Anatomy of a surrogate: historical precedents and implications for contemporary counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism

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    Anatomy of a surrogate: historical precedents andimplications for contemporary counter-insurgency andcounter-terrorismGeraint Hughes a & Christian Tripodi aa Defence Studies Department , Joint Services Command and Staff College, DefenceAcademy of the United KingdomPublished online: 08 Apr 2009.

    To cite this article: Geraint Hughes & Christian Tripodi (2009) Anatomy of a surrogate: historical precedents andimplications for contemporary counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 20:1, 1-35, DOI:10.1080/09592310802571552

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  • Anatomy of a surrogate: historical precedents and implicationsfor contemporary counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism

    Geraint Hughes and Christian Tripodi*

    Defence Studies Department, Joint Services Command and Staff College, DefenceAcademy of the United Kingdom

    This article examines the ways and means in which states employ irregular andindigenous personnel in a counter-insurgency (COIN) or counter-terrorist (CT)campaign, in the historical and contemporary context. The authors clarify theterminology surrounding this neglected area of COIN/CT theory, and identifyfour types of indigenous assistance individual actors (trackers, interpreters,informers and agents); home guards and militias; counter-gangs; and pseudo-gangs. This article concludes that while the use of such indigenous irregulars hasits advantages for the state and its armed/security forces (particularly as far asintelligence, local knowledge and undermining the insurgents cause isconcerned), it can also have serious practical and ethical implications for aCOIN/CT campaign, and can have unexpected and unwelcome consequencesincluding violations of laws of armed conflict, the undermining of governmentalauthority and the prospects of endemic internal strife and state collapse.

    Keywords: counter-insurgency; counter-terrorism; laws of armed conflict;state stability; militias; counter/pseudo-gangs

    The course of the Iraqi insurgency since the Anglo-American invasion of

    MarchApril 2003 defies easy explanation, but even by its convoluted char-

    acteristics the al-Anbar Awakening (al-Sahwah) of early 2007 was an astounding

    event. Al-Anbar province was the epicentre of Sunni Arab resistance to the US-led

    Coalition and the post-Baathist Iraqi government, and its cities (including Fallujah,

    Ramadi, Haditha and Tall Afar) were effectively ungovernable. By August 2006

    US Marine Corps (USMC) intelligence sources feared that Al-Anbar was on the

    verge of a total insurgent takeover. However, the Sunni Arab insurgents were

    already split between nationalists, ex-Baathists and tribal forces on the one hand,

    and the Islamists of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and its affiliates within the Islamic

    State of Iraq movement, and clashes between insurgent groups were reported

    throughout 2006. AQIs enemies subsequently formed the backbone of the

    Awakening movement, and their decision to align with the Coalition and the Iraqi

    government of Nuri al-Maliki combined with the surge of 30,000 extra US

    ISSN 0959-2318 print/ISSN 1743-9558 online

    q 2009 Taylor & Francis

    DOI: 10.1080/09592310802571552


    Small Wars & Insurgencies

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  • troops ordered to Iraq from February 2007 has contributed to a decrease in both

    insurgent violence and sectarian (ShiaSunni) killings in al-Anbar and Baghdad,

    and a relative improvement in the security situation.

    However, the enlistment of ex-insurgents by the US military poses several

    questions. For example, how do these groups envisage their role in Iraqs future?

    Will the creation and support of heavily armed and well-organised Sunni militias

    threaten Iraqs internal stability, particularly in the aftermath of a US withdrawal

    from that country? What do such developments mean for any prospect of

    national unity?1

    The al-Anbar Awakening has its precedent, as the history of counter-

    insurgency (COIN) offers numerous examples where the government side (whether

    indigenous or supported by foreign colonial or occupying power) has enlisted local

    support to fight terrorists and guerrillas. Often, this support comes from former

    insurgents who have been turned (changed sides and rallied to the government),

    and have been persuaded to fight their former comrades. The Sunni tribes of the

    Al-Anbar Awakening provide an example of what this article terms surrogates;

    irregular indigenous forces utilised by a government and its state security forces

    (SSF) for the benefit of a COIN or counter-terrorism (CT) strategy.

    This article explores the issue of surrogates and aims to bring greater clarity to

    a concept obscured by myth, misunderstanding and confusing terminology. It will

    distinguish between the various categories of surrogate actors and groups available

    to a government and its SSF in their COIN and CT strategies and provide

    definitions for surrogates and how they can be employed. For the purposes of this

    article, COIN is defined as the coordinated political and military response of a

    government and its external supporters to an organised campaign of subversion and

    paramilitary action waged against the former by an indigenous armed opposition.

    CT involves both the defensive measures a state undertakes to protect its citizens

    from terrorist attacks and offensive measures taken to target and neutralise a

    terrorist group these can range from penetration of the latter by intelligence

    and police services to more controversial measures such as assassination or

    targeted killings.2

    The contemporary relevance of this subject is evident. In the context of the

    Long War and current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is highly likely that

    American, British and allied governments and armed forces will remain involved

    in multilateral intervention operations in failed or weak states for the foreseeable

    future. These intervention operations combine the challenges of nation-building

    with those posed by internal conflict, civil war and insurgency, and the military

    forces employed will have to fight the three block war.3 Given that British and

    American forces are limited in numbers, and operate under a doctrine which

    stresses the need to engage local support, and to minimise the civilian

    populations backing for insurgents, it is useful to analyse past precedents where

    the counter-insurgent side has employed local surrogates. The authors will

    demonstrate that while indigenous surrogate actors and forces have political and

    military utility, they also present ethical, political and practical issues that must

    2 G. Hughes and C. Tripodi




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  • be borne in mind for academics, policy-makers and professional military officers

    involved in contemporary conflicts.

    Ultimately, this article will argue that surrogates contribute to a COIN or CT

    campaign with the provision of intelligence on an insurgency and the society

    from which it has emerged. They also enable the government to minimise

    military casualties and can if combined with an amnesty programme provide

    a possible route for conflict termination and reconciliation between a state and its

    irregular foes. However, the use of surrogates also presents problems related to

    discipline, accountability, reliability, differing agendas and, finally, the potential

    for an internal conflict to deteriorate into near anarchy.

    Terminology, methodology and historical precedents

    Throughout recorded history imperial powers have consistently inducted

    conquered peoples within their own armies, as was the case, to highlight some

    examples, with the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Janissaries, the recruitment of

    Indian and Gurkha soldiers into the armies of the British Raj and of North African

    soldiers into French overseas forces. As far as surrogate forces are concerned, the

    American Revolution (17751783) and the US Civil War (18611865) both

    featured pro-British and pro-Union irregulars fighting Patriot and Confederate

    guerrillas, while during the Indian wars of the late nineteenth century native

    auxiliaries and scouts were employed by the US Army in its wars against the

    Navajo and Apache tribes.4

    This practice was revived in the turn-of-the-twentieth century Philippines

    War, as the US Army raised the irregular Philippines Constabulary to fight

    Filipino rebels between 1899 and 1902; scouts recruited from the Macabebe

    tribe helped the Americans capture the insurgent leader, Emilio Aguinaldo, in

    March 1901.5 A decade later the British established irregular Baluchi and

    Pathan militias to police the North-West Frontier of British India.6 The British

    colonial authorities raised irregular units to fight dacoit rebels in Burma

    (19301932), and during the Arab Revolt in Palestine (19361939) a British

    Army artillery captain, Orde Wingate, created the Special Night Squads

    (SNS), counter-terrorist teams recruited principally from the Jewish


    In order to impose a conceptual framework on a rather convoluted subject, the

    authors draw a distinction between surrogates and proxies. The latter includes

    third parties employed by a state in any external conflict where the employment

    of its own forces may be deemed undesirable, (for example, US support to the

    Hmong mountain people in Laos during the Vietnam War, or its external

    assistance to the Mujahidin in Afghanistan during the 1980s). This article does

    not examine cases where irregular forces are used in inter-state warfare alongside

    military formations (such as anti-Axis partisans in World War II or the French-

    led GCMA formations that fought Viet Minh regular forces in Indochina), or

    examples involving sub-state groups and state failure, such as the Mai-Mai

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  • militia which fought anti-Kinshasa rebels and their Ugandan and Rwandan

    backers in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (19982003).8

    Instead, this article will concentrate on those third parties involved in COIN

    or CT campaigns who, although not formally part of the SSF, are nonetheless

    intimately involved on the governments side. Such parties may occasionally be

    used beyond state borders in cases where insurgents or terrorists maintain an

    external sanctuary (as was the case with the Selous Scouts in Rhodesia), but are

    primarily utilised in an internal war between a government and armed, irregular

    opposition, be they defined as rebels, guerrillas, insurgents, bandits or terrorists.

    Although there are numerous examples of surrogates being employed in imperial

    policing and colonial campaigns of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,

    the authors will focus mainly on examples drawn from the post-1945 period, as

    these are both better documented and are also more likely to be relevant to the

    contemporary security environment.

    For the purposes of this article, the government or counter-insurgent side

    includes the legitimately constituted authority of a given state (and the armed and

    security forces it commands), and its external backers. With some of the

    historical examples discussed here the government was that of a colonial power,

    with authority being exercised from a metropolitan capital (for example, London

    with Malaya and Kenya, Paris with Algeria, and Lisbon with Angola and

    Mozambique). In other cases the government side was backed by an external

    power for reasons related to Cold War competition (as was the case with US

    support for the South Vietnamese regime).

    The majority of the examples cited here refer to the period from the end of

    World War II to the current War on Terror, first because these case studies are

    open to the most detailed scrutiny, and second because there are similarities

    between current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and examples related to anti-

    colonial insurgencies and terrorist campaigns of the late twentieth century. These

    include the challenges an external power faces when waging a COIN conflict in a

    third country; the political, socio-economic, cultural and (often) religious

    differences separating the counter-insurgent side from the indigenous population;

    the importance of the narrative employed by an insurgent or terrorist group

    (e.g., the claim by a national liberation movement that it is fighting a

    puppet regime and its imperialist backers); and (as far as Western powers are

    concerned) the difficulties of reconciling a COIN/CT campaign with respect for

    legality and democratic norms.

    Surrogates can be sub-divided into actors individuals who assist the SSF in

    specific roles, such as informants, interpreters and trackers and forces such as

    home guards, militias, counter-gangs and pseudo-gangs. A home guard is

    recruited from the local populace to provide static defence of villages, hamlets

    and neighbourhoods, freeing regular army and police units for CO...


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