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Project Introduction: The UK’s Army Field Manual 1-10 Countering Insurgency ten years on

Alex Waterman and James Worrall

Ten years since the publication of the British Army’s Field Manual, “Countering Insurgency,” the doctrine’s incorporation of a range of non-state armed groups highlights an important gap in counterinsurgency (COIN) research.

November 2019 marks ten years since the public release of the British Army’s Field Manual 1, Volume 10: Countering Insurgency. As the first major piece of official British counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine since July 2001, the 278-page manual sought to reaffirm the army’s underlying thinking and core principles of doing COIN whilst incorporating lessons learned during the complex counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of the most notable changes reflecting these lessons concerned the ways in which non-state armed actors were presented in the doctrine. Britain’s previous COIN doctrines, had long, so AFM 1-10 stated, been influenced by the “heavy scent of the jungle”[1] – a reference to the army’s extensive post-war experience in fighting rural, communist-inspired insurgencies in a colonial context. As a result, prior to AFM 1-10, scholars such as John Mackinlay suggested that British doctrine rested on a conceptualisation of insurgency largely underpinned by a monolithic secular, Marxist/nationalist model. This, it was argued, overlooked decades of evolution in the character of insurgencies,[2]leading to a recognition from doctrine writers that the “view and categorization of the types of insurgency faced need[ed] to be adjusted.”[3]

AFM 1-10 thus attempted to “move beyond the Maoist model of insurgency by identifying a range of different insurgent groups,” in doing so reflecting the range of motivations and sources from which a range of non-state armed groups, including rebel organisations but also increasingly non-state militias and armed gangs, draw their sustenance.[4] These armed non-state actors were divided into five categories:

  • Popular Insurgents
    • An evolved version of the Maoist model.
  • Militias
    • Formed for similar reasons to insurgencies and pose considerable challenges to state authority, though they may not desire to overthrow a government
  • Clan/Tribally-oriented insurgencies
    • Localised insurgencies organised around local social structures.
  • Feral Gangs
    • Disruptive elements with limited political ambitions, driven by money/peer group standing.
  • Global Insurgents
    • Similarities to popular insurgents, but with global ambitions/reach and effectively exploiting the means of globalisation, thereby affecting multiple populations.[5]

The example of AFM 1-10 clearly tells us that those writing COIN doctrines actively think about the types of insurgency they have faced and have integrated these into doctrine. The doctrine credits key academic thinkers on the evolving character of insurgency for developing the classifications. At the same time, it clearly alludes to lessons derived from battlefield experience, hinting at a number of possible influences shaping how armed groups are incorporated into doctrine.

Academic works tell us a great deal about the influences shaping counterinsurgency doctrines. This work points to the importance of internal factors – such as personalities, internal politics, rivalries, organisational culture and the much broader political, social and cultural environs shaping national political and strategic culture. These factors can shape how organisations and those within them perceive and respond to external stimuli, such as the type of future battlefield, the structure of the international system, the role of technology and the processes of learning from other countries or institutions.

The nature of the opponent is implicit within each of these external stimuli, however rather than focusing on the specific type of insurgent or non-state armed group, this is often reduced to the broader distinctions between the “insurgent style of warfare” and conventional war.[6] Somewhat surprisingly, then, little research has been done to investigate whether, to what extent and in what ways counterinsurgents integrate their understandings of non-state armed groups into their doctrinal publications. Comparing these processes across a range of both Western and non-Western militaries with recent experience in producing COIN doctrine can enable further discussion and reflection on how to best develop models of non-state armed actors and build these into doctrines a way that is both relevant and enduring.

This 15-month project, supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation’s special programme on Security, Society and the State, seeks to encourage this conversation. It does so by addressing the following questions:

  • Do rebels and militias feature in the counterinsurgency doctrines of different states? How are they represented and/or accounted for by doctrine writers?
  • How do different counterinsurgents generate their understandings of non-state armed groups when formulating doctrine? What sources of information do they draw upon, and what does this tell us about the interaction between internal and external influences on doctrine?
  • How are these understandings reflected in COIN practice? Do some counterinsurgents better integrate knowledge into doctrine and practice than others?

For a more detailed explanation of our questions and the ways we seek to address these, our About page offers a detailed introduction. The project is led by Dr James Worrall and Dr Alex Waterman of the University of Leeds (see The Research Team for more) but seeks to involve a range of partners and stakeholders, particularly since we hope that many of our respondents are likely to be those who have been involved in writing doctrine. Our first Media entry introduces the research team and explains our motivations driving the project. We hope to furthermore use short media entries to spark conversations between academics, practitioners and students working on counterinsurgency.

We were partly inspired to undertake the project having identified a broader gap in the comparative literature on counterinsurgency. The campaigns of different states are often categorised into “Western” and “non-Western” approaches. This distinction creates the impression that COIN can simply be divided into “the West” and “the rest.” This is problematic since little research has been done to adequately test this distinction. Furthermore, “non-Western” states such as India, Nigeria and Oman display fascinating nuances wherein colonial legacies and exchanges with Western militaries intersect with unique postcolonial domestic histories, seemingly blurring the Western/non-Western dichotomy. This problem influences our decision to adopt a comparative approach of Western and non-Western case studies to test the continuum of doctrine and practice.

Our Doctrine Repository therefore offers a list of our key case studies and the doctrines each have published on counterinsurgency. Where available, links are provided to the doctrine; where they are not, we plan to provide an indication of availability as our own research progresses. By doing so we hope to create a hub of Western and non-Western COIN doctrine that encourages further comparative research.

Finally, the Home page will serve as a reference point for project updates, fieldwork summaries and details of conferences we attend and present at. If you are interested in the project and would like to get in touch, please do not hesitate to follow our Twitter handle at: @COIN_Doctrines. Lastly, we can also be reached at J.E.Worrall@leeds.ac.ukand A.P.Waterman@leeds.ac.uk. We look forward to hearing from you!

[1] UK Ministry of Defence, AFM 1 Part 10: Countering Insurgency, 2009, p. CS 1-5 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/16_11_09_army_manual.pdf> [accessed 23 September 2019].

[2] John Mackinlay, ‘Is UK Doctrine Relevant to Global Insurgency?’, The RUSI Journal, 152.2 (2007), 34–39 (pp. 34–35) <https://doi.org/10.1080/03071840701349950>; Warren Chin, ‘From Belfast to Lashkar Gar via Basra: British Counterinsurgency Today’, in The Routledge Handbook of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency, ed. by Paul B. Rich and Isabelle Duyvesteyn (London ; New York: Routledge, 2012), pp. 276–85 (p. 278).

[3] Alexander Alderson, ‘Revising the British Army’s Counter-Insurgency Doctrine’, The RUSI Journal, 152.4 (2007), 6–11 (p. 9) <https://doi.org/10.1080/03071840701574599>.

[4] Chin, p. 283.

[5] UK Ministry of Defence, pp. 2A1–4.

[6] Keith B. Bickel, Mars Learning : The Marine Corps’ Development Of Small Wars Doctrine, 1915-1940 (London: Routledge, 2001), p. 238 <https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429499043>.