With the confirmation hearings surrounding Chuck Hagel and John Brennan, as well as the leak of confidential Department of Justice legal findings, a lot of attention has been turned toward the extra-judicial flying death robot program, popularly known as drone strikes. Even a year ago the term ‘secretive’ would still have applied, but with these hearings, and before this the inception of the @dronestream Twitter feed, this program has been called into the open, and drawn all sorts of righteous criticism. Critisism of the drone programcomes immediately after the removal of gender restrictions for combat roles within the military, which was was proceeded by the removal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. These issues have been portrayed by the press as three of a series of isolated and unconnected shifts that the Department of Defense has made under the direction of the Obama administration. This reading of events misses the point; what we are witnessing is a fundamental shift in military mission, a complete restructuring of the role of the military-away from large scale operations with large force footprints as in Iraq and Afghanistan-and the rise of the military as constant global security operation. This shift from centralized combat operations to a decentralized, indefinite mobilization of conflict is profoundly more disturbing that the isolated drone strike, which is merely a symptom of systematic changes within US military strategy.

The narrative of the global military, or the military as a force capable of projecting operations worldwide, is as old as the long range bomber and spy plane. However, while in the past the military could send B-2s anywhere within 24 hours flight time, and deploy large amounts of forces onto other continents, now this is no longer coupledwith the assumption of either strategic bombing campaigns or military invasions in the traditional sense. What has developed is a global strike capacity based on a succession of isolated strikes on single targets, without these strikes being necessarily concentrated geographically. This is a shift away from the concept of the expeditionary force, or the Air Force’s global strike capacity, and into a concept of warfare that is constant, based in the ability to intervene in localized areas with quick reaction forces, backed by a constant global surveillance network of satellites and drones capable of flying for weeks on end. The era of the large scale, heavy commitment, is quickly waning, and the era of perpetual, total, war is quickly coming upon us.

January 2012 saw the release of a new Department of Defense strategic guidance document called “Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense”. detailing the shift in US military force posture and the reconstruction of the military force itself. This document follows a previous series of modifications to US military force structure that began in the middle of the last decade, most specifically the “modulation” initiative which restructured large portions of the military along the lines of brigades that could deploy autonomously to various places around the world quickly, rather than larger divisions. Of primary importance are the eight modifications to strategic focus that are described in the document itself, but of specific importance is the discussion of the focus on “irregular warfare” and the shift away from large scale stability and counterinsurgency operations. The intent is to structure campaigns that leave a “small force footprint”, or operations in which the duration or the commitment is light, or can be carried out at distance, and which, if they involve any commitment of ground forces at all, involve coalition warfare and a quick transition to localized defense structures.

This is combined with a focus on “global security’; or the projection of this force globally, on a constant basis. For this sort of global and constant projection of force to occur it is necessary for the military to move away from large concentrations of force in specific areas, such as Iraq, and into a more dispersed focus on things like Special Ops raids and drone surveillance and strikes. We have already seen this new force posture at work, not only in the drone strike , but also in the NATO operations in Libya, where the use of localized forces combined with NATO airstrikes, and in the French military operations in Mali, where French troops are working alongside Malian government forces in an operation that, as it increases in duration, theoretically will involve less and less French forces. These moves began to manifest with the Department of Defense discussions of the “military force drawdown”, or the shrinking of the active duty military force, specifically the Army, by around 80,000 troops over the course of the next five to ten years.[1] The “drawdown” is being coupled with an increase in the pool of soldiers eligible for combat positions, specifically in Special Forces and Special Ops units, through the elimination of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and gender restrictions on combat roles, as well as a tightening of restrictions on fitness and aptitude; the attempt here is to build more highly specialized combat units that can deploy quickly and carry out raids, on military orders, around the world almost instantly.

