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As we wave goodbye to February, the first few months of 2021 have given us much to reflect on for this month's theme of counterinsurgency...

For new friends, welcome! We are an interdisciplinary network of Masters, PhD and Early Career Researchers focused on defence, security and military topics in relation to policy, strategy, history, culture and society. We hope you find our network interesting, exciting, informative and supportive.

For old friends, thanks for your continued involvement. We would be nothing without you! This March, we are reflecting on last month's theme of counterinsurgency, we are getting our fix of podcasts and webinars, and we are asking an expert in British military strategy how his grandmother influenced his career.

Scroll down to get up to date with the news, opinions, and events from our members...


Following the now-infamous events of January 6th in the US Capitol, the violent aftereffects of Myanmar's February 1st coup, and the world's ongoing 'war' against the coronavirus, the early stages of 2021 have provided much food for thought in terms of the applicability, efficacy, and ethics of counterinsurgency.

There have been many parallels drawn between counterinsurgency doctrine and the current security crises; renowned counterinsurgency scholar David Kilcullen has called the events of both January 6th and the summer of 2020 in the United States an "incipient insurgency", the impacts of which were "war-gamed" in preparation for a contested election; The UN Security Council is being urged to act to "end the military's stranglehold over democracy in Myanmar", raising questions over the 'Responsibility to Protect' and what international intervention can, and should, be deemed appropriate; What's more, General Stanley McCrystal has likened his model of counterinsurgency to the body's response to infectious diseases, telling Forbes that a network-based strategy was the best way to fight "the coronavirus war", saying "If this is war, we have to rally the resources of everyone who has something, knows something, or can do something to beat the virus".

Yet, the issue of counterinsurgency has long been a contentious one. As Sorina writes in our blog this month - more of which you can read below - in practice, counterinsurgency campaigns have often resulted in a 'fragility storm' of widening inequalities and ineffective military strategies which serve to intensify violent extremism. The classic 'hearts and minds' approach has received criticism thanks to a narrow conception of political legitimacy rooted in colonial practices. Furthermore, as many of you noted in our recent Twitter Hour, an ambiguous distinction between counterinsurgency and counterterror leaves academics, politicians, and practitioners contesting over how to proceed. How, then, can we use the 'lessons learnt' from past and present counterinsurgency campaigns to respond to recent events in ways which are holistic, context-sensitive, and lead to lasting security for all? This is a question we will be following closely in the coming months as political, security, and health crises continue to coalesce across the world.

As you may have guessed, then, counterinsurgency is an important theme for the DRN, and we were delighted to co-host another brilliant Counterinsurgency Forum last month. Bringing together academics and practitioners to discuss our research and share ideas is at the very heart of what the DRN is about. On top of this, it has been great to see so many of you engaged with our theme throughout February on Twitter and Zoom. We look forward to carrying these discussions both virtually and, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, face to face as the DRN continues to grow.

As always, we wish you a happy and healthy month!

The DRN Team 

In the News... 
Does Size Matter? That's the question for the British Armed forces in the latest defence review. 
It has been rumoured that up to 10,000 soldiers could be cut from the British Army in the upcoming integrated defence review. The suggestion is that whilst loosing manpower would be difficult, the future of the British Army lies in being a "leaner and more agile" force aided by technological advancements. This raises questions on the embrace of the 'Global Britain' mantra and what role the British Army will play in future conflicts. Read the full story here. 
Where is the next Counterinsurgency operation? Questions raised over increasing IS activity in Mozambique. 
With insurgent and terrorist activity spreading in Africa, The Threat Project has produced a report providing an assessment and recommendations for the localised conflict in Mozambique. With previous experiences of Counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan still lingering, how can Western states address growing instability in new environments? What will be the future relationships between Western states and Counterinsurgency?
Read the report here. 
What we've been up to... 

