The Debate over Diminished Force Projection

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 5 months ago

Using e-mail, Google Analytics and comment information, I can tell that many of my repeat readers are professional military.  Many of my posts are rather simple in import and depth from time to time, and I suspect that some of my readers wonder, “Does he not understand that there is a more nuanced debate over force projection than he has given credit?”

Now, let me post a challenge to my readers.  If I am proven wrong, I will announce it in a post specifically showing my error, and if the reader wants, I will put his identity along with the post so that he can brag about showing this rookie and amateur a thing or two (and if the reader wants to stay anomymous, that’s okay too).

Here is the challenge.  I posted recently on Small Wars.  From the Small Wars Manual, can anyone give me anything even roughly analagous to the following:

“Killing an enemy combatant, especially a popular or loved one, will only cause the emboldening and empowering of his colleagues and the increase in the size of the enemy forces.  Therefore, it is better in certain circumstances to allow the enemy to shoot at you without returning fire.”

That’s the challenge for those of you who favor “minimum” force projection.  Go find such a set of statements in the Small Wars Manual.

To continue the discussion, let’s use Pakistan as a starting example.  Reuters is reporting that:

QUETTA, Pakistan – Hundreds of rioters angered by the killing of a rebel tribal leader rampaged through a southwestern Pakistani city Sunday, burning dozens of shops, banks and police vehicles.

Police arrested hundreds on the second day of violent protests against the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, 79, in a raid on his mountain hideout.

An alliance of four Baluch nationalist groups announced a 15-day mourning period over Bugti’s death and vowed to continue protests throughout the region. A strike of businesses and public transportation was planned for Monday.

“The government has pushed Baluchistan into a never-ending war,? said Hasil Bizinjo, a senior figure with the group Baluch Solidarity.

It all sounds pretty ominous, with this talk of a “never-ending” war.  Why has the Pakistani government gone after Bugti?

Government forces killed the silver-bearded Bugti, one of Pakistan’s most prominent fugitives, and at least 24 of his supporters during a raid Saturday on his cave hide-out in the Kohlu area, about 140 miles east of Quetta. Bugti went into hiding in late 2005 after tribal militants made an attempt on the Pakistani president’s life.

The salient question here is this: has the Pakinstani reaction, i.e., robust force projection and destruction of the enemy, caused an emboldened insurgency, or has this reaction diminished the problem?  The Reuters piece continues:

In December, militants fired rockets that landed about 300 yards from President Gen. Pervez Musharraf while he was visiting Kohlu.

In recent months, however, the government has said scores of fighters loyal to Bugti have laid down their weapons and surrendered to authorities as it stepped up attacks against the tribal chief.

Pakinstan’s Musharraf, while a Muslim, at least in name, has always had the perspective that Egypt’s Mubarak has: the only real threat is the one that has me as its target.  Everything else is unimportant — a secondary or tertiary concern.

They have both been able to make this work in their respective countries, and neither one has engaged in hand-wringing over the “disenfranchised” in their country, worrying that force is likely to cause their numbers to grow.  Force, in fact, has diminished any hint of rebellion or change of any sort in Egypt, and Musharraf has managed marshall the loyal following of the armed forces in Pakistan.  I am not giving a moral blessing to either one of them, nor is it the case that the U.S. should be entirely happy with the slow pace of change in the regions adjoining the border with Afghanistan.  The point that I am making is that these two men, if nothng else, are entirely pragmatic and would not implement a strategy that was doomed to failure, since the failure would mean the end of not only their tenure, but probably their lives as well.  Both men have a long track record of survival.

Perhaps there is a lesson to learn from this.  But there is another voice being heard loud and clear in Iraq today, and this voice is promoting minimal force projection.  The Washington Post has a very informative article from July 23, 2006, entitled “In Iraq, Military Forgot Lessons of Vietnam.”

The real war in Iraq — the one to determine the future of the country — began on Aug. 7, 2003, when a car bomb exploded outside the Jordanian Embassy, killing 11 and wounding more than 50.

That bombing came almost exactly four months after the U.S. military thought it had prevailed in Iraq, and it launched the insurgency, the bloody and protracted struggle with guerrilla fighters that has tied the United States down to this day.

There is some evidence that Saddam Hussein’s government knew it couldn’t win a conventional war, and some captured documents indicate that it may have intended some sort of rear-guard campaign of subversion against occupation. The stockpiling of weapons, distribution of arms caches, the revolutionary roots of the Baathist Party, and the movement of money and people to Syria either before or during the war all indicate some planning for an insurgency.

