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Playing for the Breaks: Insurgent Mistakes

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Journal article

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Insurgent leaders commit strategic mistakes that can significantly retard their efforts, and if properly leveraged by counterinsurgent forces, may lead to the insurgents defeat. Despite the pivotal role these mistakes play in the trajectory of internal conflicts, they have been afforded little attention in academic and practitioner literature. This article seeks to fill that void by establishing a typology of insurgent strategic errors, outlining a framework for understanding when certain mistakes are made, and offering a brief case study to help illustrate the typology and timing framework. Insurgent strategic mistakes come in two basic forms original sins and situational miscalculations. Original sins are fundamental errors in the initial design of an insurgency. This article, however, is concerned with situational miscalculations. These are mistakes that are made by insurgent leaders during the course of an insurgency and principally involve decisions regarding intermediate objectives and tactics to be employed. Most mistakes in this category have a common root in overreach. Simply put, insurgent leaders overestimate their own capacity with respect to the level of popular support for the movement and the governments capacity and willingness to respond in a forceful and effective manner. The 10 situational miscalculations commonly made by insurgent leaders that are discussed in this work are as follows Imprudent Armed Actions, Zealotry, Dysfunctional Terror, Exporting Terror, Overreliance on External Support, Holding Ground, Conventional Orientation, High Stakes Offensive, Security Lapses, and Enmeshing in Crime. The article also explores the timing of mistakes and insurgent mistakes made in Iraq by al Qaeda in Iraq AQI. Including the concept of insurgent mistakes in evolving counterinsurgency doctrine will enhance the counterinsurgents ability to take advantage of insurgent mistakes while playing for the breaks.

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  • Humanities and History
  • Unconventional Warfare

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