Archive for the 'The Art of War' Category

U.S. Combat Action Across the Syrian Border

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 4 months ago

The U.S. has launched limited kinetic operations inside the Syrian border to help destroy part of a foreign fighter logistics network.

U.S. military helicopters launched a rare attack Sunday on Syrian territory close to the border with Iraq, killing eight people in a strike the government in Damascus condemned as “serious aggression.”

A U.S. military official told the Associated Press the attack included a raid by special forces targeting a foreign-fighter network that travels through Syria into Iraq. The Americans have been unable to shut the network down in the area because Syria was out of the military’s reach.

“We are taking matters into our own hands,” the official told the AP on the condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.

The attack came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an “uncontrolled” gateway for fighters entering Iraq …

On Thursday, U.S. Maj. Gen. John Kelly said Iraq’s western borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan were fairly tight as a result of good policing by security forces in those countries, but that Syria was a “different story.”

“The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side,” Gen. Kelly said. “We still have a certain level of foreign-fighter movement.”

He added that the U.S. was helping construct a sand berm and ditches along the border.

“There hasn’t been much, in the way of a physical barrier, along that border for years,” Gen. Kelly said.

The foreign-fighters network sends militants from North Africa, the Persian Gulf states and elsewhere in the Middle East to Syria, where elements of the Syrian military are in league with al Qaeda and loyalists of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party, the U.S. military official told the AP.

Sand Berms were an effective tool for isolating Haditha from foreign fighters, but such a concept will be difficult to implement along an entire border, and probably not nearly as effective. The strike directly against the logistics network, in fact, closely follows an approach recommended by The Captains Journal more than one year ago in Sun Tzu and the Art of Border Security.

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.

The question is why now? General David Petraeus has moved on to head up CENTCOM, and General Odierno is in charge of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Is this a sign of a shift in strategy to incorporate cross-border operations solely because Odierno is in charge? It’s possible, but not likely. Since this represents a fairly significant change in strategic approach with potential international repercussions, Petraeus would certainly have been involved in the decision-making, and likely the CJCS.

While it has been claimed in the past that Syria was doing a better job of deconstructing the terrorist networks inside her borders, this has mostly been theater, much as the Pakistani military operations in the FATA and NWFP are intended to be a show to keep U.S. dollars rolling in. The Iraqi insurgency was in many ways born in Damascus, and the constant flow of suicide bombers across the Syrian border has killed or injured at least 4000 Iraqis.

Since cross-border operations have been initiated, follow-through is absolutely necessary. Any capitulation by the Multinational Force, any show of weakness by the State Department, and any reluctance to continue with these operations in the future will spell the death of this strategy, and little if anything will have been gained.

With over 4000 American warriors having perished in Operation Iraqi Freedom, this approach should have been implemented long before now. Nothing needs to be said by the Administration or the State Department about this incident. In fact, nothing needs to be said by the Multinational Force. All spokesmen should respond to inquiries with “no comment.” Everything that needs to be communicated has been. The U.S. is willing to conduct kinetic operations inside Syrian territory. Silence is golden. Let the guns do the talking, as Sun Tzu smiles upon the plan.

Sun Tzu and the Art of Border Security

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 6 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.

Losing the Intelligence and Information War

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 8 months ago

 Sun Tzu — “If I am able to determine the enemy’s dispositions while at the same time I conceal my own then I can concentrate and he must divide.  And if I concentrate while he divides, I can use my entire strength to attack a fraction of his? (The Art of War, VI.13).

While the Department of Defense wastes time and effort on policy for military blogging, MySpace, pictures and e-mail, we are losing the intelligence and information war.  The national debate on the so-called “surge” warned the enemy that new and robust kinetic operations were coming, and specifically, to Baghdad.  Discussing the surge, we pointed out that AQI was previously reported to have been leaving Baghdad and heading for the Diyala province on orders directly from Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who wanted the fighters to avoid a direct house-to-house battle with U.S. forces.

The enemy are students of American politics, and the fact and timetable of the surge were bandied about in open forums and by politicians so long that they couldn’t possibly miss the fact that Baghdad was first and of primary importance.  Rather than die, they fled to fight another day.  Now it appears that we are watching Baghdad surge redux in Baquba.

