agents gained influence in Basra so-

    ciety and established their dominance over local political life. (Chin, 2008) Their

    influence became manifest during the 2004 battles between the Islamists and

    the Coalition. Iraqi employees of the British administration were kidnapped, tor-

    tured, murdered; the British forces had to devote increasing attention (and re-

    sources) to their own security, and gradually lost their effectiveness. They often

    had to fight policemen that they themselves trained and armed a few months

    earlier. All this was open warning to the civilian population: the British cannot

    protect even themselves whoever cooperates with them will suffer the same

    fate as the interpreters and bureaucrats working for them. (Devenny and

    McLean, 2005)

    Seeing the failure of the British forces, not antagonizing the militias seemed the

    most likely security guarantee for the average Iraqi citizen. Since this meant that

    all potential sources of information dried up (or worse, supplied information to

    the militias), the British forces became deaf and blind, they could not distinguish

    between civilians and insurgents, and could not separate and isolate the popu-

    lation from the non-state actors' impositions, could not attack the militias without

    causing collateral damage, and could not establish control over the population.

    12For example the counterinsurgency manual of the armed forces devoted 8 pages to the re-

    cruitment and leadership of local militias (Counter Insurgency Operations, 2001).

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    Basra descended into anarchy. Small fiefdoms dominated a few city blocks and

    fought each other for control over government institutions and over sources of

    income (e.g. oil shipment, seaborne trade). Much of the police force served the

    interests of one or another militia. British operations to establish control over the

    militias were regularly thwarted by the interference of local, provincial or nation-

    al level governments, police or politicians who tried to protect the targeted or-

    ganization. (Devenny and McLean, 2005) The precepts of the sharia super-

    seded secular and Coalition Authority laws: listening to western music was se-

    verely punished; politicians who favored the British, the owners of liquor stores,

    loud-mouth university students disappeared one after another; women were

    forbidden to wear makeup, and were gradually forced into the narrow limits of

    Islam. Disobedience was punished by medieval brutality.

    By the end of 2007. about 70 percent of the city became no-go areas for British

    forces. Troop movement was possible only at night, by helicopter, because

    road-bound convoys and daylight flights became too dangerous. Due to daily

    mortar and rocket attacks the local British headquarters was moved out to the

    international airport in September 2007. This brought permanent British pres-

    ence to an end. Theoretically Iraqi forces assumed responsibility for security in

    Basra, but in reality the city just descended further into anarchy. The Iraqi cen-

    tral government had to deploy eight brigades next spring, in order to reestablish

    its authority over Basra and the surrounding provinces (Saulat al-Fursan Op-

    eration Knights' Charge, March-April 2008).

    The British troops had fought very well, but lack of resources, lack of numbers,

    a faulty doctrine and the inability of the commanders to exercise firm control

    over locally raised forces neutralized their sacrifices.


    These short case studies show that employing militias in an asymmetric conflict

    can have many advantages, but at the same time it carries some risks as well.

    Militias may either be the catalysts of the security forces success, or their fail-


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    4.1. Social Barometer

    In the course of counterinsurgency operations it is advisable to involve the

    people in activities through which their opinion of the government and security

    forces can be discerned and the real extent of their support can be measured

    (Mathur, 2008). A local self-defense program serves this purpose well: the

    number of volunteers and their behavior in training and in everyday operations

    show how much society trusts in the government's eventual success.

    The Village Defence Scheme of the Punjab is the best example of this. In the

    1980's civilians rarely resisted the Khalistan movement, and when they did, it

    was mostly passive (silence, omission), rather than active fighting. The gradual

    acceptance of the Village Defence Scheme, its slowly growing popularity, the

    growing number of volunteers and their participation in more and more opera-

    tions showed the security forces, that they had gained the people's trust, and

    indicated what they must do in order to maintain the process. The militias in Ba-

    sra served as a similar indicator they showed very clearly, that the occupying

    forces were on the wrong track.

    4.2. Cost-effectiveness

    Raising a militia is far less costly than either increasing the strength of regular

    forces or mobilizing reservists. This is true even if militia pay and allowance

    rates are the same as for regulars: only the actual time spent on duty has to be

    compensated. So a larger force can be raised with the available resources. In

    standards of training, equipment, discipline and physical fitness militiamen are

    likely to be inferior to regulars sometimes even to insurgents. Nevertheless,

    they cannot be dismissed with a shrug, as useless and superfluous. Militiamen

    serve in the vicinity of their own homes, know the environment, the local people

    and customs; they immediately recognize new faces, unusual behavior or out-

    sider accents; they are immediately aware of anything out of the ordinary. They

    are members of the threatened community; they stay in the threatened commu-

    nity after performing their duties and can be mobilized at very short notice. They

    volunteer for service to protect their own life, their families, their homes no-

    body is as interested in maintaining local security as they. These factors local

  • 14

    knowledge, permanent armed presence, motivation more than balance out

    whatever shortcomings they may have.

