Friday, October 24, 2008

Military History and Warfare: Counter-insurgency: Lessons of History

Counter-insurgency: How Do We Choose Which Lessons of History are Applicable?

This brief essay attempts to address the problems of identifying relevant historical lessons to countering an insurgency.

The illustrations most often used to describe success in counterinsurgency are the British experience in Malaya and the American experience in the Philippines. Conversely, the French experiences in Vietnam and Algeria, aside from some tactical innovations, are considered to be cautionary tales in how not to conduct counterinsurgency operations.

When one reads the myriad of news reports and analysis, it is easy to get the impression that by making (what we believe to be) correct historical similarities, we can therefore correctly identify and isolate both the components of the insurgency and the correct methodology for countering it (as opposed to “combating” it).

The British example in Malaya is clear example of precision labeling in identifying the “kind of war” that one is fighting (notice the inference to Clausewitz?). The British used the term “Emergency” to mobilize the desired government agencies, police and military organizations to prosecute the counterinsurgency effort. ‘Prosecute’ appears to be the best description of events because of the British emphasis on the rule of law and the heavy use and primacy of police in all its operations and engagement strategies. This is not to say that the military was not used, on the contrary, they were; however, they played a secondary role and were subordinate in many cases to other agencies and departments.

The American experience in the Philippines can primarily be attributed to Magsaysay through his effective leadership, military and governmental reforms. Military operations were subordinate to the goal of winning the support of the people, not only in tactics, but in behavior. A detail often overlooked by US analysts, is the fact that the Philippine Army had not been created entirely in the image of the US Army. Thus it was not indoctrinated with conventional US solutions, tactical doctrine and organizations. All of these “force multipliers” were never fully understood by US Commanders that believed in large full scale military operations that depended heavily on the use of superior firepower and felt that the best model for success was the historical examples of WW II.

What does this mean for those that intend to use the historical lessons learned? The first question that must be asked is what is unique about the kind of insurgency being faced? What kind of insurgency is this? Where is the “white noise” that seemingly distracts one’s ability to root out and identify the root cause? Once both the kind of war that being fought and the factors that make the particular counterinsurgency unique have been identified, questions can be asked of what lessons are transferable from previous experiences to this new situation.

In essence, some general lessons of success from the Malayan Experience and the Philippine experience can be articulated as follows:

· Military operations are subordinate to and dominated by political objectives; this includes behavior and tactics

· Solid intelligence from the civilian sources that is vetted and validated by multiple sources drives military operations if those operations support political objectives

· Small unit tactics reign supreme; small unit night patrols, ambushes, long range reconnaissance and commando squads, combined with a careful targeting of psychological warfare and information operations based on solid intelligence.

· Live with and mingle with the population; leaders must constantly review the element of risk to the force. “Going Native” early and quickly will mitigate that risk.

· Avoid the pitfalls’ of “do-goodism”; throwing resources and “largess” at a problem without participation and support of the people/government/population in the entire decision making process creates no confidence or support in the reforms or programs.

Lastly, remember that these are general historical lessons and estimates. How and if these lessons can be applied to say Iraq or Afghanistan needs to be carefully weighed against the questions we posed earlier: What is unique about this new and particular situation? What experience and lessons can be transferred? How do we adapt the appropriate general lessons to a unique situation?

Terry Tucker

The Bone Yard. Old Afghan Army equipment. There are many such bone yards like this throughout the country. Left center in this picture is a BM-21, 122mm Rocket launcher and just to the right of it is a piece of towed artillery.

For comparison; the two tanks in the middle are cold war era soviet tanks. The tank facing you on the right is a Soviet T54/55 series tank. The bore evacuator is at the end of the gun tube. The tank on the left is a soviet T-62. There are many variants of both vehicles and sometimes the location of the bore evacuator is not a good indication that you have correctly identified the tank. Other considerations include road wheel spacing, machine gun type mounted on the turret, location of infra-red lights, search lights and other equipment fixed on the hull or turret

Friday, October 17, 2008

Military History and Warfare: Counter-insurgency: Urban Operations

Counterinsurgency, Urban Operations and Lessons Learned

Urban operations are an increasing aspect of modern day conflicts. Urban operations are also essential because of the many considerations that result in the decision to conduct an urban operation, for instance; Political considerations, Psychological considerations, Operational Considerations, Potential Center of gravity. The 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah conflict reflects at least two of the above considerations, as does the decision of US Forces to seize Kabul and Kandahar early in the Afghan war.