Zoom Catch Up: Getting to Know the DRN Community

Thank you to everyone who came to our first Zoom catch up - it was really great to meet you all and hear about your research. We know how isolating things can be at the best of times for PGRs in particular but with a pandemic too we wanted to help connect people in an informal setting. We gave everyone the opportunity to say something about themselves and their research before splitting into breakout groups based on our research themes and methodologies. Thank you for your enthusiasm about this new venture. We are planning to hold a follow-up event, taking on board suggestions about varying the timing, sharing bios in advance to avoid the need for introductions so we can spend more time getting to know each other and introducing some questions to the breakout rooms. If you have any other suggestions we’d love to hear from you.
Another Successful COIN Forum

Thanks again to the Land Warfare Centre Warfare Branch, and in particular Lt Col Dave Allen and Maj Don Oldcorn, for hosting another great Counterinsurgency Forum on the 10th of February. Thank you also to Dr James Worrall (University of Leeds) and Dr Stacey Hynd (University of Exeter) as our invited academics. We heard updates from all of the COIN scholars and it was great to see so many connections being made between each other's research whether it be on doctrine, humanitarian actors, gender, organisational culture and lesson learning. The afternoon session involved a discussion about the situation in Mozambique and to what extent this is counterinsurgency or counter-terrorism. Thank you to all involved and do get in touch if you are a COIN scholar (PGR or ECR) and would like to find out more.
Discover the Latest Podcasts

This February we asked you for your favourite defence-related podcasts. Here are six of your recommendations to get stuck into in March... 
War Studies
The Department of War Studies at King's College London's School of Security Studies runs a fortnightly podcast on all aspects of security, defence, and international relations. Their latest episode marks 30 years since the end of the 1990-91 Gulf War. Dr Carool Kersten, who was based in Saudi Arabia during the conflict, shares his perspective on this largely 'forgotten war', discussing how the conflict revolutionised warfare for the 21st century and re-set Persian gulf politics. 

The Weekly Defence Podcast
In Episode 5 of the 'Weekly Defence Podcast', Myanmar coup, Turkish armour and US reviews arms sales, their Asia-Pacific editor about the coup in Myanmar and all the other key defence news from this region. They also interview a UK-based urban combat training specialists, 4GD, to discuss newly launched capabilities that will add to their Smart Facility training environment.

The official podcast of Saferworld's Security Policy Change Programme, 'WarPod' discusses the long-term implications of securitised interventions and policies, both for democratic controls over the use of force in Europe, the US and elsewhere and for the communities most impacted in places like the Middle East, the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, South America and South-East Asia.

In Episode 21, 
Partnerships or proxies? The risks of arming and training others, Delina Goxho and Abigail Watson speak to Jack Watling, from RUSI, and Erica Gaston, from the Global Public Policy institute, about support relationships, partnerships and proxies. In particular, they discuss Jack and Nick Reynold's book "War by Others' Means: Delivering Effective Partner Force Capacity Building" and Erica's work on U.S.-Iran Proxy Competition in Iraq.  

Western Way of Wa‪r‬
RUSI's podcast the 'Western Way of War' aims to understand the issues around how to fight, and succeed, against adversaries in the 2020s. They pose questions such as whether a single Western Way of Warfare (how Western militaries fight) has been successful? Whether it remains fit for task today? And, how it might need to adapt in the future? 

latest episode sees Peter Roberts talk to veteran Welsh politician and former President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Madeleine Moon about her reflections on two decades of handling political-military relations, and on the challenge of answering the desire for engagement by younger generations.

Irregular Warfare Podcast 
The Modern War Institute at West Point produces the 'Irregular Warfare Podcast' fortnightly in collaboration with Princeton University’s Empirical Studies of Conflict Project. Their latest instalment, War Entrepreneurs: Economic Drivers of Insurgency, Terrorism, and Crime, asks what drives illicit violence by substate groups such as terrorists, insurgents, and criminals—and how can states counter these threats? Speaking to Juan Zarate and Dr Gary Shiffman, they argue that focusing on individual incentive structures, rather than group identity labels, will enable states to develop targeted sanctions and military strategies that disassemble and disrupt violent nonstate groups. 

The Wavell Room 
The Wavell Room offers a number of different formats for your audio-learning pleasure. As well as interviews and recorded events they offer audio versions of some of their articles. In a recent upload, 
Hacking Brains – The means and ethics of enhancing cognitive performance, Lieutenant Colonel Gareth Whysall explores the practical and ethical dilemmas surrounding cognitive enhancement in a military setting.

All these and more are available Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify and elsewhere. Keep an eye out on our website for more interesting things to listen to!
(Virtual) Events...
Boko Haram's Past, Present and Future
8th March, from 2pm 

RUSI and the Centre for African Conflict and Development are joining hands in a webinar panel of experts to discuss Boko Haram’s protracted insurgency, as well as the limitations, challenges, and future trajectories of counterinsurgency strategies across the Lake Chad Basin. Inspired by a special issue of the African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review, the discussion will offer useful insights into Boko Haram’s past motivations, current activities and tensions between its local and global agendas. They also plan to assess Nigeria’s counter-terrorism policies and practices. 