U.S. troops hoping to directly confront al Qaeda militants in a major offensive in the Iraqi city of Baquba instead found themselves “swimming through a minefield”, a senior officer said on Sunday.

The operation in and around Baquba, capital of volatile Diyala province, is in its sixth day and is a major part of one of the biggest offensives by U.S. and Iraqi forces against the Sunni Islamist group in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

Some U.S. officers said they believed the initial combat phase of the offensive is nearly complete and any militants left could be confronted in the next 24 hours. Hundreds of militants were thought to be still holed up in Baquba’s western districts.

But others believe many al Qaeda fighters left Baquba after getting clear signals from U.S. commanders who have said for some time that the city was high on their list of priorities.

“It’s frustrating. You set up something that you know will work … now we know that most of the al Qaeda enemy got away,” said Captain Julian Kemper. “Our purpose was not to push them out somewhere else. It was to end it here.”

Lieutenant-General Ray Odierno, the deputy U.S. commander in Iraq, has said there was little doubt al Qaeda knew that a major offensive was coming.

They watched the news. They understood we had a surge, they understood Baquba was designated as a problem area,” he told Pentagon journalists on Friday.

Colonel Steve Townsend, commander of the 3rd Stryker Brigade, said the latest intelligence indicated some fighters were still inside an American cordon, which has been steadily tightened since the operation began.

The campaign in Diyala, north of Baghdad, as well as offensives in other regions around the capital, is expected to last several weeks.

After heavy street fighting on the first day, Operation Arrowhead Ripper in Baquba has shifted to the slow and dangerous job of clearing scores of buried bombs and booby-trapped houses.

A U.S. jet dropped a precision-guided bomb on one booby-trapped house, setting off a massive secondary explosion.

“Even though we’re not fighting an enemy soldier, we are swimming through his minefield,” Townsend told Reuters.

He expected the combat phase of the operation in Baquba to be over in the next 24 to 48 hours as his men re-checked areas to make sure they had not missed any concealed bombs.

Barriers and checkpoints, manned by Iraqi security forces, were being put up around three of the most troubled districts in west Baquba to prevent al Qaeda slipping back into the city.

Baquba is an al Qaeda stronghold that has also become a sanctuary for militants escaping a security crackdown launched in Baghdad in February.

Tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers are engaged in the simultaneous offensives in and around Baghdad to deny al Qaeda sanctuary in farmlands and towns from where they launch car bombs and other attacks in the capital and elsewhere.

In Operation Marne Torch, an offensive targeting al Qaeda in Baghdad’s southern “beltlands”, Major-General Rick Lynch said 12 insurgents had been killed and 142 detained.

U.S. and Iraqi forces say they have killed 90 al Qaeda fighters around Baghdad, 55 of them in the Baquba operation.

With more U.S. soldiers engaged in offensives around the country the death toll for U.S. forces has begun to rise in June after hitting a two-and-a-half year monthly high in May of 126, the third highest monthly total since the start of the war.

Eighty U.S. soldiers have been killed so far in June, 28 of them in the past week.

Worse than simply missing some of the AQI leadership, we are now wading through a landscape littered with IEDs.  The knowledge the enemy had of our actions will redound to real casualties of American troops.  Until America learns to have a national conversation without invoking our military strategy, we will educate the enemy with our open deliberations.

Despite the World War II adage “loose lips sinks ships,” focus on blogs, MySpace, pictures, e-mail and telephone discussions is misplaced and wasteful.  The enemy doesn’t need to mine our personal communications to ascertain our strategy.  He only needs to listen to our public discourse.

The Enemy of My Enemy

BY Herschel Smith
9 years, 9 months ago

In Splits, Reorganization and Realignments Within the Insurgency in Iraq, I argued that the internecine warfare within the Sunni insurgency was a good thing for coalition troops in the short term, but that sooner or later, one side will win.  This side — whichever it happens to be — will then turns its sights again on the so-called “occupiers” (i.e., the U.S.).  The insurgency doesn’t end, it merely morphs into something different than it is at the present.

