Posts Tagged ‘Strategy’

MNF-I Commander’s COIN Guidance

23 June, 2008

The Small Wars Journal has made available an excellent COIN primer produced by the Multi-National Force – Iraq (MNF-I) headquarters. Although the concepts should already be familiar to COIN students and practitioners, they are rarely expressed so succinctly. The focus is on the current campaign in Iraq, but the principles would form a sound basis for any campaign.

Secure and serve the population. The Iraqi people are the decisive “terrain.” Together with our Iraqi partners, work to provide the people security, to give them respect, to gain their support, and to facilitate establishment of local governance, restoration of basic services, and revival of local economies.

Live among the people. You can’t commute to this fight. Position Joint Security Stations, Combat Outposts, and Patrol Bases in the neighborhoods we intend to secure. Living among the people is essential to securing them and defeating the insurgents.

Hold areas that have been secured. Once we clear an area, we must retain it. Develop the plan for holding an area before starting to clear it. The people need to know that we and our Iraqi partners will not abandon their neighborhoods. When reducing forces and presence, gradually thin the line rather than handing off or withdrawing completely. Ensure situational awareness even after transfer of responsibility to Iraqi forces.

Pursue the enemy relentlessly. Identify and pursue AQI and other extremist elements tenaciously. Do not let them retain support areas or sanctuaries. Force the enemy to respond to us. Deny the enemy the ability to plan and conduct deliberate operations.

Generate unity of effort. Coordinate operations and initiatives with our embassy and interagency partners, our Iraqi counterparts, local governmental leaders, and nongovernmental organizations to ensure all are working to achieve a common purpose.

Promote reconciliation. We cannot kill our way out of this endeavor. We and our Iraqi partners must identify and separate the “reconcilables” from the “irreconcilables” through engagement, population control measures, information operations, kinetic operations, and political activities. We must strive to make the reconcilables a part of the solution, even as we identify, pursue, and kill, capture, or drive out the irreconcilables.

Defeat the network, not just the attack. Defeat the insurgent networks to the “left” of the explosion. Focus intelligence assets to identify the network behind an attack, and go after its leaders, financiers, suppliers, and operators.

Foster Iraqi legitimacy. Encourage Iraqi leadership and initiative; recognize that their success is our success. Partner in all that we do and support local involvement in security, governance, economic revival, and provision of basic services. Find the right balance between Coalition Forces leading and the Iraqis exercising their leadership and initiative, and encourage the latter. Legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people is essential to overall success.

Employ all assets to isolate and defeat the terrorists and insurgents. Counter-terrorist forces alone cannot defeat Al-Qaeda and the other extremists; success requires all forces and all means at our disposal—non-kinetic as well as kinetic. Employ Coalition and Iraqi conventional and special operations forces, Sons of Iraq, and all other available multipliers. Integrate civilian and military efforts to cement security gains. Resource and fight decentralized. Push assets down to those who most need them and can actually use them.

Employ money as a weapon system. Use a targeting board process to ensure the greatest effect for each “round” expended, and to ensure that each engagement using money contributes to the achievement of the unit’s overall objectives. Ensure contracting activities support the security effort, employing locals wherever possible. Employ a “matching fund” concept when feasible in order to ensure Iraqi involvement and commitment.

Fight for intelligence. A nuanced understanding of the situation is everything. Analyze the intelligence that is gathered, share it, and fight for more. Every patrol should have tasks designed to augment understanding of the area of operations and the enemy. Operate on a “need to share” rather than a “need to know” basis; disseminate intelligence as soon as possible to all who can benefit from it.

Walk. Move mounted, work dismounted. Stop by, don’t drive by. Patrol on foot and engage the population. Situational awareness can only be gained by interacting with the people face-to-face, not separated by ballistic glass.

Understand the neighborhood. Map the human terrain and study it in detail. Understand local culture and history. Learn about the tribes, formal and informal leaders, governmental structures, and local security forces. Understand how local systems are supposed to work—including governance, basic services, maintenance of infrastructure, and the economy—and how they really work.

Build relationships. Relationships are a critical component of counterinsurgency operations. Together with our Iraqi counterparts, strive to establish productive links with local leaders, tribal sheikhs, governmental officials, religious leaders, and interagency partners.