The afternoon will consist of two panels, both of which will run for an hour and twenty minutes. Below you can find a list of the panellists for each session.

Panel 1, 2pm - 3:20pm: Boko Haram: The Local-Global Debate

  • Prof. Marc-Antoine de Perouse
  • Jacob Zenn
  • Dr Michael Nwankpa
  • Dr Andrea Brigaglia/Dr Alessio Iocchi

Moderator: Dr Vincent Foucher

Panel 2, 3:35pm - 4:55pm: The War on Terror: Assessing Nigeria’s Counterterrorism Policies and Practices
  • Dr Emeka Njoku
  • Dr Caroline Varin
  • Prof. Abimbola Adesoji/Dr Shina Alimi
  • Prof. Marc-Antoine de Perouse
  • Dr Elizabeth Pearson
Moderator: Dr Imogen Parsons

Head to RUSI's website to find out more and register for the event. Be quick! Registration closes on the 7th March. 
Breaking the Binaries in Security Studies: A Gendered Analysis of Women in Combat
10th March, 4pm - 5pm IST (10:30am - 11:30am GMT)

We are looking forward to tuning in to this discussion of Dr Ayelet Harel-Shalev and Dr Shir Daphna-Tekoah's book, Breaking the Binaries in Security Studies: A Gendered Analysis of Women in Combat. If you want to check out the book in advance,
click here.
Understanding Violence Seminar Series
10th, 17th, and 31st March, 3pm - 4:15pm

King's College London's Understanding Violence Seminar Series, co-sponsored by the Conflict Research Society, is closing this month with three seminars which explore new ways of thinking through the challenges of armed conflict and its aftermath. Below is a quick summary of these webinars and links to register, for more information on the series check out the webpage.
Peace as Violence
10th March,
3pm - 4:15pm 

Professor Brandon Hamber will explore his paper on how peace processes and their aftermath are experienced by survivors and former combatants. He argues that the change in context embodies a range of new forms of violence and harm for some.

The session will draw on case studies of empirical research with former combatants and survivors in Northern Ireland and South Africa, as well the case of some Vietnam Veterans. Professor Hamber will explore how a sequential understanding of trauma can help explain the challenge of reframing meaning away from violence once a formal peace has been established.
To register click here.

Prisons and Terrorism 
17th March,
3pm - 4:15pm

PhD student Rajan Basra will discuss the role prisons can play in radicalising people – and in reforming them. This session will examine the policies and approaches used across Europe, which has record levels of convicted terrorists held in custody and "regular" inmates suspected of having radicalised in prison. This increase and diversification of extremist populations raises systemic questions about prison regimes, risk assessments, probation schemes, and opportunities for rehabilitation and reintegration.

The seminar will also identify trade‑offs and dilemmas but also principles and best practices that can help governments and policymakers spot new ideas and avoid costly and counterproductive mistakes.
To register click here.

Can epigenetics inform us about the link between trauma and violent extremism?
31st March
, 3pm - 4:15pm

Dr Ted Barker will investigate the link between adversity and child and adolescent mental health problems, taking an interdisciplinary lens. For example, Dr Barker asks what is the role of DNA methylation, genetics or brain imaging in the link between adversity and child outcomes? 
To register click here.

New Frontiers of Terrorism in Africa
17th March, 10am - 1pm South Africa/Israel time (8am - 11am GMT

This online conference explores the multiple dimensions of terrorism and counterterrorism across Africa.
To register, click here.
We Are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People
17th March, 4pm

Although this is for RUSI members only, we wanted to share this with you as it is bound to be an fascinating and thought-provoking event. Eliot Higgins joins RUSI to discuss his new book, published last month, We Are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People.
Bellingcat is an investigative journalism website that has redefined the way we think about news, politics, and the digital future. Its founder, Eliot, tells the story of how he and his team created a whole new concept of information-gathering, galvanising citizen journalists across the globe to expose war crimes and pick apart disinformation, and all from open-source data accessible through their computers.

Eliot will expand on some of Bellingcat's most successful investigations, including the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 over Ukraine’s airspace in 2014, the sourcing of weapons in the Syrian Civil War, and the identification of the Salisbury poisoners in 2018. He will discuss the use of cutting-edge tools for analysing data, from virtual-reality software that can build photorealistic 3D models of a crime scene, to apps that can pinpoint what time of day a photograph was taken.

