Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 06:40 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 06:40 | SYDNEY

Roads to counterinsurgency perdition


Mark O'Neill

18 June 2008 13:49

The correspondents from both The Economist and The Atlantic Monthly who Sam mentioned in his post on roads and counterinsurgency yesterday are late to the party. Their ideas were presented in earlier work by Australian counterinsurgency theorist David Kilcullen. The Small Wars Journal blog published this piece from David  on 24 April.

Despite the apparent attractiveness of the idea that roads diminish insurgencies, the relationship between the two is at best tenuous. Sam correctly points out that insurgency flourished in Iraq, where there was and remains a well developed road network. Indeed, the majority of coalition forces killed or injured in Iraq have been hurt in IED-related incidents that invariably occur on the roads. 

There are other second-level effects of a developed road network. It can afford insurgents a degree of operational mobility almost commensurate with that which it offers the counterinsurgent – increased civilian traffic flow and the development of public transport provides cover for both the covert movement of insurgent elements and the smuggling of resources.  The requirement to regulate this flow, and protect the infrastructure of the road network itself, can often present a heavy burden on security forces. 

The development of roads without commensurate improvment in economic and social conditions runs the risk of further de-legitimizing the government by confirming that it is incapable of providing for the population. If the net effect that a new road brings to a population is a surfeit of security forces, it will have merely confirmed the absence of normality, and perhaps fuelled the insurgent’s message that the government is inadequate.

The law of unintended consequence should never be underestimated in counterinsurgency activity.  It certainly lies waiting behind superficialities such as ‘roads beat insurgents’.