Monday, August 7, 2006
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Apparently, the counterinsurgency manual needs a rewrite
My Fletcher colleague Richard H. Shultz co-authors an op-ed in the New York Times the Army's efforts to develop a new manual about about counterinsurgency tactics from its experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some sobering highlights:
In today’s internal wars several different types of armed groups — not just traditional insurgents bent on changing a national regime — engage in unconventional combat. Iraq is illustrative. Those fighting American forces include a complex mix of Sunni tribal militias, former regime members, foreign and domestic jihadists, Shiite militias and criminal gangs. Each has different motivations and ways of fighting. Tackling them requires customized strategies.This part is particularly interesting:
Meeting and defeating terrorist groups requires a far deeper understanding of their factions — and the exploitation of the rifts between them. Consider how such profiling led to the demise of the Abu Nidal organization, which 20 years ago was the world’s most lethal terrorist group.An interesting question to ask is the extent to which western and Arab intelligence agencies have managed to penetrate Al Qaeda's network -- and whether such penetration is more difficult because of the Islamist nature of that organization. It might be tougher to penetrate networks where the identity rests on a theocratic foundation.
Intriguingly, this problem has the potential to cut both ways. Dexter Flikins' review of Lorenzo Wright's new book contains the following nugget of information:
Al Qaeda’s leaders had all but shelved the 9/11 plot when they realized they lacked foot soldiers who could pass convincingly as westernized Muslims in the United States. At just the right moment Atta appeared in Afghanistan, along with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ziad al-Jarrah and Marwan al-Shehhi, all Western-educated transplants, offering themselves up for slaughter.posted by Dan on 08.07.06 at 10:10 AM
This is all eerily starting to remind me of 1966 and 1967. And we know how that ended.posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 08.07.06 at 10:10 AM [permalink]
Well, considering how close J.W. Lindh was apparently able to get back in the day, it can't have been too hard.
It would probably also be much easier if the US administration weren't distracted by a war of choice in Iraq.posted by: Doug on 08.07.06 at 10:10 AM [permalink]
The President is essentially agreeing to the fact that in iraq "we broke it so we bought it".
IRAN wants to be considered a top dog in the mideast and we are willing to talk to N Korea at a big table but not them-we are hurting their feelings and they think they can hurt ours.
In invading Iraq we have given the control to IRAN whenever we slip out. There is an extensive article in the NEW YORKER this week on Iran's efforts with nuclear weapons -the President missed the right country by the letter Q insted of N.
Shultz is even more clueless than the authors of the manual.
A modern insurgency survives by hiding amongst and as civilians. Civilians who either sympathize or are scared into cooperation. So long as this works, the insurgency survives, and it doesn't really matter if they're one group or a bunch of partially connected groups. Understanding "who" or "why" won't change anything, but time will eventually return us to an era when such insurgencies simply didn't work (an era which covers 99% of human history).
A group such as Abu Nidal is not an insurgency. Abu Nidal never controlled any territory, didn't even try. He was hidden, period. The threat of Abu Nidal was purely terror, as compared to the overthrow of an existing government. There may be sharable knowledge between those combatting the two phenomena, but the two should not be confused.posted by: dwshelf on 08.07.06 at 10:10 AM [permalink]
I don't think this analysis is all that revolutionary, at least within the military. I think the understanding of the various and countervailing elements of the Iraqi insurgency has been much better understood by the military than by much of the press reporting. As a member of the military, I have heard more comments about the significance of Hussein's releasing of jailed prisoners on the eve of the invasion than I have seen in most public reporting. And the reporting of Michael Yon, Bill Roggio, Strategypage, etc have long discussed the differences and interplay between the Former Regime Elements, Al Qaeda and criminal elements. Conveying this difference, and the importance of this difference, is one of the major failures of much of the popular reporting. To put it another way, in the past three years, we have fought at least three seperate insurgencies, winning one of them (Al Qaeda in Iraq), largely defeating a second one (FRE), with the third (Shia tribal backlash against Sunni domination) cropping up only within the last six to twelve months, and only coming about because of the gradual victory over the first two. As long as the headlines still read "violence continues", and fails to recognize that this is, in fact, progress of a sort, we will see the falling public support for the war.