It used to be that the military shied away from these “small wars”, what was pejoratively referred to as “mootwahs” (MOOTW, or Military Operations Other Than War), and were so poorly regarded that service in them was not even considered a combat tour till recently. This is a profound shift away from the large scale military that was structured to, supposedly, carry out large scale operations on two fronts, although that did not seem to really work out that well for them, as well as numerous smaller operations globally. This general structure had persisted ever since the end of the Cold War, and was based on a long held focus within the military on force concentration and firepower, as Powell termed it during the Gulf War (the first one}, engagements through overwhelming force. In a short period of time the military has moved from a force that could deploy large numbers of troops, with high tech weapons, to a few places in the world, to one that is quickly being structured to carry out small-scale, globally projected, constant security operations, in as widely dispersed a way as possible. To understand this shift, and the roots of the shape of this new military structure, we have to go back to the middle of the last decade, when defense analysts, who tend to rush to the trend of the moment, were obsessed with another shift in military doctrine, the move into counterinsurgency.

In his recent book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War, Fred Kaplan exhaustively discusses the process in which American concepts of counterinsurgency developed and became incorporated into American military doctrine. There are three primary threads that are developed throughout the narrative descriptions in Kaplan’s book. The first centers around the historical dynamics and interpersonal relationships that led to the doctrinal acceptance of counterinsurgency in the mid-200s, tracing this history back to the development of the Social Sciences School at West Point and the relationships that developed through both the institution itself and the graduates of the school, including Petraeus. The next primary thread is the life and connections of Petraeus himself. For those that may not know his name, David Petraeus, recent head of the CIA, was the driving force in the implementation of counterinsurgency, in his roles as commander of operations in Iraq, CentCom[2], and then Afghanistan. This line of inquiry is specifically interesting now, in the wake of the adultery scandal that caused the fall of Petraeus as the head of the CIA in 2012. Thirdly, and this is the most hidden of these threads, Kaplan traces, through the history of development and implementation, the flaws and paradoxes of counterinsurgency as a whole, pointing to a series of historical inaccuracies in its theoretical development, as well as a series of paradoxes in its implementation. For as tempting as it would be to develop the biography of Petraeus, specifically after the scandals, which are still resonating within the military, this is, on a lot of levels, merely the narrative framework used by Kaplan to establish the other two, more tactically central, narratives. As such, I will not be focusing on this story of the rise and fall of Petraeus, this has already been written about ad nauseum and I do not wish to focus on the backroom intrigue and personal networks of connections, the histories of promotions and fights within the Department of Defense in this text, one can read Kaplan’s book for more on that, and it is a fascinating history. Rather, I will focus on discussing, albeit briefly, the history of counterinsurgency and the ways that the rise, and fall, of counterinsurgency within the US military had led to the developments that are being talked about today.


Before the end of World War II there had obviously been insurgencies and attempts to crush insurgencies, but these largely relied on total force, the complete elimination of populations and so on. We can see this in the colonialist approaches to insurgency where insurgents were hunted down and villages burned, with the result being mass death in frontal fighting, specifically after the advent of the Maxim gun and its role in the crushing of anti-British insurgencies in Africa.[3] These campaigns tended to achieve one of two things, either pushing an insurgency underground, as in Algeria, only to have it arise again, more prepared and stronger, or the total elimination of insurgent populations through forced resettlement or mass killing, as in British campaigns in Africa. Some of these experiences were replicated after the beginning of the fall of traditional imperialism in the wake of the Second World War, but, in the fallout from the war in Europe there was increasing focus on concepts of reconstruction and prevention of latent insurgencies, specifically by fanatical Nazis. But, even though there was this focus there were no skills within the military to actually carry out these tasks and difficulties persisted in Europe during the beginning of the post-War years. Due to a lack of training, military officers had little idea of how to administer space, to run bureaucracies, and how to fuse this with still latent military operations. In response to this lack of understanding of questions of economics, politics and sociological awareness, a general named George Lincoln began a push to start the Social Sciences School at West Point. Though this is not the place where the concept of counterinsurgency would be developed, it would set the stage, through its graduates, for the process that, 60 years later, would result in its rise to doctrinal prominence.[4]

