Ban-Ki Moon and his UN peacekeeping cohorts have (hopefully) come to realise that upping the force levels in a conflict area is no guarantee for success. The UN’s poorly thought-out strategies for so-called peacekeeping forces in conflict zones cannot be rectified by troop surges. Whereas the UN may think it can lie and bluster about its claims to success and that everyone will believe them, they are wrong. So, by committing more troops to resolve a problem does not make Ban-Ki Moon a strategic genius. Indeed, quite the opposite.
This strategy, initiated by Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE, ADC (19 June, 1861 - 29 January 1928) during the Battle of the Somme, proved to be ill-conceived at best. Whereas supporters of this strategy may argue that it finally led to the defeat of Germany, it was at a terrible cost of men, equipment and money – and over several years. Even then, its success remains debatable.
The US strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan was initially nothing other than a re-hashed Haig-like strategy – a strategy that required committing more and more soldiers to combat. The danger existed that this would lead to more casualties, more antagonism and more anti-US sentiments. The reality of this approach was that the US soldier has had to shoulder the blame for the failure of, at best, a poorly-conceived strategy. Eventually, a troop surge strategy may carry the day but only because of its overwhelming numbers.
A troop surge strategy not only strains the logistical supply chain and the associated costs of war, it will, additionally, place an even greater strain on the troops and junior officers to perform according to the new expectations that will be placed on them. A strained logistical supply line is also an ideal target for an insurgent to attack. Those of us who have been deployed to disrupt long logistical lines will testify to how easy it really is. Plus, that logistical supply line – when vulnerable – serves the enemy as well.
There appears to be a misguided belief that an insurgency can be quelled by throwing troops, gadgets, money and firepower at the problem. This argument is a fallacy. The pending deployment of two US army brigades into Afghanistan will show that this will not lead to an end of the conflict. If anything, it will most probably lead to an escalation of hostilities. The real victims of the troop surge strategy will be the soldiers and the civilians.
Soldiers do not choose who their enemies are or where they are required to do battle – the politicians do that. By having no control over where the wars are to be fought, commanders should make every effort to ensure that it is easier for their troops. This requires well-thought out strategies to win local population support. The local population, on the other hand, can be an asset, a threat or neutral. At worst case, they should be influenced to become neutral in the war that is fought on their terrain and in their towns.
Counter-insurgency operations are best fought with light, highly mobile forces who can act on sound intelligence. They are fought with aggressive search-and-destroy missions. Small-team deployments, using small-team tactics can wreak more havoc and destruction on an enemy than a heavy force which advertises its presence. A massive operation to ally the local population works in tandem with this approach. Aggressive intelligence gathering operations add to the success of the ground forces. These operations are aimed at throwing the enemy off balance and forcing him to surrender the initiative. These missions are all aimed at forcing the insurgents into terrain they would prefer NOT to fight in and then dealing them a crushing blow.
Fighting insurgents is not a war for heavy armour. Road usage by mechanised and motorised forces should be avoided at all times. Realistic military objectives need to be appreciated and achieved. The insurgents need to be isolated from the local population and the terrain they prefer to fight in. Soldiers need to dominate and rule the terrain both night and day. Soldiers need to become thinking-soldiers and realise that the indiscriminate use of uncontrolled firepower does not lead to winning the fire fight. Ensuring the well-being and security of the local population will become a force-multiplier to the ground forces. Cultural differences need to be identified and respected.
The adage “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” can be a valuable tool in any counter-insurgency operation but it needs to be handled with extreme care and caution. In making this decision, the short-, medium- and long-term political and military implications of this strategy need to be very carefully considered. Once this road has been chosen, there can be no turning back and switching of sides.
The average American soldier is a lion but, sadly, he is led by donkeys that are unable to strategise a war. Whereas his equipment is superior, he is let down by the lack of generalship displayed by his generals. But, the generals don’t seem to care as it is the common soldier who will bleed. Or, do the American generals, like General Haig, believe that America has enough young men to die for their inability to develop workable military strategies?
There are several very good examples of successful counter-insurgency campaigns - Malaya, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South West Africa (now Namibia), Angola, Sierra Leone immediately spring to mind. Each of these campaigns led to the development of new strategies, doctrines and tactics. Each of these campaigns had great successes but were failed by the politicians.
One of the most pertinent lessons to emerge from those campaigns is that they were not won with troop surges but with brain surges. They were won by out-thinking and out-smarting the enemy.
My next posting will take a look at countering organised crime in the private sector.