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Posts Tagged ‘counterinsurgency’

JS: So, I want to start off by asking you about a phrase that you use in your latest book. You say that we now have a counterinsurgency warfare model of politics. What do you mean by that?

BH: So, what I mean by that is that basically all of the [ways] in which we govern abroad and at home is now funneled through a particular way of thinking about the world. It’s a mentality. It’s a way of thinking about society that triggers particular kinds of strategies and politics that result from that. And the way of thinking about society is this counterinsurgency paradigm of warfare.

So, counterinsurgency started in the 1950s – well, it started long before then, but it kind of crystallized with Western powers in the 1950s and 60s in Algeria, and Indochina before then, and in Vietnam for the Americans. And it was a particular way of thinking about society, the way society is structured into three groups. With, on the one hand, a small active minority who are the insurgents, and a large passive majority who can be swayed one way or the other, and then a small minority of counterinsurgents.

And that way of thinking has become internalized, second hand. Most, I would say, many in America, but certainly our political leaders are looking at the world through that lens when they look at other countries when they look domestically at their own population, and as a result of that it triggers particular kinds of counterinsurgency practices, really. And three practices particularly that I think when you look at what we’re doing both abroad and at home, you see resonances of them everywhere. The first is the idea of getting total information awareness. That’s always been the key linchpin of counterinsurgency theory, is to get total information on the total population.

And that’s what distinguishes it from just getting good intelligence. It’s that you have to get total intelligence on the total population, not just targeted to people who you suspect, but on the total population. So that you can make a distinction between or you can identify that small group of active insurgents. And you need the information on everyone so that you can make that separation, those fine distinctions between someone who is in that active minority or someone who’s just [in the] you know, passive masses. So that’s the first strategy. The second strategy is then that you have to rid of the active minority that you identified, just that small group of individuals, the insurgents, and you do that through any means possible. And then the third strategy is to win the hearts and minds of the masses, basically.

And I think that starting after 9/11. We saw that way of thinking become the dominant way of governing abroad particularly with the war in Iraq, but then more generally with the use of drones outside of war zones et cetera, use of total information through the NSA in the way in which everything was captured about everyone to the most minor detail. And then also trying to pacify the masses in Iraq through kind of some provision of services or just distribution of cash. But then eventually, when this way of thinking comes back to the United States through different forms of pacification of the masses. Particularly right now, I would say through forms of distraction, really.

JS: How does this counterinsurgency warfare model of politics apply in the Trump era?

BH: The Trump Administration is kind of a crystallization, or it seals the deal really on this on this model of governing. But what I want to emphasize though is that it wasn’t unique to Trump. And so, it goes back and it threaded through the Obama Administration and the Bush Administration.

I’ll come back to that in a second. But when you see it today, what you see predominantly is through Trump’s creation of an internal enemy. So, one of the things that drives counterinsurgency ways of thinking is having an internal enemy that, the internal enemy which is that identifiable small class of the active insurgents.

And I think that Trump [has] really rested his entire way of governing us by creating internal enemies out of whole cloth, really, in this case. It started with the Muslims and Muslim Americans and the idea that we needed a Muslim ban.

But when you listened to the rhetoric that surrounded the Muslim ban, it was this rhetoric about, “Muslims are coming into the country. We got to keep them out and even the ones who are here aren’t patriots. They don’t call the police when they have information. We need a registry for them. We need – there was talk about –

JS: Surveillance on mosques.

BH: – Well, exactly, right. All of the surveillance on the mosques and on all of the Muslim businesses, everywhere. And so, all of that was the creation of a dangerous element in this country, which were the Muslim Americans. And we saw it, of course with Mexican Americans, with talking about Mexicans as criminals, as rapists. You saw it just recently with the whole caravan episode, right. I mean, I think that the caravan episode was an effort to create an internal enemy because it was not only identifying and indexing this real group of individuals, but I think it was, through those groups of individuals, it was pointing at all of the undocumented persons who are in this country and who substantiate that threat.

JS: If that philosophy is as you say, what is the purpose then of identifying these people as you say, as sort of the insurgents?

BH: It’s a coherent strategy that not only kind of identifies the danger and then, of course, tries to eliminate the danger, right. But is doing that in part to pacify the masses to win the support of the masses to bring them on Trump’s side. And of course, that was exactly a strategy for the whole week preceding the midterm elections, right? It was to win the hearts and minds of Americans by targeting this dangerous internal enemy that was coming to the border but that also is in the country, is in the country already. It’s these undocumented residents.

So, it’s got these different prongs to it and in part, what’s always been unique about counterinsurgency theory from the 1950s is that it is focused on the population in this interesting way. So, when you read all of the text by the great counterinsurgency commanders — the French, and British, and some Americans, and texts that were written for and by the RAND Corporation on counterinsurgency — one of the central pillars of this way of thinking is that the battle is over the population. It’s over the masses.