But there is also strong evidence, based on a review of thousands of military documents and hundreds of interviews with military personnel, that the U.S. approach to pacifying Iraq in the months after the collapse of Hussein helped spur the insurgency and made it bigger and stronger than it might have been.

The very setup of the U.S. presence in Iraq undercut the mission. The chain of command was hazy, with no one individual in charge of the overall American effort in Iraq, a structure that led to frequent clashes between military and civilian officials.

On May 16, 2003, L. Paul Bremer III, the chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-run occupation agency, had issued his first order, “De-Baathification of Iraq Society.” The CIA station chief in Baghdad had argued vehemently against the radical move, contending: “By nightfall, you’ll have driven 30,000 to 50,000 Baathists underground. And in six months, you’ll really regret this.”

He was proved correct, as Bremer’s order, along with a second that dissolved the Iraqi military and national police, created a new class of disenfranchised, threatened leaders.

Exacerbating the effect of this decision were the U.S. Army’s interactions with the civilian population. Based on its experience in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Army thought it could prevail through “presence” — that is, soldiers demonstrating to Iraqis that they are in the area, mainly by patrolling.

“We’ve got that habit that carries over from the Balkans,” one Army general said. Back then, patrols were conducted so frequently that some officers called the mission there “DAB”-ing, for “driving around Bosnia.”

The U.S. military jargon for this was “boots on the ground,” or, more officially, the presence mission. There was no formal doctrinal basis for this in the Army manuals and training that prepare the military for its operations, but the notion crept into the vocabularies of senior officers.

For example, a briefing by the 1st Armored Division’s engineering brigade stated that one of its major missions would be “presence patrols.” And then-Maj. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, then the commander of that division, ordered one of his brigade commanders to “flood your zone, get out there, and figure it out.” Sitting in a dusty command tent outside a palace in the Green Zone in May 2003, he added: “Your business is to ensure that the presence of the American soldier is felt, and it’s not just Americans zipping by.”

The flaw in this approach, Lt. Col. Christopher Holshek, a civil affairs officer, later noted, was that after Iraqi public opinion began to turn against the Americans and see them as occupiers, “then the presence of troops . . . becomes counterproductive.” 

[ … ]

“When you’re facing a counterinsurgency war, if you get the strategy right, you can get the tactics wrong, and eventually you’ll get the tactics right,” said retired Army Col. Robert Killebrew, a veteran of Special Forces in the Vietnam War. “If you get the strategy wrong and the tactics right at the start, you can refine the tactics forever, but you still lose the war. That’s basically what we did in Vietnam.”

For the first 20 months or more of the American occupation in Iraq, it was what the U.S. military would do there as well.

“What you are seeing here is an unconventional war fought conventionally,” a Special Forces lieutenant colonel remarked gloomily one day in Baghdad as the violence intensified. The tactics that the regular troops used, he added, sometimes subverted American goals.

The article goes on to (correctly) outline the intelligence failures of the U.S. effort.  The debate on force projection is put into a nutshell for us in the following section, even if only simplistically and for non-professionals:

“A soldier fired upon in conventional war who does not fire back with every available weapon would be guilty of a dereliction of his duty,” he wrote, adding that “the reverse would be the case in counterinsurgency warfare, where the rule is to apply the minimum of fire.”

The U.S. military took a different approach in Iraq. It wasn’t indiscriminate in its use of firepower, but it tended to look upon it as good, especially during the big counteroffensive in the fall of 2003, and in the two battles in Fallujah the following year.

One reason for that different approach was the muddled strategy of U.S. commanders in Iraq. As civil affairs officers found to their dismay, Army leaders tended to see the Iraqi people as the playing field on which a contest was played against insurgents. In Galula’s view, the people are the prize.

“The population . . . becomes the objective for the counterinsurgent as it was for his enemy,” he wrote.

From that observation flows an entirely different way of dealing with civilians in the midst of a guerrilla war. “Since antagonizing the population will not help, it is imperative that hardships for it and rash actions on the part of the forces be kept to a minimum,” Galula wrote.

I must go on record and say that I favor the approach used in Fallujah.  But without going into too much detail in my analysis, I would suggest that the argument above is logically flawed in one major way: categories.  Remember?  That stuff that Aristotle taught us about genus and species?

