The RAND think tank, last year, came up with a “scorecard” method of reviewing counter-insurgency campaigns. The scorecard ranks a COIN campaign in terms of “good” and “bad” practices that take place by the actual COIN force and the insurgents that they fight.
The paper was in response to the drawing down of the effort in Afghanistan, but also studies varying COIN campaigns of the previous 30 years, coming up with various results. I couldn’t, naturally, resist taking the scorecard and methodology and trying to apply them to the COIN campaigns of Ireland’s revolutionary period. Those are:
The British COIN campaign against the IRA between 1919 and 1921, commonly known as the Irish War of Independence, Anglo-Irish War or, more colloquially, the “Tan” War.
The pro-Treaty COIN campaign against the anti-Treaty IRA between June 1922 and March 1923, the Irish Civil War.
While the study is written with more modern insurgency and COIN in mind, it is still possible to analyse older conflicts through the parameters provided. I consulted with a few other like-minded friends and academics when considering some of the more specific criteria, and we all generally came up with a few of the same results.
Firstly, the British in the War of Independence:
1. COIN force realizes at least two strategic communication factors (Score 1 if sum of a through g is at least 2) – A decisive no.
– a. COIN force and government actions consistent with messages (delivering on promises) (Score 1 if YES) – No, the British were not consistent, unable to stop the spread of IRA activity.
– b. COIN force maintains credibility with population in the area of conflict (includes expectation management) (Score 1 if YES) – A very definite no. As time went on, more and more support went to the IRA, and British actions alienated large parts of the civilian population.
– c. Messages/themes coherent with overall COIN approach (Score 1 if YES) – Again, no. The British attempted to treat the IRA as a law-enforcement issue at first, but eventually had to deploy military assets. Later targeting of civilians in reprisals were not part of the “message” the British were trying to convey.
– d. COIN force avoids creating unattainable expectations (Score 1 if YES) – No. The British certainly hoped, at some point, to destroy the IRA entirely, and placed too much emphasis on the Government of Ireland Act in 1920 to solve the problem.
– e. Themes and messages coordinated for all involved government agencies (Score 1 if YES) – A big no. Often, the British government did not seem to have a handle on what some “agencies” were doing in Ireland, especially the Auxiliaries.
– f. Earnest IO/PSYOP/strategic communication/messaging effort (Score 1 if YES) – No. The British propaganda campaign in Ireland was woefully lacking in comparison to their opponents.
– g. Unity of effort/unity of command maintained (Score 1 if YES) – No. As with “e”, the British government did not appear to be on the same page as some of the forces that they deployed and the combined police/military operation was often skewed when it came to chain of command.
2. COIN force reduces at least three tangible support factors (Score 1 if sum of a through j is at least 3) – An overall yes.
– a. Flow of cross-border insurgent support significantly decreased, remains dramatically reduced, or largely absent (Score 1 if YES) – No, the British were unable to stem the flow of support the IRA received from outside the island.
– b. Important external support to insurgents significantly reduced (Score 1 if YES) – No, the British did not stop outside financial support to the IRA, especially from America.
– c. Important internal support to insurgents significantly reduced (Score 1 if YES) – Arguable. Over the course of the conflict, the IRA did become more pressed, so a tentative “Yes” can be applied.
– d. Insurgents’ ability to replenish resources significantly diminished (Score 1 if YES) – Yes, I would argue the British were eventually successful in this regard, especially in late 1921.
– e. Insurgents unable to maintain or grow force size (Score 1 if YES) – No, the IRA was more than capable of retaining its existence and growing throughout the conflict.
– f. COIN force efforts resulting in increased costs for insurgent processes (Score 1 if YES) – Strictly speaking, yes.
– g. COIN forces effectively disrupt insurgent recruiting (Score 1 if YES) – No, if anything they promoted it through their own actions. IRA recruitment methods were something the British struggled to effect.
– h. COIN forces effectively disrupt insurgent materiel acquisition (Score 1 if YES) – Yes, the British did severely effect IRA weapon stockpiles and bomb making resources as the war went on.
– i. COIN forces effectively disrupt insurgent intelligence (Score 1 if YES) – Not in the early years, but eventually yes.
– j. COIN forces effectively disrupt insurgent financing (Score 1 if YES) – No.
3. Government realizes at least two government legitimacy factors (Score 1 if sum of a through e is at least 2) – Yes.
– a. Government corruption reduced/good governance increased since onset of conflict (Score 1 if YES) – No. The British lost control of large parts of Ireland and their attempts to reform Irish government in 1920 were laughable in their lateness.
– b. Government leaders selected in a manner considered just and fair by majority of population in area of conflict (Score 1 if YES) – A considerable no, considering how many people voted for a party that had no intention of taking their seats in Westminster. Few MPs turned up for the “official” Irish Parliament in 1920.
– c. Majority of citizens in the area of conflict view government as legitimate (Score 1 if YES) – You might hear some argument, but I’ll put it as a no. The people voted wholesale for Sinn Fein in 1918, and only turned on the British more as time went on, deferring to Dail legitimacy.