– Jeremy Scahill interviews Bernard Harcourt, “THE COUNTERINSURGENCY PARADIGM: HOW U.S. POLITICS HAVE BECOME PARAMILITARIZED.” The Intercept, November 25, 2018.

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Traditional Canadian complacency, the open society, and a feeling generated by its geography that “it cannot happen here,” help to create the troubled waters in which the revolutionary fish can swim and propagate.—British Institute for the Study of Conflict, September, 1978.

Swallows scatter down across the October quilt of the Petawawa plain and on toward the river and Quebec, where the far hills ghost into rain cloud. In air as close as cobwebs the soldiers of the Canadian Special Service Force in the reanimated Armed Forces wait for the beginning of what they call “erection time”—a solid, stunning minute that turns the land punch-drunk with explosion. When it is over a major’s voice rises eagerly from the loudspeaker, quieter but no less disturbing: “Would you be dead? Would you be critically injured? Would you have the guts to stand up and fight like a man as our infantry came over to kill you?” Only then is there silence, as the questions rise and are lost in the bruised clouds.

This sky will clear in the days to come, but a cloud of suspicion continues to linger over the 3,500-member Special Service Force. Its duties may be as simple as a girl guide’s—Be Prepared— but the calling remains somewhat more sinister than hustling cookies. Formed last year by combining a number of crack Petawawa units with the elite Canadian Airborne Regiment, which was transferred under much controversy from Edmonton, the SSF’s lack of any specific task has led to continuing rumors concerning the military and the possible separation of Quebec. Though the force was planned for more than a decade, its inopportune announcement-just two weeks after the 1976 Parti Québécois victory—and opportune location directly across the river from Quebec have given rise to questions that are also without answers. And it is this lack of a “defined role” more than anything else that has Defence Minister Barney Danson announcing a specific SSF task this week, which insiders hint may be a detailed NATO commitment to the defence of Norway.

But that will hardly stop the rumors. There will still be those who wonder why the force has 2,500 pairs of handcuffs and 17,800 gas masks despite the fact that no Canadian soldier has come under gas attack since 1918. And further questions will arise next month when the first of some 50 special armored vehicles arrives on the Petawawa base—vehicles that are nearly identical to those used by the West German police and others for riot control. Such items are dismissed as basic equipment by the defence department, but Conservative defence critic Allan McKinnon has said they “fit better into the needs of unstable banana republics” than those of Canada. It would have been worse had the previous chief of defence staff, General Jacques Dextraze, had his way and located the 250 French-speaking SSF commandos in Ottawa. Fortunately, Danson fought that decision and won —“I don’t want to turn the place into an armed camp,” he says—otherwise the capital city, which still discourages military uniforms on Friday, shopping day, would have been shackled with camouflaged jungle jackets, calf-high jumping boots and maroon berets—the trademark of the toughest soldiers in the Armed Forces.

The most startling SSF story, however, has remained a secret since the early hours of July 5, 1978, when a plane loaded with British commandos—estimates vary widely between 30 and 190stole out of Petawawa. Fully two months earlier, also in the dead of night, the same commandos had come into the country. And their secret presence here might never have become known but for the one part of the soldiers’ equipment that was out of action over those eight weeks. On July 3, the commandos took over a cottage on Petawawa Point where they invited several women they had met at the isolated Hotel Pontiac. Alcohol and high hopes naturally led to bragging, and the soldiers thoughtlessly let it slip that they were members of the mysterious British SAS—a fact confirmed to Maclean’s last week by the department of national defence.

There are a number of small similarities between the British Special Air Service and the Canadian SSF: their undefined roles, jaunty berets, symbol (a winged dagger) and even motto—the Canadian “Let us dare” and the British “Who Dares, Wins.” But the Canadians are, as one officer put it, merely “lethal boy scouts” when compared to the cream of the British army. So secretive is the SAS that it is not even kiiown how many members there are, though estimates average out to around 700. Photographing them is forbidden even for the official military magazines and the British ministry of defence attitude toward them is simply, “We don’t mention them—ever.”

However, the SAS is known to operate extensively in Northern Ireland where they parachute in at night in small groups and work undercover to disrupt the Irish Republican Army. How they actually operate is guesswork—one exSAS told Maclean’s London bureau that being a member is “automatically a licence to kill”—but their effectiveness is evident. Since their arrival in Ulster deaths and bombings are down from 170 in the first six months of 1976 to 49 in the first six months of 1978.

Obviously, this clear tie with civil war adds further intrigue to the SAS visit to Canada. The only comparable force to the SAS, the United States Rangers, was also quietly here this year in January when some 175 of them trained with the Special Service Force, and more Rangers apparently are due back next January and February.