Look for Sustainable Solutions. Build mechanisms by which the Iraqi Security Forces, Iraqi community leaders, and local Iraqis under the control of governmental institutions can continue to secure local areas and sustain governance and economic gains in their communities as the Coalition Force presence is reduced. Figure out the Iraqi systems and
help Iraqis make them work.

Maintain continuity and tempo through transitions. Start to build the information you’ll provide to your successors on the day you take over. Allow those who will
follow you to virtually “look over your shoulder” while they’re still at home station by giving them access to your daily updates and other items on SIPRNET. Encourage extra time on the ground during transition periods, and strive to maintain operational tempo and local relationships to avoid giving the enemy respite.

Manage expectations. Be cautious and measured in announcing progress. Note what has been accomplished, but also acknowledge what still needs to be done. Avoid premature declarations of success. Ensure our troopers and our partners are aware of our assessments and recognize that any counterinsurgency operation has innumerable challenges, that enemies get a vote, and that progress is likely to be slow.

Be first with the truth. Get accurate information of significant activities to your chain of command, to Iraqi leaders, and to the press as soon as is possible. Beat the insurgents, extremists, and criminals to the headlines, and pre-empt rumors. Integrity is critical to this fight. Don’t put lipstick on pigs. Acknowledge setbacks and failures, and then state what we’ve learned and how we’ll respond. Hold the press (and ourselves) accountable for accuracy, characterization, and context. Avoid spin and let facts speak for themselves. Challenge enemy disinformation. Turn our enemies’ bankrupt messages, extremist ideologies, oppressive practices, and indiscriminate violence against them.

Fight the information war relentlessly. Realize that we are in a struggle for legitimacy that in the end will be won or lost in the perception of the Iraqi people. Every action taken by the enemy and United States has implications in the public arena. Develop and sustain a narrative that works and continually drive the themes home through all forms of media.

Live our values. Do not hesitate to kill or capture the enemy, but stay true to the values we hold dear. This is what distinguishes us from our enemies. There is no tougher endeavor than the one in which we are engaged. It is often brutal, physically demanding, and frustrating. All of us experience moments of anger, but we can neither give in to dark impulses nor tolerate unacceptable actions by others.

Exercise initiative. In the absence of guidance or orders, determine what they should be and execute aggressively. Higher level leaders will provide broad vision and paint “white lines on the road,” but it will be up to those at tactical levels to turn “big ideas” into specific actions.

Prepare for and exploit opportunities. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” (Seneca the Younger). Develop concepts (such as that of “reconcilables” and “irreconcilables”) in anticipation of possible opportunities, and be prepared to take risk as necessary to take advantage of them.

Learn and adapt. Continually assess the situation and adjust tactics, policies, and programs as required. Share good ideas (none of us is smarter than all of us together). Avoid mental or physical complacency. Never forget that what works in an area today may not work there tomorrow, and may or may not be transferable to another part of Iraq.

A PDF version of the whole 3-page document is available from the SWJ site here.

Documents of Note #4

18 May, 2008

The following is the latest in a periodic round-up of reports, papers, monographs, etc likely to be of interest to IRG members and the wider COIN/CT community.

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The International Crisis Group has released the following new reports:

The Philippines: Counter-insurgency vs. Counter-terrorism in Mindanao

Lebanon: Hizbollah’s Weapons Turn Inward

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The Combined Arms Research Library has made the following documents available. Original date of publication is provided if the document is not new.

Violent Islamist Extremism, The Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat – US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Hamas: How Has a Terrorist Organization Become a Political Power? – Ben-Zion Mehr

Global Jihad: The Role of Europe’s Radical Muslims – James Palumbo and Daniel Vaniman, 2007

Losing the Population: The Impact of Coalition Policy and Tactics on the Population and the Iraqi – Timothy Haugh, 2005

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The SWJ Magazine has published interim versions of the following papers:

Third World Experience in Counterinsurgency – Russ Stayanoff

Force Structure for Small Wars – Andrew C. Pavord

Guerrilla Warfare and the Indonesian Strategic Psyche – Emmet McElhatton

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Eldis has made the following reports available:

Demilitarising militias in the Kivus (eastern Democratic Republic of Congo) – Institute for Security Studies (ISS)

Humanitarian action in Iraq: putting the pieces together – Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

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RAND has published the following research papers:

Breaking the Failed-State Cycle

Afghanistan: State and Society, Great Power Politics, and the Way Ahead

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More:
Documents of Note #3 [03 MAY 2008]
Documents of Note #2 [17 APR 2008]
Documents of Note #1 [14 APR 2008]

Defending Stalemate

27 April, 2008

In an earlier post on this blog, entitled The Impregnable Force: A Case for Stalemate in Iraq, Jeff Michaels proposed a ‘stalemate strategy’ as an alternative to current counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq. Following comments from David Ucko and Stéphane Taillat, Jeff has composed the following response.

