Thursday, March 10, 2005

Iraq War: The Army and counterinsurgency

This article addresses one of the many complications that have arisen from the US Army trying to fight counterinsurgency wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with conventional-war strategies: "Going to War with the Army You Have":  Why the U.S. Cannot Correct Its Military Blunders in Iraq by Michael Scwartz, 03/05/05.

Scwartz' article focuses in particular on the idea of going after the leadership of guerrilla groups, the "command-and-control" structures.  His discussion helps explain why we hear so much about all the leaders captured.  And also why command-and-control structures mean different things in conventional vs. guerrilla war.

This command-and-control image applies well to a large bureaucracy or a conventional army; but invariably provides a poor picture of a guerrilla army, which helps explain American military failures in Iraq. Whether or not [Al Qaeda leader] Zarqawi maintains command and control over his forces (who are, as far as we can tell, not guerrillas) no one exercises such control over the forces that fought against the Americans in Falluja or Sadr City and those that are currently fighting a guerrilla war in Ramadi and other Sunni cities that boycotted the recent elections.

Guerrilla wars violate the command-and-control portrait in two important ways: local units must, by and large, supply themselves (since an occupation army would be likely to interdict any regular shipments of supplies); and they are likely to have substantial autonomy (since hit-and-melt tactics do not lend themselves well to central decision making).

This lack of command and control is a curse and a blessing. On the negative side, lack of central coordination means that guerrilla armies are normally doomed to small, disconnected actions -- a severe limitation if the goal is to drive an enemy out of your country. On the positive side, they are less vulnerable to attacks on supply lines and to the targeting of commanding officers -- two key strategies of conventional warfare.

The resistance in Iraq reflects this dialectic of guerrilla war.  The mujaheddin in Falluja, for example, seem to have been notoriously decentralized; even local clerical leadership reportedly achieved only a tenuous discipline over the troops. This samelack of discipline, however, made it impossible for the U.S. to identify and eliminate key leaders. During the second battle for the city in November, their hit-and-run tactics allowed them to hold out for over a month against a force with overwhelming technological and numerical superiority.

The post- Vietnam stategy of the United States for non-nuclear conflicts has been based on the idea that the US would fight only conventional wars and avoid any large-scale counterinsurgency wars like that currently being conducted in Iraq.  Rummy's famous sneer that "you go to war with the Army you have" is true.  And if the Army you have is completely oriented toward fighting conventional wars, fighting a counterinsurgency war is a special challenge.

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