For those who feed off such information, there is a virtual banquet of paranoia around. The September report from London’s Institute for the Study of Conflict was prepared by Major-General Rowland Mans, who happened to spend three years with the National Defence College in Kingston, Ontario, and it warns with utter clarity of the risks inherent in a disunited Canada. “Just how long the United States would be prepared to stand idly by if the situation worsened would be a matter of nice judgment,” Mans says. Closer to home, the former director-general of the RCMP Security Service, John Starnes, wrote in a 1977 issue of the British magazine, Survival, that “Canada’s internal situation is such that, for the first time since NATO was formed, there is now a potential threat to the security of the North American heartland.” There have also been two puzzling federal appointments this fall: Marcel Cadieux, the former Canadian ambassador to the United States, to advise the RCMP on domestic and international security; and Eldon Black, who has spent the past three years seconded to the department of national defence, to the newly created post of deputy undersecretary of state for security and intelligence in the department of external affairs, which some claim is the beginnings of a new supra-RCMP security force.

Such concern with the internal workings of the country may pre-date both the Parti Québécois victory and the 1970 October Crisis. Ten years ago this week, in response to a Queen’s University student’s question on NATO, newly elected Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said: “I happen to believe that in a very real sense civilization and culture in North America are more menaced … by internal disorders than by external pressure.” Trudeau emphasized he did not believe the turmoil would be caused by separatists, but he did envisage a North America with “large rebellions and large disturbances of civil order.”

No one has dared suggest the military has actual plans for the invasion of Quebec, but what has been questioned is the real purpose of the Special Service Force, which hardly sets up and breaks down a full, transportable command post on manoeuvres an average of once a day because flies get inside their tents. Defence Minister Danson argues that placing the SSF next door to Quebec “was not a consideration—but I know people are going to read things into it.” The commander of the SSF, burly Brigadier-General Andrew Christie, is even more adamant. ‘Tm a simple, honorable soldier,” Christie says. “And I haven’t got any ulterior motive. We are not SAS. People think something nefarious is going on and we’re involved in clandestine operations. We haven’t got any cards under the table.”

But there is still the issue of secrecy. Christie, who used his influence to kill a Pembroke Observer story on British troops being seen on the nearby base, says no mention was made of the SAS simply because the British requested nothing be said. Barney Danson far more candidly says: “In Canada, where response time is so important, you don’t want to start tipping your hand. We don’t broadcast things.” Retorts Tory McKinnon: “Our government seems suspicious of its own people. It’s as if they can’t be trusted to know what’s going on.” Concerning the actual activities of the British SAS in Canada, Brigadier-General Christie says, “We had very little to do with them.” One senior officer who was there, however, argues that relationships were “very friendly indeed. We were training with them and training them, too.” Very little concrete information is offered concerning the SAS stay here—and numerous Maclean’s calls to a specific SAS soldier, who left his number with a Pembroke woman, failed—but it is believed the British commandos were testing a Bombardier manufactured cross-country motorcycle, climbing in Alberta, underwater testing near Point Pelee in Southwestern Ontario and parachuting in both Edmonton and in an isolated area of Ontario. Bill Beacham, who leases the out-of-the-way, 652-acre Bonnechère Airport near Killaloe from the federal ministry of transport, received a call this spring that the military would be making some use of his facilities. “We never saw them,” says Beacham, who was seldom around the airport for the most part, but an officer in the Canadian SSF claims the SAS were involved in free-fall jumping.

Though the Canadian SSF is described as an “airportable, airdroppable” force, it is wrong to say the Canadian SSF was modelled on the British SAS. When General Dextraze created the Special Service Force in Petawawa—virtually his final act as chief of defence staff—he was reviving a memory that went back to the last World War when the first Special Service Force, a joint U.S.-Canadian force known as The Devil’s Brigade, performed so well in Europe. There was never any stated intention that the force would concern itself with internal security, but there were clear hints in the government’s 1971 white paper, Defence in the ‘70s, that Canada was becoming less concerned with NATO and far more introspective. The white paper spoke of “the threat to society posed by violent revolutionaries” and “the necessity of being able to cope effectively with any future resort to disruption, intimidation and violence as weapons of political action.”

The key to the force, Dextraze believed, would be in moving the Canadian Airborne Regiment from Edmonton to Petawawa, and then adding a third commando unit to the Airborne by bringing the Third Mechanized Commando back from Europe. Defence headquarters was able, amid great protest, to pull the Airborne out of Edmonton but it was unable, thanks to Danson, to put an armed commando in Ottawa. As for the Third Mechanized Commando, it did leave Europe but it has never arrived, having been quietly absorbed into other regiments that needed men. It was this loss of a full commando, sources claim, that bothered Colonel Jacques Painchaud, commander of the Airborne, the most. His outburst in July that Danson should resign for suggesting there was no room for elite troops in the forces was merely the last straw.

