Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Getting It Right, Finally

This was originally posted October 5, 2006.

Encouraging news out of the New York Times that the U.S. Army and Marines have figured out that what they're doing in Iraq and Afghanistan doesn't work. It's only taken what, five years, tens of thousands of civilian dead, a trillion dollars? They've blasted and bombed and rocketed and shelled and strafed with abandon. They've used technological wizardry the world has never before seen. It hasn't worked, just as it didn't work in Vietnam. It stopped working before the first tank rolled into Baghdad.

Looking for a new approach, at last, the U.S. military wisely went looking for old advice and they found it in the wisdom of Colonel T.E. Lawrence and other greats of guerrilla warfare. Based on those teachings the Army and Marines have prepared a new field manual based on the nine "representative paradoxes" of counterinsurgency warfare:

1. The more you protect your force, the less secure you are

If military forces stay locked up in compounds (garrisons), they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared and cede the initiative to insurgents.

2. The more force used, the less effective it is

Using substantial force increases the risk of collateral damage and mistakes, and increases the opportunity for insurgent propaganda

3. The more successful counterinsurgency is, the less force that can be used and the more risk that must be accepted

As the level of insurgent violence drops, the military must be used less with stricter rules of engagement, and the police forces used more

4. Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction

Often an insurgent carries out a terrorist act or guerrilla raid with the primary purpose of causing a reaction that can then be exploited

5. The best weapons for counterinsurgency do not shoot

Often dollars and ballots have more impact than bombs and bullets

6. The host nation's doing something tolerably is better than our doing it well

Long term success depends on viable indigenous leaders and institutions that can carry on wthout significant support

7. If a tactic works this week, it might not work next week; if it works in this province, it might not work in the next

Insurgents quickly adapt to successful counterinsurgency practices. The more effective the tactic, the sooner it becomes out of date

8. Tactical success guarantees nothing

Military actions of themselves cannot achieve success

9. Most of the important decisions are not made by generals

Successful counterinsurgency relies on the competence and judgment of soldiers at all levels.

Most of these pearls of wisdom can be found in my previous posts. That's not because I'm super smart. It's because they ought to be obvious. This isn't some grand experiment but fundamentals that have been tried and tested in various hot spots in various centuries by various armies, again and again and again.

Counterinsurgency warfare is labour-intensive. To defeat a guerrilla challenge, really huge numbers of soldiers are needed. You also need a viable government that's worth saving.

Contrast this with what we're doing in Afghanistan. We're using small numbers of soldiers that have to hunker down in garrisons. That throws Rule #1 right out the window. The garrison tactic has never worked. Not once, never and it's not going to work now. Garrisons are okay only if you already control the land and simply need to patrol it. If you don't control the land, you're merely abandoning the people and yielding the critical initiative to the bad guys.

Rule #6 is another problem plaguing "the mission" in Afghanistan. The Karzai government is not a viable institution. It is little more than a "legislative power vacuum" propped up by armed foreigners. The government and its bureaucracy are corrupt as are its police forces and army. Ineffectual and corrupt. These are not viable institutions. They don't serve the people and they alienate their people who are then lured toward the only other option, the Taliban.

Assuming the Americans have finally seen the light, it's about time Ottawa did as well. Doing too little, poorly, is worse than doing nothing at all. The political dilemma, however, trumps the military problem. It is political suicide to take the steps necessary in Afghanistan without popular support at home and the Canadian people are already firmly against this effort.

Stephen Harper talks a good game, but it's all talk.

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