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Centreville Author Publishes Lessons From Counterinsurgencies

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Trevett’s new book, “Isolating the Guerilla,” is available in stores and online.

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Trevett’s new book, “Isolating the Guerilla,” is available in stores and online.

Lessons from historic counter insurgencies come to light in “Isolating the Guerilla,” a new book by Centreville resident Lieutenant Colonel Michael Trevett, chief of Aerial Sensors Branch with the Intelligence and Security Command at Ft. Belvoir.

Had the lessons related to isolation theory been known by policy makers when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan shifted from conventional to insurgent warfare, Trevett argues the U.S. could have ended the conflicts long ago.

“I wanted to put the information out there so it might be used in current and future conflicts,” said Trevett. “If the lessons learned from this report had been known by policy makers, we would be done with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would have saved much lost blood and treasure.”

“Isolating the Guerrilla” is a transcribed report from the Vietnam era, and analyzes 19 counter insurgency case studies from the Napoleonic wars through the French experience in Vietnam.

Insurgencies stem from political grievances, yet are fed by internal and external supports. Isolated from financial, moral, and popular support, the guerillas can be dispatched with relative ease.

The original report was conducted in the 1960s by Trevor Dupuy through his Historic Evaluation Research Organization, yet was systematically suppressed by the military as the U.S. pivoted to counter the Soviet Union on traditional grounds. “At the end of the Vietnam War the defense department said we would never do this ever again, and shut everything down,” said Christopher Laurence, president and executive director of the Dupuy Institute, the predecessor organization of Trevor Dupuy’s HERA. “Trevett independently saw the report while researching at Ft. Huachuca, and knew he had to get it out there.”

According to the report, counter insurgencies have historically taken three approaches. These include brutal suppression, appeasement and elements of isolating the guerilla’s support.

A sympathetic population fed the Philippine Insurrection of 1899, with external funding from financiers in Hong Kong. The first few years proved disastrous for American forces, and the insurgency was only suppressed after a brutal campaign of population control and naval blockade.

Support from the local population, however, is not always voluntary. Prior to the official outbreak of Korean War, North Koreans infiltrated south and established bases in the countryside. The insurgents received their orders and a level of support from Pyongyang, and forcibly extracted material from local villagers under threat of terror. As hostilities between the North and South boiled over, the insurgents conducted raids that effectively tied down units of the South Korean army. The insurgents were only put down after the South marshaled a force of internal police that blanketed the countryside, and closed the avenues of support from the North.

These case studies and more are explored with greater depth in “Isolating the Guerilla.” Although the studies themselves were written by academics and have always been open sourced, the aggregate conclusions were only declassified in 2004.

After his discovery of the complete paper, Trevett spent several months transcribing the material for publication. The process was time consuming, and Trevett solicited help from his daughter.

“I typed and edited, he needed my help,” said Monique Trevett, 14 who studies at Westfield High School. “It was a good experience, I learned how incidents affect government and military decisions.”

Trevett periodically inserts his own annotations throughout the text in a bid to make the analysis relevant to today’s ongoing conflicts. His expertise with counterinsurgent warfare includes a stint in Colombia as military attaché with the Coast Guard. While in country he worked with government forces as they engaged the guerilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia.

At the height of the troop surge in Iraq, Trevett served as an instructor at the Counter Insurgency Center for Excellence at Camp Taji. During his 15-month deployment from August ’06 to October ’07, Trevett picked up lessons, invited key Iraqi leaders to speak, and passed on practical steps that went beyond counterinsurgent theory.

“We would go to various sites, live with the outgoing units, hear what they learned and impart the knowledge to arriving troops,” said Trevett.

Nonetheless, insurgencies have their own unique characteristics. There’s a danger that lessons from one case are not, and should not, be applied without practical considerations. Although best practices and effective tactics can be identified, their effectiveness is only as useful as accomplishing the mission of the conflict. How a mission can be defined as a success, however, remains vexing issue, according to Trevett.

“The definition of success should be defined before getting into a counter insurgency; it should be well thought out before hand,” said Trevett. “It’s a hard thing to describe, it’s unique to each case. It could be protecting civilians, ensuring international agreements are enforced, or retaining a desired government in power. Success is almost never based on military grounds, but political reality because that’s how insurgencies start.”