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I hope you don’t mind, but for brevity sake I’d like to respond to both David’s and Stephane’s comments in a single response of my own. I must warn you that I will take a somewhat long-winded way of explaining the logic behind the stalemate strategy, but in the process, hopefully respond to all of their points.

1. One of the problems of offering a ‘radical’ take on any given subject is its shock value. In this particular case, to suggest that an approach other than the counter-insurgency type currently being employed in Iraq under Petraeus might be better for US national security in the long-term, definitely seems to go against the ‘dominant discourse’ of the day.

However, please consider this. Iraq does not constitute the only mission for the US armed forces. Nor does Afghanistan. That being said, too many counterinsurgency advocates look at a conflict such as Iraq and immediately see COIN as the ‘only’ strategy, without recognizing the broader context of these conflicts.

2. By contrast, an alternative grand strategy-based outlook must examine the long-term gains versus losses of maintaining the current approach, and compare these with other options.

This outlook mimics in a somewhat analogous way the view of a certain group of Vietnam dissenters (mostly military officers) who objected to US military involvement there, not for any moral reasons, but rather because they challenged the assumption that Vietnam was a critical battleground in the broader Cold War. Instead, they saw Europe as the central battleground, and viewed Vietnam as a sideshow that was consuming a disproportionate amount of national resources.

Obviously, the Vietnam/Cold War and Iraq/Global War on Terror are not entirely analogous. On the other hand, in both cases, the conflicts have been linked to broader struggles, at least within US political discourse. Iraq is purported to be the ‘central front in the GWOT’ and this mantra is used to justify the disproportionately large US military presence there versus Afghanistan, the Philippines, Horn of Africa, etc., which are presumably viewed as ‘lesser fronts’.

3. It is worthwhile considering for a moment the resources devoted to Iraq in relation to the broader GWOT. Why is it that Iraq requires 140,000+ troops, Afghanistan 30,000, Horn of Africa 1,500, and so forth? Is the US choosing its approach to the conflict because it is the ‘ideal’ approach, or because the approach is defined by the amount of resources available?

To put it bluntly, I would argue the fact that following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the US actually had hundreds of thousands of troops in the area, that this was the most important factor determining America’s subsequent approach to the conflict. In other words, had the US only had 30,000 troops in theater at the time, the US would have had to decide whether to massively increase the force level in order to wage a counterinsurgency campaign, or to keep its military presence at that level and choose an alternative strategy to deal with the problem.

The real issue here is that there are always different ways of doing things. The basis for the stalemate strategy rests on the assumption that US military resources are limited, and therefore present force levels in Iraq cannot be sustained indefinitely. In this case, keeping in mind that US forces in Iraq are bound to decline in number over time, what options are available?

The option many COIN advocates seem to push for, is to keep force levels at their maximum for as long as possible, until conditions have improved to the point where withdrawals can be justified. There are several faults in this logic.

Firstly, there is the assumption that once Iraqi forces are deemed capable of taking over security, thereby allowing US forces to leave, that this will increase the likelihood of stability. Secondly, is the belief that there actually can be ‘stability’. Thirdly, it presumes Washington would be able to recognize ‘stability’, or define it in terms that would allow for troops to be withdrawn? Fourthly, and perhaps most important, is that it ignores the fact there are many groups interested in, and capable of, maintaining a low-level of violence indefinitely.

Indeed, many COIN experts are well aware that it is usually, if not always, the insurgents that control the rate of attrition. As such, looking at the cost-benefit calculus of groups that wish to keep Iraq unstable and to ensure the US overstretches itself (I would include Tehran amongst these), how much effort on their part is required to ensure the US keeps itself committed at its current level until it exhausts itself. I would say this would not require very much effort at all. Even if violence was reduced by 90% but sustained indefinitely, would the US declare ‘victory’? Or would the prospect of the violence increasing again force the US to wage counterinsurgency indefinitely as well?

