Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Military History and Warfare: Counter-insurgency: Counter-insurgency Operations

This week I'm very pleased to introduce a brand new series of articles written by a new guest writer, Terry Tucker. Terry is currently on the ground in Afghanistan and will be writing on the topic of counter-insurgency operations based upon both his own experiences and the study of military history.

The Global War on Terror offers a glimpse of how the lessons of insurgency and counterinsurgency are problematic. [i] Building the operational capacity and capabilities of a counterinsurgent security force, to include police, offer lessons in how difficult it is to develop an integrated civil-military approach to combating an insurgency.

Likewise a study of the problems associated with how insurgencies arise is also important and prudent in understanding the lessons of the past. Some might believe that the past is only intelligible from the present. This gives short shrift to the lessons of history and how the present conditions are a result of that past.

In attempting to overcome these problematic conditions, there are several components that affect the overall civil-military engagement strategy that are used to integrate this approach. Some examples of these components include training the indigenous force, and, of course, the elements of politics, diplomacy, geo-politics, global opinion and fully integrated civil-military operations under a unified command.

Lessons can be learned from any type of war, conflict or military operation but assuming that those lessons will also be similar in the next conflict is a serious mistake. Sometimes these lessons learned can constrain thinking about the future, especially when one assumes that past lessons will be similarly duplicated. In this same regard combining lessons learned with planning usually has more to do with what happened in the past rather than how one can affect the future.
With this in mind, how does one determine if the past is an adequate guide for the future?

After seven years the United States is still involved in a global counterinsurgency effort; a counterinsurgency against fundamentalists that adhere to a particularly violent strain of religious ideology. The tone and tempo of news reports from the myriad news sources would lead one to believe that 5 years is an extraordinarily long time to secure a victory. The history of insurgency indicates that 5 years is just the beginning[ii]. Likewise the global war on terror has been classified as a war against ideas, religion and ideology.

[iii] How is one to determine if there are lessons learned from the past if there is a lack of consensus on the type of conflict we are waging? This is rather problematic as diversity of the origin of the problem does not obstruct the singularity of the mission for the insurgent; for instance, look at the uneasy yet cooperative alliance of Iran/Hezbollah and Syria/Fatah Their brand of radical Islam preaches a complete intolerance and all that is antithetical to Western values; they seek to completely replace Western codes with an extreme code of Islam. There current uneasy alliance is more like a temporary marriage of convenience.

The diversity of these sects does not detract them (relatively speaking) from the singularity of their mission; to use violence and terrorism to achieve there ultimate aims. The mixture of subversion, propaganda and violent pressure coupled to an ideological strategy is there idea of a recipe to success.

The First Intifada was a great case of exploiting these principles, the 2nd Intifada was a disaster and the Aug 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah conflict ended with both sides declaring victory, yet the general consensus seems to be that Hezbollah gained the upper hand. In both cases, as insurgent or counterinsurgent, it is the management of the narrative with moral attributes (think David vs Goliath here) tied to the strategy. In essence it requires more than just an adherence to the traditional principles of war when defining the strategy.

Increasingly, there must be complete integration of multiple military and non military agencies to the strategy and more importantly a corresponding change in mindset within these players as well.[iv] This is not easy considering that most militaries are taught that victory comes through the pursuit of aggressive offensive operations. Sometimes in a counterinsurgency it might be better to do nothing at all.

With this in mind, here is a sample of a few of the military historical lessons learned from past counterinsurgency and stability operations.

1) Politics and diplomacy must have primacy
2)Discipline, firepower and organization coupled with small unit tactics are key to military success
3) Centralized planning, decentralized execution within the commanders mission intent or end state must be tied to the political/diplomatic effort Draw distinction between bandits, rebels, thieves, and insurgents, etc, etc.
4) Creation of special units such as recon and tracking units
5) Doctrine and techniques, tactics and procedures are codified thru lessons learned; this pseudo doctrine fills emerging and existing gaps in methodology.
6) Learning to fail fast and adapt quickly.
7) Public critical of operations; so manage the information war ahead of the press and be sure that your “message” has the “moral” high ground.
8) Good deeds insufficient to counteract collateral damage, mistrust or other stupid actions by self

Watch for the continuation of this topic in the next issue as we briefly examine other critical elements such as urban operations and civil considerations critical to success.