    Militia can take over from the regular forces simple tasks that require only com-

    bat potential. Guarding public buildings and important traffic nodes and patrol-

    ling the streets of a familiar neighborhood require disciplined and alert pres-

    ence, rather than specialized military skills it is a waste of resources to employ

    regular soldiers or policemen on such tasks. Thus, militias can free up a signifi-

    cant portion of the regular forces, which then become available for duties in

    tougher areas.

    Militia patrols and sentries are really more symbols of the state's permanent

    presence, than particularly combat-capable military forces. Nevertheless, they

    create a very hostile environment for insurgents, because the latter face in-

    creasing difficulties in making contact with the population; agitation and propa-

    ganda becomes impossible, and even brief contact with the family becomes

    dangerous. Instead of being invisible, untouchable ghosts, the insurgents ac-

    quire names, their habits become known, their movements can be observed,

    and soon after one of them is recognized in public, action by the authorities is

    likely to follow.

    4.3. Synergy in Intelligence

    The lifeblood of counterinsurgency is a continuously functioning, reliable intelli-

    gence system. Aside from the insurgents themselves, it is the local civilians that

    have the most detailed, most up-to-date information, on the insurgent organiza-

    tion. Tapping into this source provides real-time, actionable intelligence and al-

    lows the security forces to take the fight to the insurgents and mount operations

    that are not only successful, but are also without collateral damage. The suc-

    cessful operations yield further information and lead to further successful opera-

    tions. Seeing the success of the security forces, the people are likely to coope-

    rate further with the security forces, primarily by offering further information. The

    essential condition for such a steadily expanding, synergistic intelligence cycle

    is providing reliable protection from the exaction and retributions of the insur-

    gents and convincing the people, that their security is not just a temporary con-

  • 15

    dition, but is guaranteed for the long term. The constant presence of armed mili-

    tia is one such guarantee of permanent security.

    Such a synergistic intelligence cycle was created in the Punjab and (to a lesser

    extent) in Northern Ireland. Particularly in the Punjab the security forces could

    take the fight to the insurgents, carry out high intensity operations in heavily po-

    pulated areas, yet cause no collateral damage. Due to their steady successes,

    a trickle of information from the citizens became a stream, and by the end of the

    conflict turned into a flood. The opposite was the case in Basra: seeing the Brit-

    ish forces' lack of success against the insurgents, all potential sources of infor-

    mation dried up. As a result the British forces were deaf and blind, could not

    distinguish between civilians and insurgents, could not isolate the insurgents

    from the people, and could not engage the insurgents without causing collateral


    4.4. Impartiality, Reliability

    A cornerstone of the modern nation state's legitimacy is government monopoly

    over lawful force, and militias tend to dilute this monopoly somewhat. In order to

    minimize this dilution, militias must function as disciplined, impartial local repre-

    sentatives of the state's power a requirement that may be difficult to satisfy.

    Locally raised forces often bring with them local traditions of enmity. Further-

    more, a part of their local knowledge is that they know (or think they know),

    whose husband, son or brother is among the insurgents; who supports them

    with food, money and information; who warns them when a patrol is approach-

    ing. Militiamen either in the course of their duties, or off-duty; either for private

    purposes, or as part of the counterinsurgency fight are in a position to bring

    heavy pressure on such people, and the authorities often fail to protect the vic-


    Insurgents can also apply pressure through relatives and immediate family. In

    the Punjab the families of the volunteers of the Village Defence Scheme were

    under constant threat. In Northern Ireland pressure on the UDR soldiers was

    routinely applied through ostracism of their family by the local community, or by

    direct threat. Most resisted the pressure, others yielded to it. The latter usually

  • 16

    left the militia, or in the worst cases they became double agents and sup-

    plied the insurgents with information on planned operations.

    Under a strong-willed, charismatic commander a militia force may become in-

    dependent of state direction and supervision especially if it was created with

    local resources by private initiative, in an area where central government au-

    thority is weak. Sooner of later (and rather sooner than later) militias that reject

    government supervision will also reject legal restrictions. They will become law-

    less private armies with enforces and death squads. Their activities will cause

    as much harm (and far more political and media damage) to the state as the

    original threat against which they were organized.