4. The stalemate strategy has been developed precisely to counter the notion that violence in Iraq will ever be eradicated or reduced to a ‘manageable level’. Instead, it assumes that low-level violence has the prospect of continuing indefinitely, that this violence in all likelihood has the prospect of escalating again, and that US military intervention can at best play only a limited role in containing the multitude of crises involving a multitude of actors.

The question for US policymakers is not whether a stable Iraq is possible. Even in the best case scenario in which stability emerges, will it be a stability that is beneficial for US interests? For instance, would the US gain anything from a stable Iraq that is run predominantly by pro-Iranian Shiites? Is such a rosy scenario worth the ‘three trillion dollars’ in expense and ‘breaking’ the army? Best-case scenarios are not the most likely ones, and without suggesting that worst-case scenarios of civil war are the likeliest either, the reality will probably be somewhere in between.

5. In the meantime, there seems to be no consensus amongst US policymakers about what they believe can actually be achieved in Iraq, nor about what the long-term US interest is. Instead of knowing what they want, most policymakers can at least agree about what they don’t want. Quite simply put, they don’t want to lose, they don’t want to be seen to lose, they don’t want to overextend the military, they don’t want to risk heavy casualties, they don’t want to break the bank, they don’t want Iraq to be the next Afghanistan, and they don’t want Iran to emerge as a winner.

As such, rather than develop strategies to achieve best case, yet highly unrealistic outcomes, it seems much wiser to develop a strategy that achieves the minimum requirements of policymakers. The stalemate strategy is intended to achieve precisely this.

6. Rather than overextend US forces indefinitely, hoping that elections will bring to power virtuous Iraqi leaders who are capable of reversing Iraq’s sinking fortune, a prospect that not only does not exist, but even if it did, it would take many years to accomplish, it would be at risk from any number of potential catastrophes, it would be opposed by all those groups that stand to lose out, and incidentally it would require a heavy US military presence during this entire process.

As much as I would like to have faith in the Iraqi electorate, Iraq’s politicians, and Iraq’s civil service, I’m not entirely sure history provides any grounds for optimism. It is certainly not the sort of optimism that I would base a strategy on. This is not to denigrate the Iraqis per se; I’d assume it would take US and British civil servants faced with the same circumstances many years to begin making real progress as well. To suggest that elections may provide a ‘real turning point’ seems to be the same sort of false expectation that existed prior to the last elections. As to whether or not elections would be held, or could be held effectively, without a massive troop presence on the ground providing security on election day, one would hope that the Iraqi security forces can turn out in full force and provide an adequate level of protection.

7. Waiting for the Iraqi political and administrative system to reform itself runs completely counter to reaching the set of minimum requirements mentioned earlier. In the meantime, US forces are focusing on managing low-levels of violence that seem to remain low-levels of violence year in and year out. As the years go by with few results to show for all the effort, the army becomes frustrated and the US public becomes restless. At some stage, something will have to give.

It is my contention that the longer US forces remain in Iraq at the present levels, the more likely there will be calls for ‘total’ withdrawal. However, if the forces can be reduced significantly, with a corresponding drop in financial cost, the minimum requirements can still be met, and the American public will more likely support an indefinite military commitment. In other words, the more steep the drawdown, the longer it can be sustained.

8. As mentioned in the article, the US drawdown should be based around the concept of an impregnable force that is based around a division headquarters as its main operational component, rather than the present day corps headquarters. The purpose of the force would not be to take part in countering low-level violence; instead it would act to ensure the long-term survival of the Iraqi state, to include protecting the center of administration.

Maintaining the Green Zone maintains the Iraqi state, or at least the illusion of the Iraqi state. Even under the best of circumstances, the Iraqi government based in the Green Zone has only a marginal impact on the day-to-day running of the country. However, despite the limitations of their actual power, they still constitute a legitimate government, and one that still has far greater capabilities than any other group that could threaten to overthrow it.

With a secure base, the Iraqi government can gradually assert control, or at least grant limited sovereignty to parts of the country until such time as the power of the federal government has strengthened to the point where the balance of power is in their favor.

