If we look closely at the debate about the Af-Pak War, we see some reasons why America has fought so many wars since Korea — and why these wars so closely resemble each other. Our military journals record 50 years of constant innovation, yet some things are too awful to be seen. For example, see this interesting article:
““Sri Lanka’s disconcerting COIN strategy for defeating the LTTE“, Niel Smith, posted at the Small Wars Council (SW), 27 August 2009 — Excerpt:
In the comments section of this SWJ post, Phil Ridderh of highlights a very interesting and disconcerting article in the Indian Defence Review containing lessons learned from Sri Lanka’s defeat of the LTTE this year. The principles articulated in this article stand in almost complete opposition to the conceptualization of counterinsurgency articulated in FM 3-24.”
“In the President’s Office in Colombo officials talk about the ‘Rajapaksa Model’ (of fighting terror). “Broadly, win back the LTTE held areas, eliminate the top LTTE leadership and give the Tamils a political solution.” Sunimal Fernando, one of Rajapaksa’s advisors, says that the President demonstrated a basic resolve: “given the political will, the military can crush terrorism.” This is not as simple as it sounds. Like most poll promises he did not have plans to fulfill his promise to militarily defeat the LTTE. Eelam I to III were miserable failures. So the ‘Rajapaksa Model’ evolved, it was not pre-planned.”
The article lists the principles as:
- Unwavering political will
- Disregard for international opinion distracting from the goal
- No negotiations with the forces of terror
- Unidirectional floor of conflict information
- Absence of political intervention to pull away from complete defeat of the LTTE
- Complete operational freedom for the security forces -Let the best men do the task
- Accent on young commanders
- Keep your neighbors in the loop
Most western readers will find the lack of concern for civilian casualties in this strategy disconcerting. The article highlights the broad condemnation Sri Lanka received for its approach.
The discussion begins strongly with comment #1, by Carl — going straight to the heart of the matter:
It is interesting that all the successful “ruthless” campaigns cited were conducted by countries suppressing internal insurgencies with their own armed forces. These insurgencies didn’t have any real sanctuaries either. The unsuccessful “ruthless” campaign was a foreign force helping a weak government opposed by insurgents who had a sanctuary.
We are presently involved in small wars as foreign forces helping weak governments. Almost all of the small wars we have been in for the past 100 years have fit this pattern. In Afghanistan the insurgents still have their sanctuary.
So apart from the extremely, fundamentally important humanitarian considerations, the “ruthless” method just doesn’t appear to work in the types of conflicts we are involved in. It seems to me also that we, in essence, ran some small scale experiments confirming this with the approaches of the 101st Air Assault and 4th Infantry Divisions during their initial deployments to Iraq.
This is the vital point, the distinction between local forces fighting insurgencies and foreign forces fighting insurgents.
Esp, as in our wars, foreign infidels fighting local insurgents. Foreign forces almost never defeat insurgents; local governments usually do (sometimes with material aid and trailing from foreigners). It’s a commonly made observation. I described in January 2007. Chet Richards discusses it at length in his 2008 book, If we can keep it, as does Robert W. Chamberlain (Captain, US Army) in “Lies, damned lies and counterinsurgency“, Armed Forces Journal, May 2008.
But it is not in the interest of our military to see this, and so it is seldom mentioned. As we seen in the comment thread for Smith’s article at SWC. Nobody follows up Carl’s comment. Not even the critics of the war.
This is part of a larger pattern common to expert discussions about our wars: they tend to work within the assumptions of the military. For the first seven years the litany of the war was unquestioned: it prevented another 9-11, the Taliban can conquer Pakistan, etc. So the discussions tended to focus on operations and tactics, COIN and CI. Very gentle discussions, unlikely to interrupt the smooth course of the war.
Now, after so many years, this is slowly changing. People are questioning the litany. Moving the discussion to broader topics, such as the strategic purpose and goals of the Af-Pak War. These are essential steps, not only to make the war serve some rational national purpose but also to regain civilian control of our military machinery. But they are insufficient.
The passion, the stormy rhetoric, is owned by the pro-war side. Even today. When that changes, then it will mark the beginning of the end to our these wars.
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For more information
To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. The following are esp relevant to this post:
Some posts about 4GW:
- A solution to 4GW — the introduction
- How to get the study of 4GW in gear
- Why We Lose at 4GW – the two types of 4GW
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
- Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
- 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
- 4GW: A solution of the second kind
- 4GW: A solution of the third kind – Vandergriff is one of the few implementing real solutions.
- Theories about 4GW are not yet like the Laws of Thermodynamics