Designer Volko Ruhnke has recently begun a series of "reports" about how Andean Abyss's cards and gameplay incorporate counterinsurgency principles and recent Colombian history. Below is Volko's first installment in this series. We hope you find it informative and enjoyable! - Gene
Andean Abyss: Local Security as a Key to COIN
Here’s a look at a key aspect of counterinsurgency in Colombia—establishing local security for the population in order to deny support to guerrillas—and how Andean Abyss’s mechanics represent it. US COIN scholar Tom Marks describes the local security situation in the Colombian countryside as of the mid-1990s—a good description of the challenge for the Government player at the beginning of the game:
Domination of local areas was the linchpin of the [Colombian] counterinsurgent effort, and a variety of imaginative solutions were tried to maintain state presence in affected areas.… But in the absence of local forces, which had fallen afoul of constitutional court restrictions and thus were disbanded, it was difficult to consolidate gains. As areas were retaken, they could not be garrisoned with home guards. Instead, regular units rotated in and out in a perpetual shell game designed to keep FARC off balance. – Military Review, March-April 2007
Troops and Police
In the game, Troops (dark blue cubes) represent the Government’s regular forces: highly mobile across the countryside and hard-hitting against enemy forces, but eventually forced to return to garrison in cities or bases. Police (light blue cubes) represent the local security forces: time-consuming to build to effectiveness in contested areas, but essential to day-to-day law and order and therefore to the Government’s legitimacy and popular support.
In Andean Abyss, Government troops can sweep into an enemy area and locate and assault guerrilla forces. As troops establish control, police eventually can deploy into the area to stay. Or the troops can establish a Government base to more quickly train local police. Only once both troops and effective police forces are in place, can the Government invest in local development through civic action, thereby building popular support and countering the insurgency.
BELOW--Andean Abyss on Vassal: Government troops and police stabilize Arauca and Casanare Departments
CSW local security Arauca
“Imaginitive Solutions”—Help for the Government to Stay in Local Areas
The above process (in part 1) is time-consuming and uncertain for the Government; however, several events can help it establish effective day-to-day security in the countryside more quickly. One example is the establishment of local forces platoons or “Soldados Campesinos”, forces blending the advantages of regular troops and regional police.
Whether these opportunities become available is not entirely up to the Government COIN strategist: Will the talent to discover and implement imaginative solutions emerge? Will politics and bureaucracy allow them to bear fruit? In the game, the event card may or may not come up, and the Government player may or may not be eligible to play it when it does, or may decide that other operations are more urgent.
The Other Edge of the Sword—Military and “Paramilitary”
In light of Colombia’s tradition of local self-defense militias and the evolution of those “autodefensas” into anti-FARC illegal armed groups (labeled “paramilitaries”) eventually under the leadership of Carlos Castaño’s AUC, there was concern that new local forces platoons would simply augment the AUC’s reactionary insurgents. In the game, the AUC is more likely than the Government to get the first crack at the “Soldados Campesinos” event (represented by the left-to-right order of the factions symbols at the top of the event card). And the AUC player (or “non-player”, if run by the game system) would almost certainly implement the card’s shaded, pro-insurgent effect, turning defecting rural police into AUC guerrillas. (See card below)
And so what is FARC doing about it?
Beyond such special occurrences as defections, the Government’s rural forces will have to weather the more routine threats that are within the capabilities of the insurgent factions: FARC ambushes, AUC assassinations, Cartels Bribes, and the like. Insurgent players on the ball will be gunning for any newly established rural police before Government civic action can gain the populace’s support and make local insurgent operations that much more difficult: once populations support the Government, they block FARC from rallying new forces and report on any guerrillas entering the area, flushing them from underground status and thereby blocking their ability to terrorize, ambush, and extort.
Soldados Campesinos: Andean Abyss event card
The real Soldados Campesinos (Photo by Tom Marks)
Soldados Campesinos card