The concept of counterinsurgency, in its post World War II usage, developed out of the experiences of a French officer named David Galula, who in 1946, was appointed to an embassy position in China during the height of the revolution. Through his time there he began to be fascinated with the structure of Maoist guerrilla warfare, in which, in large parts of the country, there were no frontal Communist forces, merely thousands of insurgents living in villages, unable to be identified visually, that would strike and disappear. He began to study this phenomena carefully, even traveling to conflict zones, such as Malaya, to study the process of the suppression of uprisings that had become fused with the terrain of fighting, eventually volunteering for service in Algeria. While in Algeria he began a series of experiments in a small cluster of towns in the rural, mountainous parts of the country, where he embedded troops in the villages, using them to gather intelligence and carry on constant policing operations, which sometimes involved torture and raids, and saw insurgent activity drop dramatically. These experiences led to a book, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice,[5] where Galula argues that the key to crushing an insurgency is to fight a different sort of war, rather than attempting to j ust clear space, one must deprive insurgents from their primary basis of support, people themselves. This work is the first major work on counterinsurgency, and it heavily influenced FM 3–24,[6] the US Army and Marine’s Counterinsurgency manual, published in 2006.

This separation of insurgents from their support logistics can be achieved through operations to separate insurgents from populations, both through military methods and civilian initiatives. The goal is to provide incentives to reconcile and cooperate, while separating and eliminating irreconcilable elements of an insurgency. These operations take on a wide variety of forms, and exist without a set doctrine, being portrayed, largely, as an attempt to read the dynamics of a situation, on as wide a plane as possible, and manipulate those dynamics to the advantage of occupying forces. However, there were darker sides to these campaigns, specifically the British campaign in Malaya. Here, rather than embedding troops among the people in a village, as Galula had done in Algeria, the British did something entirely different. They resettled everyone within the areas that the insurgents operated, into essentially concentration camps, took as many resources from the countryside as they could, taking them to the camps, and starved the insurgents, who died in the hundreds. Even in Galula’s operations in Algeria the French troops in the experimental zones resorted to torture to derive information on insurgents through interrogations. Yet, through the development of US counterinsurgency both Malaya and Galula’s writings were taken as influences. It was this focus on separating populations from insurgents, taken from Malaya, embedding oneself among populations, derived from Galula, and the new focus on “development’: “nation-building” and economics developing in the Social Sciences School, that would eventually converge to create the American form of counterinsurgency, and its ultimate paradoxes.

The US military has not been specifically sympathetic to irregular conflicts, and spent most of the years after World War II focused on nuclear escalation, and the development of increasingly complex and automated weapon systems to fight the Soviet Union on the plains of Europe. For counterinsurgency to become part of American doctrine took a fundamental shock to that vision of warfare, which is highly linear and centralized, and these shocks came in the form of Vietnam and the Gulf War. The experience in Vietnam, if we follow the analysis of Harry Summers,[7] was filled with tactical victory, but ended in strategic defeat, largely through the inability of the US from preventing the insurgency from spreading, and catalyzed by the use of heavy firepower weapons, air strikes, raids and so on, that created a terrain that became almost completely saturated with conflict. As Kaplan explains there were early experiments in rudimentary counterinsurgency operations, through a program called CORDS, which only functioned for a short period of time, losing out to a vision of military operations steeped in the firepower-first mentality fostered in the 1950s. But, with the loss in Vietnam, there was a rethinking of the commitment of American force into conflict zones.

Rather than come to terms with the failure of the American military to prevent the spread of insurgencies through firepower, the military began to develop a doctrine of force commitment based completely on overwhelming force and concrete goals, a doctrine advanced by Colin Powell among others. Part of this doctrine was the Revolution in Military Affairs, in which the military began the development of many of the tools that are now standard in any Military Channel documentary, including the Ml Abrams Battle Tank, smart bombs, and early drones. As Kaplan explains, these weapon systems formed the core of the overwhelming force strategy that the military applied all the way through the Gulf War, and still form the basis of many of the tools used in contemporary counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism campaigns.