    Insurgents themselves may also attempt to join local militias in large numbers,

    if circumstances permit, as happened in Basra, where circumstances did permit.

    This way they obtain weapons, ammunition and other equipment, and they can

    gather information on the capabilities, plans and intentions of the security


    4.5. Corruption

    Due to the decentralized nature of militias it is often difficult to audit their spend-

    ing. Weeks or months after an operation it is impossible to verify that docu-

    mented fuel use was really required, or in fact the fuel disappeared in the tanks

    of the militiamen's private vehicles. Padding personnel rolls and diverting the

    pay of non-existent militiamen is another routine form of abuse.

    The possibility of corruption is no less a problem (or perhaps even a bigger

    problem) if the militia is funded from private sources. Although raising a militia

    costs less than an equivalent regular force, it is still costly business. Weapons,

    ammunition, fuel, vehicles, communications gear, pay add up to very signifi-

    cant expenses every month, and commanders may feel compelled to rely on

    illegal means (e.g. drug smuggling) to cover them.


    The new paradigm of warfare has already reached Europe. So far it has af-

    fected only the continent's periphery (Transdnistria, Kosovo, Caucasus), but

    there are indicators that Europe may become a major theater of asymmetric

  • 17

    conflicts. Trimming the sovereignty and power of European nation states, the

    European Union's rigid and corruption-prone political structure, the dominance

    of corrosive ideologies (multiculturalism, cultural relativism, political correctness)

    all create fertile soil for the development of non-state belligerents. These very

    same factors paralyze (but at the very minimum seriously hamper) the state's

    ability to respond to asymmetric challenges.

    Kosovo's independence (asymmetric warfare's most spectacular success story

    so far) encourages Europe's minority populations to seek greater autonomy or

    independence. The goals of Europe's growing and increasingly assertive Mus-

    lim populations cannot be dismissed either. Muslim immigrants in France,

    Scandinavia and the Benelux states have already carved out de-facto miniature

    Islamic republics in many city districts: they forced out the indigenous popula-

    tion and the institutions and officials of the state; instead of the state's laws Is-

    lamic law (the sharia) rules, and police patrols are routinely attacked. The vari-

    ous governments' efforts to reestablish the state's authority have not been par-

    ticularly successful.

    5.1. Yet Another Case Study Hungary, 2011 and beyond

    Hungary is affected by the limits of sovereignty as much as any other European

    state. Immigrants (Muslim or otherwise) are not a problem,13 but Gypsies consti-

    tute a large, assertive and easily identified ethnic minority. Most of them cannot

    (or will not) assimilate into Hungarian society, and following the collapse of so-

    cialism, they have run into an economic and social dead-end street.14 Many

    survive and feed their families through small-scale criminal activity, which puts

    them on a collision course with the majority population, and by gaming the wel-

    fare system, which engenders a great deal of resentment. Current events in

    Hungary (following similar events in other European countries) show, that rather

    than a trivial problem, this is a potentially very dangerous social minefield.

    13The ratio of immigrants is insignificant by European standards: 1.7 percent, and the majority

    are Hungarians from neighboring countries, whose assimilation is without problems (Tlas, 2009).

    14It is a commonly held view in Hungary, that the Gypsies themselves are the cause of their own hardships. This may or may not be true, but for the purposes of this analysis it is irrelevant.

  • 18

    At the time this study was submitted for publication, the personnel strength of

    the Hungarian police was 44 000. An organization of nearly 90 000 unarmed

    local volunteers in 2 000 local organizations, the Citizen Guard (Polgrrsg)

    supports the police and serves as its local eyes and ears. Theoretically this

    makes Hungary one of the better policed states in Europe: there is one police-

    man and two citizen guards are for every 320 citizens. In reality the police have

    been unable to guarantee law and order not only in remote parts of the country,

    but even in some sections of the capital.15 In the fall of 2006 they had great dif-

    ficulties suppressing political motivated riots in Budapest, and more recently

    (March-April 2011.) they proved incapable of defusing a seriously explosive

    confrontation between Gypsies and Hungarians in a small provincial town

    (Gyngyspata).16 This is not to suggest that the police are incompetent - simp-

    ly that so far they have not found the answer to one particular form of challenge.

