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Posts Tagged ‘tactics’

That’s what they used to say about World War I:  you had armies of lions led by donkies.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s clear that the grand strategy–democratic nation-building in the Muslim world–will do little to make us safer from terrorism and requires an impossible tutelage of proud, xenophobic Muslims by secularized America and its military. 

Nearly ten years into Afghanistan, the place is what it has always been:  dangerous, anti-American, Muslim, and primitive.  Iraq is little better.  Yet conservatives remain optimistic, bragging even about the Iraq “victory.”  At the same time, the military plods onward, in spite of the strategic lunacy of our civilian leaders’ vision.  I confess, I was once more optimistic about the possible outcome.  Events have chastened me.  I have returned to my natural isolationism (coupled with a Jacksonian bias to the occasional, brutal retaliatory raid).  Ten years after these campaigns have begun, it’s clear that they are doing more harm than good, at least for our country and its security.

Lawrence Auster observed an important aspect of why this farce continues in a comment on the increasing focus of training Americans to build rapport with locals:

In Afghanistan and Iraq, as in Vietnam and Korea before them, the politicians assign the military a fundamentally impossible mission to accomplish. The military is told that they cannot defeat the enemy decisively, but must concede to the enemy an inviolable strategic sanctuary from which the enemy controls the tempo of combat. Moreover, the politicians place absurd restrictions on how the military must conduct operations even in the non-sanctuary areas where it is allowed to fight. Rather than resign or resist, the top brass accepts a strategy and operational restrictions that guarantee failure. This leaves the mid-level officers in the unenviable position of executing the impossible strategy under the ridiculous restrictions. Coming from a “can do” culture, the mid-level officers come up with incredibly involved and expensive multi-step plans to carry out the impossible mission. Mid-level officers who try to do the impossible are decorated and promoted; they know that if they salute, make no waves, and do their time overseas, their careers will stay on track. The few officers who realize they are executing a strategy that guarantees defeat either resign in disgust or are forced out. It is simply not in the Army’s institutional interest to lift its eyes above the level of the “intermediate steps” to the strategic level–among other things, this would bring about a profound crisis in civil-military relations, as the Army would have to refuse or resist political instructions that made no sense. As a result, the Army as an institution prospers even as it is defeated and even as the nation wastes vast amounts of money and lives trying to do the impossible.

Of course, mid-level officers are not supposed to conduct grand strategy; it’s healthy that they are subordinate to civilian leaders and also healthy and admirable that they are optimistic.  But there comes a time when some push-back is called for.  If a mission is unworkable, impossible, and will simply get soldiers and men needlessly killed, then it’s time to say something, whether in professional journals, in briefings to civilian leaders, or otherwise.  If nothing else, there is a time to say ” yes we can patrol here and there, meet with this or that village, and the like, but we do not have enough men to defeat the enemy, guaranty local security, and, further, we cannot and will not win hearts and minds, because our very presence in an Islamic land is repulsive to the people. And finally, none of these things will do anything identifiable to defeat al Qaeda or make America safer.” 

One unfortunate consequence of the incresaing “professionalism” of the modern military is its leaders’ absolute financial dependence on the government and, by necessity, prevailing political winds.  The old aristocratic volunteer officer might have been more inclined to speak out, whether against a losing campaing in Afghanistan or a meddlesome requirement to integrate women into his unit, not least because he could fall back on an inheritance and family wealth.  The modern major and lieutenant colonel is on the brink of a comfortable pension and is likely from a middle class background; to speak out to forcefully against the crazy directives coming from on high would result in penury, if not worse.  We sometimes wonder why Soviet engineers and soldiers and bureaucrats participated in their insane system year after year, in spite of the obvious lies, half-truths, destruction, and missed projections made by central planners.  There, as increasingly is the case in America, the state was everything.  In the Soviet Union, the withholding of a job, a pension, a license, a prescription, an apartment, or a degree was incalculaby destructive of the individual.   And there, as increasingly is the case in America, there were almost no resources outside the state, including private wealth, to fall back upon if one had earned the disfavor of the state.