As evidence that the Pentagon understands these differences, look at the much different reactions to the simultaneous surges in violence in Fallujah and Najaf in 2004. The battlefield commanders defeated both problems through very different means. The military put in place a weak political situation to hold off the situation in Fallujah while they attacked in a limited and precise manner in Najaf, eventually finding a political solution. Then turning their attention back to Fallujah, waged total war. Both cities have been largley quiet since then. This seperation of the battles in time prevented the unification of the Sunni Arab and the Shia insurgencies, as many editorialists predicted at the time. And dispite Senator McCain's recent comments about "Wack a Mole" in Iraq, it is important to note that in all the cities in Iraq where we have conducted major clearing operations, Fallujah, Ramadi, Tall Afar, Najaf, Mosul... none have flared back up again. The same is true in Baghdad, if you look at it in seperate neighborhoods, with the road to the airport and Sadr City remaining largely quiet since serious operations to pacify them last year. This is the "Oil Spot" strategy, working. The article is dead on in it's analysis, just two years behind the military, not ahead of it.posted by: Reid on 08.07.06 at 10:10 AM [permalink]
"The military put in place a weak political situation to hold off the situation in Fallujah while they attacked in a limited and precise manner in Najaf, eventually finding a political solution. Then turning their attention back to Fallujah, waged total war. Both cities have been largley quiet since then."
My recollection is that the decision to stand down at Fallujah in May 2004 was taken at the NSC level to avoid mass civilian casualties, not to conserve US forces for Najaf, but if it was a battlefield decision I would be interested to see a military press article that explains what happened as I don't recall this being reported in the civilian press.
It is true that the Mahdi Army got a bloody nose in Najaf but we left them alone afterwards nationally. They shifted to penetrating the police and are now the principal vigilante organization on the Shia side of the civil war.
"And dispite Senator McCain's recent comments about "Wack a Mole" in Iraq, it is important to note that in all the cities in Iraq where we have conducted major clearing operations, Fallujah, Ramadi, Tall Afar, Najaf, Mosul... none have flared back up again."
I thought the Marines are still battling in Ramadi trying to secure the place. Mosul was just in the news when violence flared up after we transferred troops to Baghdad. I don't know of any ink spots that are really irreversible successes given the situation over there. Babil governorate looked the most promising a couple of months ago; I would take it as a sign of what can change.
But what Generals Pace and Abizaid recently said about the prospect of civil war is ominous. They didn't say things like this a year ago. Do you know if it is true that we are making contingency plans to evacuate US forces if a larger-scale civil war breaks out?
I think there are two separate issues here, whether the military has an effective counter-insurgency strategy, and whether its counter insurgency campaign is working in Iraq. They are not one in the same.
First off I don't think that the US army, or anybody today has an effective counter insurgency doctrine. There has always been two different traditions in the US Army's train of thought, the "big war" and "small war" traditions. For most of the 20th century the US army trained wholly to fight the "Big war," such as large maneuvers to fight organized units. Even in Vietnam the US army really didn't learn the lessons of how to fight a real counterinsurgency campaign like the British did in the Malay Campaign in the early 50s. Regardless, the Soviet buildup in the 70s and 80s and the Operational Maneuver Group scare, wiped away any small war lessons it may have learned in order to counter the threat of the soviet invasion. the US army went back to the big war tradition in a big way, which culminated in the 1991 Gulf War.
However as I said at the start I don't think this is just a US problem, rather almost every western country currently engaged in Counter-insurgency operations today hasn't fully grasped the scale of the problem. Certainly not the British and the Canadians, who are probably mired in the second most dangerous insurgency fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.
Where I think the failing exists is in a complete lack of a Operational and Strategic Doctrine to handle these operations. In these three cases all three countries have substituted tactical level military doctrine for operational and strategic thought. What we have now is a hodge podge of ideals culled together from 90s peace enforcement missions, 80s ideas on movement and firepower at the COG, and lessons learned on the ground. Yet its not really that effective.
Where is the hearts and minds aspect of this counter insurgency? There are no aid programs; CIMIC and PSYOPS are incredibly limited. Saying that the security situation is not permissive for development is literally a cop out for one of the key pillars of military strategy. The use of military force still centres on the use of overwhelming firepower at a decisive point, which negates its advantages by causing massive civillian casualties.
Now onto Iraq.
However I also think that the nature of the insurgency has changed, and the US has been slow to realize it. Various groups on the ground have realized that the United States is not there to stay as a "occupying power" that their presence at best is temporary. Therefore there is no point to fight the Americans. Now various groups are jockeying for position for who will inherit Iraq after the withdrawal of US troops. People aren't fighting the government, because they use the government to fight the battles for them. In an ironic twist we are seeing Sunnis, who were the heart of the insurgency in 2004, now pleading for the US to stay. The British decision to arm the shia militias has completely backfired, and militias exist with government approval.
This is a strategic shift, one that the military has been very slow to realize. The first real acknowledgement of this was General Abizaid 's comments a couple of days ago, which signals to me a very slow change in the mindset of senior leaders to the nature of this problem. And really this is a problem that is probably far harder to solve out than a simple insurgency campaign. In reality in some way you could be cynical and say the US has won the insurgency because its mutated into something potentially far far worse.
