The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Mao and the Iraqi / Afghani Insurgency

There are a wide variety of insurgent groups who have operated against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.  Very few, if any, have followed a Maoist strategy.  Some analysists believe that this fact proves that Mao’s Revolutionary War theory is not relevant to the type of adversaries faced by the U.S. in the GWOT.  Are these analysists correct?

February 6, 2010 - Posted by | Current Events, H300 | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Copied from “Strategic Communications”
    By Anthony Grey

    My take on H302 reading.

    1. To the victor goes the spoils. Whether a movement is called a revolution or not depends on whether you win or lose. If you win then the movement is call a Revolution. However, if you lose it is called an uprising or a rebellion.

    2. Based on number one the reading left me wondering what is the difference between revolution, guerilla warfare, and terrorism? The only answer that seems to fit for me is whether or not the movement is truly based on a organized political intent and purpose. Politics is the true engine not the violence behind it.

    3. The reading also caused me to reflect on the insurgency in OIF and OEF. Is the insurgency that we face a terrorist insurgency or a revolutionary movement? I guess the answer depends on whether we win or lose.

    4. It seems to me that revolutionary movements are often caused by the rift between the have’s and have not’s, between the wealthy and poor. If this is true could greater distribution of economic wealth greatly reduce the changes of such movements happening in the future?

    5. Given the point in #4, is revolutionary movements something that is mainly isolated the third world countries? Does that mean that global powers are revolutionary resistant entities?

    6. The reading eluded the the fact that since the 1940s “revolutionary wars” are nothing more than “proxy” wars the between global powers, i.e. the U.S. and the Soviet Unit.

    7. If revolutionary wars are to succeed one must apply the revolutionary doctrine with great discipline and patient. One can not rush this process because time is a key to success. Time is important because it allows you to make the necessary political preparations.

    Anyway those are my thoughts.


    Comment by dimarcola | February 16, 2009

  2. On point #2: Noramlly the ones being attacked are the descerning factor that place a name or spin as to the type of attack. Revolutions normally conisder goverment forces as enemies to the people itself (the goverment being facist). Since they are the ones being attacked the information campaign begins and words become weapons just as they are for an attorney in court (knowing the letter of the law). There is no difference between: revolution, terrorism, and guerilla warfare, they are all inexorably linked to each other. According to the readings guerilla warefare (terrorism)is a by-product of the revolution; moreover, they are coined termonolgy that reflects being subjected to suprisingly unusal methods and tactics; hence, by the goverment facing the revolution.
    Mao’s philosphy was that of protracted warfare. It took into account the specific demographic characteristics that he was facing and from all intents and purposes he purports to be a well versed man (even touching on Emanuel Kant a-priori; a-posteriori knowledge and attempting to write a hypothetical syllogism in his opening within H302RA) He studied and learned all the way up form Sun WU Tzu to the trials and tribulations of the Russian Revolution. Whether the analysists what to believe it or not, just because our adversaries have not read him (I beleive a few have; however, if you cannot orginize like he did…)does not count away the fact that some of his “ways” are being used.

    Comment by MAJ Gordon D. Harrington | February 17, 2009

  3. You don’t have to call it luck but if you ask me the US and other likely counterinsurgents are fortunate that most revolutionaries find it easier and “cooler” to follow leaders like Guevara than Mao. The protracted revolutionary war theory dictated by Mao is certainly more universal and effective for the majority of strategic settings but the idea has to be solid. I would even propose that the “war of ideas” should have four components rather than two – the idea, the individual experience of the leader, the sales package, and the sales methods. The final piece involving communication techniques that stimulates emotions and invokes passion in the people will establish the power base. The idea itself is the core of the political phase, and since a lot of time is spent in this phase following guerilla and conventional warfare setbacks, it must never be diluted. This in my mind demands a lot of charismatic and dynamic leadership. Therefore the perfect blend of a Guevara type “cool guy” and a Mao theory would ensure the best results for an upstart revolutionary. Yes, the political movement must occur before the guerilla operations and the leader must set the conditions for shifts in priority of effort between phases; however the very nature of the leader is key in a society that puts a lot of emphasis on the short term solution.

    Comment by Vinny Ciuccoli | February 18, 2009

  4. Given Mao’s concept of time, I don’t think it is possible to say for sure whether or not the analysts are correct at the present time. Mao’s theory is predicated on the idea that success may take decades to achieve. Additionally, he planned to have setbacks. Is there any reason to believe the insurgents in Iraq aren’t simply going back to their political line of operations and waiting for the right time to return to a larger emphasis on guerilla warfare? Especially considering the new US administration has overtly stated their intention to withdraw as soon as possible and shift emphasis to Afghanistan, it seems waiting out the US would be an effective strategy.

