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April 13, 2005

Guerrilla Warfare « GWOT »

Reading this article, (found through this related them both), I was struck by a realization.

Here's the excerpt that stimulated the thought:

This may well be the most important lesson coming out of the Iraq war. The outcome of major combat operations was never seriously in doubt, although plenty of supposedly serious people predicted the siege of Baghdad would be America's Stalingrad. What was in doubt, however, was whether the U.S. could prevail if the war became an extended test of wills against a determined foe using guerrilla and terrorist tactics. This was a test not of the skill or bravery of the American soldier, but of the home front's willingness to see the war through; a test in which the key to victory wasn't competence but perseverance.

So here's the thought:
How often has anyone beat an insurgency that was using guerrilla tactics? You could say Great Britain has just about done so with the IRA in Northern Ireland...but how many decades did that take? We've just about broken the insurgencies back in just about two years.

Militarily, nearly all the advantages lie with guerrillas. They can hide among the populace. They don't have a large logistic/supply train, so money goes a long way. They can choose the moment and location of the battles. They only have to be successful at the moment of their choosing, whereas the standard defending military force has to be on guard all the time. The language was working against us. The locals' conditioned fear of authority worked against us as well. The Iraqis weren't really on our side at the beginning, either: several polls expressed the commonly-held attitude of "Thanks, US, now get out!". But we didn't, and we managed to not only defeat the insurgency militarily, but also win the support of the people.

Of course, those two are inextricably linked. Everyone loves a winner...especially people who have a sense which side of their bread is buttered, i.e., not wanting to offend someone who might be in charge within a few months.

I have to say I think that defeating the insurgency didn't convince the people to support us as much as eliminate the necessity for them to support the insurgents out of fear.

So how did we beat them?

Persistence. Despite the best efforts of lots of people back home, we didn't cut and run when the body count climbed. One of the best things that happened for us in Iraq was re-electing President Bush, since Senator Kerry all but stated flatly he was going to withdraw the troops regardless of whether we achieved our objectives there or not.

Unambiguous statements of intent to leave when things are stable, repeated often, and backed up with concrete steps in that direction. We stayed out when they formed the council to write their constitution. We stayed out as they fought over the constitution. We turned over more and more functioning to the governing council. We never kept any of the revenues from oil sales. We spent our money rebuilding infrastructure. We turned over full governing to the Transition Government on schedule...actually, a few days ahead of schedule. We worked hard to make sure the elections would happen on time. These are not minor achievements.

Military Intelligence. (.pdf file warning) Even with a populace that wasn't very helpful, we had some of our best minds working to piece together scanty information to locate insurgency leaders and safe house locations. The story of how Army Intelligence located Saddam Hussein is both amusing and amazing. From the linked article, here's a brief summary:

The 4th Infantry Division (ID) captured Saddam Hussein based on intelligence developed from linkpattern analysis. The 4th ID is the most modernized, digitized, and computerized division in the Army, yet intelligence personnel who did the link-pattern analysis did it the tedious, old-fashioned way, using pads of butcher-board paper, yellow stickies, and a large wall chart.7 Some dedicated intelligence personnel did a brilliant job, but time and energy could have been greatly reduced with current software applications
and computerized databases.

Knowing where to hit is far more important than having the ability to hit hard. In fact, the basic idea of military intelligence is gathering enough information to use a minimum of force to achieve the objective. After all, we could have "won" the insurgency by using nuclear weaponry...but everyone in the country would have been dead. If we could get sufficient intelligence that a hat-pin could win a war, we'd do it. Lacking that level of intelligence, we make do with what we have...but we were usually able to get enough intelligence to be able to drop a bomb on the right house/building, or cordon off the right neighborhood.

Military technology. GPS, laser guidance, high-powered computers to calculate damage so we can drop the right size bomb to destroy a safe-house while doing only minor damage to the house right next door, secure communications so support can be called in...
Heck, I know McQ of Q and O Blog won't want to hear this (if he ever stops by and reads my blog), but I think one of the keys to beating the insurgency was that just about every aircraft platform had Close Air Support capability. It didn't matter whether F-15s, F-16s, F/A-18s, HV-8s, or helos were on duty, any one of them could deliver bombs or bullets on target in a timely manner. All of those aircraft have pretty decent dwell times, and the speed available to those aircraft meant they could actually cover much more ground than A-10s (not to mention, no reason to waste the A-10s dwindling remaining life doing patrolling duties).

I could do more research, I guess, to make my point stronger. But mainly, I just wanted to point out that the US military has done something amazing. Not unprecedented, perhaps (except maybe the quickness of success), but truly amazing nonetheless. Many people derided the anti-war advocates' doom'n'gloom predictions of failure and a growing insurgency...but to be honest, history was on the side of such pessimistic pronouncements. We have set a new benchmark of success.

Posted by Nathan at 10:35 AM | Comments (0)
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