If you want to join this conversation, you'll have to be a member of RUSI. To find out more and register,
click here.

Defence And Security Psychology In A Changing World Annual Conference
4th May, 9am - 4pm

The British Psychology Society's second annual Defence and Security Conference aims to provide a platform for practitioners and academics from around the UK to discuss defence and security psychology in a changing world. They are inviting submissions on two major topics:

1) The psychology of engagement and relationship building in complex environments.

Defence and Security operates within a volatile, uncertain, complex and adaptive (VUCA) environment which brings its own challenges when engaging with diverse communities. The organisers are keen to hear about your work and your experiences across a wide range of topics. This may include assurance and deterrence, defence engagement, threats to national security and public unrest.

2) the modernisation of defence and security through AI and automation.

AI and automation are playing an increasingly important role in the way the Defence and Security sector operates, and your work in this area is of great benefit and interest to this community. It may be around human factors or cybersecurity and advanced system threats. You might be working on adapted approaches to neuropsychological practice, or developments in HR or training. Whatever your area of interest, the conference organisers would love to hear from practitioners and researchers who are willing to share their knowledge about the changing world of defence and security.

With keynotes from Professor Emma Parry - Understanding the future workforce: what does the changing world of work mean for UK Defence? - and Professor Emma Barrett - Trust and betrayal in an uncertain world - this is sure to be an interesting day. The webinar will not be recorded, so make sure to register so that you don't miss out!

Check out their
submission guidelines for more information on how to complete your submission. The deadline for oral and poster submissions is 10am on Monday 22nd March.

Click here for more information and to register. To read more about the Defence and Security Psychology Section, take a look at their website.
As always, keep an eye on our Twitter for new events and opportunities posted/retweeted every day!

Planning a future event?
If you are planning a defence-related event and you would like to reach an audience of like-minded researchers, we'd love to come along! Drop us an email and we can include it in our next newsletter.
If you are interested in any of our events but don't want to go alone, or simply want to expand your network, please reach out on Twitter or drop us an email and we can connect you with fellow DRN members who may be planning to attend.

If you would like to advertise any upcoming opportunities, please let us know via email.
Publication Support Series for Female PhD Students
Professor Sabine Carey from the University of Mannheim has organised a series of workshops to support female PhD students and ECRs navigate the publishing process. The aim of the series is to support participants in turning a research project into a (first) publication, as well as to provide a safe environment for women to access career advice, mentoring and support on broader questions relating to academia.
Professor Carey hopes to facilitate the establishment of a research and support network among female PhD students and early career female scholars in Europe. At the end of the series, each participant should have an article ready for submission to a peer-reviewed journal.

The series consists of three online workshops. Each workshop takes place Wednesday to Friday, made up of two 90-minute sessions each day.

Workshop 1, 21st - 23rd April 2021: Presentations and discussions of the projects. 
Workshop 2, 13th - 15th October 2021: Discussion of potential problems and questions, comments for first drafts.
Workshop 3, 20th January 2022 (tbc): Specific feedback on complete drafts in small groups and discussion of submission strategies.

Workshop 3 will include a general discussion and information session on the publication process, including from an editorial perspective, open to all female PhD students and early career scholars in political science.

There are only 9 places available for the series, so be quick! The deadline for applications is 23rd March 2021. To find out more and to apply for a place, click here.
ESRC SWDTP Postdoctoral Fellowships
The ESRC is inviting applications for postdoctoral fellowships to be based at the SWDTP institutions of the University of Bath, the University of Bristol, the University of Exeter, Plymouth University and the University of West of England.

Deadline: 4pm on 23rd March 2021
For more information, click
here, or email
Defence-In-Depth: Contributors Welcome
The Defence-In-Depth blog is run by Kings College London and has recently featured a number of blogs from DRN members. Their content is well suited to the breadth of our network and they are keen to hear from you with contributions from a wide range of subject areas. To submit a piece or discuss your ideas, contact the editor at
Supporting our Community...
For our Canadian readers - participants are needed! 
Researchers at Queen's University are looking for adolescence and parents/guardians to participate in a study looking into the school transition experiences of military-connected young people across Canada. Check out the recruitment text below for how to get involved...
Fundraising for PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide  
At the end of this year the brilliant Gav Topley, a former co-chair of the DRN, is tackling Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for PAPYRUS, the national Charity for the Prevention of Young Suicide.  

