Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Mismatch of the Military

No committed insurgency has ever been defeated by a foreign military. This explains why America lost the war in Vietnam, Iraq, and will lose the war in Afghanistan. Why can’t a military solution work against an insurgency?

The military is an extension of a centralized government, and it is also organized as a centrally controlled structure. Command and control is a top-down configuration with decisions conceived at the top, orders drafted, and actions taken by the troops at the bottom. The flow of information is virtually entirely unidirectional, and failure to follow orders that come down through “channels” is typically met with swift and severe punishment.

Military training is designed to shape commanders and troops into a unit capable of achieving strategic and tactical objectives. Typically military objectives involve engaging and defeating opposing armies, taking or destroying “hardened” positions, and disrupting the command and control of the enemy.

Within a military organization information flows from the top down, logistics are also controlled and distributed from the top down, and military units are forced to “regroup” when command and control is disrupted. Civilians represent potential command disruptions, operational interference, and potential collateral damage.

Insurgents function as a distributed network, which means they are not limited by a centralized command and control structure. They are a part of the civilian population, which means they have “real-time” access to the pertinent information about their theater of operation. They don’t have to wait for incomplete, irrelevant, or outdated information to filter down through “channels”. Access to high-quality information is a major factor in understanding how they can engage larger and better equipped forces, inflict significant damage, and then to disengage with minimal losses.

Insurgents don’t present traditional military targets because they don’t organize into armies that can be engaged by traditional military tactics, except when it is to their advantage. They don’t construct “hardened” positions that can be captured or destroyed. Insurgents solve their logistical needs using a broad approach, such as taking supplies and weapons from the military they are apposing, accepting gifts from the civilian population, or purchasing supplies on the black market, to name a few. Insurgents know the culture and customs of the people within their theater of operation. When confronted with “over-whelming” force, the insurgents simply disappear among the civilian population, only to return in force after the military has moved on.

Military tactics are not effective against insurgents. One tactic is to “eliminate” high-ranking leaders. This tactic will always fail because local leaders make all the decisions and, so-called, high-ranking leaders are more symbolic than functional. If you do kill them, they become martyrs, which make them more powerful than they ever were in life.

Another tactic aims at “eliminating” all local insurgent leaders. This tactic is impossible because local leaders are replaced from within the “ranks” almost as fast as they can be killed. Killing all of the insurgents is impossible, and that is exactly what is required by this tactic.

Eventually military leaders get around to the “pacification” tactic. Military commanders are sent to contact the local village leaders in order to convince them that the military is their “friend”. The goal is to convince the “locals” that the military is there to protect the civilians and to provide a better way of life. This tactic fails because the insurgents were there first. The insurgents tell the “locals” that the foreign military is coming to kill them, disgrace their sisters and daughters, take their homes, and to destroy their village. The early years of occupation does nothing to convince the civilians that the insurgents were wrong.

The first few years of occupation go like this: the military shows up, occupies an “abandoned” house as a command post, and then proceeds to engage the “enemy”. Engaging the enemy results in collateral casualties (dead innocent civilians), the destruction of insurgent strongholds (houses, schools, hospitals, mosques…), and attempts to “fraternize” with local women. In other words, the first few years of occupation does little except to demonstrate the validity of the claims of the insurgents.

Military organizations are not trained to successfully engage civilian populations. An insurgency is dependant on their ability to recruit members of the local civilians. Military operations serve only to convince civilians to join the insurgents. The only way a foreign military can defeat a committed insurgency is to kill the entire population. The best military minds in the world all agree that “you can’t kill all of them”, and the more intense the military operations become, the more committed the insurgency becomes.

There is no military solution to the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan! It is time to dial down the “military” and engage in the type of diplomacy that can beat the insurgents in the recruiting strategy.

1 comment:

  1. ..makes absolute sense to me.. ..So, Dr. D., when are you planning on running for President?