The situation changed dramatically with the fall of the Soviet Union, and the revelation that the war the military had been preparing for over the past 50 years was an increasingly obsolete concept. During the Gulf War something became clear to the low-level officers on the ground; due to the sheer magnitude of destruction exacted by American forces, and due to the collapse of Soviet support for client states, it was likely that in the future the US would be facing a different, more diffuse, adversary that would not be able to be defeated by firepower alone. Among others, this motivated John Nag!, who served as an officer in a tank brigade during the war, to begin to study the dynamics of insurgency, setting the theoretical stage for the introduction of counterinsurgency into the military establishment itself. The clearly overwhelming advantage on the level of firepower, and the new global dominance of US weaponry and force projection, began to quickly fragment warfare increasingly into “small wars”, in which many of the future advocates of counterinsurgency, including Petraeus, began to gain their first experiences in conflict. Following the Gulf War the US engaged in a series of “small wars”, including Bosnia and others, that began to form the basis of a multilayered approach, that would eventually solidify into counterinsurgency doctrine. However, it took another 10 years, and a series of military failures, before this doctrine was made central to US force training and mission.

When the War in Iraq began, Kaplan explains, counterinsurgency was beginning to gain traction within military circles, but had not yet made its way into the core of military doctrine. When the invasion of Iraq occurred Rumsfeld, among others, did not have, what in military parlance is called, a Phase IV plan, or a plan for stabilization and withdrawal; it was just assumed that military forces would be unnecessary after six months. But, through the actions of the Coalition Provisional Authority, specifically the disbanding of the military which threw thousands out of work, an insurgency began to gain momentum with no plan to prevent or combat this new dynamic. At this point Petraeus was in command of the 101th Airborne Division, which was assigned to police the areas in and around Mosul after the main-force invasion. These operations began calmly enough, as one of a small series of attempts at “reconstruction”, but quickly devolved when the insurgency began. Petraeus quickly began to implement counterinsurgency operations, of which he had been an early advocate, and constructed a wall around the city, established patrol bases in neighborhoods, and began using money, raided from Baath regime coffers, to begin to fund initiatives begun by sympathetic elements of the local population. However, this never really gained ground, and completely devolved after the 101th was rotated out after a their year long combat tour. This story typifies the experiences of US commanders who would attempt to implement counterinsurgency, because the Department of Defense was under orders by Rumsfeld to not even acknowledge an insurgency was occurring, a situation that remained the case till his replacement in 2005; new commanders, with traditional mentalities would rotate in, and the process would completely devolve. This remained the case till counterinsurgency sympathizers were appointed to high level positions within the Department of Defense, with Petraeus eventually becoming the head of the Combined Arms Center, which sets all US military doctrine, controls educational programs and training and writes manuals, including the Counterinsurgency Manual, and then his appointment to run operations in Iraq, then CentCom, and finally Afghanistan.

Kaplan explains that, aside from this nice linear history, counterinsurgency operations rose to prominence in a specific situation, namely the strategic failures of Bush administration policy, and structured the factors in its own eclipse with the inauguration of the Obama administration. This rise, and fall, were primarily perpetuated by two necessities of counterinsurgency. Firstly, these policies only arose after troop surges in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Only at the point where there were large commitments of extra troops to invade and saturate areas were these operations able to perpetuate, and that meant the structure of larger force footprints, which increased the role of the occupier. These large footprints forced the US to engage in operations for longer periods of time, and as a result, concentrating force in single locations of priority, spreading conflict outside of zones where these concentrations existed, specifically into Pakistan, the Yemen and Northern Africa. Secondly, these surges, and the counterinsurgency doctrine they were based on, increasingly became nebulous concepts of occupation without an end point, which began to erode morale and political support. The sheer cost, in material supplies and death, eroded support for the wars over time, even more than had been the case before, and generated the political conditions for a necessary shift in strategy.