If one assumes that doctrine is the key element of training and that this training is the key to a unit's ability to execute an operation, and successful execution in turn results in a succession of operational successes, and even perhaps a decisive strategic success, then there are two predominate themes that are linked.
First the basic tactic’s techniques and procedures (TTP’s) remain unchanged: these are to Suppress, Breach, Attack/Assault and Defend. Second, a defender and attacker make critical assumptions about the population when they make the decision to conduct urban operations. This decision and the size of the force to use are directly dependent on the commander’s mission analysis. The operation is then conducted by a number of units; the key factor being each squad, platoon and company and how well trained they are to conduct urban operations; the training is derived from an understanding of doctrine and an emphasis placed on that doctrine.
Three key failures across the spectrum of urban operations include:

· Complacency
· A lack of specialization of units and Techniques, Tactics and Procedures or (Drills)
· Refugee’s and Internally Displaced Persons.

Cities are resilient and infrastructure generally continues to operate despite conflict. The 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli conflict demonstrates that urban combat is still crucial and will be a center of gravity that will disrupt operations and affect political and operational considerations. An analysis of urban operations between WW II and 1998 for urban operations in Stalingrad, Aachen, Manilla, Hue, Singapore, Beirut, Mogadishu, Grozny and Sarajevo, reveals a number of themes and lessons learned. These themes and lessons that are recurrent include:
· Complacency of your enemies resolve – Stalingrad, Mogadishu, Grozny (Iraq)
· Overestimating your ability
· No contingency planning –Stalingrad, Grozny
· Destruction/turning the city into rubble - Stalingrad, Aachen, Grozny
· Coalition soldiers operationally weak - Stalingrad, Hue, Mogadishu (Iraq and Afghanistan)
· Casualty rates high
· Misuse of armor- Stalingrad, Grozny,
· Chicanery/Deception/Ruses (Tactical) Seek to devise tactics and methods that put your opponent at a disadvantage
· AdHoc Task Organization (Small mobile teams work best) (3 x 25 man teams) squad composition is also changed NO COMPOSITE UNITS
· Improvisation of weapons and tactics (hugging techniques, weapon for multiple uses, ie RPG’s or Recoiless Rifles)
· Infantry team re-organizations
· Specialized urban training and specialized training to work with armor.
· Published doctrine is of little help except for pointers on defense
· Methodical and firepower intensive operations
· Battlefield is not linear and clean
· Snipers, mines and communications are your most important assets
· Urban structure and architecture is important
· ROE/ROI (Rules of Engagement/ Rules of Interaction
· Units do not plan or implement security measures
· No logistics plan
· Information/Psyops war: Discrepancies between Official sources and News Media (Public Opinion is extremely important; prepare provocations to destabilize along ethnic lines) Grozny, Israeli-Hezbollah, Iraq, Afghanistan
· Extensive use of Electronic Counter Measures and satellite blocking
· Assaults uncoordinated; Lack of coordination between units, agencies and police.
· Technology is ineffective when the soldier or user is untrained, confused and afraid to use it.
· The capacity of clans, culture and social traditions goes far beyond surface discipline
· Force ratios not adhered to
· The decision to fight in successive cities (this is a critical failure in decision making)
· Preparation for urban combat has to begin in peacetime

Increasingly, urban operations are a requirement of counterinsurgency. Generally speaking the area known as the Middle East is comprised of 18 Nations; is 4.3 million square miles, had a population of 326 million in 2002and 57% of this population resides in urban areas. For comparison, 25% of the population was urban in 1960 and current projections indicate that by the year 2015 that 70% of the population will be urban.[ii] Increasingly, military operations and or counter-insurgency operations within urban areas means that operations will increasingly include a succession of urban operations that literally will cross ethnic and cultural boundaries from one street to the next and will increase the complexity of operations. Of particular importance is the fact that Middle Eastern cities are unique and different from Western and European urban design. Despite the fact that some Middle Eastern cities are changing and may begin to resemble Western design as a result of sprawl and growth, the city center in Middle Eastern cities still has a significant religious, political and social influence and Middle Eastern urban design is also a physical reflection of tribal, clan and community separation that only the locals will know and understand, thus adding another layer of complexity to the hearts and minds campaign.

