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Book Reviews

Insurgents, Terrorists And Militias: The Warriors Of Contemporary Combat

by Richard H. Shultz Jr. and Andrea J. Dew

New York: Columbia University Press, 2006
ISBN 0-231-12982-3
316 pages, $US 29.50

Reviewed by Colonel (ret’d) David A. Burk

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Book coverRichard H. Shultz Jr. and Andrea J. Dew, of the Tufts University International Security Studies Program, have written a compelling and fascinating book about war and the new warriors the western world faces in the 21st Century. They have noted that many of the planners and practitioners of war are still stuck in the past when it comes to understanding the new threat paradigm. Accordingly, they recommend that the reader recall Sun Tzu’s maxim: ‘Know your enemy’ – that is, the importance of good intelligence and a clear understanding of who the enemy is, and how he will fight, cannot be overstated.

The book is well researched, and it addresses the issues and sets the scene in the first three chapters, then follows with more detailed discussion of four recent and current specific conflicts: Somalia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The book concludes with lessons learned and various recom-mendations for policymakers, military planners, and intelligence analysts.

In the first chapter, “War after the Cold War,” the authors quote General Charles Krulak, a former commandant of the US Marine Corps. General Krulak recalls the experiences of the Roman proconsul Quintilius Varus, who, in 9 AD, returned to the Germanic provinces with three legions to suppress a tribal rebellion occurring there. He had done the same thing successfully three years earlier. However, this time, the enemy chose not to fight the same way, and instead, withdrew into the marshes and forests, where the Roman legions were at a distinct disadvantage. Those three legions were roundly defeated, and Varus’s severed head was eventually sent back to Rome. Varus is reputed to have cried “ne cras, ne cras,” as he committed suicide, which roughly translates to “not like yesterday.” All this to say, wars change, and the enemy is not the same one that was confronted by the west on the North German Plain or across the Fulda Gap two decades ago.

We are now facing an enemy that uses asymmetrical tactics to fight larger, technologically superior forces successfully. They fight as part of an ethnic, tribal, clan, religious, or communal group, and they are motivated by different factors than those which drove the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact nations. This is clearly brought out in the four central chapters that examine the history and wars in contemporary conflicts. The centrality of family, tribe, and clan to the warriors in their traditional societies that currently are being faced is a repeated theme. The allegiance of individual warriors to family and clan, and their demonstrated willingness to fight to the death, make these adversaries very different from those faced previously. As one Mujahideen leader explained the defeat of the Soviet forces in the decade-long occupation of Afghanistan: “We intended to fight to the last man and they didn’t.”

The need for the soldier on the ground to understand the motivation and drive of the new enemy is clearly brought out in this book. But perhaps even more important is the need for policy-makers and strategic-level leaders to comprehend this new enemy, and the time, effort, and resources that will be needed to counter them successfully. Warriors in traditional societies have longstanding methods of combat and ways of organizing to fight. Their members are well-versed in this mode of fighting, and they understand that protracted, irregular, and unconventional forms of combat are effective tactics employed against a modern, well-equipped military force. This new enemy has also shown great flexibility, and has adapted traditional rural ways of fighting to urban settings.

Given that the Canadian Forces (CF) is now substantially committed to operations in Afghanistan, the lessons of the book are compelling and timely. Shultz and Dew have clearly and cogently described the problem, and they have provided some options as to how these new adversaries should be assessed, including suggestions that historical, anthropological, and cultural studies be used to understand our new adversaries. This book is highly recommended for all senior policymakers, military planners, and soldiers on the ground who will have to confront traditional warriors face to face.

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Colonel (ret’d) David A. Burke served in the Canadian Forces for three decades as a military engineer, retiring in May 2005. His last posting was as the Canadian Defence Attaché, Beijing, China.