Suicide is the biggest killer of young people under the age of 35 in the UK, in 2018 over 1800 young people took their own lives. PAPYRUS provides confidential support and advice to young people struggling with thoughts of suicide, and anyone worried about a young person through their helpline, HOPELINEUK. We'd love it if you would donate to Gav's challenge here, and you can read about PAPYRUS' good work here. 
Call for Participants: Dr Alice Cree and her research team (including our very own Chair Hannah) are looking for participants for their research into military partners and ex-partners. Contact 
Call for Participants: Georgie Eckersley, a PhD researcher from Keele University, is recruiting participants for a study that seeks to explore veterans' wellbeing post-transition. 

For further details about the study click here or contact Georgie at
#DefResChat: Counterinsurgency
This month’s #TwitterHour felt like a virtual roundtable, many of our members contributing with their views and expertise in debating counterinsurgency’s past, present and future role.

1) How has COIN changed over the past decades?
  • Important changes concern the types of adversaries, increased democratisation of the info domain, conflation with nation building etc
  • I think a change from national/ideological institutions that aspire to some formal political control, to more diverse array: criminal/religious/nihilistic/transnational. Of course not absolute, but harder to characterise and define. Perhaps this also make them harder to understand. 
  • Given the current trends in conflict, for example Africa becoming the "next theatre of violent extremism" and the return to great power competition as high priority in national security policies, it should be given much more attention and thought. 
  • Conflict draws the attention to the limits of military force. It must be used in concert with other instruments and partners. This is pertinent for both the military and civil agencies 
2) Where does counterterrorism end and counterinsurgency begin?
  • Dividing CT and COIN this way is inherently accepting the possibility of a terrorist organization can be legitimate without abandoning violence. Dividing these two by relying only "volume" or deepness is also a reflection of the very same problem. Naming COIN as a more militarized part of CT is making sense in certain context; but COIN conceptualization has happened on the contrary of this claim. This distinction creates a practical problem and I’m dying to hear a satisfying answer on this.
  • Been grappling with this and so I'd be super interested to hear thoughts from everyone, but CT = narrow efforts at disrupting org./tactics/strategy of terrorism, COIN = deeper process of responding to political violence incorporating wider array of responses (but CT a big part?)
  • CT as distinct from processes like negotiations, addressing root causes, service provision etc., whereas these can all be subsumed within forms of COIN? There is some kind of marvellous Venn diagram to be done here
  • Inevitably that Venn diagram will also need to somewhat reflect on the earlier discussion of how we conceive of the enemy in relations to the distinction between these two things, and that in turn would demarcate the two even more.
3) What are the essential themes currently missing from COIN discussions?
  • You'd be surprised if I didn't mention marginalised stories of women as counterinsurgents which my research has found to have been repeatedly omitted from campaign histories. But I would add the role of Private Security Companies although not something I've looked at.
  • Definitely - to what extent have they been employed in offensive/defensive roles, how are they embedded into wider COIN strategy, do they have their own TTPs etc. or align with host forces, if so how do they adapt?
  • In the case of the Malayan Emergency there is still much to do. Hannah is right - marginalised stories of women as counterinsurgents repeatedly omitted from campaign histories - and on both the end of the fighting spectrum I might add! Especially in the colonial cases...
  • A big focus of my research is the role of foreign actors (and challenges of) offering support in counterinsurgency. While extensive research has been dedicated to Iraq and Afghanistan, we have much more to learn from current engagement in African conflicts.
  • The perspective of host-nation governments, security forces would be valuable for both academic and practitioners’ standpoint
Keep your eyes peeled on our website for the next #DefResChat, and don't forget to check for more info on Twitter and our website. 

You can also find all our previous #DefResChats on the Archive section of our
website. Make sure to tag @DefenceResNet and hashtag #DefResChat to join the conversation.
Find Out More
What we're reading...
In Conversation
This month we spoke to Dr Huw Bennett, a Reader in International Relations at Cardiff's School of Law and Politics. Huw's research focuses on the experiences of the British Army since 1945, in the contexts of British politics, the Cold War, the end of empire, and the War on Terror. He is the author of 'Fighting the Mau Mau: the British Army and Counter-Insurgency in the Kenya Emergency', published by Cambridge University Press. 
What are you currently working on?