9. In the event of civil war, or heightened levels of sectarian violence, it is unclear what role either the Americans or the Iraqi government would play, except perhaps to stand aside, or support various factions. Under the present counterinsurgency strategy, there is no way to guarantee that civil war won’t occur, particularly once US troop numbers drop below pre-surge levels.

Likewise, there is no guarantee that a civil war will occur if the US opts for the stalemate strategy. The risk of civil war hangs over Iraq no matter which strategy is chosen. That being said, the US military is not supposed to be in the business of stopping an Iraqi civil war. Again, this is why it is important for the US to remain on the sidelines. No matter which group emerges they will ultimately have to deal with the US. Meantime, maintaining the impregnable force in Iraq would serve to dissuade any Iranian attempt to overtly intervene in the conflict.

10. There is no question the current Iraqi government is ‘far from sacrosanct’. Indeed, this makes any defense of COIN all the harder to justify. How can COIN possibly work if the Iraqi government is such a shambles? How on earth can we tell Iraqis to support a government that we have no faith in ourselves?

The stalemate strategy has no great expectations as far as the Iraqi government is concerned, and is not reliant on this government to improve life for ordinary Iraqis. The US interest in the Iraqi government would be limited to ensuring the Iraqi government continues its support of the US presence.

To clarify this Catch-22 situation, it is necessary to refer back to the minimum requirements. For the US, not being defeated, or seen to have been defeated, is a paramount concern for numerous reasons to include its positive impact on Al Qaeda propaganda, lowering of US public and military morale (the Vietnam syndrome), etc. The best way to avoid defeat is to remain in Iraq, and the only way to remain legitimately in Iraq is to have the support of the Iraqi government.

As such, the impregnable force becomes the guarantor of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi government becomes the guarantor of the US presence. The main purpose of the US presence will have little to do with domestic Iraqi politics except as it relates to the presence itself. As mentioned in the article, because the Iraqis cannot force the US out of Iraq by military means, they can only do so by legislative means. Thus, the US can work to ensure the various factions that constitute the Iraqi legislature do not develop a consensus aimed at removing the US presence.

11. Maintaining the US military presence will not be an end purely in itself, but will give added teeth to enhanced diplomatic and covert efforts, and also provide a reliable staging post should US forces be required for any other regional contingencies. The US should not employ its military forces on direct action missions against low-level adversaries.

Defining the enemy is no easy task as has already been alluded to. The names have changed over time, and different groups have different motivations. The key point that needs to be emphasized is that the only enemy that will potentially be a target for US forces is whatever adversary emerges that challenges to overthrow the state. In other words, the various insurgent groups, to include Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), will not feature on an enemies list for the US military. These groups are too small to merit a massive military campaign aimed at eradicating them.

Instead, the Iraqis (both government and non-government) can take the lead, but supported with US funding, training, and arms; in other words, all means short of direct military intervention. An important goal of US efforts will be to ensure no group gains too much power at the expense of the central government or develops capabilities that could threaten the overthrow of the central government.

12. Should any group emerge as a potential challenger to the state, it is inevitable they will have to mass in which case they will be vulnerable to superior US firepower. Likewise, groups that intend to control territory must have armed forces to defend it. In the recent case of Basra, Mahdi Army militiamen were out in force. Had the Iraqi government forces been better armed and led, they would most likely have inflicted very severe blows on the Mahdi Army, certainly to the extent that it would have severely degraded their capabilities.

The notion behind using heavy firepower is not one that is limited to the stalemate strategy. Indeed, it should be remembered that under Petraeus’s command, the US Air Force has employed B-1B bombers dropping heavy ordnance against reported Al Qaeda sanctuaries. The key difference between the two approaches is that whereas Petraeus has been content to employ heavy ordnance to counter low-level violence, a stalemate strategy would limit use of heavy ordnance only to those cases where the enemy had massed in significant strength and could not be dealt with by other means.

13. The acquisition of intelligence will not be significantly hindered by adopting a stalemate strategy for the fundamental reason that the nature of the intelligence required to aid commanders will undergo a significant shift. The requirements of intelligence in a counterinsurgency are considerably different from those in a stalemate strategy.

