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Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Analyzes The Violent Riot At The Capitol : NPR

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Can you call the events of Jan. 6 an insurgency? NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro asks retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling what he thinks based on his experiences in Iraq.


So what exactly are we seeing in America at this moment as Washington is locked down and state capitols on alert? We’re joined now by Mark Hertling. He’s a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general. He served for more than 37 years and commanded combat divisions during the Iraq war.

Good morning.

MARK HERTLING: Good morning, Lulu. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am very well. There were a couple of cases of IEDs, improvised explosive devices, planted around D.C. on January 6. You’re familiar with them, of course, from Iraq. Does the similarity end there? What are you seeing when you look at what’s happening?

HERTLING: There’s much more to it than that, Lulu. I had a conversation with a friend who’s a reporter for Politico. She was asking me about the use of IEDs. And it got me thinking about the similarities between what we experienced in Iraq, especially during the surge of 2007 and ’08, and what we’re seeing now in our nation’s Capitol. This is more than just random laying of devices like IEDs. This is something bigger, as your reporter just said. And I believe that there’s elements of an insurgency to all of this, and others have said the same.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, not all uprisings or rebellions are insurgency. So what exactly, first of all, is an insurgency for people who may not be familiar with the word? And how does what’s happening here now fit that definition, in your view?

HERTLING: Well, if you take the definition out of the military’s doctrinal manual, it says something like it’s an ongoing uprising and an organized uprising that uses both violent and nonviolent means to overthrow an existing government or to wrest away aspects of government control, either in part or (unintelligible). And it’s also – continues by saying that it often counts on government security forces – meaning the police, the military – to overreact, which then brings more proponents of the insurgency because they believe the government institutions are faltering. All of those contribute to an insurgency.

And what we experienced in Iraq, in northern Iraq specifically, was a complex insurgency. That meant that there were multiple actors, multiple organizations, all with different desires but all geared toward overthrowing the government for a variety of reasons.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you think that that is what we’re seeing here to some degree. Why? I mean, we know this didn’t develop overnight. It was organized with some tactical elements of command and control – what we saw happen on the Capitol. Do you see some of the elements of what you may have seen in Iraq now developing here in the United States?

HERTLING: I do, Lulu, especially from the fact when our division first went into Iraq in 2007, what surprised me was the number of enemy forces and groups we were facing. It wasn’t just al-Qaida. It wasn’t just a Baathist insurgency. There was Ansar al-Sunna, Ansar al-Islam, Naqshbandi, the – a variety of elements.

We’re seeing some of the same in U.S. society right now, and they all go by names. I mean, you could recite the Proud Boys, QAnon, the Three Percenters. You can go down the list. Each one of them have different desires and different objectives, and they are sucking the population, because of other factors like disinformation and misinformation from the government, into their aggrievement. And that’s what’s troubling.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You also mentioned the overreaction from the security forces. There is, as you know, an unprecedented sort of response here in the nation’s Capitol right now with a new green zone, something I saw in Iraq, as you did. Do you think it’s an overreaction?

HERTLING: There has to be a reaction. I think the numbers are certainly troubling. And that’s not just in Washington, D.C. I mean, there’s been a lot of media reporting on the 25,000 forces in D.C. alone. But you’ve got to remember there are National Guard deployed, as your reporter just said, in every state Capitol across our 50.

So I don’t know the exact number, but it’s significant. And yeah, that’s troubling to me. Is it necessary? I don’t know. Has a threat assessment been conducted, and are we attempting to ensure that there is no violence at all on Inauguration Day? That’s what I think the military is attempting to prevent. But it’s going to be troubling because another factor of an insurgency is the insurgents don’t have to be successful everywhere. They only have to be successful in one or two places in order to generate more suspicion about the institutions of government.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When we talk about an insurgency, you know, we’ve already heard words like civil war being used or a potential for civil war. Do you think the U.S. is reaching the point of becoming ungovernable?

HERTLING: I don’t. I’m more optimistic than that. And I certainly don’t believe we’re in line for a civil war. But the Civil War – the U.S. Civil War was, in fact, an insurgency that led to a secession. And what’s interesting to me is I think we have to change some of our approaches in terms of countering misinformation, disinformation and those that would foment an insurgency. And there’s plenty of forces out there doing that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That’s retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Thank you very much.

HERTLING: Thank you, Lulu.


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