Sun Tzu and the Art of Border Security

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 9 months ago

“The enemy must not know where I intend to give battle.  For if he does not know where I intend to give battle he must prepare in a great many places.  And when he prepares in a great many places, those I have to fight in any one place will be few,” Sun Tzu, The Art of War, VI.14.

“He who intimidates his neighbors does so by inflicting injury upon them,” Sun Tzu, The Art of War, VIII.14.

At the moment, the enemies of the United States are fighting us within the borders of Iraq.  It is a global war, but it has been confined by U.S. policy strictly to the contiguous Iraqi territory.   It has been noted that although talks occurred between Iran and the U.S. over Iraq and the U.S. position has been made abundantly clear, rather than a reduction in Iranian influence, there has been a marked increase in Iranian influence and activity within Iraq.

[Maj. Gen. Rick] Lynch said he gave the order on Wednesday for the division’s 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade to begin Marne Husky — the latest in a series of offensives in the capital and surrounding areas.

The new operation is aimed at disrupting insurgents who fled a recent crackdown on the rural areas of Arab Jubour and Salman Pak in a predominantly Sunni area south of the capital.

Lynch also noted a “marked and increasing Iranian influence” in weapons and the training of Shiite extremists in restive areas south of Baghdad.

“There’s three pots of bad guys in my battle space. One’s the Sunni extremists, one’s the Shia extremists and the other is marked and increasing Iranian influence,” he said. “They’re all anti-Iraq, they’re all against the government of Iraq, they’re all against the Iraqi people.”

The presence and role of Saudi Arabia in Iraq (while the U.S. has been reluctant to admit it) has also been noted by the administration.

Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq war. They say that beyond regarding Mr. Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.

We have discussed the fact that organizations (not necessarily associated with al Qaeda) in Syria sell suicide bombers and foreign fighters across the Syrian border to the insurgency in Iraq.  These borders serve as a sieve for not just Saudi or Syrian fighters.  On July 31, 2007, sixty six Pakistani nationals were arrested in Karbala using forged visas.  The influx of suicide bombers from countries around the world is well known (Saudi Arabia (53), Iraq (18), Italy (8), Syria (8), Kuwait (7), Jordan (4), Libya (3), Egypt (3), Tunisia (3), Turkey (3), Belgium (2), France (2), Spain (2), Yemen (3), Lebanon (1), Morocco (1), Britain (1), Bengal (1), Sudan (1) and Unknown (18), and this list is likely short on bombers from Morocco).

Iraq has a long border: 1458 km with Iran, 181 km with Jordan, 814 km with Saudi Arabia, 240 km with Kuwait, 605 km with Syria, and 352 km with Turkey (some sources have slightly different values).  Leaking borders has been a problem since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and three years ago Iraq was “calling on” Iran and Syria to help seal the borders.  How does a country with such porous and long borders seal them?  More than a year ago Saudi Arabia invited bids for the construction of a fence along its border with Iraq.  And while this is interesting (and may ultimately succeed to slow the flow of terrorists across the border), it is not the immediate solution needed, while also possibly pointing the way forward.

The solution is not for Iraq to seal the borders.  The solution involves intimidation of Iraq’s neighbors into sealing the borders.  While the U.S. and Iraq are involved in talks with Iran and other neighbors, tried and tested military strategy suggests that bullying is the order of the day.

This bullying and intimidation might take the form of financial pressure (or conversely rewards for good behavior), market sanctions, air assets used against foreign fighters flowing in from across the borders, small incursions across the borders to destroy the sanctuaries of foreign fighters, or even larger air power involvement to destroy those sanctuaries and other supporting infrastructure.

The alternative is leaving these sanctuaries and flow paths in place, with no hope of the Iraqi security forces or U.S. forces being able to stop them (due to force size).  Tested military strategy aims for the right target.  In the case of the borders, the target is the offending country, not the Iraqi border proper.  At the moment, the offending countries know that U.S. forces have restricted the battle space to Iraq proper.  Either this changes — causing confusion and disaggregation among the foreign elements who wish to destabilize Iraq — or the borders will remain porous.

  • GI

    I think bombing a sanctuary in lets say Iran would not work because the enemy sanctuary gets played out in the media as a wedding party. Seen this happen to often in Iraq.

