The trinity of US tactics – a constant in our small wars but invisible to us. First, use massive firepower.
Summary: Awareness of self is as necessary for war as for other aspects of life. It helps us see what we do, and better understand how others’ see us. It’s the foundation for a functioning observation-orientation-decision-action (OODA) loop. Our’s is broken, so we use our great power ineffectively. Here we look at our use of massive firepower.
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
— The Art of War by Sun Tzu (2nd century BC)
- The trinity of American Warfare
- Using massive firepower on civilians
- Inevitable consequences that surprise us
- It could get worse
(1) The Trinity of American Warfare
A constant in our wars since Korea is the US military’s trinity of tactics — massive firepower on civilians, search and destroy sweeps, and popular front armies. For variety, we give call them by different names in each war. Many posts on the FM website discuss this, such as:
- Three blind men examine the Iraq Elephant, 6 February 2008
- The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan, 13 July 2009
A fascinating aspect of this is how some many people in our military remains blind to this continuity — no matter how experienced, brilliant, and well-educated. Thousands of pages have been written about our use of COIN doctrines (as in FM 3-24); far less on the similarities in our wars. Tactics repeated, no matter how seldom successful for us or others in counter-insurgency wars.
This post discusses massive firepower, sparked by a line in a comment on the Small Wars Journal.
“the world will require us to fight small wars in the future and small wars by definition are ones in which massive firepower can’t be used.”
Why this blindness? Massive firepower is, to some extent, dependent on which side of the firepower one stands. To Americans it suggests our wars from WWI to Vietnam. Vast areas laid waste, millions killed. Massive firepower is something we do to others.
What did the people of Iraq think of use of firepower? How do the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan see our use of firepower? These nations are not Germany 1944. Poor, underdeveloped — and defenseless. After all, our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are not wars, in the sense of conquering enemy nations. We fight in support of the local government, with the ultimate aim of helping the people.
(2) Using massive firepower on civilians
We have used great amounts of firepower in these wars. We just prefer to close our eyes. Here’s one, of artillery used for punitive reprisals (of dubious legality): an excerpt from Winning hearts and mind with artillery fire, from a transcript of DoD “Bloggers’s Roundtable” 23 May 2008 with Colonel Jon Lehr (Commander of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division):
SHACTMAN: I remember spending some time with you last year and you talked about you believed in the power of artillery to really persuade the local population to not work with insurgents and to work with coalition forces. And so I wonder now, nine months later, if you still hold that view and if you guys are still using artillery to the extent you were last fall?
COL. LEHR: Well, that’s a great question and one I like talking about. Eleven thousand five hundred rounds, I still believe in the carrot and stick, based on the propensity of this culture to — how they deal with power and authority. And it goes back to — it serves a couple purposes, the whole terrain denial piece.
One, we deny terrain to insurgents, (movement ?) routes, IED placement, those types of things. But it also sends a significant message when we start concentrating on a particular area for four or five days at 75 to 100 rounds a day in a given area, it has a profound impact on the population. Just like if I would start shooting artillery around your neighborhood.
Here are two more examples:
- Another example of winning hearts & minds with artillery, 29 May 2009
- The future of Marjah, after the invasion and occupation, 25 February 2010 — Will it be like Fallujah?
Also amazing is how the chatter about COIN in Iraq obscured our use of airpower. Bombing. True stealth is large-scale bombing that is invisible to the US news media, military community, and general public. See these articles on TomDispatch for descriptions of our use of air-delivered firepower in Iraq, essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the Iraq War:
- Incident on Haifa Street, 19 September 2004
- Dahr Jamail on Life under the Bombs in Iraq, 2 February 2005
- Icarus (Armed with Vipers) Over Iraq, 5 December 2005
- Michael Schwartz on Iraq as a Killing Ground, 10 January 2006
- Air War, Barbarity, and the Middle East, 28 July 2006
- Nick Turse on America’s Secret Air War in Iraq, 7 February 2007
- Nick Turse: The Air War in Iraq Uncovered, 24 May 2007
- Bombs Away Over Iraq, 29 January 2008
(3) Inevitable consequences that surprise us
‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it”
— Attributed to an unnamed US Army Major speaking about the village of Ben Tre in Vietnam. From “Major describes move” by Peter Arnett, New York Times, 8 February 1968
The Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 3-24) puts great emphasis on the precise applications of force in order to increase the legitimacy of the governments we support. In practice we use massive firepower on civilians, supposedly in order to help them. The result is inevitable, and counter-productive. They (or many of them) hate us. This negates most of our work.
In Iraq we look to be kicked out, with few gains in exchange for the blood and money spent. We lost the enduring bases which were one of the war’s major goals, built at vast cost, from which we could project power across the Middle East. Most of the oil contracts have gone to other nations.
History might repeat itself in Afghanistan and Pakistan (see The love of an ally is sweet to behold).
This use of massive firepower are inconsistent with FM 3-24, sometimes perhaps with the legal authority under which we operate (ie, as the occupying power in Iraq), and not smart. However, it seems that we just cannot help ourselves. It’s what we do.
(4) It could get worse
Many of the war’s cheerleaders advocate far greater use of force. FM 3-24 does not mention shedding rivers of blood as a counter-insurgency tactic. Other nations have tried it — unsuccessfully — and it has its advocates in the US. See Bloodlust – a natural by-product of a long war? Let’s hope their views do not gain an audience as the long war continues without visible end.