For instance, due to the fact they would no longer be carrying out raids, US forces would no longer need to acquire such detailed intelligence on the whereabouts of insurgents living in a unit’s area of responsibility. Intelligence collection would be directed away from providing tactical intelligence and concerned more with strategic warning. Needless to say, HUMINT is just one means of collecting intelligence, and after 5 years of occupation, I am pretty certain the US intelligence system will not come crashing down over night.

14. When conceptualizing what a stalemate strategy would look like in practice, it is necessary to dispense with many of the preconceptions of counterinsurgency. As was mentioned in the article, the goal of stalemate isn’t to win; merely not to lose. This distinction is more than mere semantics. It reflects on an entirely different mindset and strategic approach, and this has operational consequences.

As such, there is no need to achieve ‘momentum and initiative’ for the purpose of ‘winning’, since ‘winning’ is not the objective. Nor is there a need to engage with the populace at the lowest levels. Indeed, apart from the Green Zone, the further away American forces are from the Iraqi populace the better. Engaging with Iraq’s political elites should suffice, and this will be more a function of the State Department and CIA than it will be for the US military.

15. Iraq is not a ‘total war’ for the US. It may be a ‘total war’ for the Iraqis, but US interest in Iraq must be viewed in a broader superpower framework of national security priorities. The counterinsurgency approach in Iraq compromises US security elsewhere.

This is a crucial point. With the bulk of the army committed to Iraq, it is not available for contingencies elsewhere. As a result, all other ‘crises’ become lesser crises, simply due to the fact there are less resources to deal with them. Thus, the ‘war’ in Afghanistan gets less attention from policymakers, and fewer resources devoted to it.

The current counterinsurgency approach in Iraq is unsustainable, and some sort of strategic shift in policy is probably inevitable. This is not to say that COIN is necessarily bad, or that it couldn’t work given time. However, at this particular moment in time, and projecting forward, it is more harmful than helpful. By contrast, the stalemate strategy offers a better chance to bring the US military commitment in Iraq more in line with national priorities, while ensuring that its minimum requirements are met.

An Impregnable Force? A Response by David Ucko

25 April, 2008

The following post, by IRG member David Ucko, offers a response to Jeff Michaels’ earlier post ‘The Impregnable Force: A Case For Stalemate in Iraq’, and has been promoted from the Comments section of that post.

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Jeff, you are a good friend and I often agree with you. This time however, I think you are – well – almost entirely mistaken. In the spirit of fostering debate, let me quickly go over a few problems I had with your argument.

First, I do not think that the approach you suggest in this piece is either feasible or advisable. Your suggested strategy would perhaps be OK if the goal of the exercise was to secure the Green Zone. If we are OK with that plan, of course we would need to change strategy. But I don’t think that protecting the Green Zone would constitute any sort of victory (or absence of defeat), nor would it be sustainable in a country falling back into civil war.

You also seem to suggest that your approach would protect the Iraqi ‘state’, or government, and therefore constitute some sort of victory (by not letting it be overthrown). There are many problems with that assumption. The current government in Iraq is itself far from sacrosanct and I do not think that the US military should or would like to lean on it indefinitely as the answer and manifestation of all things ‘good’ about Iraq. In fact, the ‘government’ – fragmented and intensely identity-driven – has itself been responsible for some of instability, denial of services, deep mistrust that we see in Iraq today. Simply protecting it in the name of ‘having a government’ won’t do, unless you favour endless ethnic violence and cleansing, the type of instability that could just as well be achieved by a complete withdrawal.

This leads to the nature of the current strategy, which I think you mischaracterise, leading to a poor diagnosis. There is much more to the current strategy than gaining hearts and minds on the local level, though this – in a way – is an important part of it (though I wouldn’t characterise it like that). Another major component would be achieving greater buy-in in the political system or central regime, by encouraging peaceful political participation, by integrating tribal fighters into and also reforming the Iraqi security forces. Put differently, as I understand it, the US military is pursuing a top-down process of reform by deterring obstructionist elements, promoting legislation to be passed, professionalising and expanding the membership of the Iraqi security forces, etc., while also achieving local ceasefires from the bottom-up, providing – in aggregate – the security situation and, ideally, buy-in necessary for the top-down reform to take place. The real turning-point for this process will be the provincial elections in October 2008 and the national elections the year after.

