Withdrawing Under Fire


Withdrawing Under Fire

Lessons Learned from Islamist Insurgencies

Joshua L. Gleis

256 pages


April 2011


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eBook (PDF)
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November 2011


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About the Book

The post-9/11 world has witnessed a rebirth of irregular and asymmetrical warfare, which, in turn, has led to an increase in conflicts between conventional armies and non-state armed groups. In their haste to respond to the threat from insurgencies, nations often fail to plan effectively not only for combat operations but also for withdrawal, which is inevitable, win or lose. In order to answer the question of how to withdraw from engagement with an insurgency, Gleis examines how insurgencies are conducted and what, if anything, is unique about an Islamist insurgency. He then proposes ways to combat these groups successfully and to disentangle one’s military forces from the war once strategic objectives have been met—or once it is clear that they cannot be.

Because this type of warfare is dynamic and ever-changing, this book is not meant to suggest a set of cookie-cutter solutions for how to withdraw from insurgencies. Rather, the author analyzes six counterinsurgency operations that have taken place in the past, with the intention of gleaning from them as many lessons as possible to better prepare for future withdrawals.The literature on how wars end has failed to explore irregular warfare.This much needed reexamination serves as an indispensable starting point.

Author Bio

Joshua L. Gleis is an independent security consultant who earned his PhD in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He has been a fellow in the International Security Program at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. He resides in New York City.


“Planning creative and effective exit strategies for counterinsurgency campaigns may be even more important than initiating and carrying out these campaigns. If this is the only lesson that decision makers, experts, strategists, and students take from Dr. Joshua Gleis’s Withdrawing Under Fire, then the international counterinsurgency campaigns will become much more effective. A must-read.”—Dr. Boaz Ganor, director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Israel

“Had Mikhail Gorbachev read Joshua Gleis’s Withdrawing Under Fire, there might still be a feared Red Army, if not a state more closely resembling the Soviet Union. Had Richard Nixon read this book, the term ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ might not have been etched in our souls. Those in the administration of Barack Obama, if not the president himself, must read this book to avoid losing Afghanistan in a way that history will not judge kindly.”—Brig. Gen. Russell D. Howard, USA (Ret.), founder and former director of the Combating Terrorism Center, United States Military Academy

“This study breaks new ground for the professional literature on insurgency and counterinsurgency. Joshua Gleis is the first to examine these issues within the context of the literature on war termination. It is an important book for the academic security studies community. It is also a must-read for all those in the national security establishments of the democracies—military and civilian—that will have to deal with these nontraditional conflict challenges well into the foreseeable future.”—Professor Richard Shultz, Director of the International Security Studies Program, Fletcher School, Tufts University