- Terry Tucker

[i] Sharp Corners: Urban Operations at Century’s End, Roger J. Spiller, US Army Command and General Staff College Press; Block by Block: The Challenge of Urban Operations, William G Robertson, Lawrence A. Yates, US Army Command and General Staff College Press.
[ii] Population Resource Center;

A View from the Rampart: A mine clearing training session south of our camp. French and US Demolition Experts train Afghan students the art and science of mine clearance.

Urban Terrain: Every alley, door, window and crevice offers defensible advantage and can become a dangerous trap. Rubble and city composition can also add to the complexity.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Military History and Warfare: Counter-insurgency: Classical or Modern Counterinsurgency

Tactical Lessons, Strategic Success and Counterinsurgency Operations Classical or Modern Counterinsurgency?

Counterinsurgency has not received this much attention since the 1960’s and President Kennedy’s implementation of the US Army Special Warfare Center. Our renewed interest in the art of insurgency and counterinsurgency has sparked fierce debate over the kind of war we are fighting: terrorism, irregular warfare or an asymmetrical war. When we label a war a counterinsurgency, by definition, it means that we are fully aware of the type of insurgency we are fighting; do we really? Is terrorism a type of war or a tactic? What do we really mean when we use the term irregular warfare? And What exactly is an Asymmetrical War?

My education in military studies began with a healthy dose of Clausewitz, Jomini, and Mahan. I studied Patton, Guderian, Rommel, and a host of other famous conventional war practitioners. As my warrior education progressed, I was taught the “classics”; T.E. Lawrence, C.E. Callwell, David Galula, and, Frank Kitson. I also became familiar with, Mao Zedong and Che Guevara.

The US Army released its new counterinsurgency manual in Dec 2007. It is heavily steeped in the theories of classical counterinsurgency (COIN). Classical counterinsurgency places a heavy emphasis on maximizing the legitimacy of the Host Government; US Army Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency, also does the same. Yet as a trainer and practitioner of counterinsurgency attempting to implement the newest doctrine, something is amiss between the classical textbook approach and what appears to be actually happening on the ground.

Classical counterinsurgency is based on lessons learned between the 1940’s and the 1970’s. These lessons were gleaned from places like Algeria, Malaysia, Central America, and Vietnam. Most of the insurgencies during this period were based on either Nationalism, Anti-Colonialism or both. As a result, the strategies and lessons learned focused on how an already established, legitimate, yet, weak government could re-assert itself and maintain the status quo; including the minority or opposition group backed by a Western Power.

The counterinsurgency we are experiencing in Afghanistan is not nationalistic or anti-colonial. Insurgents today are following in failed States or States bordering between weak and failed. In classical counterinsurgency the insurgent takes the initiative and initiates the campaign. Some examples include: Algeria, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Columbia, and Rhodesia. Over the last couple of years Coalition forces or weak governments have initiated the campaign and the insurgent is now in a position to be strategically reactive, think Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the covert war for sanctuary and financial support in places like Saudi Arabia, Europe, and the Arab Emirates.

Today the paradox of modern counterinsurgency might be explained as: Classical insurgencies usually were started to disrupt the status quo and to overthrow existing governments. The insurgents had a strategy and a political agenda that was Nationalistic in its nature. Modern insurgents, on the other hand, are now attempting to preserve the status quo where a weak government or foreign invaders represent revolutionary change. Today’s insurgent does not always seek to gain control of the State. Think Kurds and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area of the North West Territories and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The modern insurgent does not always want to succeed from the State but rather control portions of it; they could care less if the State collapses, as long as they are in control of their area of interest. Modern insurgents, unlike the Nationalists of yore, really have not stipulated how and what would replace the existing structure or government, or, articulated a “National” Strategy. Even bin Laden’s alleged strategy is more akin to the structure of the Pasha’s and Bey’s of the Ottoman Empire, a strategy that espouses an adherence to an ideology subject to local interpretation, refinement and enforcement, and, no real unified plan on how to implement it.Consequently, counterinsurgency becomes very dynamic and very complex, especially when the insurgent you’re fighting only cares about curing God’s favor through countless individual acts with the hope of eventually gaining paradise and ultimate victory.