    If sanctuaries are going to be taken out they need to be done very covertly with plausible deniability, but I agree we need to definitely bring some pain to these countries.

  • Daniel34

    If our aim were to terminate the war in Iraq it might make sense to attempt to close its borders against al Qaeda infiltrators. But our real aim is to fight al Qaeda.

    Now, we hear that almost a hundred terrorists infiltrate each month. Were we to close the borders these terrorists would still exist, and most likely go elsewhere.

    But we have ideal circumstances for fighting them in Iraq. Consider the following.
    1. The Sunnis in Anbar, Bakubah etc, have experienced their domination and have grown to hate them. They prefer Americans to them. This is less so in such places as Thailand, Indonesia, or even Europe.
    2. Our policy of releasing militants randomly has left us with double agents in their ranks.
    3. We have an ideal laboratory for testing 21st Century technology for destroying them. Recall that in the past, in places like Viet Nam and El Salvador, the night belonged to the terrorists. Now we have night vision equipment, small maneouverable drones armed with cameras and even weapons, closely coordinated air and helicopter support, and when coordination of all these is perfected the night will completely belong to us.
    4. In Iraq we are very experienced while the infiltrators are relative neophytes. Anywhere else the situation is reversed.
    5. Iraq now serves as a sort of flypaper which attracts al Qaeda supporters. It is as if they were cancer cells, and they continue to attack the organ called Iraq. Would it be advantageous for them to metasticize to other places where the means to control them are mostly absent?

    There are only two arguments the other way. First the Iraqi’s themselves would rather have them commit their mayhem elsewhere, and may demand that we get them to stay away.

    Second, defeating al Qaeda utterly in Iraq may have psychological benefit in drying up their recruiting; though it may not; and closing the borders might make that easier.

    On the other hand, all of that risks war or the shadow of war with Iran and/or Syria. And this is not now in our interest.

    For, exactly contrary to popular myth, the Iraq war, and Iranian bluster and subversion has brought us a large number of quite unlikely (and perhaps temporary)_allies who fear Iran far more than they object to us.

    These include practically all the Arab oil states who correctly see themselves as the real targets of Iranian military preparations. Even Saudi Arabia, which fosters Wahabi-ism and has given lots of aid to al Qaeda, knows it needs us, and possibly even Israel to protect it from Iran.

    Actual war with Iran would destroy that threat, and return Saudi Arabia to its obnoxious and bigoted policies which see the West as its main potential enemy.

    Now we are far better off developing methods for intercepting and destroying infiltration, of potential further use elsewhere, than by cutting it off.

  • markbuehner

    “Leaking borders has been a problem since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and three years ago Iraq was “calling on? Iran and Syria to help seal the borders.”

    Which is equivalent to calling on the mafia to help stem crime. I dont know how many ways this needs to manifest itself, but let me reiterate- none of these nations have any interest in stemming the flow. Talking to them isnt going to change that. Bombing them might, but that seems to be off the table. We’re on our own, and we’re idiots to live in a fantasy land where we rely on our enemies to help us out just because we’re nice to them.

    “How does a country with such porous and long borders sealthem?”

    The same way its been done since time immemorial- walls and weapons. We have to realize that the Iraqi borders are very similar to the US-Mexico border in that while there are some semblance of security, the reality is that there is NONE. Entering Iraq isnt just possible, its easy.

    The main answer is land mines. Vast fields of mines surrounded by barbed wire and warning signs can be constructed within weeks. Then all you need is some mobile forces to check up on the booms. Obviously the downside is you have the peacenicks of the world having kittens- but the truth is that FAR fewer people will be killed by those mines than will be killed by suicide bombers they would stop (i realize logic isnt the land mine peoples strong suit, but it is true nonetheless).

    Essentially this isnt an engineering problem at all. Its entirely a political problem. Our administration doesnt have the political will to seal the borders. It never has.

  • Pingback: The Captain's Journal » Is That A Threat Or A Promise? Saudis Warn Against U.S. Veto of Terror State()

You are currently reading "Sun Tzu and the Art of Border Security", entry #572 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iran,Iraq,Saudi Arabia,Syria,The Art of War and was published August 7th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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