From the NYT article (referring to the US Army):
"It didn’t imagine that Iraq would become a magnet for international jihadists, so it failed to seal the borders. It didn’t imagine the Sunni tribal militias would react with such violence to the American presence, so it failed to take the pre-emptive economic and political steps to address their grievances. And it failed to understand that there were radical elements within the Shiite community that would use force to try to establish a theocratic system."
The premises behind these criticisms are I think the problem here:
(1) The Army didn't fail to close the borders because it never imagined foreign jihadists would come; al-Qaida was the one element we did predict would be trouble after the war. The problem was that the Army did not have the troops to seal the borders.
(2) The Sunni tribal militias did not react with such violence because we failed to take preemptive economic and political steps to address their grievances. Their principal grievance was that Sunnis no longer ran the country. No political and economic steps could have addressed that.
(3) The fact that there were radical elements in the Shia community bent on establishing a theocracy would not have been obviated and overcome by the Army recognizing their existence. The only way to have prevented the Shia militias from becoming a threat would have been to suppress them in a permanent way, and the Army chose not to attempt this because doing so would have meant fighting an ongoing Shia insurgency at the same time as an ongoing Sunni one.
The new counterinsurgency manual is posted on the Federation of American Scientists web site here.posted by: skippy on 08.07.06 at 10:10 AM [permalink]
Actually, it doesn't remind me of 1966-67 as much as 1841-42, when Sir William Macnaghtan and the British attempted precisely the strategy described above (exploiting fissures among local tribes), in Afghanistan. The results were disastrous: the "pro-British" chiefs let Macnaghtan believe that his strategem had worked, until they lured him into discussing it in front of the other chiefs. Confronted with direct evidence of British duplicity, the other Afghan chiefs cut Macnaughtan to pieces, ended negotiations over the conditions under which the siege of the British might end, and simply slaughtered them wholesale. I don't remember how many survived the massacre and subsequent retreat, but I think it might have been one person. I don't know that the outcome would have been better absent British attempts to manipulate local rivalries, but it's hard to imagine how it could have been much worse.
The point about Abu Nidal is well taken, admittedly. I'm just saying that manipulating factional rivalries is a very, very tricky business, especially when they dislike you more than they fear one another. I have to wonder whether the authors have looked more carefully at the conditions under which this strategy has succeeded or failed in the past.posted by: Bear Braumoeller on 08.07.06 at 10:10 AM [permalink]
It's unclear what Schultz means by 'manual'. The only Army manuals I am familiar with are 'Field Manuals' which, as the title implies, are for use by company and field grade officers. They focus largely on tactical issues. Moreover, a 'counterinsurgency manual' would be written to apply not only to Iraq, but to Columbia, Afghanistan, everyone. If the new 'manual' refered to is a field manual, then it is right and proper that it largely ignores the complexity of situation in Iraq. After all, to a field officer it makes little difference that your opponent is a disgruntled Sunni chieftain or a Islamist Shi'ite mullah. You simply want to keep your men from being killed, and kill as many of them as possible -- i.e. destroy their ability to operate.posted by: Mitchell Young on 08.07.06 at 10:10 AM [permalink]
Neocons keep on touting the supposed significance of this release, sometimes, in hushed conspiratorial tones, but with very little evidence of any kind.
I've no doubt that some of the criminals are involved in the general rise in crime and kidnappings that has made Iraq a nasty place, and that they help out the insurgents in smuggling, robberies and crimes on occasions. But its hard to believe that the large majority of insurgents are
And we know a great deal of the high level corruption in Iraq comes from exiles who returned after the invasion. Ditto for a lot of the militias (well, Sadr's is home grown, but again a lot of its commanders were originally preachers or local leaders, not released prisoners).
Neocons can spin all they like about the supposed significance of the Saddam releases (and like I said, they probably increased street crime and provided some low level manpower to the insurgency and the militias), but I have not seen any evidence so far to suggest that this in any way a significant step in the growth of the insurgency.posted by: erg on 08.07.06 at 10:10 AM [permalink]
But, I was incorrect to put Ramadi on that list, the town has been a rats nest for nearly a year now. While we had moved some more Marines there late last year, we actually have not undertaken a city-wide clearing operation there. I had been thinking of the operations further up the Euphrates ratline, largely around Al Qa'im and the sourrounding towns. Note here, my specific use of wide spread clearing operations-- these have mostly looked fairly similar. Sourround a town, sealing all entrances. Request evacuation of civilians, and conduct through house to house clearing...