The modern insurgent is fighting a “resistance” type of war and seeks to wear down the effort by constantly attacking soft targets. He thinks that we will just leave if he can continue this tactic. On the other hand, Coalition Forces collateral damage and mis-managed information operations continue to erode Coalition credibility, create a wave of new recruits and, more importantly, erode world and general public opinion of our ability to wage a successful counterinsurgency.Thus, the lessons learned here include: Understanding that cultural differences define Jus in Bello. Western Standards are not necessarily agreed to by all others. Understanding these cultural differences in “who” is defining the “just war” will help us understand the domestic and local origins of what constitutes defiance and how it might escalate. Understanding this process helps to define the political-military engagement strategy and process. Remember, diplomacy and politics first.

Other lessons include: Countermeasures designed to fight the enemy strategy and not his ideology; carefully managing the use of force and insuring that your media message is precise and attains the moral high ground in the language of the local cultural area. In essence you have to develop the media message for the local and not just your audience at home. Furthermore this message “branding” so to speak, must be precise for the regional area. Messages devised for Afghanistan might not be well received in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Information operations are complex and need to be “Targeted”. Think commercial branding here. A commercial message designed for an English speaking audience may fail miserably with your French or German speaking audience, same goes for the Middle East and Golden Crescent. Syrian and Saudi audiences are not the same as Egyptian, Afghani or Turkish audiences. One size does not fit all and the only real commonality among them all is the religion of Islam, and even that is further divided by those that adhere to a particular branch. Despite the fact that popular or unpopular domestic support will either make or break your strategy; information operations must be layered to target specific audiences.

Patrolling and raiding are still critical, but, this technique, tactic and procedure (TTP) has required adjustment and we are finding that more snipers, more observation posts and more surveillance must be increasingly incorporated into the intelligence plan to pre-empt the insurgent’s intentions.

Lastly, at risk of sounding cliché, Intelligence is critical to operations. It is especially critical in counterinsurgency because intelligence drives operations, but, intelligence preparation of the battlefield is also being modified to account for the complex dynamics of modern insurgencies

Terry Tucker

Convoy: A convoy heads towards downtown Mazer-e-Sharif. You can see the “Blue Mosque” faintly in the background

The Blue Mosque: The Blue Mosque in the heart of Mazar-e-Sharif; This is a very famous and historical landmark in Afghan History.

Rockets; After we received an evening shelling, search teams look for the point of origin and attempt to track down the guilty. Here are two rockets that were recovered that did not ignite. This is an example of how primitive, yet effective some of the enemy techniques can be

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Military History and Warfare: Counter-insurgency: The Birth of Air Assault: LZ X-Ray, Ia Drang 1965

Counterinsurgency and The Development of Airmobility Doctrine

The US Army defines the gestation of Airmobility as the mid 1950’s. A tactical doctrine manual, Field Manual 57-35, "Army Transport Aviation-Combat Operations” was written and a provisional sky cav platoon was formed which essentially, through extensive experimentation, eventually became the nucleus of the 792d Aerial Combat Reconnaissance Company (Provisional).[i] One of the first official steps to transformation occurred on 15 January 1960 with the formation of the Rodgers Board. The Rodgers board made several recommendations regarding helicopter type, design, funding and policy. One of its most important recommendations was the recommendation to “prepare an in depth study to determine whether the concept of air fighting units was practical and if an experimental unit should be activated to test its feasibility”. [ii] Although the scope of review of the Rodgers Board was limited, it provided the beginning’s of essential guidance for development and procurement and was indicative of the vision of transformation that was in its embryonic stage. [iii] As airmobility experimentation proceeded, the Howze board was officially appointed on 25 April 1962 [iv]. The board had an extremely demanding schedule and was required to submit its final report by 24 Aug 1962. General Howze, was given wide latitude in which to convene the board to include dealing directly with the Department of Defense, the Department of the Army, other military services, government agencies, civilian industry and to convene the board at other installations as he saw fit[v].