On top of these strategic costs, Kaplan points to a series of inaccuracies in the development of US counterinsurgency strategy that contributed to its inevitable failure, and paved the way for the shift into counter-terrorism. Specifically, the role of the occupier, and its relationship to civil authorities was ignored. In the example of Malaya, the British had been occupying it as a colony for some time, and were the civil authorities, avoiding the problem that the US later ran up against in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the inability of recently installed governments to be deferent to U S strategy, and actions they took which contributed to the dynamics of insurgency; with Maliki this included being complicit in ethnic cleansing, and with Karzai, he was directly benefiting from the corruption that was driving a lot of fighters into Taliban ranks. Secondly, in the discussion of insurgency within US military thought, specifically during the process of writing the Counterinsurgency manual and after, the drive to make counterinsurgency part of official doctrine began to harden into a dogmatic concept of a commonality among insurgencies, ignoring their particularities and imposing a process through which to train and equip soldiers to carry out counterinsurgency operations. Though these shortcomings are dramatically important, the discussion of the problems of counterinsurgency does not go far enough. What was experienced was not just a problem on the doctrinal level, they were the product of a fundamental paradox at the heart of counterinsurgency.

The insurgency, through its nebulousness, creates what Clausewitz calls a resistant terrain, or a terrain in which movements meet more or less resistance in their sheer spatial aspects. Insurgencies are effective to the degree that they come to expand the terrain and speed of conflict, causing an increase in conflict, and spreading out occupying forces. They are disorganizing forces, which stretch the logistical capacity of the occupying forces to the point of rupture, where their capacity to contain crisis breaks down, hence Mao’s discussion of the guerrilla being outside of decisive confrontation, and engaging in war as a duration. It was noted in Iraq, for example, that the strategy of patrols, or the strategy of embedding forces in towns, were disrupted by the first roadside bomb, not the scale of casualties in a campaign of bombing. In this first attack the ability to be certain of the contingencies of movement were eliminated, forcing soldiers to take defensive stances, approach people with caution, and retreat to increasingly fortified sanctuaries, farther and farther from the very towns that they were attempting to co-opt away from insurgency. Galula points out that the difficulty of counterinsurgency is that occupying forces have to protect everywhere, all the time, while insurgents can strike anywhere at any time. At the point of the first attack the possibility of insurgent action becomes total, and the insurgency begins to take on a spatial element; it cannot be identified, and therefore can be anywhere. Counterinsurgency operations have to attempt to project across the entirety of time and space, as a constant security operation, or an action of prevention. In concepts of security one is attempting to operate to prevent something that has not occurred, meaning that this operation has to cover all time, all space.

Insurgencies become the terrain, fuse into space itself, and counterinsurgency is an attempt to reconstruct the dynamics of this space in order to facilitate a de-escalation of conflict. Though this process, in its 21st Century manifestation, puts forward a relatively benign sounding rhetoric, even soliciting feedback and participation from human rights organizations, this reconstruction of space is far from a passive process; it is the abrupt and forceful seizing of space and reconstruction of space by an occupying element. It is this force, this total occupation, which generates the paradox in counterinsurgency. As in Mosul, or in Baghdad, where walls were constructed, literally, to separate zones of control from zones out of control, or in the increasing surveillance, interrogation, raids and the presence of armed occupiers on city streets, counterinsurgency still involves occupation and the deployment of force. The necessity of counterinsurgency arises at the point where insurgencies take on a speed and visibility, and involve a deployment into space, at the point where the insurgency becomes effective. This means that the deployment into space is necessarily a deployment into a terrain that is more resistant, characterized by a higher concentration of conflict, which both increases at the point where occupying forces attempt to move through space, as well as providing a hindrance to that movement. Therefore, to move at all, occupying forces generate conflict, even though the process of counterinsurgency is premised on decelerating conflict to whatever degree possible. As mentioned earlier, this function in a completely smooth, conceptual, space well, but is immediately disrupted at the point of the first attack, where defense, and thus deploying conflict into space becomes the primary priority.

We can see this in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In a space generally devoid of concentrated conflict US forces were able to operate in a generally hands-off way, in Mosul this was the initial phase after the invasion. But, as the insurgency came into the open, and attacks began to occur, US forces quickly shifted into a defensive posture that involved deploying conflict into space. In Mosul this process began with the building of a wall around the city, then moved into increased patrols, finally culminating in the shooting of demonstrators by Iraqi police and then the escalation into street fighting between US forces and insurgents. To hold space for any period of time involves attempting to literally stop history from proceeding, to attempt to form the possibilities of existence through incentives and force. Paradoxically, this then becomes an attempt to end conflict through the deployment of conflict, to decelerate conflict by accelerating conflict. This deceleration involves combating the insurgency, or the forces which are generating other political possibilities. As we saw in Iraq, this quickly devolved into raids on houses, an increased focus on means to limit movement such as walls and checkpoints, mass arrests and torture during interrogations. The difficulty presented by counterinsurgency involves the concentration of force in space, preventing wide ranging operations without increasing the amount of troops on the ground, and thus the acceleration of conflict.