    Perhaps more important than trying to determine whether any insurgents are currently following Mao’s strategy is ensuring we set the conditions in Iraq for what to do if such is the case. As we attempt to leave Iraq to defend itself from both internal and external threats, it is important for us to honor the potential for an insurgent organization to employ Mao’s strategy by assisting the government in developing a plan to counter the threat.

    In the larger GWOT, it seems the ability of terror organizations to find safe havens from attack by coalition forces suggests the potential for them to implement Mao’s strategy. The political turmoil in Pakistan and the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan suggest an active attempt by the insurgents to regain and maintain the initiative. While the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan will hopefully mitigate the poor security situation, the coalition forces must win the war of ideas in the political realm in both Afghanistan and Pakistan to achieve long term success in the region.

    Comment by Maj Randy Oakland | February 18, 2009

  5. Mao’s theory is relevant. Guerrilla warfare, conducted behind the adversary’s main battle line. Insurgency is a “survival” phase the start of the insurgency in Iraq grew with the end of major combat operations. Mao defines insurgency, the infrastructure of guerrilla warfare developed by recruiting, repositioning of weapons and munitions, and a new ideology of resistance and a propaganda apparatus to spread the ideology. This again is relevant in Iraq which includes small-scale offensive designed more to shake the determination of the invading forces and their countrymen than to have a serious military impact. This is being attempted in Iraq by the use of roadside bombings, rocket-propelled grenade assaults and sniper attacks.

    Comment by Brad Burns | February 18, 2009

  6. Just because an insurgent group or institution doesn’t publicly announce that they are utilizting a form of the “Maoist strategy” (due to other ideological reasons or religious philosophy) does not mean that they are not applying the principles and methods of strategic warfare initially advocated by Mao within his revolutionary theory. Therefore, analysts shouldn’t be so quick as to dismiss the application of Mao’s strategy within the context of the Iraqi/Afghan insurgency and global war on terrorism (GWOT).
    Point #1 – Protracted Campaign. Mao labeled his method of revolutionary warfare as the “Protracted Campaign” knowing full well that:
    1) the Kuomintang still controlled key positions in politics and maintained a large, modern army desiring a quick decisive victory over the Red Army, and that
    2) revolutionary war meant millions dead and a generation of suffering that required revolutionary endurance. Currently, insurgent groups within Iraq and Afghanistan are executing a version of their own protracted campaign in an attempt to frustrate the efforts of the large, modern Western Army and to exhaust the strategic patience of the U.S public and American political sphere; the longer these insurgents can draw out and prolong this holy war campaign, the more it will cost the American in employing valuable resources – $$$ and U.S. lives – both of which are extremely limited and that the American public is unwilling to squander.
    Point #2 – Political Mobilization. Mao promoted the idea that the first and most important phase in revolutionary war is political mobilization… build a dedicated cadre by recruiting and organizing popular support at the appropriate level (for Mao it was at the village level); only selective use of violence and guerilla warfare is permissible, while overt military action is better avoided altogether.
    Insurgent groups have exploited the needs and desires of the discontent in Iraq and Afghanistan (and other part of the world such as Africa and SE Asia) and have managed to build an inexhaustible cadre of believers (and fighters) who support their ideological pursuits. This strong political base has promoted an idea that has gained momentum across a global scale.
    This political base has also been keen enough to avoid one-on-one conventional confrontation with Coalition forces knowing that such a confrontation would expose their movement to a devastating counter-attack by a superior military force. Instead, they have used a wide range of violence, terrorist attacks, and methods of guerilla warfare to attrit Coalition resolve and to excite additional popular support for their cause.
    If analysts are concluding that contemporary insurgents involved in GWOT are not following a Maoist strategy, then what revolutionary theory do they suggest that these insurgents are using in order to gain victory against Western powers?

    Comment by MAJ Lance A. Okamura | February 18, 2009

  7. I can see how relevant is the Mao Revolutionary War Theory and his relation with US military operation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The first step must be political mobilization, the process of recruiting and organizing popular support. Is like Vinny said: Who is the best salesman of ideas? In order to get the support of the populace you have to win the war of ideas. I disagree from the “Foco” revolutionary war theory because this theory jumps the first step of the Mao war theory. Ernesto “Che” Guevara got success during the Cuban revolution due to unique characteristics that were present in Cuba for that time. The political mobilization in order to get the support of the populace was completed before Che and Fidel started with the guerrilla. The level of corruption in the Cuban’s government, the lack of commitment of the Cuban military forces and the social problems created the appropriated environment for the guerrilla development.