The removal of Painchaud which followed was merely one more black mark against the Airborne. Not only was it impossible for the huge Hercules aircraft, which generally carry troops such as the Airborne, to land at Petawawa, but the regiment found there were no jump facilities at the base. When they did parachute, they had to travel by bus to Trenton (three hours away), and then later had to send their parachutes all the way back to Edmonton for repacking. Dextraze himself later admitted the Airborne, as a proper airborne, would be “less effective” in Petawawa. There were also a number of more localized problems: fights in Pembroke; a soldier dead from wood alcohol poisoning; a frozen lake dynamited, now under investigation by provincial authorities.

Today, all that has settled down. With Painchaud gone to headquarters in Ottawa, a minor point of controversy concerns his successor, Colonel Kent Foster, who—as commander of the officially bilingual unit in the Special Service Force—is not classified as bilingual. Brigadier-General Christie, who is bilingual, dismisses this by saying, “He can communicate with his soldiers and they can with him—that’s bilingualism.” Still, the francophone half of the volunteer Airborne is some 90 men short of its full complement of 250. And though Christie has worked hard to attract more French-speaking soldiers to Petawawa—including spending $120,000 a year on a French school — they are slow in coming.

Still, if morale is down in that one area, it is significantly up in the Armed Forces as a whole, thanks to the current $4-billion spending spree. As Admiral Robert Falls, the new chief of defence staff, has put it, the forces cannot attract recruits with “broomsticks instead of rifles,” and the department of national defence—presumably under pressure from the European Economic Community, who will buy Canadian goods in exchange for a larger Canadian commitment to NATO—is making sure the broomsticks are replaced.

A revivified military in such troubled times, however, presents worry to a number of people. In a defence committee meeting on March 10, 1977, General Dextraze—the man who created the SSF—was being quizzed by Edmonton Member of Parliament Steve Paproski on the Airborne’s move to Petawawa. “Does the general include the possibility of a separatist Quebec as one of the challenges to our sovereignty?” Paproski asked. General Dextraze, somewhat miffed at the question, somewhat obtusely replied: “Inasmuch as the military is concerned … one should not ask any questions as to their loyalty at all…I have their loyalty . ..”

There was a moment during the SSF’s recent two-day Exercise Mobile Warrior that was every bit as stunning as the mad minute of “erection time.” At lunch on the first day, one of the visiting officers, Brigadier-General Christopher (Killer) Kirby from the Royal Military College in Kingston, was handed a machete, and a live chicken was produced from a cook’s pot. Then, to the cheers of 230 Canadian military college students, Kirby lopped off the head with a single swipe, leaving the body to stagger pathetically in the spray of its own blood until it fell. The kill was traditional, supposedly to remind the officers that they must be prepared to find their own food during extensive manoeuvres, but the “entertainment” aspect of the act—meat and potatoes were cooking barely 20 yards away—was as unnecessary this year as it had been the year before, when a woman killed a rabbit. Chilling incidents that easily excite the apprehension of the non-military mind.

– Roy MacGregor, “Fighting Back: The Canadian Forces reborn – in from the cold,” Maclean’s. November 6, 1978.

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“British Soldiers Have Narrow Escape In Palestine,” Ottawa Citizen. November 5, 1938. Page 05.

A patrol of the 1st Battalion, Royal Scots, examining a crater in the road caused by a land mine which exploded just after a lorry had passed over it. The picture was taken near Nablus. – Official photograph, by air from Palestine to London.

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“Jews Mourn Arab Victims,” The Globe and Mail. October 24, 1938. Page 02.

His arms upraised in supplication and flanked by sorrowing Jews clad in the typical farmer’s garb for their new land, this rabbi is conducting funeral services for a score of Jews, mostly women and children, who were slain in Tiberias, Palestine. Oct. 18 saw the establishment of British martial law in an effort to bring peace to the land of the Prince of Peace.

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“A L’ABRI DES BALLES ARABES,” Le Soleil. October 21, 1938. Page 01.

Cinq policiers juifs, qui s’étaient réfugiés dans cette voiture blindée, ont pu tenir tête pendant une heure a
80 Arabes venus les attaquer. Les Juifs continuent de s’armer le mieux possible, car la guerre en Palestine prend
chaque jour de plus grandes proportions. La loi martiale est maintenant appliquée dans plusieurs villes de la
Terre-Sainte, et les Anglais font des efforts désespérés pour rétablir I ordre. 

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Punishment Park. Dir.: Peter Watkins. 1971.

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Photographs from Opération Tacaud, the French intervention into the Chadian civil war, 1978-1980. Source.

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