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I think it’s remarakable that General Ricardo Sanchez, former Corps Commander of all coalition assets in Iraq, is now pointing the finger at everyone–including Rumsfeld, Bremer, Casey, Bush, etc.–when he was so singularly incapable of getting the mission accomplished in Iraq. He failed to keep control when the daily numbers of IED and other attacks were 20% of what they are today. He supervised the slow-motion effort to up-armor American vehicles, train Iraqis, and win “hearts and minds” with little attention to the security of ordinary Iraqis. His and Bush’s motto could have been, “Who needs security when you can vote!”

He failed to sound the alarm about our troops’ lack of language training, the porous Iraqi borders, and the failed detention system that culminated in the Abu Ghraib scandal. His task may have been too ambitious and his assets too few, but even so he misused what he had and never risked his career to do the right thing for the American troops in the field. He willingly gave support to Rumsfeld’s ideological blindness about the war’s progress and failed to provide an appropriately skeptical counterweight to Rumsfeld and Bush’s more outrageous demands. Finally, he failed to provide a proper “big picture” mission to his division commanders, and thus a lack of mission clarity hampered efforts at every level.

I believe this anecdote, recounted by the highly credible Thomas Ricks, speaks for itself:

I actually said to Sanchez one day, something my driver had said to me. My Iraqi driver said, “You know, when I lived in America, we could call 911 if you wanted police help.” He said, “Why isn’t there a hotline here that we can call in and say, ‘Hey, I saw some insurgents'”? …

I mentioned this to Sanchez, … and he said, “Oh, that’s an interesting thought.” Well, this was March, I think, 2005. I believe they finally did stand up a national hotline.

Sanchez symbolizes everything that is conventional, unimaginative, incompetent, and overly political in today’s corps of generals.

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Tom Ricks, author of Fiasco, has an excellent series of reports on IEDs in Iraq in the Washington Post.  One of the most notable trends is a chart showing the number of IED events since 2003.  The number is five or six times higher in 2006 and 2007 than it was in the first six months after the invasion.  Recall, that was the time when Rumsfeld was dismissing the insurgency as the death throes of “Dead Enders.” In 2003, there probably was some chance to restore order, assuming we had any end game for what a good Iraq government looked like.  Of course, we did not, so these tactical discussions may themselves be a bit of a distraction from the entire operation which was flawed from the get go insofar as it aimed to protect America and reform the Middle East by giving the Iraqis a democratic government.

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Ace reports an extraordinary story that I’d like to hear the disciples of judicial process and civil liberties for terrorists in the Democratic Party respond to:

Last May, Iraqi terrorists kidnapped three American soldiers.

American intelligence officials searched for cyber-signals about the kidnapping… and actually found them. They found the kidnappers talking to each other on-line.

However, they had to stop listening because the signals were passing through an American-based server and under the law that meant there could be no eavesdropping without a warrant.

So they stopped listening in on foreign terrorists holding kidnapped American soldiers.

For ten hours, officials worked to get “emergency authorization” to resume eavesdropping.

His post, and the evidence in support, is worth reading in full. In an earlier post entitled Wishful Thinking and Terrorism and another here, I’ve discussed some of the issues surrounding this issue.  In short, my view is that combating terrorists located overseas during a time of war, when combined with emerging communications technologies, demands flexibility and less judicial process than the fight against peacetime, domestic criminality. It would be nice if the Democratic Party would grow up and quit acting like this war to protect America from terrorism (and also the exigencies of protecting our troops fighting it overseas) can be carried on effectively without some flexibility in the executive branch and its agencies. Process is not free. We accept this domestically because we, American citizens, might be caught in the law enforcement net. But for terrorists communicating overseas with one another or their agents in America, there are few valuable interests at stake. If any American is talking to Khalid Sheik Mohammad, I want someone in the CIA listening as a matter of course.

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In the wake of the Cold War, the US military was cut dramatically. We went from a 750,000 man Army to one of about 475,000 today. The Navy and Air Force undertook similar cuts. We went from spending about 5.5% of GDP on the military to 3%. One consequence has been that the “all volunteer force” is stretched thin, has had to make due with relaxed recruiting standards, and there is a great deal of grumbling from senior commanders that the Iraq War and the repeated, lengthy deployments are killing recruiting and retention.