    Comment by Jose A. Nieves | February 18, 2009

  8. Some of the insurgent groups mentioned above may not have followed a Maoist strategy, but I don’t think there is enough evidence to prove that Mao’s Revolutionary War theory is not relevant to all of the adversaries that the U.S. has faced in the GWOT. Many of the insurgents have their own characteristics and techniques and their mechanics vary between different insurgent groups. Most of them understand that strategic victory is not determined by tactical success alone, and they understand the importance of gaining popular support. One of the areas that differentiates from the strategy is it is difficult to determine if the insurgent groups are affecting the situation as a whole or independently from each other. Based on past events, I would say that insurgent groups continuously and diligently perform reconnaissance and make decisions based off information that they have gathered only after familiarizing themselves with the overall situation including enemy forces, politics, economics, and knowing the geography. One major difference from the theory is that although the insurgent groups are small, most of them do not have overwhelming support of the local population because of their different beliefs, and many times find themselves fighting for different interests. The analysts may be correct when looking at the situation as a whole, but as I mentioned above, although it may not appear that Iraq insurgent groups are following the Maoist Theory, they are independently applying many of its characteristics.

    Comment by Brian K. Jenkins | February 19, 2009

  9. As discussed in class, Mao’s theory can be considered the basic foundation of the insurgency that we face today. It must be viewed as a marathon approach to war-making depended on using political, military, economic and social attrition rather than outright force. Mao’s concepts have three phases and can also be broken related to the Iraq insurgency. The first phase would be considered the “survival” phase. This is relevant in relation to Iraq and the start of the insurgency when the major combat operations ended. This is when the basis of the insurgency infrastructure of guerrilla warfare was developed. They conducted a recruiting campaign, repositioning of weapons and munitions, and a new ideology of resistance and a propaganda apparatus to spread the ideology. This was followed by a small-scale offensive, which consisted of IEDs, rocket-propelled grenade assaults and sniper attacks. The purpose was to rally support for the insurgents at home and abroad, which raises funds and recruits. With a successful first phase, the second phase can progress. This consists of the larger-scale offensive activity, which is what we face in Iraq today. During this phase the insurgency has transformed from sporadic, relatively small- scale activities to carefully planned, coordinated attacks. These attacks attempt to strike important human targets. During this phase, the intelligence-gathering capability grows, and this enables ever more sophisticated, frequent and deadly activity. Additionally another key factor is the insurgency also grows decentralized, thus making the killing or capture or key individuals, less significant than in conventional militaries. The last phase is the decisive stage. The insurgency has increased in size enough to have a chance of victory, using a combination of conventional and unconventional warfare. I believe that this phase has not taken place in Iraq, and if US forces continue to be successful, it never will. The insurgents of today know that they cannot defeat U.S. forces. With their inability to advance to the third phase, the reality is the insurgents will remain in the current phase until they can drive out the U.S. Bottom line, insurgency warfare is meant to convince the enemy’s decision-makers that victory was too costly and give up.

    Comment by Jerry Gaussoin | February 19, 2009

  10. I would disagree with those who say that Mao’s Revolutionary War theory is not relevant to the type of adversaries faced by the U.S. in today’s operational environment. Mao succeeded partly because of his ability to present himself as an ally to the peasants and an enemy to landowners, businessmen, and Imperialism. These are the same issues we see current insurgents attempt to exploit with their IO campaigns. However, unlike Mao’s revolution the insurgents we face today lack the commitment to stand their ground for the protracted fight. Additionally, their guerilla warfare tactics routinely target the same civilian population that they desire to influence, which in reality does nothing less than counter their message. The real problem is not with Mao’s theory, but the insurgent’s inability to effectively apply it to their operations.

    Comment by Richard Myers | February 20, 2009

  11. I would argue that the analysts are correct. The adversaries the U.S. faces in the GWOT are opportunists and thugs, not revolutionaries. True, they are trying to undermine the new governments the U.S. has helped establish in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is only because the U.S. is involved. Sadam’s regime in Iraq was not popular on its own and none of the adversaries there are trying to re-establish a regime in his name. They only want to attack the “Great Satan” that is the U.S. and the Iraqi government is just guilty by associatiion. As for the Taliban, they are not trying to free the people of Afghanistan from the oppressive rule of the Karzai government, they just want to get back into power for themselves. Again, the U.S. forces are standing in their way. No, these are not revolutionaries. They are only in this fight for their own glory and power.

    Comment by Damon LaCour | February 20, 2009

  12. I would partially agree with the irrelevance of Mao theory in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sure there are the hard core fighters who actually believe in the ideals they spout, but a large portion of the enemy we face is purely financially motivated. As previously stated, they are not a “stand our ground for the long fight” type of enemy. At the end of the day, many of the enemy we face are simply trying to provide for their families and the easiest way to do this is to conduct some sort of attack against us. They also do not do near as good of a job at influencing the population. What influence they do garner is purely out of fear rather than making themselves seen as heroes to the peasantry. Just as LaCour stated, these are a group of thugs for the most part who are simply in it for themselves and relish any event to attack the U.S. – not revolutionaries.

    Comment by Jason Taylor 17B | February 21, 2010

  13. If only I had a penny for every time I came here… Great article.

    Comment by Malinda Mobley | May 28, 2010

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: