Sunday, August 28, 2011

LIBYA - Now What?

A giant portrait of Moamar Gadhafi is bullet-riddled on the wall of a building in the Bab al-Aziziyah district in Tripoli, Libya

The professional soldiers of the world and students of irregular warfare have just enjoyed a rare opportunity: ringside seats of a successful guerrilla insurgency, fully documented via the modern electronic media phenomenon of the Information Era. I say 'students of irregular warfare' and not 'experts' because I was taught that there are no experts in anything, only serious students.

Mao Tse-Tung, the father of modern guerrilla warfare, wrote of “Strategic Defensive,” “Strategic Stalemate,” and “Strategic Offensive.” U.S. Army Special Forces acknowledges these concepts in the doctrine of Unconventional Warfare:

The Three Developmental Phases of an Insurgency:

Phase I - Latent and Incipient

This when an insurgency is most vulnerable. Insurgent leaders are focused primarily on two things: organization and the population. Subversive activities such as establishing funding and external support mechanisms; infiltrating government and other key organizations; psychologically preparing the population; and arranging resistance struggles (such as boycotts and strikes) take place.

Outside of government intelligence organizations, it is unknown how extensive these activities were within Libya prior to the outbreak of street riots in the "Arab Spring" of 2011. Likewise, we are not aware of any activities by resistance cadre or political entrepreneurs such as recruiting, training, group structuring, and unit development. The confusion that appeared to exist within NATO throughout the entire continuum of this conflict suggests that no "shadow government" existed prior to the Arab Spring. Instead what we witnessed appears to be an insurgency that swiftly and successfully progressed to Phase II; Guerrilla Warfare, and almost immediately thereafter to Phase III; War of Movement.

Phase II - Guerrilla Warfare

This phase is characterized by offensive operations intended to grind the Regime’s capabilities to a halt; these are the most obvious indicator of an insurgency’s progress. Successful guerrilla operations force the Regime to choose between defending what it knows - its infrastructure, symbols, associations, and representatives - and attacking what it doesn’t know - the endlessly mobile and seemingly ubiquitous enemy that prefers to vanish rather than stand and fight. These operations overtly challenge the Regime’s capabilities.

On the military side, limited offensive actions engage resources, symbols, and representatives of the regime. Guerrilla leaders decide to either “fight” or “flee” based upon their capability of either holding ground or decisive engagement. Extensive reconnaissance and preparation in the planning phase and speed, surprise, and innovation typify their rapid and short attacks. At the same time, the insurgency’s political machine is also functioning: propaganda and economic activities occur as the shadow government agitates the political, social, and economic grievances of the population.

Again, we have no outside indications that any kind formal resistance to the Ghadafi regime existed prior to the street demonstrations of Arab Spring. My experience suggests that nothing occurs by coincidence. Simply because we in the West were not aware of a Libyan shadow government does not mean that one did not exist - it is quite possible that representatives of an embryonic insurgency movement sponsored by al Qaeda in the Maghreb (a.k.a. al Qaeda in North Africa) trained and prepared for for years to make their move, and the opportunity came in the historic regional uprisings of Arab Spring.

Phase III - War of Movement

This occurs when the insurgency has developed an effective military organization capable of conventional warfare and (doctrinally) a Resistance organization that has an effective shadow government capable of administering to the population’s needs. Because of the mind-boggling speed which the events in Libya proceeded from Phase I to Phase III - due in large part to the NATO-imposed No Fly Zone - there is little evidence that any kind of shadow government that may or may not have existed was capable of any kind of administration whatsoever.

Because of the NATO NFZ, the Ghadafi regime rapidly exhausted it's military resources fighting the insurgency. In the wake of the Gadafi regime's inevitable collapse, the immediate concern is the construction of a new regime.

If the Resistance has managed its strategy well, then moving directly to reconstruction is now possible. There is, however, little evidence of a well-organized insurgency leadership capable of managing itself even, let alone reconstruction and the establishment of a new Libyan government. A brief window of opportunity exists for the Western nations to step in and preclude the Muslim Brotherhood and/or al Qaeda from establishing a fundamentalist Islamic Republic a la Iran, or Afghanistan under the Taliban.

7 Phases of a Sponsored Insurgency

Doctrinally, the three aforementioned Phases of an Insurgency develop through seven Phases of Sponsorship:

  • Preparation
  • Initial Contact
  • Infiltration
  • Organization
  • Buildup
  • Employment
  • Transition

On the surface, the Libyan experience appears to have happened spontaneously, but I personally suspect the insurgency has an outside sponsor (other than NATO), namely the Muslim Brotherhood and/or al Qaeda.

According to the doctrinal model, the first phase involves cadres (of the sponsoring power) conducting research of the target area; population, environment, and the regime. Propaganda, psychological operations, and civil-military operations are also among preparation activities.

In the second phase, cadres initiate contact; they meet with resistance leaders, assess resistance potential, and determine capabilities.

In the third phase, political entrepreneurs infiltrate and position themselves to develop internal command and control (C2).

Libyan rebels seen training.

In the fourth phase, the embedded political entrepreneurs build rapport with the population so that the (outside) cadres may work with the Resistance leadership. C2 of the Resistance takes shape, and local leadership is developed.

The fifth phase is buildup; the resistance and insurgency expand; this phase marks the insurgency’s shift from the first developmental phase (Latent and Incipient) to the second (Guerrilla Warfare).

Offensive guerrilla activities expand in the sixth operational phase of an insurgency. This is where insurgency growth continues into the third developmental phase (War of Movement); large conventional clashes with regime forces are possible.

The movement in Libya is rapidly approaching the seventh and final phase: Transition. This is the point where for political and/or strategic reasons the cadres cease their sponsorship of the Resistance. The Resistance may have succeeded in its goals, or it may not be capable of continuing, or the Resistance may be moving in a direction that the sponsoring power does not prefer. It is during the Transition phase that the most sensitive and difficult mission occurs: Demobilization.

The U.S. State Department has spent $3 million on two international weapons teams to locate and destroy shoulder-fired anti-aircraft systems in rebel-held parts of the country. The teams have demolished nearly 30 Russian SA-7 launchers, such as the one pictured above.

It is significant to note that in the history of guerrilla warfare, a successful demobilization has never been achieved.

- S. L.


US Army Field Manuals: FM 90-8 Counterguerrilla Operations (1986), FM 100-20 Military Operations in a Low-Intensity Conflict (1990), FM 7-98 Operations in a Low-Intensity Conflict (1992).

McCormick, Gordon. “People’s Wars.” Encyclopedia of Conflicts since WWII. New York: M.E. Sharp, Inc.


  1. sean:

    i am voting n.a.t.o. air strikes for my next insurgency.

    a couple machine gun crews in tripoli with good shooting positions could have taken the starch right out of that soccer riot.

    john jay
    milton freewater, oregon usa

  2. phase 8, wholesale slaughter of anyone who looks weird at any of your people.
    phase 9, wholesale slaughter of your own people because you no longer trust them.