Monday, January 10, 2005

Iraq War: US military "possibly innocent" of counterinsurgency ability

The Iraq War has not only exposed the recklessness and incompetence of the Bush administration in strategic affairs.  It's also laid bare some serious long-term deficiencies in the military itself, deficiencies that could even be made worse by the Rumsfeld version of "military transformation."

The Army is oriented almost exclusively toward fighting a conventional war, i.e., state army against state army.  Fighting a guerrilla war is, at best, an adjunct to the conventional war mission.  The Pentagon has generally been opposed to the kind of civil-reconstruction missions which Republican politicians denigrate as "nation-building" (although the term "nation-building" has evolved into prety much a neutral description by now).

One symptom of this is the fact that US forces are today trying to fight a guerrilla war in Iraq by aerial bombing of towns and cities.  It's nuts.  If the intelligence is available to strike a particular house, then the intelligence is available for police and/or paramilitary forces to target it.  How many urban police departments - in any country of the world - would respond to good reports that a particular location is serving as a crack house by calling in aerial bomber strikes on the place?

And once you start tugging on that thread, a lot of the problems in the war effort emerge. Why can't we send in local police?  Well, because it nearly impossible to recruit, train and deploy adequate police forces in Iraq because the guerrillas systmatically kill and terrorize police recruits.  And the police that are that are heavily infilitrated by the insurgency.  And it's hard for the US to help them develop effective programs to counter that, because among other things there are so few Americans that speak Arabic.  And so on, and so on.

So we get things like this:

U.S. Admits Bombing Wrong House Near Mosul; Five Killed by Robin Fields and Ashraf Khalil Los Angeles Times 01/09/05

U.S. forces mistakenly dropped a 500-pound bomb on a house outside the northern city of Mosul early Saturday morning, the military acknowledged, killing at least five Iraqis.

And, with that senstitive political antenna so necessary in counterinsurgency situations, the military even apologized.  Kinda sorta:

In an unusual step, the military released a statement saying the wrong house had been bombed and expressing regret at the loss of "possibly innocent lives."

Let's see.  The military admits they bombed the wrong house:

"The house was not the intended target for the airstrike," the military said in its statement. "The intended target was another location nearby."

And, gee, they're real sorry about the loss of "possibly innocent lives."

Why do so many of these Iraqis hate us?  It's, it's just inexplicable!

Fields and Khalil note dryly, "Admissions of mistakes from the U.S. military are rare."

Evidently, they are seriously out of practice doing it.  If the incident itself weren't so serious, and if it weren't a symptom of a much deeper-going problem that is getting American soldiers killed every day now, it would be funny.  Apogizing for the loss of "possibly innocent lives"is one of those non-apology apologies that politicians so often give, e.g., "If anyone was offended by my calling all Democrats traitors and degenerates, I apologize."  (But only a degenerate or a traitor would be offended, nudge-nudge, wink-wink.)

Oh, yeah, they have news in the Arab world, too: U.S. airstrike near Mosul kills civilians Al Jazeera 01/09/05.

The US military said it dropped a 500lb laser-guided bomb on a house, mistaking it for a nearby suspected hideout of fighters. It said five people were killed.

An official from a joint US-Iraqi security centre for the Salahuddin province put the toll at 13, including four women and three children. He said the dead were all from the same family.

Three "possibly innocent" children, we might add.  From a "possibly innocent" family.  Why do they hate us?

This piece by John Arquilla,  professor of defense analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey CA, addresses the issue of counterinsurgency warfare: The Forever War: The fight against terrorism could go on indefinitely unless the US adopts imaginative new strategies by John Arquilla San Francisco Chronicle 01/09/05. (As a general rule with these kinds of articles, it's worth keeping in mind that "military transformation" is a big buzzword right now.  So anyone recommending some significant change in orientation with normally couch it in terms of "transformation."  In any particular case, it may or may not represent the kind of "transformation" that Don Rumsfeld is trying to put through now.)

Al Qaeda and its affiliates are full of zealots dedicated to eliminating the shadow cast by American power over the Muslim world. But they cannot hope to defeat American military forces in the field.

For our part, we believe that by conquering and democratizing rogue nations we can somehow defeat the terrorist networks arrayed against us. Yet we can't ever find enough of their fighters to stage a decisive battle, nor can we stem the tide of their recruitment. Isn't this the definition of stalemate -- a recipe for war that goes on year after year after year?

