06 February 2010

In case you didn't get the memo

NATO troops will be going on the offensive around the town of Marjah, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in an operation known as Operation Moshtarak (the Dari word for "Together"). Currently, some 3,000 British troops are already clearing the area of insurgents. When all is said and done, the entire operation will involve 15,000 troops from the US, and Great Britain, including members of the elite SAS and Special Forces. British and US forces have already secured the road networks to the north and east of Marjah, with approximately 3,000 British troops in a cordon position around the town. Apache gunships are poised to provide support from a base known as Camp Bastion. The ensuing assault will be spearheaded by US Marines.

Of course, I don't really need to repeat this--it's been all over the news today, and already has its own entry in Wikipedia. I'm not kidding, I actually just ripped most of that previous paragraph off of what was written in the Guardian. I kept reading it and feared that I'd be responsible for getting someone killed, until I realized that the newspapers just did the same thing--with interactive maps, no less.

Certainly, it's unusual to broadcast the details of an attack so far in advance. One might argue it's foolish. But General Stanley McChrystal's no fool--there has to be some sort of method to the madness. Could it be a giant deception campaign? Possibly. However, Ken Payne from Kings of War has a more likely explanation, drawn straight from counterinsurgency principles. Well, okay, the first one isn't from COIN principles--it's just plain common sense.

Two very sound reasons for the lack of operational secrecy suggest themselves. First, I’d back the insurgents to know something was coming, even without a subscription to the [Wall Street] Journal.

Second, more importantly, avoiding a big fight is the name of the game for the coalition. Preserving your force and securing the people are key objectives if you’re going to do population-focused counterinsurgency. Ideally you want to take control of the populous areas with minimal fighting, and you want the insurgent out in the sticks, where he can be hunted down more readily than among the population, and where there’s less chance of large-scale civilian casualties.

The insurgent, meanwhile, must fight among the people, not just for safety, but to retain his relevance. Announcing that you’re coming gives him a tough choice.

Still, it all kind of reminds me of this quote from a classic movie:

Ted Striker: My orders came through. My squadron ships out tomorrow. We're bombing the storage depots at Daiquiri at 1800 hours. We're coming in from the north, below their radar.
Elaine Dickinson: When will you be back?
Ted Striker: I can't tell you that. It's classified.

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