There are three categories of enemy in Iraq.  Jihadists (al Qaida and all of the subdivided sets of terrorists), Shai militia, and Sunni insurgents.  Each have a different agenda, but they dovetail together in the goal of driving the U.S. from Iraq.  These three categories of enemy are an avowed and devoted enemy.  They are dedicated to our destruction.  Al Sadr, for instance, leader of the sect that fields the Mahdi army, instigated pro-Hezbollah rallies, intitiated military action against the U.S. troops twice, and has gone on record demanding the ouster of U.S. troops.  There is no question but that al Sadr will be a proxy for Shia influence in Iraq after the departure of the U.S.  In fact, by leaving him unmolested, we should consider what kind of Iraq we will be leaving behind.  An Iraq ready to be an ally of Iran?

The hearts of devoted enemies cannot be won by any amount of money, any amount of good will, or any amount of wishful thinking.  See a good piece today at the Counterterrorism Blog, entitled “The Axis of Jihadism.”  It is helpful to remember just how much our enemy hates us and is devoted to our destruction.

Among the second category in Iraq is the broader Sunni population, some of which have fled and the remainder of which relish the U.S. presence because we are their defense.  The third category is the broader Shia population that is not devoted to our destruction.  The second and third categories can be won over.  The enemy cannot.

Even if the U.S. used ham-handed techniques with the broader population in the past months and years of the occupation, this can be corrected, and hopefully it will be.  But to confuse the enemy with those “whose hearts can be won” is to make a tragic and fatal error in judgment.

I had seen this coming, and posted on the expectation that we should not expect Ramadi to be another Fallujah.  The last post I made on Ramadi was “Ramadi, Iraq: A Mess.”  The three comments on this post — all military (remember, I get to see all e-mails and other information) — all essentially say the same thing.  We have failed to take the fight to the enemy in Ramadi.  In fact, in some of my previous posts on Ramadi, it has been documented that the initial U.S. troops went into Ramadi, set up defenses by digging holes, and then took bets on when they would be attacked (to which I wanted to know ‘what the hell kind of strategy that was?’).  The insurgency in Ramadi since then has been extremely active.  The Jihadists and Sunni insurgents who remained in Fallujah died.  The ones who fled went to Ramadi.

So there you have it.  Fallujah versus Ramadi, the debate goes.  For the time being, Ramadi has won, and we are doing minimum force projection, filling sand bags (in the words of one Marine, the “only thing I will remember about this deployment is filling sand bags”), digging holes, and attempting to protect the leadership in Ramadi — that is, the ones left alive after the sniper fire.

So my postion is this.  Shmooze the people, smoke tobacco with them, tell them how much you admire them, give them money, help with the hospitals, protect the power grid so that they have power, and keep the trash off of the streets.  Use the tactics of “Small Wars” to effect change on the ground.

But as for the enemy, you will never be able to develop a compelling enough argument for me to believe that it is actually beneficial for us to go slowly or delicately with them.  Their hearts cannot be won.  They must be killed or rendered incapacitated by effecting their surrender.  The faster the better, and it will occur faster with increased force projection.  The population will get over it, especially for a little bit of money and help with the hospitals and power grid.

The concept of Small Wars requires us to think and be circumspect.  It does not require us to go on the defensive filling sand bags and cowering in holes.

Note: Edited due to verbiage being spam trap.

  • snobar

    First time I’m here, but i must you admit that I respect your ernestness and dedication to the subject. I will return later with my verdict on your analysis, though.

  • Herschel Smith

    Well, snobar, I have visited your blog, and I suspect that your “verdict” on my analysis will be negative and disparaging, since you consider the war in Iraq a “failure,” seem to believe that the U.S. actually DESIRES to war with anyone, and disparage some of the very persons whom I believe to be providing good analysis on the middle east (e.g., Michael Ledeen).

    Here are some tips for you when you come back and provide your “analysis” of my work here.

    First, I have some military types that grace me with their presence here at my blog, but I suspect perhaps for amusement only. I am a small blog; whatever I can do to influence policy and strategy I do. I suspect that this influence is a null set (or statistically insignificant). Mostly, these are just nervous ramblings of a man who is concerned for his son who will go off to war soon.

    Second, I don’t really care what you think of neocons. I am hard to categorize, and so whatever insult you heap on a specific category like this, it may and may not apply to me.

    Third, keep your analysis to the point. The point is not Pakistan, the broader war in the middle east, whether we will eventually war with Iran, whether the U.S. is legitimate in its war on terror and Islamic facsism, or any thing of the sort. This post is about one specific thing. Force projection in the current U.S. strategy in Iraq.

    This is a nuanced and salient topic for the military. You might want to find a different post if you want to complain about the U.S. policy on the broader war against Islamic facsism.

    You aren’t an Islamic facsist, are you?

You are currently reading "The Debate over Diminished Force Projection", entry #250 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Small Wars,War & Warfare and was published August 31st, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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