Issue: 27

Wargaming F/SF Counter Insurgency and Internal Security Operations
by Peter James Cottrell

"... a new kind of war for a new century, the gentleman's war is over..." So spoke the officer commanding the Bushfeld Carbineers in the film Breaker Morant, as he discussed anti-kommando operations during the Boer War. He was referring to what we know call Counter Insurgency (COIN) or Internal Security (IS) Operations. Since 1945 the majority of conflicts can be categorised as Civil Wars, Colonial Wars of "Liberation", Police Actions or Peace Keeping Operations by regional or international bodies eg. the UN. For the F/SF wargamer, the examples of these low intensity operations can offer the opportunity for some different, rewarding and challenging games, and in this article I will look at the factors (based on historical precedent) that need to be considered when attempting to simulate COIN/IS Ops on the F/SF wargames table.

One of the main features of most COIN/IS Operations is that the Security Forces are made to operate under strict rules of engagement. In other words they must not break the law of the land as to do so incurs a legal penalty. Games such as Free Fire Zones in Vietnam or the Warsaw Ghetto go beyond the scope of this article and can be adequately played out as a conventional wargame if so desired.

For gaming purposes I will deal with low intensity COIN/IS Ops. Peace Keeping Operations do not lend themselves to wargame scenarios and would probably be better suited to a role-playing format. The key word here is PEACE KEEPING; the object is not to fight, but to observe and report back. From a UN point of view gaming a scenario, for example set in a Bosnia situation, would be so dull as to be pointless. Bosnia style conflicts have the potential as a backdrop for conventional skirmish games between the warring parties, however UN Operations are extremely limited in scope and would probably not provide the framework for a rewarding game.

To accurately simulate COIN/IS Ops, it is important to:

  1. Confine the players within strict Rules of Engagement. These must be clearly explained to the players and preferably a written aide memoir issued.
  2. Create a paranoia of not knowing who or where the enemy is.
  3. Place the avoidance of casualties above the objective.

The insurgents are, of course, not hobbled by the niceties of the law. Because of this I prefer making all the players take the role of the Security Forces, whilst an Umpire controls the insurgents in a manner similar to a role-playing game or Tabletop Games' Pony Wars and Bodycount rules.

If the Umpire has a talent for storytelling, then he can create a challenging and entertaining game.

Besides the normal "players", there are non-combatants to add colour, confusion and ultimately realism to the scenario. These innocent bystanders are there to blur the issues for the Security Forces, who naturally are not supposed to gun down all and sundry. If they do then it's likely to create furore in the Press and Courts Martial for the unfortunates involved.

Once a basic scenario has been developed, then a series of random events can be generated with cards or encounter tables to help or hinder the players. Personally I tend to have a set scenario and "adapt" it as the situation develops. After all s**t happens! It is vital that the Security Forces tread very carefully when a situation unfolds, if legality of action is to be maintained.

For the Umpire, it is vital to realise that:

  1. Most people, unless they are fanatics or insane do not want to die.
  2. If escape is impossible and death is imminent then surrender is the preferred option. The Security Forces are not allowed to execute people (especially in front of witnesses!).
  3. The aim is to inflict the maximum damage, generate the most publicity and suffer the least loss. Manipulation of the press is a key factor in COIN/IS Ops (for both sides).

In reality, there are rarely clear cut victories in COIN/IS Ops, only the scrutiny of the press. For game purposes, victory is determined by the award of "Publicity Points" (PP). The players begin with a PP rating of zero and gain or lose points as a result of their actions. Thus a successful arrest results in a +PP and a casualty in a -PP. If an unarmed "civilian" is shot in the back without any form of challenge being issued, then a major penalty would be incurred. If at close of play, the players have scored a positive number, then they have won another victory for the rule of law. A PP table indicates whether medals or criminal proceedings are appropriate.

This system forces the players to think very carefully about their actions and encourages them to use minimum force possible. It is vital that the points system is tailored to reflect the scenario, after all attitudes towards the use of force and the value of human life differ considerably in different periods and countries.

The options for scenarios in either the fantasy or science fiction genre are virtually endless, just pick up a newspaper for inspiration. However, here are a few examples of games I have played, where you set them is up to you:

The Riot:

There is a civil disturbance developing. Your task is to restore order and disperse the mob. Ringleaders should be arrested using minimum force. Whatever you do, don't overreact...

The Arms Cache:

You have been told that a unit of unknown but dangerous terrorists are due to draw equipment from a a secret cache in your area. It is vital that you identify and arrest them before they can use these weapons.

The Foot Patrol:

Bandit country - no one likes YOU. One of your men was shot dead here last week. A car has been abandoned near the border and you have orders to investigate it. Are you being set up? There is only one way to find out...

The Search:

Some terrorists have escaped and are believed to be hiding in a notoriously anti-government neighbourhood. You are to find and arrest them. They are probably armed and are almost certainly not alone. If you aren't careful you could have a riot on your hands.