A larger military, both now and in the future, likely would be easier to recruit for and retain manpower, even during a time of war, than the present system. There is a reason for this paradox: such a military would allow greater time between deployments, greater flexibility when a surge of any kind is needed (including for contingencies in other theaters), and it would ease the strain on the battlefield through more overwhelming force whenever a large number of forces may be concentrated. Since one of the missions our troops will likely be called upon in the future is counterinsurgency, large numbers of skilled, trained, and well-rested infantry will be needed. The basic dynamics of this type of war are less technology and more manpower intensive than their counterparts. The U.S. had over 500,000 troops in Vietnam and the French had more than 400,000 in Algeria. We have now approximately 160,000 troops in Iraq. Since our goals in the wake of 9/11 have been so ambitious–indeed, overly ambitious and utopian in my opinion–Rumsfeld and Bush’s continuation of the “peace dividend” military and their failure to demand a larger military (particularly when support would have been high right after 9/11) has proven foolish indeed.

This is not just a matter of 20/20 hindsight. Their decision-making was truly warped. Who looks at the Soviet problems in Afghanistan and blames them on troop levels rather than on the Soviet penchant for “scorched earth” tactics and the inherent unpalatability of its ideology to the religious Afghan people? Who looks at a looming occupation and thinks gratitude will grease the wheels when governance and power are necessary? Who looks at a country the size of Iraq and thinks troop levels that are a fraction of the number of (per capita) police in the peaceful United States will get the job done? The combination of incompetence and ideological blindness is the root of the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq. Some hard-headedness, including about the size of the military, will be needed in the next administration. We should not, because present-day recruiting problems avoid planning for the next conflict in a way that is sustainable, avoids a draft, and allows the military to accomplish the mission.

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William Lind argues that al Qaeda’s previous strengths–its fanaticism and decentralization–may prove its undoing in Iraq:

It is reasonably clear that, contrary to the White House’s claims, the “surge” had little or nothing to do with the improved situation in Anbar province in Iraq. That security there has improved is a fact; a Marine friend who just returned told me the whole province is now quiet. If we look past the Bush administration’s propaganda and ask ourselves what really happened, we may find something of great value, namely a “seam” in Islamic Fourth Generation forces that we can exploit.

As is widely known, the key to turning the situation in Anbar around was a decision by the local Sunni clans and tribes to turn against aI-Qaeda. We did not make that happen, although we did make it possible, not by what we did but what we stopped doing, i.e., brutalizing the local population. Once U.S. forces in Anbar adopted a policy of de-escalation, the sheiks had the option of putting al-Qaeda instead of us at the top of their enemies list. De-escalation was, to use a favorite military term, the enabler.

As is also widely recognized, al-Qaeda itself then provided the motivator by its treatment of local Sunnis. Its error was one common to revolutionary movements, trying to impose its program before it had won the war. Worse, it did so brutally, using assassinations, car bombings that caused mass casualties and other typical terror tactics. Some reports suggest the final straw for Anbar’s Sunnis was a demand by foreign al-Qaeda fighters for forced marriages with local women.

Again, in itself this is nothing new. Where we may begin to perceive something new, a potential seam in Islamic 4GW operations, is in al-Qaeda’s response to its own blunder. It has refused to change course.

When other revolutionary groups have alienated the population by unveiling their program too soon, before they consolidated power, their leadership has quickly ordered a reversal. Mao had to do so, and so did Lenin, in the famous NEP of the early 1920s. Competent leadership usually understands that a “broad front” strategy is a necessity until their power is so great it cannot be challenged.

Why doesn’t al-Qaeda’s leadership do the same? Here is where it starts to get interesting. Perhaps they have not done so because they cannot.

Unlike Bolsheviks and other revolutionary parties that acted within a state framework and modeled themselves on the governments of states, Fourth Generation entities based on religious or “cause” appeals cannot practice what the Marxist-Leninists called “democratic centralism.” They cannot simply issue orders from the top and have those orders obeyed. Their organizations are too loosely structured for that. The leadership can inspire and give general guidance, but it cannot do much more than that. It cannot get its fighters to do things they don’t want to do, or stop doing things they very much do want to do.

Here we may see a flip side of the de-centralization that makes 4GW entities so difficult for states to fight directly. One of state armed forces’ favorite tactics, going after the leadership, has been shown over and over again not to accomplish much because local 4GW fighters do not depend on that leadership. But just as they do not depend on it, they also do not have to obey it. Their autonomy cuts both ways.

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