The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan
Clausewitz spoke of a trinity of the people, the government, and the military. The rise to dominance of fourth generation warfare has made this conceptually useless, providing only a perspective from which to see how the world has changed. During the past 60 years a new trinity of modern war has emerged for armies fighting in foreign lands. Chet Richards discovered it, looking at the similarities between the Vietnam and Iraq Wars — but it applies to most foreign wars.
Modern armed forces, whether of developed or undeveloped nations, tend to rely on a trinity of operational methods. None of these are new of course (almost nothing is new in war, it’s all a matter of combinations and emphasis).
- Popular front militia
- Massive firepower on civilians
- Sweep and destroy missions
Also interesting is that armies tend to re-discover these 3 methods, dressing them up in the fancy terminology befitting radical innovations. Let’s take a quick look at each.
(1) Popular Front Militia
Popular front militia were a core component of our fighting in Southeast Asia, but when we recruit local militia in Iraq it’s COIN — new, new, new. And of course that’s a staple of our fighting in Afghanistan, as seen in these posts by Joshua Foust at Registan (an essential site for following the increasingly important conflicts in Central Asia):
- “What Lessons Do We Already Have On “Tribal Militias?“, 14 March 2009
- “The British Experience of Tribal Militias, For Idiots“, 1 July 2009
Update — more use of militia:
- “Afghan Militias Battle Taliban With Aid of U.S.“, New York Times, 21 November 2009 – Superficial.
- “US pours millions into anti-Taliban militias in Afghanistan“, The Guardian, 22 November 2009 — Reminder of our 1980′s efforts to build militia.
- “All Politics Is Tribal – Obama’s Afghanistan strategy should team our soldiers with their militias“, Fred Kaplan, Slate, 23 November 2009 – Cheerleading.
(2) Massive Firepower on Civilians
A signature of warfare since the blitz in 1940, it plays a role in almost all foreign wars. Despite its proven ineffectiveness in almost all cases since and including the blitz. Each month, almost each week, bring new incidents of our forces killing Afghanistan civilians. This is a forensic analysis of one such incident: Afghan civilian deaths:
- “Who is to blame?“, Los Angeles Times, 17 May 2009 — “A Times investigation. Commanders and villagers give conflicting accounts of the attack that Afghan officials say killed 140 civilians, a toll disputed by the U.S. But injured girls make clear the costs for two families.”
Here’s a question people in Afghanistan probably ask themselves frequently in their second generation of continuous warfare…
- “Are Afghan Lives Worth Anything?“, Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, 7 July 2009 — Engelhardt is one of the few tracking civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The echos from Vietnam are stunning. Excerpt:
Back in the Vietnam era, General William Westmoreland, interviewed by movie director Peter Davis for his Oscar-winning film Hearts and Minds, famously said: “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.”
The activities of General McChrystal echo those of an earlier General, in Vietnam.
At an early intergovernmental meeting on the importance of psychological warfare, one of Harkins’ key staffmen, Brigadier General Gerald Kelleher, quickly dismissed that theory. His job, he said, was to kill Vietcong. But the French … had killed a lot of Vietcong and they had not won. “Didn’t kill enough Vietcong,” answered Kelleher.
— From David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest (1972)
(3) Sweep and destroy missions
Just like the one now underway in Helmand Province. Like #2, it seldom works — but believers in raw force will seldom admit it. The result is consistent and inevitable …
- “U.S. Faces Resentment in Afghan Region“, New York Times, 3 July 2009 — Excerpt:
On Thursday morning, 4,000 American Marines began a major offensive to try to take back the region from the strongest Taliban insurgency in the country. The Marines are part of a larger deployment of additional troops being ordered by the new American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, to concentrate not just on killing Taliban fighters but on protecting the population.
… In many places, people have never seen or felt the presence of the Afghan government, or foreign forces, except through violence, but the Taliban are a known quantity, community leaders said. … Foreign troops continue to make mistakes that enrage whole sections of this deeply tribal society, like the killing of a tribal elder’s son and his wife as they were driving to their home in Helmand two months ago. Only their baby daughter survived. The tribal elder, Reis-e-Baghran, a former member of the Taliban who reconciled with the government, is one of the most influential figures in Helmand.
… In parts of Helmand and Kandahar, resentment and frustration are rampant. People who traveled to Lashkar Gah from the districts complained of continued civilian suffering and questioned American intentions. “They come here just to fight, not to bring peace,” said Allah Nazad, a farmer. People from Marja said that foreign troops carrying out counternarcotics operations conducted nighttime raids on houses, sometimes killed people inside their homes, and used dogs that bit the occupants. “The people are very scared of the night raids,” said Spin Gul, a local farmer. “When they have night raids, the people join the Taliban and fight.”
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