Now, I do agree with you that the characterisation of the enemy has at times been confused. Having said that, many of the groups you list, seemingly as interchangeable, can and should in fact be isolated for the purposes of analysis and policy. They have their own motives, origins, etc. Furthermore, the terms you list span the duration of the campaign, from 2003 to now. Better to focus on the particular groups active in one area. In correspondence with a brigade commander who was active in Iraq in 2006, he provided a precise break-down of the groups he needed to address. It was informed by local intelligence and close familiarity and recognised the multitude of distinct but sometimes overlapping motivations for resistance.

Taking this one step forward, you seem to assume that the ‘enemy’ – which for your criticism of the US characterisation, you yourself have not defined – that the enemy’s conception of victory is overthrowing the state. That may not be the case: resource exploitation, local territorial control, or just fostering instability are as, if not more, likely motives. A narrow protection of the Green Zone would therefore bring about a situation similar to 2004-06, when the US military leadership in Iraq by and large favoured FOBs and Iraq experienced rising periodic attacks, ethnic violence, leading to civil war. As I have said before, that outcome can be achieved simply by withdrawing.

And even if the Iraqi state’s survival could be guaranteed through your approach, without any capacity, which the Iraqi state would struggle to maintain without active US support, isn’t the Iraqi ‘state’ just a hollow shell anyway? Then what’s the point of defending it against those who threaten to ‘overthrow’ it…? And how would it be defended? The US can go in heavy but where has this ever truly worked. And why would any ‘enemy’ worth his salt mass for the sake of our JDAMs. The effective use of force in Iraq will always require intelligence and precision and if you think about how intelligence is gained and precision is achieved, you realise that you must return to the ‘dispersal of troops in urban centres’ that you deride in your piece…. Call it counterinsurgency, call it whatever you want, but launching heavy operations from a fortified base simply won’t substitute – in effectiveness – for the understanding, access and relations built up through the on-the-ground, population-centred approach now put in effect.

A final problem with your approach is elections. I assume that you would still want elections to take place. Yet if the Green Zone is an island of tranquillity in a country undergoing civil war, how would those elections be organised and, as important, who would they bring to power, assuming they could be held in the first place?

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Read Jeff Michaels’ original post here.

The Taliban, General Giáp and Guerrilla Strategy

13 April, 2008

According to a Taliban spokesman interviewed by the Asia Times, the Taliban’s 2008 spring offensive will be characterised by a new strategy based upon the guerrilla tactics of legendary Vietnamese general, Võ Nguyên Giáp.

As one of the principal architects of the defeat of France and the US in the two Indochina Wars, General Giáp is an understandable model for the Taliban to try and emulate in their own war against the US and its European allies.

Afghanistan is about to enter a new phase; for the first time since their ouster in 2001, the Taliban will scale back their tribal guerrilla warfare and concentrate on tactics used by the legendary Vietnamese commander General Vo Nguyen Giap, an approach that has already proved successful in taming the Pakistani military in the tribal areas.

“For the first time, the Taliban will have a well-coordinated strategy under which we will seize isolated military posts for a limited time, taking enemy combatants hostage, and then leaving them,” “Dr Jarrah”, a Taliban media spokesman, told Asia Times Online in a telephone conversation from Kunar province in Afghanistan.

“This is the second tier of General Giap’s guerrilla strategy. The third tier is a conventional face-to-face war. This aims to demoralize the enemy,” Jarrah explained. “We have been delayed by rainfall, but you shall see action by mid-April.”

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The Taliban’s new focus is the brainchild of several retired Pakistani military officers who are now part of the Taliban movement. They are complemented by men trained by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence’s India cell to fuel the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir.

These “neo-Taliban” have changed the face and dynamics of the Afghan insurgency. They are particularly careful not to blindly waste manpower, as in the past. During 2008, the main center of Taliban activity will be eastern Afghanistan.

While the Taliban’s desire to explicitly adopt classic insurgency doctrine is interesting, it is questionable whether they are in a position to successfully emulate Giáp in Afghanistan. One of the main differences is that Giáp was able to benefit from a regular supply of heavy weaponry and munitions from Mao across the border in China, including the artillery and anti-aircraft guns that proved key to isolating and destroying the French at Ðiện Biên Phủ.

