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I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. I am a contributor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

THE “TROOP SURGE” STRATEGY

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.

28 comments:

TCO said...

Eeben,
Don't you find it interesting that many in the press and the civilian leadership believe a surge of troops is a strategy at all. It leads one to believe that most don't understand the difference between a 'strategy' and a 'tactic'. The latter is used to achieve the former.

Jake

graycladunits said...

Dear Sir:

I like your ideas...I am wondering if you are aware of the background of the average US soldier that you spoke of as a lion? I hung out with future US army officers in JMU's ROTC program as they were being trained and one of my best friends is an enlisted private. Also, I know the history of the socio-economic composition of the US Army... We have a motley group of rednecks (a social class of rural folks in the US, not a derogatory term like in SA), former prison felons looking for a fresh start, college washouts who partied too much, gang members who in some cases have not left there gangs yet, some downright loose/horny girls in the nursing corps, high school dropouts, some folks from impoverished neighborhoods who want a better life, and these are led by upper middle and upper class men and women who like to party and see what they can get away with. There are also a minority of morally upright people in most of these categories, excluding gang members. I find this funny because these are the last people anyone would want to become lions in any way. The fact is that many of these people will reform along the way and a hard-knock life does make a trainable and durable soldier. Training and durability has been what has held the US army together whether it be during a troop surge or anything else. Was your national army of similar composition in your day? I hope you didn't have to deal with too many thugs.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

One can only shake one’s head in disbelief, Jake. A surge in troops is never a strategy and will never be a strategy. It is sadly not only members of the media and business who consider it to be such, but even military leaders. And that is the scary part.

It seems to me that across the board there are those who do not know the difference between strategy, doctrine and tactics. Strategy has been replaced by “gadgetry” and other buzz-words that have no bearing on – or give any direction to – the war.

It is time some so-called strategists and planners went back to the very basics of warfare and worked to achieve the end goal. At the moment though, there appears to be a belief that wars are won by throwing troops and gadgets at a situation.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

GCU, my analogy of “lions” is based on the fact that most well-trained, disciplined and well-led soldiers will do themselves and their units proud under fire. There will always be those that crack and buckle under fire but that is part of the make-up of personalities. Many courageous acts under fire are carried out by controlled fear and a desire to “do the right thing”.

Our “old” military machine (SADF) comprised young men from ALL walks of life. At that time, we still had a system of National Service (a 2-year compulsory military training period) and from those ranks came our junior NCOs and officers. The large majority of these young men took well to the military way of life and became outstanding leaders. Some stayed behind after their National Service and became full-time soldiers.

Of course, there were men who had dubious and colourful backgrounds but the discipline of the old SADF soon whipped them into shape. We never had problems with discipline in combat or during operations.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

Eeben ...PC has not escaped the US military grunts in basic training have a "time out card" which they can use when things get to tough and all the so called military leaders share one thing in common...West Point... where Americas history has long been forgotten.

As you know history tells us that no matter how big or bad the military is it cannot defeat an insurgency using standard military manuals

The British found this out the hard way first in America when Francis Marion aka "The Swamp Fox" caused General Corn Wallace to surrender the British forces.Wallace actually accused Francis of not fighting fair

The British almost made the same mistake during the "Boer War" until they resorted to the first know concept of "concentration camps"

The Russians threw everything they had against Afghanistan and had it's head handed to it.And today Israel is now facing that same reality

I don't have a solution but it strikes me one needs to find a way to defeat a "ideology" before one can defeat a "insurgency"

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

That is the whole point, Robby – we have forgotten that there is a difference between strategy and tactics and between discipline and political correctness. I must admit that, in my opinion, if soldiers have a “time out card” when the going gets tough, the military have lost the plot. We also cannot use a certain template for war in one theatre and then simply transpose it onto another theatre.

A troop surge is nothing other than trying to rectify a stupid plan with manpower and firepower. As Jake pointed out, it is not even a strategy. Yet, some senior US military commanders consider it a “strategy” – something I find both amusing and astonishing.

An ideology cannot be beaten with superior firepower unless of course, one destroys everyone who thinks in a specific manner. But, one can utilise that opposing ideology to achieve certain of our own aims. However, to do that, soldiers need to firstly understand the ideology they will be up against. Then we need a “brain surge” and not a “troop surge”.