– d. Government provides better governance than insurgents in area of conflict (Score 1 if YES) – Arguable. I would give a yes here under pressure, since the British were able to exert a better form of governance over the areas they expressly controlled, in comparison to the IRA.
– e. COIN force provides or ensures provision of basic services in areas it controls or claims to control (Score 1 if YES) – Yes, the British maintained services.
4. Government realizes at least one democracy factor (Score 1 if sum of a through d is at least 1) – Difficult to answer given the circumstances, but I’ll rate it a yes.
– a. Government a functional democracy (Score 1 if YES) – Technically yes under the laws of the day.
– b. Government a partial or transitional democracy (Score 1 if YES) – No, but this is superseded by the previous.
– c. Free and fair elections held (Score 1 if YES) – Yes, judging by the result in 1918.
– d. Government respects human rights and allows free press (Score 1 if YES) – No, in a very large way.
5. COIN force realizes at least one intelligence factor (Score 1 if sum of a and b is at least 1) – No.
– a. Intelligence adequate to support kill/capture or engagements on COIN force’s terms (Score 1 if YES) – No, very much so. One of the IRA’s big successes was altering the traditional balance in the intelligence war when it came to Irish/Anglo conflicts.
– b. Intelligence adequate to allow COIN force to disrupt insurgent processes or operations (Score 1 if YES) – At points, but overall no.
6. COIN force of sufficient strength to force insurgents to fight as guerrillas (Score 1 if YES) – Yes, and the IRA suffered badly on the few occasions that it fought conventionally.
7. Government/state is competent (Score 1 if YES) – Again, arguable. I will say no, in recognition of its lack of control in large parts.
8. COIN force avoids excessive collateral damage, disproportionate use of force, or other illegitimate applications of force (Score 1 if YES) – A very major and obvious no.
9. COIN force seeks to engage and establish positive relations with population in area of conflict (Score 1 if YES) – No, not really. The British approach cannot really be described as positive.
10. Short-term investments, improvements in infrastructure/development, or property reform in area of conflict controlled or claimed by COIN force (Score 1 if YES) – No, I can find little evidence of this.
11. Majority of population in area of conflict supports/favours COIN forces (Score 1 if YES) – A big and obvious no. Election results and the continuing survival of the IRA prove this.
12. COIN force establishes and then expands secure areas (Score 1 if YES) – No. The British never really operated under a “Clear, Hold, Build” strategy.
13. COIN force has and uses uncontested air dominance (Score 1 if YES) – Yes. While the use of airpower was limited, it was solely a British endeavour in the War of Independence.
14. COIN force provides or ensures provision of basic services in areas it controls or claims to control (Score 1 if YES) – Yes at least at a level consistent with that pre-war.
15. Perception of security being created or maintained among populations in areas COIN force claims to control (Score 1 if YES) – No, the Irish civilian population certainly did not have this perception. The opposite in fact.
NOTE: IO = information operations. PSYOP = psychological operations.
1. COIN force uses both collective punishment and escalating repression (Score 1 if sum of a and b is at least 1) – A very big yes, especially in countryside’s.
– a. COIN force employs escalating repression (Score 1 if YES) – Yes.
– b. COIN force employs collective punishment (Score 1 if YES) – Yes. Both obvious and clear answers.
2. Primary COIN force perceived to be an external occupier (Score 1 if YES) – Yes, especially by the end of the war.
3. COIN force or government actions contribute to substantial new grievances claimed by the insurgents (Score 1 if YES) – Yes, in line with “1” above.
4. Militias work at cross-purposes with COIN force/government (Score 1 if YES) – I could plead a case for the Black and Tans to be classed as “militia” for this question but will refrain. Not applicable.
5. COIN force resettles/removes civilian populations for population control (Score 1 if YES) – No, I can recall no example of this, at least not purposefully.
6. COIN force collateral damage perceived by population in area of conflict as worse than insurgents’ (Score 1 if YES) – Yes, very much so.
7. In area of conflict, COIN force perceived as worse than insurgents (Score 1 if YES) – Yes, in line with all of the above.
8. COIN force fails to adapt to changes in adversary strategy, operations, or tactics (Score 1 if YES) – Yes, eventually the British forces did adapt new protocols, especially for vehicle movement in the countryside, in response to the tactics of the insurgency.
9. COIN force engages in more coercion/intimidation than insurgents (Score 1 if YES) –Yes, in line with previous questions.
10. Insurgent force individually superior to COIN force by being either more professional or better motivated (Score 1 if YES) – No. The IRA certainly wasn’t more professional anyway, though they were perhaps more motivated. One on one, you would favour a trained British soldier over an IRA veteran.
11. COIN force or allies rely on looting for sustainment (Score 1 if YES) – No, not for sustainment anyway.
12. COIN force and government have different goals/level of commitment (Score 1 if YES) – Yes. It is clear in hindsight that the British government did not have the same commitment to a total victory as the military had.
That’s 8 “Bad” factors to 6 “Good”, a defeat for the British that does not quite match the eventual conclusion of the War of Independence.
Check in next week for my thoughts on the Civil War using the same criteria.