I started this post as a comment to HS’s post over at Captain’s Journal. I couldn’t really pare the comment down, so I expanded on it as a full post here.
Some dead German once wrote that the key to a successful campaign is to understand the nature of the war you are fighting.
It seems to me that the British and Americans both prove this.
It seems to me that HS’s contention is that large kinetic operations are generally required as a precursor to a successful counterinsurgency campaign. I’m not convinced of this (in all cases). I think that kinetics are required in cases where the population is violently resisting the government’s legitimate authority. And even then, kinetics aren’t always required everywhere in a region that is resisting authority. (I was stationed in Hit, Anbar, IZ. Hit, to my knowledge, never really had a large kinetic aspect. However, kinetic operations did take place in other parts of Anbar.)
It seems that kinetics are required not to destroy the enemy, but to demonstrate that the state is willing to exercise its monopoly of force. Since the object of kinetics isn’t to kill, but to demonstrate (create a psychological/social effect), such kinetic campaigns aren’t required everywhere in that is under insurrection. They are only required in areas where a principal group is undertaking violent insurgency. In Anbar the principal group would be certain Sunni tribes. A demonstration of violence was thus required against those groups, which is what Fallujah II and Operation Steel Curtain were all about. This is known as escalation.
If If the insurgency is not violent, security patrols combined with provision of government services and co-option of local leaders is key. This is known as de-escalation.
If you escalate when you should de-escalate, you will inflame the insurgency. If you de-escalate when you should escalate, you will be beaten politically. In either case, being wrong will sap legitimacy.
Now, on to Basra, and the meat of HS’s post.
It seems to me that the British completely misunderstood the nature of the fight they were in. They de-escalated when they should have escalated. When they retreated to their compounds, they showed they do not have the will to enforce the government’s position. They should have become very kinetic at that point.
Also, recall the Marines, in the wake of OIF I–the invasion, were assigned an occupation sector that corresponded with the more recent British area of responsibility. The Marines were highly de-escalatory in the wake of the hyper-kinetic invasion.
It ultimately comes down to knowing the nature of the fight you’re in. Are you fighting in a situation that requires violent escalation or not? If you’re wrong in either case, the result is the same: The loss of legitimacy. If you’re right, you can at least get some breathing space to start enforcing the government position.