One of the much-discussed (if not always carefully thought through) "lessons of Vietnam" and also of the Korean War was that military conflicts should have a decisive resolution, and that any prolonged period of stalemate is highly undesirable.

Yet we do have a chance of winning outright before terrorists can acquire weapons of mass destruction. If we ever decided to wage "netwar" (i.e., network-style conflict) against the terrorists with smaller, more nimble, more flexible forces, we would have a real capability to rip al Qaeda apart, cell by cell.

Unfortunately, for more than three years our primary concept of operations has been to rely on heavy mechanized forces augmented with strategic bombing. "Shock and awe." We have kept taking a sledgehammer to a ball of quicksilver. And all the signs are that the U.S. military remains staunchly resistant to creating the networked strikeforces needed to win this war in the field. The recent flattening of Fallujah is proof the military is sticking to old-style warfare. [my emphasis]

Our reluctance to wage netwar and the enemy's difficulty in obtaining and deploying weapons of mass destruction anytime soon mean that neither side has a great chance of winning outright, yet both will continue to face a small but real chance of decisive defeat.

By "netwar," he means here a flexible strategy - along with the related staffing and training - that would allow the US military to strike effectively at small groups of terrorist cadres in a very focused way.  In other words, letting them actually go after terrorists with properly-trained teams, hopefully supplied with good intelligence, instead of dropping 500-lb. bombs and killing "possibly innocent" men, women and children, thus giving new recruiting ability to the jihadist groups, who are generally not made up of "possibly innocent" children.

Lat month, Phil Carter addressed an important aspect of how guerrilla war/counterinsurgency differs from conventional warfare: How the Front Lines Came to the Rear by Phillip Carter New York Times 12/12/04.  He uses Rumsfeld's famous foot-in-mouth moment in Kuwait when he was questioned by soldiers on the need for more armor on their vehicles, to explain the traditional conventional war assumption that there is no need for armor in logistical units far in the rear of the forward combat units.  But things are different in guerrilla warfare, as he points out with reference to Somalia, Bosnia and Iraq.

Simply put, there are no more front lines. In slow recognition, the Army purchased light armored vehicles in the late 1990's for its military police to conduct peacekeeping, and more recently spent billions of dollars to outfit several brigades with Stryker medium-weight armored vehicles, which are impervious to most small arms and rocket-propelled grenades and can be deployed anywhere in the world by airplane.

But the fact that there is no longer a front line also means there aren't any more "rear" areas where support units can operate safely. Support units must now be prepared to facethe same enemy as the infantry, but are having to do so in trucks with canvas doors and fiberglass hoods because Pentagon procurement planners never expected they'd have to fight. Remember that Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the Iraq invasion's most celebrated prisoner of war, was a supply clerk with a maintenance company.

Noting that the relationship of support personnel to combat soldiers is normally about 7:1 these days, he observes:

The Army (and to a lesser extent the Marine Corps) must reshape its entire force, front to back, to fight the noncontiguous, nonlinear battles. Every vehicle must have sufficient armor to protect its crew; every convoy must have the right mix of light and heavy weapons to protect itself; every unit must be equipped with night-vision goggles and global positioning systems; every soldier must have the skills and training to fight as an infantryman.

And this is not the focus of "Rumsfeldian transformation."  Rumsfeld vision is driven by the seemingly irrepressible fantasy that war can become a high-tech video game from the American point of view, won with air power and high-tech gizmos with minimal need for US ground troops.

"Pessimist" at the Left Coaster group blog also fisks a discussion of related issues on Meet the Press at: The REAL Tim Russert Shows Up - For Once! 12/12/04.  (You have to scroll down to the second part of his very long post for the discussion with military analyst William Arkin, Ge. Wayne Downing, Gen. Barry McCaffrey and Gen. Montgomery Meigs.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Isn't it just mind-boggling that Rumsfeld's callous remarks about going to war with the "army you have" reflected not only his failure after two years to provide the armor the troops clearly need but also an underlying failure to grasp the lessons of these two years of counter-insurgency.  Rumsfeld is truly incompetent to lead the US military; for all his talk of transformation, his is essentially a mindset that has failed to adapt to the actual situation on the ground.

Such incompetence at the top is costing many Americans and Iraqi's to die needlessly in this war to make America safe from WMD.

Rummy's incompetence is only exceeded by his moral failings -- no doubt he is satisfied to bomb residential neighborhoods in the hopes of killing a bad guy here and there even if "possibly innocent" Iraqi's pay the price.  

How our moral values President sleeps at night is beyond me.