I'm writing a book on British military strategy in Northern Ireland, from 1966 until 1975.  The common perception is that there was no military strategy in Northern Ireland, at least until the peace process in the 1990s.  I argue that the government first attempted to use the army as a support to a political reform package, and then shifted to a bid to destroy the Irish Republican Army.  The offensive only lasted a few months, but had disastrous consequences, and proved difficult to un-do.  There is a lot of interesting new archive material on civil-military relations, intelligence gathering, perceptions of republican compared to loyalist threats, and many other issues.

What got you into your field of study in the first place?

Conversations with Granny.  She was a teenager in Southampton when the Blitz came, and she later moved into the world of work with the flying boats based nearby.  Those talks led to documentaries, to books, to museum visits.  When I was 16 we went together on a tour to the First World War battlefields in Flanders.  As we stood in Tyne Cot cemetery the guide said, "imagine the headstones are living people standing there, looking back at us."  That hit me, hard.  Twenty-five years later my curiosity about how society responds to war is still a driving force.

How are you finding working from home?

Volatile.  Maybe studying military strategy has given me an undue taste for planning.  More likely my personality simply relies on predictability.  So having two children under five at home with both parents in full-time employment has been stressful.  Universities are complex organisations with multiple layers of authority.  The weekly injunctions to relax and be mindful can feel rather vapid when various Directors or Heads of something are demanding immediate action.  There is a fine line between carrying on as normal - which is essential to staying motivated and positive - and recognising that many people have found the lockdown incredibly punishing to their mental health.

What advice would you like to give PhD students and early career researchers that you wish someone had said to you?

Allow yourself to fail.  Universities are under growing pressure to show "excellence" at everything all the time.  The most profound learning, in my experience, comes from trying to do something, getting it very wrong, and then trying to understand why it went wrong.  On this basis my next book project will be completed exactly on time (not three years late, like the current one).  Failing is easier to accept and process with support from friends.  Fellow researchers will help if you ask them.  Academia is fundamentally collaborative, and no amount of marketisation can change that.

What is the most effective teaching method you have delivered or seen delivered?

This year more than ever before, one-to-one personal tuition: getting to know a student, understanding their study habits, interests, and motivation.  Listening to them describe what they have been thinking about and asking them to clarify their arguments.  Making suggestions for further reading or people to contact who might assist them.

What is your favourite museum and why?

For a long time the Imperial War Museum held a special place in my heart.  You guessed it - Granny took me there first.  To be frank, the Museum's recent attitude to the reading room, and the main galleries' re-design have really put me off.  There is a certain disdain for research, accompanied by a contempt for the average visitor who is not to be confused with too many complicated items.  As a result of the Northern Ireland project my favourites now are regimental museums, especially when the curator opens a cupboard containing records absent from the catalogue.  Although I wasn't allowed to see the papers, the best episode remains the time when an assistant curator told me the intelligence summaries had been hidden in anticipation of my arrival, only for his boss to swoop into the room, hissing "Shut up, Barry!"