We learn so much from history but tend to forget it very quickly. Mao wrote of how the insurgents use the locals as a fish uses water. For some reason, this is not factored into modern COIN strategies – why I do not know as it describes perfectly the insurgents’ modus operandi.

When locals realise that the insurgents cannot offer them what the armed forces are offering them, the picture changes. Only then can insurgents be isolated and destroyed. But, we need to understand the culture, ideology, traditions and so forth of the locals. Take the water away from the fish…

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

I often wonder if West Point teachers Sun Tzu .... winning hearts and minds seems to be the only logical solution which I assume is objected to by the "military industrial complex"..

Americas so called "war on terror" is a complete failure it has now morphed itself into a war on personal freedoms...ironic in the so called "land of the free"... I have no doubt historians will in the years to come write it was the major cause of Americas decline outside of Americas acceptance of "cultural marxism"....as a aside..although I hated ever moment of basic training in SA (I was a sapper ) it taught me many life lessons I only reliazed many decades later...

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Learning the teachings of Sun Tzu not only help us understand a different view-point Robby, those teachings also open options to us. Options are what every commander and his men need when faced with a slippery adversary. But, I suppose it would be bordering on being pro-Chinese to read Sun Tzu at the US military colleges? "Know your enemy and you will win a thousand battles..."

Yes, many of us outside the US see the US’s war on terror as a massive failure. All it has really done has made the opposing ideologies stronger, alienate allies and allow the enemy to understand the US approach to warfare.

If I wanted to visit the US, I need to go through a humiliating process of obtaining a visa – a system that has been implemented to prevent us from visiting the USA. So why would I want to put myself through that? However, as I have already been accused of being an enemy of the US due to being critical, I can understand your comment re “land of the free”. Pity that “criticism” is nowadays equated to “enemy”. For that reason, I will probably never be able to visit the US again.

I too was a sapper once. We were the “go anywhere, do anything” men who could out-walk the infantry. I enjoyed the sappers I commanded and am proud of every one of them.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

Thats funny I did my basic in Bethlehem 1971 then we were sent to Gressveld (not sure of spelling) on the border of Botswana to build crap houses :-)....saw a lot of strange stuff there special forces guys from SA would arrive change into Rhodie camos and disappear into the nite

As for todays America I can understand your problem I'm amazed they have not thrown my ass out here for the things I say on a daily bases and yes I to have been accused of being anti-American...its the fallacy of the war on terror it just means that any disagreement with official government policy gets you declared a terrorist....I had a gig with Capitol Radio in the late 70's the former SA government regarded us as terrorists...I guess they did not like the music we played :-)

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Well Robby, if one tends to be critical of a government, they construe that as being disloyal and even being anti-them and their ideology. What better way to get people to be quiet – if not, they will declare you a subversive and a terrorist. That is the manner of politics the world over. But when called upon to really do their bit, they have the backbone of a chocolate ├ęclair on a hot day. So much for adults running a country.

I was at 22 Field Sqdn, Bethlehem at some stage during my career. A real hell hole!

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

All I really remember of Bethlehem was marching from the station to the camp being very cold all the time learning what a "leopard crawl" was and the two words that always caused great pain "op vok" :-)...thanks for the memories!

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It was that type of life and training that made us what we were Robby. We never had the luxury of “troop surges” or high-tech gadgetry when we went to battle.

We had to do what we had to do with very little equipment, international sanctions and Western betrayal – along with that of the NP government – and we still came out of it okay.

But, we understood the difference between strategy and tactics and could apply them.

Rgds,

Eeben

simon said...

I served in the military and yes there are usually a disproportionate amount of 'poor' types who serve. I do take a little offense at a blanket statement. My little brother is now in quantico VA going thru marine corps BASIC and will be an officer in a few short weeks. He needed nothing whatsoever of the military. He desired to serve.

Since 9-11, many people have left good occupations to serve and most of them suprisingly who are morally motivated choose combat arms professions, not clerks, supply or someother non combat role. I could do a little further analysis of what type of individual actually volunteers for the infantry, spec ops and the like but it isnt necessary. People get to choose their jobs in our military and if you are a trigger puller, you chose to be one. My brother wants to be an infantry officer and hopes after his initial commitment to become MARSOC or Force Recon. He's a brilliant student and physically tough as nails. Time will tell.

