In addition to using their Chinese-made riot trucks and gas attacks on the protesters, the Iranian security forces were able to quell much of the 22 Bahman uprising by simply relying on the weakness of the movement’s organizational structure. Letting the enemy defeat itself; very Art of War. The very lack of hierarchy in the green movement was both a blessing and a curse. From Foreign Policy:
Like many of the green movement activists, Sadeghi’s belief in the protests seems related to their “horizontal organization,” the fact that they were structured without hierarchies. This was supposed to be the great strength of the movement, but it is also an abiding weakness. A horizontal organization can’t clearly delineate different roles to different people according to their strengths; it can’t reward those who participate, or sanction those who hesitate. Facebook enabled many young Iranians to forget these points.
Now obviously the Taliban is not organizing via Facebook, but the principle of decentralization is the same. Avoid having a center of gravity, put together your demonstrations (attacks) at the last possible minute; coordinate, execute, and then melt away into the night. But if the Iranian green movement using the same principles was successfully put down, does this offer us a rubric for approaching insurgencies?
The short answer is probably not. The Taliban is not planning its operations through Facebook or tweets. But the reason the Revolutionary Guard so effectively shut down the protests was by blocking access to means of communications; that is to say the internet. No Gmail, no Facebook, no twitter meant that there was no coordination between demonstrators, nor was there a way to quickly spread the word of crackdowns in a particular area. The networks used by the Taliban for communication are more dispersed, making a system-wide shutdown more difficult. Walkie-talkies and satellite phones are the order of the day, and while we can intercept calls, we cannot easily end them. Even if we did, human couriers would merely proliferate further.
Also worth keeping in mind is the psychological element. The pushback given by the Iranian regime was demoralizing and a clear setback for the movement, slowing momentum and further progress. Presumably more than one green movement adherent changed his colors, or at least plans to lay low thanks to the IRG. But when ISAF and the United States attempt to stop the movement (the Taliban), it disperses them without costing the Taliban anything. Most of the Iranian protesters were relatively concentrated – do we need to herd Taliban fighters into a single killing zone? And is the Battle for Marjah a step in that direction?
Graham Jenkins is an American graduate student at the London School of Economics specializing in military history, naval affairs, and fourth-generation war. His forthcoming dissertation is “Aden in the Balance: The RAF and Counterinsurgency in the Aden Emergency, 1964-67.” He also writes at his blog, Automatic Ballpoint.