It is no surprise, then, that Petraeus found a common set of operations that could account for the trajectories of both counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism, a method he attempted to employ while in command of ISAF[8] but this was a balance that would never last. Counterinsurgency provided the concentrated focus on specific spaces while counter-terrorism operations, focused on raids and individual strikes but not holding space, provided the reach to expand the deployment of force. But, in focusing on the deployment of force, which counter-terrorism does, conflict increases in its density with increasing speed. As houses are bombed, Special Ops raids occur, Hellfire missiles are fired at dwellings, and people are picked up and interrogated to derive the information necessary to target these operations, the tension on the ground is amplified, the insurgency grows, and troops on the ground shift into an even more defensive posture. This combines with the large footprint that characterize counterinsurgency operations; with the necessity of staying in a single space for long periods of time, and the need for supplies, bases have to be constructed, supply depots have to operate, roads have to be secured, and all of this provides static targets for attack, and thus zones of defense.

As this conflict increases we see the development of a process by which the prison leaves its walls. For counterinsurgency to function forces need to be in place for a period of time, and to combat an insurgency involves the monitoring of space and the slowing down of the possibilities and speed of movement. Cameras proliferate, checkpoints proliferate, patrols proliferate and the prison moves onto the street. As Eyal Weizman explains in Hollowland,[9] this defensive space of security tends, quickly, toward a total control over space and movement, with information gathering moving to a point of total surveillance and movement tending towards a trajectory of cessation. We even see this on our own streets, where the development of community policing involves both the development of community snitch squads, also known as Neighborhood Watch, which destroy the trust that holds communities together, with the “noncompliant” communities being addressed through a combination of saturation policing and increased surveillance.


Counter-terrorism is the attempt to resolve the central paradox of counterinsurgency, the attempt to decelerate conflict through the deployment of large amounts of troops in saturation operations. With the political failures of Bush administration policy, and the drop in support for the wars, Obama was elected to “end the wars”, a process that quickly became the institutionalization of counter-terrorism doctrine. This strategic set is composed of a combination of intelligence, air power and Special Ops, which attempts to identify and eliminate specific targets through strikes that are not structured to hold space, but, rather are structured to move through space with speed and stealth. The argument is that counter-terrorism operations evacuate the battlefield almost entirely, favoring small scale raids and drone strikes, rather than traditional military force operations. As a result, forces can strike from distance, in low concentration, from friendly space without the need to maintain supply lines and forward operating bases. In doing so, the possibility of being counter-attacked is limited, but at the same time the ability to hold space is eliminate completely. This quickly becomes war at a removal, where the sheer force and coverage of operations in an area act as a deterrent.

We can, however, already take a glimpse into the tactical issues with this strategy, and the continued possibility for resistance in the impossibility of its totality. Early on in the invasion of Afghanistan, before the main force invasion, Special Ops troops and CIA were on the ground, largely to spot out targets for bombing runs and working with localized forces. This immediately ran into problems. Firstly, local forces tended to be unreliable, disloyal and outside of the chain of command, making them difficult to coordinate with, especially when operations moved into Tora Bora and the local forces generally refused to risk their lives to achieve American objectives. Secondly, this structure of air-strikes was still based on sight and involved a time lag; forward spotters would spot a target, upload the data to a drone flying overhead, which would beam it to a base in Saudi Arabia, which would send it to a satellite, and finally to a B-52 flying overhead, which would download the data to its bombs and drop a bomb on the target. This whole process took only 1 8 minutes, which is incredibly fast, but 18 minutes is still 18 minutes of time lag, and against mobile targets 18 minutes is the difference between hitting a target and not. This structure was very effective against static infrastructure, of which there was little, but after about two weeks, it failed to be effective at all; Taliban troops began smearing mud on their vehicles, making them hard to see at distance, and moving their equipment into deep mountain passes and caves, making them difficult to spot from the sky. We can see these lessons in a recent jihadi document found by the Associated Press in Timbuktu, [10] which outlines ways to avoid drone strikes, through avoiding being detected, either through jamming signals or, more simply, putting grass mats over your car when it is parked to avoid being able to be seen from thousands of feet up.

