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Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice

Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice by David Galula. Praeger Security International, 2006, 128 pp.

Counterinsurgency Warfare provides leaders with an insightful road map for conducting a successful counterinsurgency. By no means does author David Galula claim that a methodical, step-by-step approach that uses his plan will ensure success. However, he does offer some methods and theories to test within the general framework of his strategy to promote a positive outcome. The Army has made this book required reading for "soldiers and policymakers dealing with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq" and has captured some of its ideas in Army doctrine.

Galula is no stranger to war. He has extensive experience with both conventional and irregular warfare and retired as a colonel after seeing action in North Africa, Italy, France, China, Greece, Indochina, and Algeria. Additionally, he gained insight into an insurgent's mind when he was captured and held prisoner by Chinese Communist troops in 1947. These experiences significantly prepared him for writing his book, which, unfortunately, had been nearly forgotten until Praeger republished it in 2006.

Counterinsurgency Warfare first defines an objective for both the insurgent and the counterinsurgent: the population. Indeed, the importance of winning the support of the population is a common thread that runs throughout the book. Although the objective is the same for both sides, the way each one conducts itself in the battle for the objective is completely different. Galula shows how the insurgency is built around a cause and the importance of defining and changing that cause to maintain support from the population. The insurgent can lie, cheat, and exaggerate to promote his cause and gain support, but the counterinsurgent must maintain his credibility and legitimacy.

The main points of Galula's book concern the four laws he lays out for the counterinsurgency and the eight-step strategy he defines. The four laws have to do with support of the population and ways to gain and maintain it. This principle is made clear in the first law as he states that the objective is the population--the pivotal point from which both sides should make their decisions. The second law explains that a majority of the population is neutral and that only a small minority will be active promoters of the cause for either side. The strategic goal of the counterinsurgent is to find that minority and organize it to gain the support of the population against the insurgency. The third law maintains that support from the population is conditional, that it is based on security, and that if the population either does not feel safe or if the counterinsurgency will not be successful, then the population will not support the counterinsurgent. According to the fourth law, efforts cannot be diluted across the country but must have a sufficiently significant force to win each area.

From this book, military leaders should learn that without the support of the population, any action is destined to fail. Tactics used in conventional warfare are simply not applicable to a counterinsurgency--a key point that the United States missed in Afghanistan and the first few years of Operation Iraqi Freedom by trying to bring our military might to fight a direct war against the insurgents. Galula makes the point that directly attacking the insurgents is futile until the population is won. Initial kinetic efforts may be required to gain control of an area and promote security, but after the establishment of immediate protection, continuing those attacks on insurgents is useless. Efforts must concentrate on gaining support from the population, first through providing security and then through promoting leadership from within that population.

Gen H. R. McMaster, on a small scale, and eventually Gen David Petraeus implemented these methods in Iraq with some success. Ultimately, Army manuals were revised to include many of the principles found in Galula's book. Putting men in outposts throughout the area of operations rather than having them return to base each day had the effect of gaining the support of the citizens, who felt safer. After the building of trust and relationships, they started to realize that the counterinsurgency had a chance of success. If Galula's methods had been implemented from the beginning, it is possible that the Iraq of today might be completely different.

Maj Scott P. Black, USAF
Maxwell AFB, Alabama


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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