    Should unemployment, poverty, shortages or ethnic tensions lead to truly signif-

    icant asymmetric challenges, the police would most likely be unable to resolve

    them, especially if they affect several cities or several counties. In the two least

    heavily populated counties (Ngrd and Tolna total population 440 000) a se-

    rious asymmetric challenge would require a security force of over 8 000 nearly

    one fifth of the total police force. Extra personnel can obviously be drafted tem-

    porarily from other, unaffected regions, but sustaining the required numbers this

    way places a heavy burden on personnel. In counties with larger populations

    (Borsod-Abaj-Zempln 700 000, Szabolcs-Szatmr-Bereg 560 000, Ba-

    ranya 400 000) transfers do not offer even a temporary solution. 15When the author voices this opinion in the presence of Hungarian police officers, their invaria-

    ble response is that 44 000 is the total payroll, which also contains the civilian administrative staff, who cannot be sent out to patrol or to disperse crowds. Furthermore, the policemen themselves also spend a significant part of their time with administration. No doubt, this is true and irrelevant. The large number of civilian staff and the administrative burden are the cumu-lative results of many years (many decades?) of poor command decisions and a poorly func-tioning bureaucratic system. One of the most important tasks of the highest police command-ers is to make effective use of available resources which does not seem to be happening.

    16Significantly, it was not the Gypsies the police had problems with, but the semi-legal (so far unarmed) Hungarian paramilitary organizations that descended on the town and were intimi-dating the local Gypsies, (to paraphrase their press releases) "in order to defend hard-working Hungarians from the depredations of lawless, parasitic criminal elements." After some vi-olence and some arrests the police managed to impose a measure of order, and parliament rushed through a law prohibiting the militias' behavior, but none of this seem to promise a last-ing solution.

  • 19

    Thus, police strength would have to be augmented. The Constitution contem-plates the possibility that maintenance of order and security may require more

    force than is available to the police: in carefully circumscribed conditions it au-

    thorizes the employment of the Armed Forces in support of the police. Person-

    nel could be drafted from other law enforcement organizations as well, but the

    numbers available are limited: Armed Forces 27 000, Customs Service

    7 500, Prison Service 8 000.17 Since these organizations also have their own

    defense or law enforcement functions, they can be employed for counterinsur-

    gency or riot control tasks only in very limited numbers, and only for very limited

    periods. So, some other type of augmentation is inevitable and the most eco-

    nomical solution is raising local militias.

    The recent (Jan. 2011) resurrection of the Armed Forces' volunteer reservist

    system is a promising start: the number of reservists now stands at around

    2 000; the first intakes had already completed their training and took up their

    duties. The volunteer reserve can serve as the militia described above, if two

    conditions are met: (1) sufficient numbers to establish territorial dominance and

    permanent presence in the affected regions, and (2) service near home, where

    the reservists' knowledge of the area and its people is an advantage.

    The first condition is not hard to meet: challenging training, camaraderie and

    decent pay for time spent on duty are all that are needed. However, it is difficult

    to reconcile the second condition with the fundamental concept of armed forces

    that concentrate all national resources and deploy them anywhere in the world,

    as required. So the law on defense may have to be amended18 to guarantee

    that the forces will be available locally, when needed.

    Alternatively, the Citizen Guard could serve as the nucleus of local militias but

    only after its legal foundation (Law LII of 2006 on Citizen Guards) is amended.

    As the law is written at present, citizen guards have no coercive powers, cannot

    initiate arrests or restrain suspects, and not only are they forbidden to carry fire-

    17 The provisions of the new Constitution (passed in early 2011) are essentially the same. Both

    Constitutions are silent on the employment of other law enforcement organizations for the maintenance of public order. (Constitution of the Hungarian Republic, 1949)

    18As the British law prohibiting deployment of the Ulster Defence Regiment outside the borders of Northern Ireland.

  • 20

    arms, but cannot even carry truncheons or handcuffs, and (perhaps least impor-

    tant) their dress may bear absolutely no resemblance to military or police uni-

    forms. These restrictions make the Citizen Guard totally unsuitable as local self-

    defense militia: without something very close to police powers and without

    means of defense (weapons), they are unable to protect their community.