Thanks for talking with us, Huw! 
Want to go back and read last month's 'In Conversation' interview? You can! We are cataloguing all of our In Conversation pieces separately on our website. If you know someone interesting who would be willing to take part in our In Conversation series, please let us know via email. 
Blog Spotlight: Problematic quick fixes for Africa's (Counter)Insurgencies
The lovely Sorina has written a short piece to fit with February's theme of counterinsurgency. Check it out on our website, too!
The persistence, growing violence and sophistication of terrorist attacks in African insurgencies have prompted debates whether the continent will overtake the Middle East and become next “theatre of violent jihad”. The latest Global Terrorism Index report seems to confirm analysts’ worries. While the total number of deaths from terrorism declined for the fifth consecutive year in 2019 and the level of terrorist activity has fallen in the Middle East and South-East Asia, new Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) affiliate groups keep emerging in sub-Saharan Africa. Six out of the ten countries that accounted for 80 per cent of deaths from terrorism in 2019 are on the African continent: Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique.
Various underlying factors mutually reinforcing each other enable conflicts on the continent: criminal gangs and violent extremist networks capitalise on a deteriorating socio-economic environment, long-term local divisions and absent and/or abusive state institutions. Consequently, although engaging on a much lower scale compared to the previous extensive deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the continent has seen in the past decades a growing international military presence and higher amounts of development aid allocated.
The way foreign actors seek to tackle the threats and stabilise African regions varies. For example, the international security presence in the Sahel includes the UN peacekeeping mission (
MINUSMA), a US Africa Command (AFRICOM) drone base, three European Union (EU) missions, a large French-led counter-terrorist operation (Barkhane), and the creation of a new Special Forces Joint Task Force. In countries such as Nigeria, the presence remains mostly limited to train, advise, assist missions despite the country being constantly in the top 10 countries affected by terrorism in the past decade.
Development and military aid seek to “fix” the African post-Cold War fragility and to support counterinsurgency (COIN) operations, which remain problematic for ‘top-heavy’ state militaries facing insurgents better-positioned to excel at ‘bottom-up’ warfare. The Nigerian military, for example, is required to unlearn decades of traditional thinking and to disregard the utility of force and its operational benefits from past experiences such as
 deployments for the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to end the civil war in Liberia (1989-96). Forces are therefore left underprepared and underequipped to face a threat operating in a vast area, blended in with millions of civilians and sometimes with better weapons.
As many have acknowledged, there are no quick fixes and the ones that are applied, are problematic. American train-advise-assist operations and programmes such as the 2002 Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI), the 2005 Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) and subsequent AFRICOM engagements have received over the years much criticism. For example,
Malan argues that although these initiatives aim to lower insecurity in the region, for the majority of the African population, the “post 9/11 security environment” did not differentiate much from previous decades marked by instability and acts of violence perpetrated by both governments and rebel forces. Research has also problematised the state-centric counterterrorism focus, fluctuation of funds, disproportionate number of troops and lack of comprehensive integrated strategies and common mechanisms for measuring outcomes. Bergamaschi has found that “voluntarily or otherwise” development and military aid has contributed, in the case of Mali, to the widening of structural inequalities between north and south. This has created what could be called the perfect ‘fragility storm’ pre-2012&2020 military coups and expansion of violent extremism.
The situation in Mali, the Sahel and in other regions of the continent demonstrates the challenges of countering today’s insurgencies. These range from equipment, tactical training, level of military professionalisation, to multiple, often competing and contrasting aims and different levels of political will. It is clear that these complex conflicts require more than just strong borders, and careful consideration needs to be given in the future to the way that both military and development solutions contribute to both short- and long-term local dynamics.
New Books
The Unknown Enemy: Counterinsurgency and the Illusion of Control
By Christian Tripodi

This recently published book will be of interest to counterinsurgency scholars. In the book, Tripodi considers how attempts to better understand the socio-cultural surrounds of the operating environment can influence counterinsurgency and stabilisation operations. The book offers a mixture of historical and theoretical analysis to examine why certain types of military operation fail. The book contains several in-depth case studies from different eras of warfare. The case studies include the North-West Frontier, Algeria, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the book highlights recurring behaviours and outcomes across time.
You can buy a copy 
Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in the Nineteenth Century: A Global History
By Mark Lawrence
This edited book, as the title suggests, examines insurgency and counterinsurgency across the globe in the nineteenth century. It examines Western and non-Western warfare in equal measure, stressing the prevalence of commonalities between guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency across the globe. The authors explore links between insurgencies and nationalism, including learning curves and emulation in counterinsurgency.
The insurgency part of the book includes, among others, case studies such as the Katanga and White Lotus rebellions largely unknown to Western readers. The counterinsurgency part of the book includes, among others, case studies such as the pacification of Burma or the Congo-Arab War.
You can buy a copy 
Pause for thought...

Should counterinsurgency techniques be used to confront 'homegrown' right-wing extremism? 

Following the 6th January storming of the US Capitol, Robert Grenier, former C.I.A. station chief for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iraq mission manager and director of the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center, argued in the
New York Times that counterinsurgency measures are needed to defeat what he terms "the dawn of a sustained wave of violent insurgency within our own country, perpetrated by our own countrymen". He suggests that three elements of counterinsurgency are a useful "template for action": 1) criminal justice, 2) isolate insurgents from the populations, and 3) defeating insurgency leadership.

 Yet, Andrew Exum writes in the Atlantic that it would be unwise to uncritically apply the lessons of counterinsurgency to the problem of "domestic terrorists". Further empowering law enforcement discursively and legislatively, he notes, could detract from the prosecution of those who attempt to interfere in the democratic process and undermine the US' commitment to democratic principles. 

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