Although able to overrun isolated outposts manned by poorly equipped Afghan National Police (ANP) – in the same way as Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are able to temporarily seize isolated forts in the FATA in Pakistan – the Taliban are a long way away from achieving the kind of coordinated assault, backed by heavy weaponry, that would be required to seize a coalition Forward Operating Base. It is also questionable whether the Taliban have the extremely tight command and control structure required to conduct the coordinated multi-pronged offensives key to Giáp’s success.

It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that the Taliban’s claims have been greeted with considerable scepticism by NATO/ISAF commanders:

“Every year they claim a spring offensive. What offensive are they talking about? Blowing up cell phone towers in Helmand and Kandahar or blowing up power stations in Ghazni? This is not an offensive,” [ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Carlos] Branco told Asia Times Online in a telephone interview from Kabul.

….

“The Taliban haven’t had a new strategy in the past, neither will they have one in the future. They will do what they did in 2007. They avoided any confrontation with NATO or the Afghan National Army and instead they attacked district headquarters and claimed they had captured the whole district. But before the arrival of our troops, they left.

“They did indeed attack some of our forward operation bases, but their attacks were ineffective as they lack the military capability … it makes me laugh when they try to compare their guerrilla strategy with that of General Giap’s,” said Branco.

“This is really nonsense. General Giap used coordinated guerrilla attacks and employing conventional tactics with a range of weaponry. The Taliban’s tactics are useless. The tried to use those tactics in 2006 and suffered heavy losses. I don’t think they will be able to repeat those tactics. They are not able to confront us on open ground, not even at the platoon level,” Branco said.

Read the article here. Read a PBS interview with General Giáp here.

Counterinsurgency in Ungoverned Areas

9 April, 2008

Mike Innes, a civilian staff officer over at SHAPE, has recommended a paper by Robert D. Lamb, entitled Ungoverned Areas and Threats from Safe Havens, which was prepared for the US Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy: “this is probably the best work I’ve seen on the safe haven/sanctuary issue. It keeps a tight focus on the physical dimensions of the problem, and although I don’t agree with all of the author’s analysis, I concede its sharpness. Well worth a look.”

Abstract:

Individuals and groups who use violence in ways that threaten the United States, its allies, or its partners habitually find or create ways to operate with impunity or without detection. Whether for private financial gain (e.g., by narcotics and arms traffickers) or for harmful political aims (e.g., by insurgents, terrorists, and other violent extremists), these illicit operations are most successful — and most dangerous — when their perpetrators have a place or situation that can provide refuge from efforts to combat or counter them. Such places and situations are often called safe havens, and potential safe havens are sometimes called ungoverned areas.

A key component of counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, counternarcotics, stabilization, peacekeeping, and other such efforts is to reduce the size and effectiveness of the safe havens that protect illicit actors.

Agencies in defense, diplomacy, development, law enforcement, and other areas all have capabilities that can be applied to countering such threats and building the capacity and legitimacy of U.S. partners to prevent ungoverned, under-governed, misgoverned, contested, and exploitable areas from becoming safe havens.

To do this effectively requires careful consideration of all the geographical, political, civil, and resource factors that make safe havens possible; a sober appreciation of the complex ways those factors interact; and deeper collaboration among U.S. government offices and units that address such problems — whether operating openly, discreetly, or covertly — to ensure unity of effort.

This report offers a framework that can be used to systematically account for these considerations in relevant strategies, capabilities, and doctrines/best practices.

Check out the paper here.

Conference on Air Power and Strategy, 12-13 June 2008

8 April, 2008

Air Power and Strategy: Challenges for the 21st Century
12-13 June 2008

Conference at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, Shrivenham

The aim of this conference is to bring together in one forum the leading international Air power practitioners and academics, and wider Service and governmental parties interested in the utility of Air Power, across the full spectrum of human endeavour, from war fighting to humanitarian relief operations.

Speakers include:

  • Colonel John Warden USAF (Ret’d) – Keynote speaker
  • AVM Professor Tony Mason – School of Social Sciences, University of Birmingham
  • Dr Phil Meilinger – former Dean of the USAF School of Advanced Air Power Studies
  • Professor Mark Clodfelter – US National War College
  • Dr Jim Corum – US Army Command and General Staff College

Download conference-flyer-final.

This looks like an excellent line-up. I have a great deal of time to listen to Air Vice Marshal Tony Mason whose views on recent developments in air power are avidly sought in defence colleges. I also very much liked Corum’s sensible book on Air Power in Small Wars.


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