Thank God we have the 'underclass' to preserve protect and defend the constitution.

I love this blog but Im on detail for 6 weeks and wont be able to participate until march. I look forward to coming back and seeing what Eeben has to say. Simon.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I don’t think offence was intended Simon but your point is well taken. I believe that across the world, the fighting forces are usually made up of people who are morally motivated. Even in the old SADF we very seldom found the wealthy or politically well-connected in a danger zone or combat unit.

Good luck with your 6-week detail.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

Simon...this response usually gets me accused of being anti-American I find it some what ironic because I have studied America history and my opinions do not defer from Americas founders when it comes to the question of standing armies.

That being said Americans today have a unhealthy love affair with the all things military not sure why but I suspect the guilt of Vietnam added to the rise of nationalism since 9/11 are at the root cause.

The reason I say it's unhealthy is because any criticism of US foreign policy ie military actions are deemed unpatriotic this in turn opens the doors to those who exploit the concept of patriotism such as Rush/Hannity etc. both have never served and are clueless about the true cost of war and American history, as are many Americans.

You said "Thank God we have the 'underclass' to preserve protect and defend the constitution.

Lets deal with that pesky document the constitution much like the Ten Commandments one cannot treat it like a Chinese menu either you agree with all of it or not.

The Third Amendment to the United States Constitution (Amendment III) is a part of the United States Bill of Rights. It was introduced by James Madison on September 5, 1789, and then three-fourths of the states ratified this as well as 9 others on December 15, 1791. It prohibits, in peacetime, the quartering of soldiers (military personnel) in private homes without the owner's consent. It makes quartering legally permissible in wartime only, and then only in accordance with law. The Founding Fathers' intention in writing this amendment was to prevent the recurrence of soldiers being quartered in private property as was done in Colonial America by the British military under the Quartering Act before the American Revolution (1775-1776).

Obviously, the Third Amendment has little relevance today. But what is relevant for us today is the mindset that underlay the passage of that amendment — a mindset of deep antipathy toward militarism and standing armies.America's ancestors’ fierce opposition to a powerful military force was consistent with their overall philosophy that guided the formation of the Constitution and the passage of the Bill of Rights.

While the Framers understood the need for a federal government, what concerned them was the possibility that such a government would become a worse menace than no government at all. Their recent experience with the British government — which of course had been their government and against which they had taken up arms — had reinforced what they had learned through their study of history: that the biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of a people was their own government.

Historically, governments had misused standing armies in two ways, both of which ultimately subjected the citizenry to tyranny. One was to engage in faraway wars, which inevitably entailed enormous expenditures, enabling the government to place ever-increasing tax burdens on the people. Such wars also inevitably entailed “patriotic” calls for blind allegiance to the government so long as the war was being waged. Consider, for example, the immortal words of James Madison, who is commonly referred to as “the father of the Constitution”:

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.... [There is also an] inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and ... degeneracy of manners and of morals.... No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

The second way to use a standing army to impose tyranny was the direct one — the use of troops to establish order and obedience among the citizenry. Ordinarily, if a government has no huge standing army at its disposal, many people will choose to violate immoral laws that always come with a tyrannical regime; that is, they engage in what is commonly known as “civil disobedience” — the disobedience to immoral laws. But as the Chinese people discovered at Tiananmen Square, when the government has a standing army to enforce its will, civil disobedience becomes much more problematic.

Consider again the words of Madison:

A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.

The idea is that governments use their armies to produce the enemies, then scare the people with cries that the barbarians are at the gates, and then claim that war is necessary to put down the barbarians. With all this, needless to say, comes increased governmental power over the people.

Let me end with this two of Americas most decorated warriors both wrote about the true cost of war

Excerpt from a speech delivered in 1933, by Major General Smedley Butler, USMC.

http://www.fas.org/man/smedley.htm

Col David Hackworth

http://www.hackworth.com/archive.html

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I am afraid that I do not have sufficient knowledge to comment on the situation within the US or the US Constitution Robby. That said, I suspect that the rise in US nationalism post 9/11 has in many ways made the US look deeply into its own soul. As is always the case, this vision has been exploited by the politicians who only think of their own advantages and never those of their citizens.

In my opinion, your analysis of how governments use armies is spot-on as regards the pre 1994 South Africa.

Rgds,

Eeben

Robby Noel said...

