24 February 2009

In the news, more links

I guess some things I wrote generated a lot of talk recently.  Jason Sigger at Armchair Generalist sent some traffic (which, unfortunately, included some Internet trolls) my way the other day.  I also got a recent mention from a Military Transition Team leader in Iraq who goes by the blogger handle of Boss Mongo , who provides excellent reading.  I should also be getting a quote in Small Wars Journal in the next few days.  

Boss Mongo also provides some tongue-in-cheek humor which I can relate to.  He and I have based our blogs extensively on counterinsurgency doctrine.  Why?  Because while we're in Iraq, we can't drink alcohol or associate with women with lax moral values, (nor can I wear my usual obnoxious T-shirts) so we really don't have much else to write about.  Indeed, more than one person has assured me that my well-documented life of debauchery has assured me a space in
 my very own personal Tenth Circle of Hell (feel free to chime in here).  Which is good, because I don't want to waste time at the in-processing station nor do I really want to deal with a room mate.  

This also means that, come block leave time, you're going to see a dramatic shift in topic.  But more on that later.

Anyway, William Lind wrote something today at Defense and the National Interest that's worth reading.  Mr. Lind is one of the authors of modern-day maneuver conflict, and helped to develop the term "Fourth Generation Warfare", which describes state vs. non-state combatants.  He offers a scathing critique of American infantry tactics, which he describes as unimaginative.  While I don't think the dearth is quite as bleak as he writes, let's take a look at some of his
 criticisms.  The first critique is that, obviously, too many Afghan civilians have died in airstrikes, which fuels the insurgency. This should come as no surprise to those who have witnessed the number of airstrikes by NATO forces grow some tenfold over the last few years.  The effect of civilian casualties has become so great that Secretary Robert Gates has said that, unless we can minimize the number of civilian casualties, we are lost.

Lind talks about airstrikes and artillery as the American way of war:

The answer is, because American infantry tactics are bad. They amount to
 little more than bumping into the enemy and calling for fire. The easiest way to provide the overwhelming
 firepower our bad infantry tactics depend on is with airstrikes. So to win
 tactically, we have to lose strategically. At least from the Vietnam War onward, that equation has come to
 define the American way of war. It is the price of bad tactics.

In my ROTC days, I can remember reading some professional magazine for the Field Artillery branch, which discussed the role of artillery and air strikes in battle, noting that the real role of the infantry was to find and fix the enemy so that overwhelming artillery and airstrikes could be brought to bear on them.  Which is great on a linear battlefield, free of complex terrain.  Unfortunately, this is based on the assumption that the real goal in battle is the destruction of
 the enemy's forces, as was posited by the miltary theorist Antoine-Henri Jomini.  But unfortunately, that's not the real object of military force--maneuver warfare theorists such as Lind and John Boyd note that the goal is to destroy the enemy's will to resist.  Indeed, airstrikes which kill civilians only increase the enemy's will to resist.   

The first is the unfortunate combination of hubris and
 intellectual sloth which characterizes most of the American officer corps - and infantry officers in particular. Most read nothing about their profession. Of those who d
o read, most confine their study to doctrinal manuals — the U.S. Army’s are wretched rehashed French stuff, the Marine Corp’s somewhat better — or histories of American
 victories. The number who really study tactics, learning about infiltration tactics, Jaeger tactics, the
 infantry tactics of oriental militaries etc. through reading, is tiny.

While I'd say that this might be a gross exaggeration, I will say
 that when forced to read regulation after regulation, plus field manuals, standard operating procedures,
 emergency procedures, policy memorandums, and a whole slew of e-mails in a regular day, I can see why so many officers
 are reluctant to crack open a book (or power on their
 Kindles).  Not to mention, reading is somewhat out of favor in this day and age as
 well.  But with the large number of officers now using the New Media to reach out and connect with one another, the
 learned officer is not an extinct species.  

 Almost all American training is focused on procedures and techniques
, taught by rote in canned, scripted exercises where the enemy is a tethered goat. Free-play training,
 against an active, creative enemy, generates imaginative tactics, because whoever employs such tactics wins. But free-play training is so rare in the American military that
 most American infantrymen receive none at all. They become expert in techniques for applying fires, but they know nothing else. In effect,
 many American infantry units have no tactics, they only have techniques.

Undeniably yes.  Almost every scenario is scripted.  In training scenarios, we will always know where the enemy is, what his general composition is, how many of him there are, and how he will behave upon making contact.  The enemy always plays right into our hands, is never too large to take on.  Training missions are almost always accomplished, barring massive failure, and
 focuslargely on the tactical aspects the mission.  You will never see the long-term effects of your air assault on a villiage, and how that affects their daily life.  

In the 80s, many military officials subjected units to "free-play" exercises.  For example, a battalion of troops might be conducting a movement and suddenly (and unexpectedly) see a battalion of paratroopers landing on their position--something they had never planned for.  The exercises generated much frustration, since none of the enemy's movements were known ahead of time, but they also tested the flexibility of commanders in dealing with a whole host of unexpected threats.  

Focus:  Feel free to agree or disagree with Bill Lind as necessary.

And here it is, your daily Star Wars.  Happy Mardi Gras.  (I don't think I want to know how the clone troops in this picture amassed these beads.)



Bag Blog said...

"Artillery Lends Dignity to What Would Otherwise Be a Vulgar Brawl" that is the words on a print sent from my uncle to then Col. Hal Moore.

J. said...

Similar to your observations, chemical corps officers know very little about the historical use of CB warfare. And try to get them to understand general military history... I once was in charge of conducting a staff ride at Gettysburg - I assigned each chemo a general officer to research and talk at the battlefield. Like pulling teeth without novacaine.