The Howze Board final report was submitted on 20 August 1962, 4 days ahead of schedule, and the formation of the “air assault division was the principal tactical innovation”[vi]. Although many had recognized that change was essential, the recommendations from the Rodgers report, the interim field testing and subsequent Howze Board Report, was, that the Army would enhance combat effectiveness in both conventional and counter-guerrilla actions and could accomplish other tasks with smaller forces in shorter campaigns.[vii] The new tactical innovations, by inference and implication, were supposed to support operational and strategic objectives and were focused on combining all the elements of combat power, maneuver forces, reconnaissance, communications and service support. The formation of the air assault division and the air cavalry combat brigade was to combine the classical functions of cavalry operations with the air assault division’s role of closing with and destroying the enemy on the ground. 

In essence the new innovations provided the mobility to move maneuver forces quickly, provide organic and immediate fire power through aerial weapons platforms to provide and perform the traditional indirect fire role that had previously been dominated by the Artillery and Air Forces close air support roles. Additionally, the aerial weapons platforms provided enhanced standoff, and, support by fire positions from the realm of the 2nd dimension; the air. 

In hindsight, although these tactical innovations provided an enormous amount of mobility and inherent firepower, they also contributed to the idea that tasks and campaigns could be effectively shorter and or shortened, and again, by implication, the speed of which maneuver delivers superior firepower would be the capstone of doctrine.[viii] Although the innovation of airmobility was to enhance the counter-guerrilla operations in Vietnam, the development of doctrine proceeded along conventional thinking and the doctrine of airmobility received its baptism by fire in the Ia Drang Valley at LZ X-RAY when the 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division conducted air assault operations into the area with the specific mission of Search and Destroy Operations.[ix] LTC Moore, would change his tactics, techniques and procedures slightly based on the intelligence estimate he received and directed that all units use the same landing zone instead of separate landing zones for each company. Further, the timing and synchronization of the air assault with the artillery was timed to within H -1 minute, not much room for error.

The United States Army would continue to emphasize that airmobility doctrine was nothing short of a doctrine that was a subset of conventional warfighting, albeit adapted to the Vietnam War. Additionally, US Army Capstone Doctrine essentially remained unchanged from the 1941 version of Field Manual 100-5, Operations; and Airmobility doctrine helped to further reinforce the notions of short sharp campaigns of short duration that were characterized by overwhelming firepower and an increase in mobility. It is extremely hard not to draw the correlation or similarity that American Airmobility doctrine was looking at ways to emulate and exceed the “gold standard” of maneuver warfare in the integration of firepower and mobility; the German experience of WW II, or more specifically, the German campaigns in Poland, France and the Low Countries. Never the less, US Army doctrine would experience its next major change 10 years later in 1976.

- Terry Tucker -[i] Airmobility in Vietnam, 1961-1971, pgs 3-8[ii] Ibid page 8-9[iii] Ibid[iv] Ibid page 20; Secretary McNamara, much like Donald Rumsfeld of today, had serious reservations about the Army’s ability to produce a reexamination of the transformation or modernization concepts that would produce fresh, unorthodox concepts. See page 19 of Airmobility, 1961-1971[v] Ibid[vi] Ibid page 22[vii] Authors Italics[viii] Ibid, page 20-24[ix] The source documents for this are the US Army, Center for Military History; Seven Firefights in Vietnam and Airmobile Operations. Increasingly, the US Army used helicopters in its missions and mission support. The largest airmobile operation in the early years occurred in June of 1964 with the airlift of 1300 Vietnamese Marines. In June 1965, 2000 Vietnamese marines used helicopters to Air Assault positions. The 1/7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division would conduct search and destroy mission in the Ia Drang less than 6 months later in Nov 1965. In the words of the Center for Military History;1/7 Cav was going to Air Assault in to “develop there targets” based on intelligence estimates. The new Air Assault techniques gave them a “quick strike” capability. Airmobility operation was adapting the use of conventional infantry tactics and was primarily a weapons platform and a movement platform.

A CH-53 Heavy Lift Helicopter making a sling load.

A team on board the aircraft waiting to take off, The aircraft is a UH-1H Model and was commonly called a Huey or a Slick

Captured enemy equipment: a 51 caliber MG and a two recoilless rifles, compliments of the Special Forces and 75th Ranger Battalion, Republic of Vietnam

Pictures courtesy of Earl S. Wemple III, Major, US Army Special Forces, Retired