Clandestine Cell System - Models of Insurgency and Associated Cell Characteristics

Models of Insurgency and Associated Cell Characteristics

While different kinds of insurgency differ in where they place clandestine or covert cells, when certain types of insurgency grow in power, the cell system is deemphasized. Cells still may be used for leadership security, but, if overt violence by organized units becomes significant, cells are less important. In Mao's three-stage doctrine, cells are still useful in Phase II to give cover to part-time guerillas, but, as the insurgency creates full-time military units in Phase III, the main units are the focus, not the cells. The Eighth Route Army did not run on a cell model.

When considering where cells exist with respect to the existing government, the type of insurgency needs to be considered. One US Army reference was Field Manual 100-20, which has been superseded by FM3-07. Drawing on this work, Nyberg (a United States Marine Corps officer) extended the ideas to describe four types of cell system, although his descriptions also encompass types of insurgencies that the cell system supports. At present, there is a new type associated with transnational terrorist insurgencies.

  1. Traditional: the slowest to form, this reflects a principally indigenous insurgency, initially with limited goals. It is more secure than others, as it tends to grow from people with social, cultural or family ties. The insurgents resent a government that has failed to recognize tribal, racial, religious or linguistic groups "who perceive that the government has denied their rights and interests and work to establish or restore them. They seldom seek to overthrow the government or control the whole society; however, they frequently attempt to withdraw from government control through autonomy or semiautonomy." The Mujahideen in Afghanistan and the Kurdish revolt in Iraq illustrate the traditional pattern of insurgency. al-Qaeda generally operates in this mode, but if they become strong enough in a given area, they may change to the mass-oriented form.
  2. Subversive: Usually driven by an organization that contains at least some of the governing elite, some being sympathizers already in place, and others who penetrate the government. When they use violence, it has a specific purpose, such as coercing voters, intimidating officials, and disrupting and discrediting the government. Typically, there is a political arm (e.g., Sinn Féin or the National Liberation Front) that directs the military in planning carefully coordinated violence. "Employment of violence is designed to show the system to be incompetent and to provoke the government to an excessively violent response which further undermines its legitimacy." The Nazi rise to power, in the 1930s, is an example of subversion. Nazi members of parliament and street fighters were hardly clandestine, but the overall plan of the Nazi leadership to gain control of the nation was hidden. "A subversive insurgency is suited to a more permissive political environment which allows the insurgents to use both legal and illegal methods to accomplish their goals. Effective government resistance may convert this to a critical-cell model.
  3. Critical-cell: Critical cell is useful when the political climate becomes less permissive than one that allowed shadow cells. While other cell types try to form intelligence cells within the government, this type sets up "shadow government" cells that can seize power once the system is destroyed both by external means and the internal subversion. This model fits the classic coup d'etat, and often tries to minimize violence. Variants include the Sandinista takeover of an existing government weakened by external popular revolution. "Insurgents also seek to infiltrate the government's institutions, but their object is to destroy the system from within." Clandestine cells form inside the government. "The use of violence remains covert until the government is so weakened that the insurgency's superior organization seizes power, supported by the armed force. One variation of this pattern is when the insurgent leadership permits the popular revolution to destroy the existing government, then emerges to direct the formation of a new government. Another variation is seen in the Cuban revolution and is referred to as the foco (or Cuban model) insurgency. This model involves a single, armed cell which emerges in the midst of degenerating government legitimacy and becomes the nucleus around which mass popular support rallies. The insurgents use this support to establish control and erect new institutions."
  4. Mass-oriented: where the subversive and covert-cell systems work from within the government, the mass-oriented builds a government completely outside the existing one, with the intention of replacing it. Such "insurgents patiently construct a base of passive and active political supporters, while simultaneously building a large armed element of guerrilla and regular forces. They plan a protracted campaign of increasing violence to destroy the government and its institutions from the outside. They have a well-developed ideology and carefully determine their objectives. They are highly organized and effectively use propaganda and guerrilla action to mobilize forces for a direct political and military challenge to the government." The revolution that produced the Peoples' Republic of China, the American Revolution, and the Shining Path insurgency in Peru are examples of the mass-oriented model. Once established, this type of insurgency is extremely difficult to defeat because of its great depth of organization.

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