The Middle East Times brings us a fascinating story of U.S. armed forces learning counterinsurgency, adapting and bringing innovation to the battlefield.  Things like this simply cannot be taught.  They have to be learned by troops at the front.  This is a lengthly article, but well worth your time (along with a few comments by me at the end).

Joseph Krauss
May 9, 2007

SAMARRA, Iraq —  On a dark street in the restive Iraqi town of Samarra a young man masked with a bandana and a baseball cap looks over his shoulder before pulling out an aerosol can and spray-painting across a wall.

A US Army officer standing behind him squints at the flowing Arabic script, then turns to a reporter traveling with his platoon.

“What does that say?” he asks.

The young vandal is an army translator whom the soldiers call Matthew – publishing his real name would put him in danger.

Matthew is charged with sowing seeds of strife between the town’s two main insurgent groups, Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic Army of Iraq.

While Al Qaeda takes its inspiration from Osama Bin Laden’s international Islamist struggle, the Islamic Army is a coalition of Iraqi Islamists and Baathist supporters of the ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

And while both groups are fighting to oust American forces from Iraq, there are also signs of growing conflict between them – a conflict that the local security forces and their US allies are keen to exploit.

The two groups have clashed on the Internet, with the more nationalist Islamic Army criticizing Al Qaeda for targeting Iraqi civilians and for its attempts to impose a harsh Saudi-inspired version of Islamic law.

Within Samarra, the Islamic Army enjoys wide popularity because of its single-minded focus on attacking US forces, while Al Qaeda intimidates local residents with spectacular bombings and coordinated attacks on police.

“Al Qaeda is based on Islamic extremism, while the others only focus on the occupiers,” said Colonel Jalil Al Dulaimi, who was police chief of the town north of Baghdad until he was killed in a coordinated attack on police headquarters this week. “But from our perspective, anyone who carries weapons is a terrorist. It doesn’t matter what faction they are a part of,” he added.

The commander of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne, 3rd Brigade, Charlie Company, based in Samarra, agrees that both groups pose a threat to security in the town but says that there are important differences.

The Islamic Army “is against coalition forces and ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] that work with the coalition,” says Captain Eugene “Buddy” Ferris. “Al Qaeda will blow up bombs in markets. Al Jaish Al Islami [the Islamic Army] won’t,” Ferris adds. “If reconciliation is ever going to occur then the Islamic Army is a group you could work with.”

Both insurgent groups tag the walls with slogans, threats, and boasts.

Al Qaeda’s street artists write: “The Samarra police are infidels, so we will bring you young men who love martyrdom,” and “We will destroy all those who cooperate with the Americans.”

The Islamic Army scribes write much the same thing, but threaten “the occupiers” instead of the local security forces and collaborators.

Matthew’s job is to redirect the artistic impulses of each group against the other. “It’s a way to destabilize their unification efforts,” says First Lieutenant Charlie Hodges, who leads one of the graffiti patrols.

Abu Tiba, the alleged leader of Al Qaeda in Samarra, is a frequent subject.

Hodges tells Matthew to write something really terrible about Abu Tiba, something that the Islamic Army of Iraq might say about him, something that will start a fight.

Matthew nods. Then in bright red paint he writes “Abu Tiba is a terrorist and those who work with him are terrorists.”

It seems somehow less menacing than the crossed out “USA” daubed next to it on the dusty brown wall.

Hodges does not read Arabic, so he asks a reporter traveling with the platoon to translate. Hodges is clearly disappointed. The black propaganda effort needs a lot more street cred than Matthew is giving him.

They climb back into the Humvees, drive around the corner, and try again.

Hodges sees writing on the wall, but he has to ask to make sure that it is insurgent sloganeering and not something else, such as a sign advertising someone’s vegetable stand.

He asks about one long sentence. Matthew tells him it is a Koranic verse. “Leave that one alone,” Hodges says.

Finally they find a message telling the occupiers to leave. Matthew scribbles over it. Then Hodges tries again. “This time, I want you to write that Al Qaeda has killed many in the Islamic Army,” he says.

“Al Qaeda has killed many from the Islamic Army,” Matthew writes.