My come to Jesus moment about the military if you will was when I stood at the Vietnam Memorial in DC looking at 58,000 names carved in black marble all from our generation all who died for nothing more than some misguided political objective based on a see of lies.

At the time the official reason for going to war was "stoping the spread of communism in south east Asia" ironic in that at the same time the US was encouraging the spread of communism in Southern Africa by being critical of actions in Rhodesia and South Africa

There is a large but silent group of anti-war vets in the US they are not anti-American rather they are grunts who went to war for all the right reasons only to find out much later they were lied to add insult to injury they were called baby killers were they came home....

Vietnam is still very much a open wound here and proberly the reason for loving everything military today in America it's a guilt thing.

I hope my rants are not seen as being anti anything rather having been a grunt I understand the mind set that is needed when you ask a nineteen year old to kill for country and he enters that contract based on the nobelist of reasons ("just war theory") only to find out later he was lied to and those nightmares of war never go away

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I know where you are coming from, Robby. It is a sad fact of life that politicians the world over lie to their armed forces. They have little to no concept of honour or integrity.

You make a good point about “stopping communism”: the US, UK and several other western countries were only too keen to encourage terrorism in order to topple governments in South Africa and Rhodesia. Well, they succeeded…
Just as what Vietnam is still an open wound in the US, our situation is an open wound in Southern Africa – and will remain so for a long time to come. We who were soldiers did so because we felt it our calling. But, at the end of the day, we were betrayed, whether we were US or SA soldiers by our politicians.

Rgds,

Eeben

TCO said...

FYI, I feel obliged to correct graycladunits assessment of the demographic ranks of the U.S. military as his comments are wholly without merit despite his claims to be knowledgeable on the subject. I would hardly consider one Army private and a few ROTC cadets as credible sources for the complexities of the demographics of military recruiting and service. It is dangerous for him, or anyone, to make wide stereo types about the make-up of our military or any other group whose population exceeds 1 million.

No one will deny that our, or any, military can have very, very small minority of criminals, reprobates, gang-members or other kind of unsavory characters. That has been the case since the first squad fell-in. But is that not the same as any organization or group of human beings? Any factory, any office, or for that matter any university? Frankly I would have expected more from someone posing as an informed academic. And GCU in particular, should have known better given his presumed proximity to the April 2007 massacre at VA Tech where one single deranged student shot and killed over 30 of his classmates. I don't recall reading about any similar acts committed by U.S. soldiers, marines, sailors or airmen in recent times. And I would not think if smearing the entire VA Tech population or college students in general simply because of the actions of a few (in this case a single)person.

The fact is our military is almost precisely what our nations founders wished our entire nation to be. A true meritocracy where all are free to join and all can excel if they choose to do so. I served 10-years in the Marine Corps with Blacks, Asians, Native Americans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Whites, etc, etc. What's more they came from both rural and urban areas of the country. This is by design and the recruiting structure ensures that places like New York City produce more recruits than Blacksburg, VA because of the population difference.

In short GCU's statements are not factual and highly offensive. To state that our military consists of a 'minority of morally upright people' or the officer corps is made up of 'upper class whites who like to party and see what they can get away with' is so far removed from reality as to barely warrant a response, but I have given you one nonetheless.

Anyone who would even imply such a sentiment has no grasp of the facts at hand and no understanding of the level of commitment that today's modern soldier has to the mission on a very personal level. You can say he's got to many gadgets, poor leadership and an illegitimate war in the first place. But in places like al Fallujah, al Ramadi, al Najaf, al Tikrit and countless others whose names will never be known to people sitting on university campuses their commitment to fight like a lion at the street, house and door level is without question.

Jake

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Jake, as I said, even in our army of old we had “men who had dubious and colourful backgrounds” but with discipline and training they adapted well to the military. I assume that applies to all armies.
I still maintain that the average US soldier (or any average soldier) will fight like a lion if led correctly. Of course, one tends to generalise and bad leadership is found not only in armies but in the corporate world it somehow abounds.

Wars are fought by the average soldiers and the young NCOs and officers. They are the ones that are, time and again, let down by poor generalship. If you look at the Capt or Major who has commanded men and led them into battle, his perception of strategy and tactics differs vastly from some general who sits thousands of miles away in an air-conditioned office. We found that in our wars - and I am sure that all wars have a similar pattern.