    If militias do get raised, their activities are likely to be covered by the same

    regulations as those of the police. This puts them in a difficult position, because

    the regulations are characterized by the excessive caution of bureaucrats with

    no service experience. Police (even the security details of the most important

    dignitaries) are allowed only full metal jacketed pistol ammunition, which is

    hardly ever able to stop a determined assailant with a single shot.19 Standing

    rules of engagement require verbal warning and a warning shot; if these do not

    work, they oblige the shooter to aim to wound. (Law on the Police, 1994 and

    Police Service Regulations, 2007.) It is hard to justify these naive requirements

    in the idyllic conditions of peacetime; in seriously disturbances they only endan-

    ger own forces and outsiders.20

    So at the time this study is being completed (late spring, 2011) Hungary has a

    police force that will likely be unable to handle a serious asymmetric challenge;

    the forces available to reinforce the police are very limited; their rules of en-

    gagement were written for an Alice-in-Wonderland environment, where nobody

    ever gets hurt, and the political environment is hostile to forming any local self

    defense militia. Clearly, if Hungary is to handle even a moderately serious

    asymmetric challenge, fundamental changes are needed - but there is very little

    chance of that any time soon. In the eyes of the political elite, enforcing the

    19The internationally accepted rules of warfare prohibit small arms ammunition that explodes or

    expands in the body. But the rules of warfare do not apply in internal conflicts; therefore they are silent on ammunition types for internal, law enforcement use. The use of expanding am-munition is particularly justified in busy, densely populated city environments: the expanding bullet causes severe trauma, therefore it is more likely to halt an attack with a single hit, and thus reduces the likelihood of a prolonged firefight.

    20Warning shots endangers outsiders, because the bullet eventually returns to earth, and still has plenty of energy to cause severe injuries, hundreds of meters from the point where it was fired. The requirement to aim to wound has a similar effect: it divides a large and homogenous target (the full body of the adversary) into small, distributed parts, and assumes exceptional marksmanship capabilities which are not likely to exist in the adrenalin-rich conditions of a firefight. Beyond a range of a few meters shots fired with the intention to wound are likely to miss and, again, endanger outsiders.

  • 21

    state's monopoly on maintaining public order is far more important, than public

    order itself. Any suggestion that local self defense forces may assist law en-

    forcement organizations in maintaining law and order is viewed with the deepest

    suspicion, as an effort to undermine the state's authority by diluting its police

    power monopoly.

    5.2. The Future Begins Now

    It is possible (though not very likely) that the threat of asymmetric conflicts will

    gradually fade away all over Europe. But it is the height of irresponsibility to

    count on it. Preparations to handle an asymmetric challenge should be made

    now, when there is still time to make plans and allocate resources. The author

    considers preparatory work essential in two areas: (1) doctrine, planning and

    modeling, and (2) shaping the legal environment.

    Every military capability stands on three interconnected legs: forces execute

    their assigned tasks according to doctrine, after they received adequate train-

    ing. The forces are available: the military age male (and perhaps female) popu-

    lation of every nation's towns and villages. But how can these people be con-

    vinced to join the colors? How can the unfit be screened out? What should train-

    ing consist of? What should the organizational structure be? Equipment? Ranks

    and promotions? Pay rates? Balance between local initiative and central direc-

    tion? Initiative and improvisation may yield surprisingly good results, but a good

    result is more likely, if sound doctrinal bases are established first.

    Developing new doctrine does not mean reinventing the wheel but it cannot

    be done on the cheap, by translating a few British, French or Portuguese ma-

    nuals, either. The lessons of the past and the experiences of other nations are

    invaluable, because they place the basic principles in a historical context and

    show which procedures were usually successful, and why. But every insurgency

    is a unique and special event and requires unique and special solutions. There-

    fore doctrine must be developed on the basis of a thorough and realistic analy-

    sis of current local conditions.

    Doctrine has to be tested continuously during the development process, prefer-

    ably in conditions that closely resemble reality. Without such validation it will

    remain just a collection of unverified theories. The best test-beds are command

  • 22

    and staff and national crisis response center exercises, and the schools of the

    security forces. Detailed planning is obviously premature at this stage, but re-

    cruitment procedures can be worked out, potential obstacles and potential re-

    sources can be identified.

    Law and doctrine must be in harmony; if they contradict each other, one of the

    other must be changed. Obviously, it is easier change doctrine, but some legal

    obstacles to the efficient functioning of the security forces are so high, that an

    attempt must be made to reduce them by amending law. This is very difficult to

    achieve in normal, peacetime conditions.

    Most democracies afford formidable legal protections to ordinary criminals and

    political activists: the restrictions on search and seizure, detention and arrest,

    rules of evidence and rules of engagement are designed to reinforce the pre-

    sumption of innicence and protect the rights of the individual. It is in the interest

    of the non-state belligerent to maintain this state of affairs as long as possible:

    by intimidating witnesses, judges and prosecutors he can manipulate the sys-

    tem to his own great advantage. For different reasons, the political elite is also

    interested in maintaining the fiction of normalcy: declaring a state of emergency,

    granting special powers to the security forces and introducing special legislation

    are an acknowledgement that they were asleep at the wheel and failed to per-

    form their most important duty: guaranteeing the people's security.