[i] The term problematic was used in a conversation by an US Army Officer to describe the difficult conditions in accomplishing training with the Afghan National Army and Police.[ii] Consider such examples as Vietnam, Algeria, Rhodesia, Nicaragua, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, The Arab-Israeli conflict and The Maccabees[iii] See Countering a Global Insurgency A Strategy for the War on Terrorism, LTC (Dr.) David Kilcullen; Waging the War of Idea’s, William Rosenau, Ph.D, RAND Corp; Terrorism in the Name of Religion, Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, St Andrews University, Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.[iv] My personal observations of Police and Army Mentors in the Kunduz and Northern Region area of Afghanistan confirm this when we attended a meeting at the Konduz Provincial Reconstruction Team HQ’s on Thursday morning the 3rd of April. In attendance where the German Police mentors, American Police mentors and a US State Department Representative to the PRT. The US Army Major that led the meeting was ill-equipped to lead the meeting; the meeting devolved to a finger pointing session; in one case a German police team had been on the ground more than 17 days and still had not received its orders for its training mission to train the Afghan Police.

Afghan sand storm just moments before it hits the camp. The Afghan’s call It “the wind of 120 days” the wind is roughly a constant 22 knots from May to Sept.

The airfield at Feyzabad; cargo and people are lifted in and out; for this trip it was a US Air National Guard Unit from Baltimore Maryland providing the Heavy lift.

German Provincial Reconstruction Team in Feyzabad, soldiers stop to watch a German CH-53, Heavy Lift Helicopter take off

Terry Tucker retired from the US Army after 23 years of active duty. He has served in Long Range Reconnaissance, Infantry, Cavalry, Staff and various leadership positions. His civilian and military experience and assignments include US Fortune 50’s and the US Department of Defense. He has over 10 years experience in the Middle East and has trained soldiers and clients in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Afghanistan. He is currently in Afghanistan on a training team that is training the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. He has contributed articles in the US Army Infantry Magazine, a professional journal of the US Army Infantry School and he is the author of a book; U.S. Counterinsurgency Methods and The Global War on Terror.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Military History and Warfare: Castles: Hadrian's Wall

This week, a trip to Scotland gave me the opportunity to have a look at the remnants of the mighty Hadrian’s wall. In 122AD the Emperor Hadrian visited Britain. Finding the northern border ill-defined and under almost continuous attack, he ordered a wall to be built across England from the Tyne estuary to the Solway Firth. This covered a distance of 73 miles (117km) and represents a massive feat of Roman engineering and design skill.

Although these pictures no longer convey the original size of the wall, it was built of stone 10ft (3m) wide and 15ft (5m) high with a protective ditch 4m deep in front. Garrisons across the wall would be stationed in castles set at one mile intervals and in turrets and towers in between. A further set of forts located behind the wall would reinforce and support the garrisons as and when required. The whole project involved quarrying some 27 million cubic feet of stone. Amazingly, construction was completed in just seven years. The skill and speed of the wall’s construction had much to do with its building force. Hadrian’s wall was not built by slave labour, but by legionaries of the Roman army.

However, when completed the wall was manned by auxiliary troops who garrisoned its 79 milecastles and 16 forts. The auxiliaries acted as both guard troops and frontier police. The fully-fledged legions (of which there were three stationed in Roman Britain consisting of 5000 men each) were used only in major campaigns or to repel invaders.


During my visit to Hadrian’s wall, I got to survey the remains of ‘Banna’, known today as ‘Birdsowald’. The site contains a semi-excavated Roman fort positioned on the wall.

When the Roman builders arrived they had found a wooded area on a boggy piece of land. The wood had to be cleared and the bog drained before construction of the fort could begin. When completed, it would have housed 1,000 Roman soldiers. The fort was originally built from turf and timber. Soon the foundations were laid for a permanent stone fort with six gates. It is these outlines that remain today. When completed, the fort had consisted of towers, barracks, officer’s quarters and a storeroom. In the centre lay the command headquarters for the area.

A reconstruction of the fort.

The above picture shows the remains of the only known drill and exercise hall to be found in any auxiliary fort of the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire came under increasing attack in the fourth and fifth centuries. From 155AD to 410AD, Hadrian's Wall was breached four times by invading Barbarians. Towards the beginning of the fifth century, Rome's power began to wane and troops were pulled out of Britain. With no one left to maintain it, sections of the wall began to fall into disrepair. Much of the stone from both the wall and its forts were later removed and reused in the early medieval period.

Nonetheless, enough remains of the wall for it rightly to be considered one of the great engineering projects of pre-modern Britain.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Military History and Warfare: 17th Military History Blog Carnival

Welcome to September's edition of the Military History Blog Carnival.

One of the great things that I love about the military history carnival is the broad range of topics that are covered by bloggers throughout the blogosphere. This month is no exception.