I don’t intend to be offensive but I call it as I have seen and experienced it.

As for gadgets, I am afraid that there is a belief that gadgetry equals strategy. But you and I have discussed that issue and I think we are on agreement on that issue.

Rgds,

Eeben

userdude said...

I would also disagree on the (mis)characterization of the American military. I digress.

I'm just wondering what your thoughts are of General Petreaus? If an army is to be used for police action, isn't troop strength a vital component of strategy?

Just putting more boots on the ground won't make much difference, but this was accompanied by the change in tactics (more intelligence, more cultural awareness) that you talked about needing.

I am struck that armies and their actions are almost always an apparatus of the political machine. To be effective, they must be meritocratic, since they must function as intelligent machines.

userdude said...

Also, I do believe American military school cadets read Sun Tzu in addition to Clausewitz, et al. Our military is much less politically correct than is portrayed, especially the more elite units (including the Marines).

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Generalising is something we are all guilty of, Userdude.

I think Genl Petreaus is a capable man who inherited a mess he was supposed to rectify. If you are referring to the army being used for a policing action in Iraq, then I disagree with you insofar as troop strength is concerned. When a true police action is implemented the armed forces work under the command of – and in support of -the police. This was never the case as far as Iraq/Afghanistan are concerned.

Yes, Genl Petreaus did change the approach but those were aspects that ought to have been considered before the war even commenced. I believe that he saw the gaps in planning and worked at rectifying them but by the time he was appointed, a lot of lives had already been lost.

The truth is that armies are always extensions of the political machines as they are responsible to implement a military strategy that meets the political strategy and policies of their government.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Understanding the views of both the great philosopher-soldiers of the East and the West is critically important to all commanders and their men, Userdude, so I am pleased to hear that these works are being read.

One of Sun Tzu’s fundamental points is summed up as know your enemy. This can only be achieved by intelligence. It does however seem to me that intelligence is often over-looked or not afforded the importance it ought to have – until things go wrong. Again, I am generalising.

Rgds,

Eeben

TCO said...

It's true that the officer corps of the U.S. Marines and Army study Sun Tsu and Clausewitz. I can personally attest to that. Knowing your enemy and choosing the time and place of your battle, etc, etc are central to those classic works.

It's a shame that the diplomatic corps at State or the spooks at CIA don't appreciate these fundamentals because invariably it is they who ultimately commit our troops to combat. Since they mistakenly think the military can, if necessary, solve all problems through force they assume that we are equipped, trained and ready for every type of fight against all kinds of adversaries.

As Iraq illustrated we were not. The pols and the diplomats picked a fight with a country and her military. The problem was not that the military could not defeat them it was that they were smart enough not to get in the ring with us in the first place. Instead they, as smart thinking adversaries, produced combatants that did not match our strengths or our core capabilities. It took several years for us to get the upperhand on a problem that we were simply not prepared for. Good on Petraus for making necessary changes but should we really be heaping so much adulation on a general officer who is simply doing his job? Where are the other 30, 40 or 50 like minded generals? If your looking for blame you can pin this directly on Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and to a lesser degree Gen Myers (Air Force). Take another read of those names and consider what personal experience any of these geniuses had with either ground military operations in general or conflict or counter-insurgency in particular. It was a shocking coincidental period of U.S. history. On the one hand the senior most leadership were the least equipped for the realities of war in probably over a hundred years. At the very same time we were hit the hardest since Pearl Harbor. It's fair to say that literally 'anyone' could have made better decisions than this crew.

So, if anything, as usual, the military has saved the politicians' and diplomats' bacon by adapting and overcoming tough odds to gain the upperhand tactically against a very resourceful and determined enemy. But even that may not prove to be enough to salvage this strategic blunder.

Jake

userdude said...

Hello Eeben,

What's the old saying... "Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms"?

I think it's proved to be a false economy in warfare to rely on TECH/SATINT in the long term to the exclusion of the "hard intelligence," HUMINT. I don't think the American military made this mistake; I think their political master made the mistake of allowing political machinations to divert the military aim and effort. It's not a secret Rumsfeld was trying to prove something (war economy, the 21st century warrior, etc...).

TECH/SATINT is a tempting political machination. In some ways, it's use in replacing traditional war intelligence methods (which I don't think the American military does exclusively, but probably more than is healthy) is a form of war political correctness.

