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This study tested conventional wisdom about how insurgencies end against the evidence from 89 insurgencies. It compares a quantitative and qualitative analysis of 89 insurgency case studies with lessons from insurgency and counterinsurgency (COIN) literature. While no two insurgencies are the same, the authors find that modern insurgencies last about ten years and that a government's chances of winning may increase slightly over time. Insurgencies are suited to hierarchical organization and rural terrain, and sanctuary is vital to insurgents. Insurgent use of terrorism often backfires, and withdrawal of state sponsorship can cripple an insurgency, typically leading to its defeat. Inconsistent support to either side generally presages defeat for that side, although weak insurgencies can still win. Anocracies (pseudodemocracies) rarely succeed against insurgencies. Historically derived force ratios are neither accurate nor predictive, and civil defense forces are very useful for both sides. Key indicators of possible trends and tipping points in an insurgency include changes in desertions, defections, and the flow of information to the COIN effort. The more parties in an insurgency, the more likely it is to have a complex and protracted ending. There are no COIN shortcuts.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity. The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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