    For the these reasons, in normal, peaceful conditions it may be very difficult to

    pass legislation that contemplates the possibility of violent, armed challenge to

    the state's authority and grants draconian powers to ministers, soldiers and po-

    licemen - even if these powers are just potential powers, held in abeyance until

    a state of mergency is declared.

    In all but the least serious asymmetric challenges the peactime restrictions on

    the security forces must eventually be eased. For that eventuality amendments

    can be prepared that acknowledge that insurgency is not a law enforcement

    problem but war (or something very close to it), provide enhanced powers to the

    security forces and align the rules of engagement with the reality of war. The

    amendments can be held ready for submission to the legislature when a violent

    challenge does occur and a state of emergency is declared.

  • 23


    Militias do not guarantee success, and their absence does not mean automatic

    failure. When well led and properly controlled, they definitely make the task of

    the security forces much easier, because they are a constant armed presence,

    they are motivated to maintain security, and intimately know their areas of re-

    sponsibility. When they are left to their own devices, they can turn into murder-

    ous private armies.

    Establishing a militia may be useful even if the asymmetric threat does not ma-

    terialize. Beyond narrow military considerations (trained personnel that can be

    mobilized in an emergency) it may have significant social benefits as well. Many

    citizens would like to serve their community or their nation, but do not feel the

    call to become long-service, full-time professionals. Joining a militia offers an

    opportunity for them to do more than just pay their taxes and obey the law. And

    militia service also makes the principle of serving the nation, the state and the

    community a respectable activity - an attitude that tends to fade away soon after

    the abolition of conscription.

    Sources: Chin, Warren (2008): Why Did It All Go Wrong? Assessing British Counterin-surgency in Iraq, Montgomery, AL, Strategic Studies Quarterly 2008/4 pp. 119-135. Devenny, Patrick and Robert McLean (2005): The Battle for Basra Special Re-port, Arlington, VA, The American Spectator 11.01.2005. Fall, Bernard B. (1965): The Theory and Practice of Insurgency and Counterin-surgency, Newport, RI, Naval War College Review, (reprint in 1998/01, Vol. LI, No. 1.) Knights, Michael and Ed Williams (2007): The Calm before the Storm The British Experience in Southern Iraq, Washington DC, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2007/02. Mahadevan, Prem (2008): The Gill Doctrine A Model for 21st Century Coun-ter-terrorism? New Delhi, Faultlines, 2008/04 Mathur, Anant (2008): Secrets of Coin Success: Lessons from the Punjab Campaign, Maxwell AFB, AL, Air Command and Staff College Quinlivan, James T. (1995): Force Requirements in Stability Operations, Car-lisle, PA, Parameters, 1995/1, pp. 59-69

  • 24

    Smith, Rupert (2005): The Utility of Force The Art of War in the Modern World, London, Penguin Books Strachan, Hew (2007): British Counter-Insurgency from Malaya to Iraq, London, RUSI Journal, Vol. 152, No. 6, pp 8-11. Tlas Pter (2009): Tatrszentgyrgy utn A biztonsg szubjektv percep-cijnak veszlyeirl, Budapest, Strategy and Defence Research Institute Ana-lyses Sources by unidentified authors: Counter Insurgency Operations (Strategic and Operational Guidelines) Army Field Manual, Volume 1 Combined Arms Operations, Part 10, 2001. London, Ministry of Defense, Constitution of the Hungarian Republic, Law XX of 1949., Budapest On the Police, Law XXXIV of 1994., Budapest On Police Service Regulations, Ministry of Justice and Police Decree No. 62/2007. (XII. 23.) Budapest Internet source: last accessed on 06.14.2010

    The author served 20 years in the US Army (airborne infantry, psychological

    warfare, intelligence, arms control). In the course of his duties he began to

    study asymmetric conflicts. He published two books on small arms and about

    100 articles, studies and papers on various military subjects: history, organiza-

    tion, leadership, insurgency and counterinsurgency. He has two Masters De-

    grees and he recently submitted his PhD thesis on the art of war in asymme-

    tric conflicts. He speaks English, Hungarian, Russian and Italian.

    Author's contact data: mail: Peter. A. Kiss, 1117 Budapest, Oktber 23 utca 33, Hungary mobile: +36 70 292 0246 e-mail: [email protected]