Beginning with a boyhood hero of my own, Naomi Stevens' Diary from England blog tells us that Admiral Nelson has been named the greatest British military hero of all time. She also briefly outlines the background to Nelson's fame.

Staying with the nautical theme, Rich over at Chronologi Cogitatones presents an interesting article on an joint Anglo-Dutch naval battle against the Spanish in 1602. Its worth pointing out that this is the third post in a series following the career of Sir Robert Mansell. The other two articles can also be found on Rich's blog.

A very interesting and slightly unusual post can be found on Here, the Emperor Napoleon's career is analysed in the context of his leadership skills. The article is well worth a read.

Over at The Whited Sepulchre, Allen describes the French 'Maginot line'. He also manages to throw in a quick cost comparison to the US/Mexico border fence which makes the Maginot line look like a bargain!

Covering similar ground, I too have submitted a post on the Maginot line. This can be found here

Gavin at Investigations of a Dog presents us with a very interesting comparison of the careers of Cromwell and Balfour. Both where cavalry commanders who made a major impact on the English Civil War. Whilst Cromwell went on to run England as Lord Protector, Balfour faded into obscurity. Gavin argues that Balfour's career is worthy of a little more attention.

Gabriele at The Lost Fort has some great pictures and material on a medievel German castle which used the natural rocky landscape as the bulk of its structure.

Finally, Ken Reynolds gives us a collection of biographies of soldiers from the 38th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary force during the First World War. Ken has clearly spent a great deal of time researching these biographies and it is well worth having a look around the blog.

I hope you have enjoyed this month's edition of the Military History carnival.

If you are interested in hosting October's edition (or any other month), please drop an e-mail here

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Military History and Warfare: The Thirty Years War: The 'Vasa' Part II

This week, due to popular demand, I shall be taking another look at the recovered warship 'Vasa' with more pictures of the ship and its museum. However, before that I would like to remind you about the 17th Military History Carnival being hosted on this site on the 14th September.

The handy submission form can be accessed here .

In my previous post on the Vasa, I examined some of the historical background to the ship and the events leading up to its sinking. This week, I shall be focusing on the recovery operation and some of the archaeological finds discovered in the wreckage.

In the decades that followed after the sinking of the ship in 1628, efforts were begun to salvage the valuable cannons and provisions that could still be recovered and reused. This explains why out of the original complement of sixty-four cannons, only three were recovered with the wreckage in 1961.

Knowledge of the ship's location was then lost for three hundred years. In the twentieth century, it was thanks to the determination of a Swedish marine technican, Anders Franzen that the ship was again located Using a homemade coring probe, he found a large wooden object near Beckholmen in Stockholm. After identifying the ship, the Swedish navy was brought in (along with National Heritage Board) to form the Vasa committe. Together, they made plans to raise the Vasa.

In order to even have a chance to raise the ship, divers were required to use pressure hoses to dig six tunnels underneath the wreck. This was dangerous work. There was a strong possibility that the wreck could shift as the mud was being excavated, trapping the diver. Fortunately, no one was injured in the process. Once the tunnels were complete, steel cables were run underneath and attached to a pair of lifting pontoons on the surface. The ship was then raised in a series of eighteen lifts bringing her from a depth of 33 metres to 16. Over the next year and a half, debris and mud were cleared from the ship in the hopes of lightening the load. The gunports were temporally plugged and iron bolts that had rusted away were replaced.

On the morning of April 24th 1961, the Vasa broke surface and once again floated in Stockholm harbour. She was then towed to a dry dock and works were begun. Although a museum was established for members of the public to visit whilst the ship was being excavated, it was not until 1990 that the Vasamuseet we see today was completed.

Unlike the old museum, Vasa museet has three levels of viewing galleries. This allows us to view the ship from above:

Having learnt valuable lessons from the Vasa's maiden voyage these cannon ports were sealed as the ship was raised to the surface.

Thirty to fifty men, women and children died during the sinking in 1628. Some were below decks when the ship keeled over trapping them, others may have been unable to swim. As a result, several skeletons have been recovered from the site.

Using DNA tests on the remains, scientists have been able to determine the age, sex and relative health of crew. The ability to gather this vast amount of detail, gives the historian an incredible insight into the lives of ordinary people in the seventeenth century. Look here for some reconstructions of how the crew may have looked.

It is important to remember that although the Vasa has been largely reconstructed, large parts of the ship were originally painted in bright decorative colours.

The Vasa was as much a work of art as she was a warship.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of posts on the Vasa! I strongly encourage you to go to Stockholm and take a look for yourselves.

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