This concealment provided such an advantage that the US was forced to undertake the ground force invasion, which Rumsfeld had opposed before the war began, increasing force concentration and thus footprint and visibility. This also forced the US to build infrastructure, bases, and maintain supply lines, providing targets for insurgent attacks, and beginning the 12 year quagmire that Afghanistan has become. Without heavy deployments of ground forces the US could clear space from the sky, forcing the insurgency underground, sometimes literally, and out of sight, but at the point where they became invisible, it became impossible for small footprint operations to function, and large contingents of ground forces were necessary. This began a dynamic which still continues today; ground forces move into an area, the insurgents disappear, often just going home, and then reappear after the ground forces leave, often with their numbers boosted due to the conflict caused in the initial offensive itself.

While counterinsurgency provides the ability for insurgent counter-attack that is eliminated in counter-terrorism, counter-terrorism operations sacrifice the ability to hold space, and rely all that much more on intelligence, and thus surveillance, raids and interrogation. In this move away from holding space the military is shifting operational modes entirely. Counterinsurgency still relies on spatial concentration, concentration of force, and the structuring of space around lines of “control”. This is a traditionally imperialist notion of space, which assumes that operations define a space inside from a space outside control, and derives from traditional imperialist examples. Counter-terrorism follows from the breakdown of this concept of space and the expansion of security on a global level, as a borderless projection of force. As they shift away from force concentration they also shift away from holding space, and thus the borders of space. This allows them to operate everywhere, but the totality of the operation becomes a necessity. Just as we are seeing in our cities, the attempt to monitor every interaction, catch every conversation the FBI does not like, search every person that may be walking down the street at the wrong time, this total security deployment begins to look more and more like a prison everyday. With the rise of counter-terrorism the borders of war may have dissolved, but only in favor of the expansion of those operations on a global scale.

Counter-terrorism, like the rise of saturation and “community policing’: along with the expansion of surveillance has come to construct a situation in which everything seems to be policed through an upward scale of force calculation. Yet, as with counter-insurgency this saturation is still attempting to operate within a paradox, the mobilization of conflict to end conflict. This paradox is the core of the concept of the state, this frantic attempt to construct a unity of time and space through police operations. The expansion of military and police operations into constancy, with an increasing tendency to cover space is nothing but the expansion of the concept of the state in its own realization. The state, which attempts to conceptually define particular moments through transcendental concepts, only functions to the degree that this constancy and totality is the case. This has come to be combined with a specifically post-Enlightenment concept of the state, where the state is no longer seen as a national construct but the embodiment of “universal values”. Since the 15th Century there has been an increasing tendency for the state to become borderless. We need to look no further than the concept of American exceptionalism, or any State of the Union Address during the past 20 years or more to see this. [11] When linked to the concept of a constant security operation, now on a universal scale, this constructs a state of armed inclusion, where all are included, even if force is necessary. [12]

We can, however, take solace in the sheer impossibility of this attempt. Even though the prison is expanding outside of the walls, even though the police seem to be more and more violent and corrupt every day, even though at any moment a document can be signed that sets in motion a process that could end with a flying death robot shooting a missile at your car, this total expansion on a global scale also disperses force. Even in certain concentrations of force, take the French operations in Mali for example, the temporary clearing of space does not mean the permanent clearance of space, or total occupation, without the very concentrations of force, on the ground with a large force footprint, that these operations are meant to avoid; to switch strategic trajectory and occupy space then concentrates force and opens up all sorts of space outside of this concentration. The realization that the military has come to is that they have a choice; they can continue to carry out traditional force scale operations and engage in increasingly violent counterinsurgency campaigns to “clear space permanently’: while allowing all sorts of space to proliferate on the margins of these concentrations, or they can abandon the fantasy of a world without resistance and develop security operations as a borderless constancy. But, as they choose this second path they also stretch their force capacity, and fail to ever come to control space.