As for your second point "Various groups on the ground have realized that the United States is not there to stay as a 'occupying power' that their presence at best is temporary... Now various groups are jockeying for position for who will inherit Iraq after the withdrawal of US troops." I agree completely, with the exception of your assertation of slow US realization. I think the fundamental disagreement has to do with how you define the military. If you only look at what the four stars are saying, than you have a point, but they are fundamently politicians, and their statements are parsed as closely as the President's. But, instead, by looking at the actions of the military on the ground, and the reporting of Milbloggers and of some of my fellow military friends, I can tell you that this is not the case, at least not at the level of the Company/Battalion commander. As I have said before, Yon/Roggio/etc were reporting on these factions and their internal tensions over a year ago. At the local level, many commanders have been good at playing up these rivalries. See examples:
The crux of the problem comes when you refer to the (inevitible) withdrawl of US troops. You are correct in your analysis that this is the gamble many Shia politicians have been making. The question is do we have the stomach to stay until after we have cleaned up this Shia militia problem, and that's where Bush's nausiating Stay the Course rhetoric comes in.
But you carefully qualify your remarks that you think this has added to it, but not "in any way a significant step in the growth". I actually agree with you. But remember my original point. I was not saying that the insurgency was created solely by these releases, but instead as an example of how members of the military are identifying seperate factions withing the insurgency and their varying motivations. Remember Dr. Schultz's original point in the article was that the military wasn't doing precisly this, and I was simply offering a counterexample.
But, once again, all this is referring to the *old* insurgency. There has been a dramatic change that occured around the beginning of this year, and many milbloggers predicted it. The US strategy had been to make insurgency expensive, democracy inevitible (at least in the mid-term), and push Iraqis into the political process. Now, this has largely occured, as most insurgents are setting their sights on other Iraqis and other ethnic groups, and not on Americans. We have successfully made it their problem, and more Iraqis are starting to use the political mechanisms to try and leverage power. Now, the ethnic cleansing needs to stop, but with the force of US troops and most Iraqi ethnic/political groups becoming more engaged with the nacent government, it is time for us to realize that this isn't yet victory, but it is progress.posted by: Reid on 08.07.06 at 10:10 AM [permalink]
It didn’t imagine that Iraq would become a magnet for international jihadists, so it failed to seal the borders.
I don't think the borders are sealable. Iraq has what, 4000+ km of borders, stationing one guy every 50 meters would take at least 80,000 troops and would result in a lot of guys just sitting out in the bush waiting for someone to pick them off.
'Seal the borders' may sound like a good idea, but it's one of those things that's a hell of a lot easier said than done.
It didn’t imagine the Sunni tribal militias would react with such violence to the American presence, so it failed to take the pre-emptive economic and political steps to address their grievances.
Their grivance is that Sunnis don't run the country any more.
I don't think this is a grievance that can be reasonably addressed.
And it failed to understand that there were radical elements within the Shiite community that would use force to try to establish a theocratic system.
I seriously doubt that. It may have underestimated heir numbers and determination, but I don't think they were unaware that these people existed- the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq has only been around for what, a bit over two decades now?posted by: rosignol on 08.07.06 at 10:10 AM [permalink]
It is of little surprise that the Army tends to gravitate toward "large formation" actions. Large formations require lots of heavy and expensive equipment that creates profits and jobs in many districts. With culture and language training for small units it is hard to make profits and create jobs "back home". After all "the 82nd airborne was not created to walk children to kindergarten" after all nobody can make a buck off of that.posted by: centrist on 08.07.06 at 10:10 AM [permalink]
"It's unclear what Schultz means by 'manual'. The only Army manuals I am familiar with are 'Field Manuals' which, as the title implies, are for use by company and field grade officers. They focus largely on tactical issues. "
This is true of the majority of FMs, but not of the few that are the most important. FM 100-5 Operations starts at the operational level and provides the framework for the other manulas you are thinking of. Another crucial FM, I forget the title at the moment, covers staff work from Corps level down, with sections on how operations orders are to be constructed, the decison-making process on and on and on. It has an annex on map grphics. In the past there were FMs on Soviet Army structure and doctrine. A lot of that was necessary for a battalion 2 and his section to know, but it was really useful mostly at brigade and division level.
So an FM covering varieties of insurgent groups, their possible structures along with affilations ot nation-states, their motivations, likelihood of and and barriers to interoperability and such, and general vulnerabilites, would be a very suitable document within the system of doctrinal publications.posted by: Jim on 08.07.06 at 10:10 AM [permalink]
The Pentagon’s new counterinsurgency manual suffers from similar flaws. It focuses almost exclusively on combating cohesive groups of insurgents who share the same goals.
Methinks we've actually solved this one on the ground, if only by accident. The downward trend in U.S. casualties since 11/2004 (and yes, it's there on a statistical basis) has been accompanied by ever-increasing inter-communal violence. Basically, they've quit shooting at us because they're too busy shooting at each other. Whether this results in a true civil war followed by a breakup, Shi'a dominance or something else is, I think, besides the point. None of the likely possibilities result in a new Ba'athist state, and the pip-squeeks can be dominated as easily as a unitary Iraq. Possibly moreso, given that they'd fear each other a great deal more than they'd fear us.posted by: Bernard Guerrero on 08.07.06 at 10:10 AM [permalink]
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