The Armée de Terre has just published a counterinsurgency manual, Doctrine de Contre Rébellion. Well, almost: it wasn’t “just”, it was in January; it wasn’t “published”, otherwise it would be here; and it’s not counterinsurgency, but “contre rébellion.” So what’s new? A couple of things are remarkable about the 72-page document.
First, its analysis states the obvious: that the struggle against rebellions is political not just military in nature, that rebels adapt fast, that they need popular support, that they are skilled at shaping public opinion, that they evade major battles, that they need spaces to rest — therefore the army needs to focus on population security, the cultural environment, public affairs, good intelligence. Down to details like: don’t wear sunglasses when chatting with locals. No helmets, berets if possible. Not new, but perhaps remarkable for its proximity to the Anglo-Saxon approach.
But it gets more exciting than that. The idea of counter-rebellion is intriguing: for the French army, rébellion, or armed resistance, includes both guerrilla, defined as “armed bands,” and terrorism, understood as “extremist violence.” It apparently does not include popular resistance, that is “insurrection,” which is understood as a mass-upheaval, although the document is not entirely clear on that. Apparently the army doesn’t like the term “insurgés”, hence the exotic-sounding title of the doctrinal document. To speak of insurgents would, one hears, give too much legitimacy to the enemy (have a look at the graph below as well).
Yet there’s more than the population to take care of. The doctrine’s pet idea is the “tache d’huile,” that’s the ink blot method. The authors tie it closely to quadrillage, gridding tactics. In theory it works like this: divide the territory into three zones, stabilized zones, where locally recruited forces can maintain security; zones to-be-occupied, which are important for one reason or the other; and zones that cannot be held permanently, for one reason or the other. Then the safe zones are spread out like oil, or ink. But not only by securing the population and by administering it. That only happens in the secured zones.
At the margins of the oil slick, in the “contaminated” grids, so the doctrine, the rules of the game are different: there the enemy is put under “deterrent pressure,” la pression dissuasive. The goal is to isolate, disaggregate, neutralize, and if possible to destroy the rebellion, by taking away from them first their popular support and then their freedom of maneuver. The officers in charge use a curious analogy to illustrate their methodology:
To use the image of the oil slick again: the pressure allows to spread out the ‘oil’ that has been amassed by the quadrillage. (p. 31)
In other words: the population-centric side of counter-rebellion is defensive — but there is also an offensive side, which is enemy-centric. Security is the desired goal for the population, for the rebels the desired goal is insecurity and uncertainty. The army sees it as the asymmetric version of an-eye-for-an-eye:
In a way the guerrilla techniques are turned against the rebellion itself to bring about its disaggregation. (p. 32)
Then there is a curious bibliography. Very curious. The doctrine only quotes four authors, Roger Trinquier’s La Guerre Moderne as well as his Guerre Suversion Révolution; David Galula’s Counterinsurgency Warfare; T E Lawrence’s Guerrilla in the Desert, and Leroy Thompson’s The Counter Insurgency Manual. What happened here? Did the proud officers at the Centre de Doctrine d’Emploi des Forces, impressively housed in the École Militaire, forget their own history? They indeed turn the oil spot into a key concept without explicitly referencing it to the famed marshals Joseph-Simon Galliéni and Hubert Lyautey, the gentlemen who came up with it.
Maybe most remarkable is the historical aspect: the French army seems to be able to talk about Algeria again. The foreword mentions the lessons of “a sometimes painful past,” a clear hint at Algeria. We find terms like zones controllées, quadrillage, and ratissage (raking). These words might have an eerie ring for some who remember — there’s even a “historical illustration” from a small ratissage-operation in the Djebel Fedjouj from 9 December 1957.
Perhaps here is also the reason why the army is not planning to release the document to the public. A shame, really: it’s a creative and well-crafted field manual, probably quite useful, if slightly theoretical. Not releasing it means not getting good feedback. And not releasing it also means giving a good document too low a profile, perhaps even within the French military. One of the very few public references to the document comes from the Foreign Legion’s 2ème Régiment Étranger de Parachutistes, where the authors presented it in April.
There’s a lot more in the doctrine, on the role of special forces, local forces, the gendarmerie, and an annex on force structure, detainee treatment, and other things. The French army, finally, wouldn’t be an army if didn’t have its own jargon: the terminological coin of the realm in Paris, we hear, is CREB. With a guttural “r”, of course.