As in all revolutionary situations, where police logistics are stretched to the point of rupture, the more resistant the terrain becomes on the ground, the more invisible the resisters can become, the more that intelligence networks can be disrupted and communications technology used to our advantage, the more resistance spreads and becomes an increasing part of the terrain, the less effective these sorts of deployments of force can become. The ability to short-circuit the expansion of the armed inclusion is a tactical question, rather than one of abstract conceptual questions of ethics and politics[13]; a question of the dynamics and possibilities of action in particular moments, the expansion of the terrain and density of conflict in time and space, the question of politics itself, as Schmitt would define it. The only way to escape this trajectory, in which our space increasingly becomes formed by security operations, is to disorganize this constant policing through action, and that is nothing short than action against the logistics of the state itself.


Kaplan, Fred (2013), The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War, New York, Simon and Schuster

Feickert, Andrew (2013), Army Drawdown and Restructuring: Background and Issues for Congress, Washington, DC, Congressional Research Service

Department of Defense (2012), Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense

Chivers, CJ (2010), The Gun, New York, Simon and Schuster

Galula, David (1964), Counter-insurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, New York, Praeger

Department of the Army (2006), FM 3–24: Counterinsurgency, Washington DC, Department of the Army

Summers, Harry (1982), On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War, Novato, CA, Presidio Press

Weizman, Eyal (2007), Hollowland, New York, Verso

Peralta, Eyder (2013), “In Document Left Behind By Al Qaida, 22 Tips To Avoid Drone Strikes”: NPR News,, retrieved 2/22/13

[1] Feickert, 2013: This report, titled “Army Drawdown and Restructuring: Background and Issues for Congress’: gives a good, summarized, breakdown of the relatively undefined process of the military force drawdown.

[2] US Central Command is based out of MacDill Air Force base in Tampa and has responsibility for all operations in ,the Middle East and Western Asia.

[3] Chivers, 2010: This text, The Gun, is a “social history” of the development of the AK-47, and by extension, the relationship between arms and the rise and fall of insurgencies. In this history we can also trace the history the the proliferation of insurgencies, through the proliferation of the weapon, and the differing approaches to insurgency and counterinsurgency since 1947.

[4] Kaplan, 2013

[5] Galula, 1964; In the book Galula runs through a series of discussions of Maoist insurgency, specifically focusing on guerrilla operations, and the ways in which revolutionary warfare relies on a concept developed by Clausewitz, the generation of an increasingly resistant medium, which amplifies friction in linear military forces, and insurgency as a non-linear, asymmetric, disorganizing dynamic, rather than relying on some nebulous concept of the “mass movement”.

[6] Department of the Army, 2006; This manual was written under the supervision of General David Petraeus, with the help of John Nagl, David Kilcullen and others. It was later supplemented, in 2009 with manual number 3–24.2 Tactics in Counterinsurgency, to clear up some of the operationally vague direction in the original manual.

[7] Summers, 1982

[8] ISAF stands for the International Security Assistance Force, and is the official name of NATO forces in Afghanistan

[9] Weizman, 2007

[10] 3/02/22/ 1 72 7 1 4009/in-document-leftbehind-by-al-qaida-22-tips-to-avoid-drones-strikes

[11] These addresses, specifically from the Reagan administration to the present day, tend to express a concept of the US as defender of “democratic rights” around the world.

[12] In Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense the need to deploy military force into “ungoverned areas” is discussed openly.

[13] It is clear, at least to many of us, that counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism lead to some horrendous consequences, but denunciations, unless used as a tactic of subversion, are not in themselves relevant to the particular discussion of that subversion, which in itself is always a material dynamic, and thus tactical. The way that we make sense of things, and the material dynamic of those events, are two fundamentally separate questions.