Then the local Iraqi police step in, not to handcuff Matthew and charge him with vandalism, but to offer suggestions on how to spice up his prose.

Many of the police are well-practiced themselves, having sprayed messages like “Long live Iraq, Long live the First Battalion,” and “the First Battalion are Heroes” on the blast walls surrounding their bases and compounds.

An argument ensues between Matthew and the police – three men in mismatched uniforms with AK-47 assault rifles slung around their necks.

One cop finally suggests something that is greeted with enthusiasm. Matthew amends the message.

“Al Qaeda has killed many FIGHTERS from the Islamic Army.”

The paint is running out. Hodges tells Matthew that his writing is too large, and orders everyone back to the vehicles.

The heavily armed US soldiers who had fanned out along the darkened street return to the Humvees, the police climb into their pickup trucks, and under the cover of darkness and an all-night curfew they head back to base.

Again, the use of graffiti to incite conflict between competing insurgents is adaptive, innovative, and apparently effective.  It is not learned at Quantico or Leavenworth.  It is learned in the school of the hard knocks.  The U.S. troops are the best in the world, but there are two cautionary comments that are appropriate at this point.

First, troops (most of the time) are given some basic instruction in Arabic as part of the training for deployment.  This training is based on the philosophy of phonetics (i.e., sounds, proper pronunciation).  With limited time, money and resources, this is the best approach and sure to yield the best possible results in the short term.  But proper planning for the long war needs to take the next step.  Immersion in Arabic (both spoken and written) needs to be part of the planning for not only officers, but enlisted men as well.  A better knowledge of Arabic would cause a remarkable step change in warfighting capabilities in Iraq (and throughout the Middle East) given the nature of COIN.

Second, we must remember that the counterinsurgency will morph upon the potential demise of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).  It doesn’t end, and in fact it might become more complicated given the potential support of the broader population if this revised and restructured insurgency no longer engages in acts of brutality towards the population.

Sun Tzu Speaks to James Baker

BY Herschel Smith
10 years, 2 months ago

Honorable Secretary Baker, I wish you had consulted with me before you and your colleagues wrote your report about Iraq.  I lived long ago, but thought I would return and visit just this once, since it seems that my counsel is so badly needed.

It is with dismay that I read your heart in the report.  I have always found that it is best to hide your intentions.  If I am able to determine the enemy’s dispositions while at the same time I conceal my own, then I can concentrate and he must divide.  And if I concentrate while he divides, I can use my entire strength to attack a fraction of his (VI.13).  War is based on deception (VII.12), and I am afraid that you have told the enemy your dispositions.

It seems that you have set great burden upon this idea of training other armies to do your work for you.  Be careful!  One who sets an entire army in motion to chase an advantage will not attain it (VII.5).  Your approach to victory should be like a jewel – with many facets.  The good and experienced general makes no mistakes in war (X.25).

Remember this adage to assure that your army will have what it needs.  Use normal force to engage; use the extraordinary to win (V.5).  And whatever you do, hasten to push forward with your forces, because speed is the essence of war (XI.29).

You have enemy both in the middle of combat with your armies, and yet also off to the side, watching, aiding, and providing succor to the enemy you are fighting.  I note with dismay that you wish to talk with them and ask for their assistance in attaining victory.  Oh, please be careful here.

I am a proponent of winning wars without fighting, but to do this requires being in a position that you have not attained and apparently to which you do not aspire.  When your ardour is dampened, neighbors will take advantage of you (II.5).  You must not miss any opportunity to master your enemy (IV.13).  Requesting their help will only empower them, tell them the thoughts of your heart, and convince them that you are weak.

You must always assume that the enemy will come to fight you, and be prepared for him (VIII.16).  Do not ever assume that your enemy will provide you with help, for it is at that time that he will take the advantage and master you.

If you wish to engage the enemy in talk, then you must do so by first positioning yourself as the master.  He who intimidates his neighbors does so by inflicting injury upon them (VIII.14).  Your enemies must be intimidated by you in order for talk of peace to have the affect you desire.

You will know when you have attained this position.  Your enemy will come to you and ask for talk, rather that you going to him.

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