For instance, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Guantanamo were about gathering information. Whether or not you agree with the tactics, that was at least one of the reasons for "taking the gloves off." Information does not equal intelligence, though, since it says nothing about motivation or tactics or what the enemy is thinking, and is too easily manipulated. It seems western intelligence organizations have a fascination with just-in-time evidence and action. This is perhaps a result of our way of life, believing strongly in basic human rights, habeas corpus and the rule of law. Catch 'em in the act, where's the reasonable doubt?

However, through duplicity and the shear anarchy that was occurring at the worst times in the war effort in Iraq, the intelligence initiative was not on the American side, since there was appeared to be no "Selous Scout" service for the American side capable of operating in the Middle East, at least that I know of. And all to the worse. The enemy had sophisticated counter-intelligence methodologies; America had a dearth of Arab-speaking agents.

It seems to me that the mistake that was made was to try to economize the entire war effort (cost), and then compress the preparation for that effort into an unreasonable amount of time (y'know, so they won't know we're comin'), and the politicization of the process had predetermined the logic as to how those risks would effect the effort, and anybody who had the temerity to "know better" was summarily relieved of duty. This was gerrymandering of the highest order, which is usually the result of high-handed ideological inputs.

Something about the American way makes us squeamish about HUMINT. Maybe it's that we prefer things black and white, and HUMINT is all grey; maybe this makes it harder to believe in squishy things that are not absolutes. Duplicity is a many layered onion; in the end, America wishes that onion to only be so deep. Many people would characterize this as naivety, but in reality I think it's a form of faith.

From what I understand, Petreaus didn't just change tactics and shift strategy in Iraq; he rewrote the field manual. He introduced a completely different way of executing the war effort. The nature of asymmetric warfare is the ability to change tactics as a strategy; this means leadership must stay out of the way, but it also means the commanders must be given a chance to execute the plans without interference but with a clear knowledge of what the aim of the effort is.

Thanks!
Jared

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

If politicians were to spend one day in active combat, they would look at the implications of their stupidity in a different light, Jake. It is for that reason that I believe politicians and spooks should have been exposed to combat. As they are not, they have no comprehension of what truly happens or what the armed forces capabilities are. I recall a spook I was unfortunate to work with asking me if an AGS-17 was a 4- or 6- wheeled vehicle. To make things even worse, he despised anyone who came from a combat unit. Yet, he was tasked to coordinate the intelligence gathering efforts on the enemy. So, I can appreciate where you are coming from.

There are many who will bear witness to the fact that I said after the initial shock-and-awe attack on Bagdad that the US had selected an inappropriate strategy for the war in Iraq and that it will cost them dearly in lives lost. Sadly, it seems as though I was correct.

Whereas I do not know Genl Petraus, I cannot comment on him. However, he seems to have been the one US general who had a plan and implemented it. The rest, as I surmise, were following a military plan devised by politicians that could not work, but they did not have the courage to speak out. With leadership like that, one is bound to have a hard time in the field.

As the saying goes: “Politicians sleep soundly in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” I note some anger in the last paragraph of your comment and again, I know where you are coming from. In SA we have lived through that experience only to be sold out in the end. But, as soldiers, we serve the government of the day and should know that the armed forces will be betrayed at the flip of a coin.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks for some good comments on TECHINT/SATINT vs HUMINT, Jared. But, there is a misguided belief that TECHINT/SATINT will allow for deniability and a reduced risk – but at what human cost when the guns are loaded?

Perhaps we have allowed human rights, habeas corpus and the rule of law to cloud our judgement at times when we are fighting wars. It is all good and well to adhere to noble principles in theory but a war is not theory. Of course, codes of decency remain applicable – after the battle, regardless of the enemy and his beliefs. When you come second at the Olympics, you get a silver medal. When you come second in war, you lose. We cannot fight politically-correct wars – this will lead to defeat.

Whereas the effort may have been to reduce cost, in the long run, it was more costly in terms of finances, time, equipment and most importantly, human lives.

I regard the abilities of TECHINT/SATINT as a guide but also as supplementary to HUMINT. When we believe that we do not need an agent in the enemy’s camp, we need to remember that we will never have the full picture. To plan without the full picture is a grave mistake.

Rgds,

Eeben