Adjusting to a Microwar World
- Category: Strategic Research Review
- Published: Wednesday, 07 June 2006 02:03
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Most Indian children have read about the "Vanar Sena", the Monkey Army, of King Sugriva, which played a major part in returning Sita to Lord Rama. Led by Hanuman, the Sena fought with ferocity, defeating the levies mobilized by Ravana to protect his prize. The capital of the Sri Lankan ruler was torched, and what was left became indistinguishable from a wilderness. As neither Lord Rama nor the Vanar Sena had any intention of remaining behind.
on the sacked island, the destruction did not matter. Had the Vanar Sena occupied Sri Lanka , it would have been tasked not with mere destruction, but with reconstruction and administration, jobs that it was beyond its capability to attempt. By definition, a "Monkey Army" is superb at destruction, but inept at reconstruction and revival in a context
in which the region defeated in war is needed as an ally. In the 21st Century, the prime example of such an army is the US military.
Like Hanuman's cohorts, the US military has been trained to engage and destroy the enemy, and this it does with precision in almost all conventional battlefield situations. The mix of airpower, artillery and electronic coordination available even to platoon-sized groups of US forces ensures a steady softening of the target and the destruction of first its offensive and then its defensive capabilities. The medium in which this force thrives is head-on combat, whether in restricted-area or in open-space battlefields. As with the Vanar Sena, the - reflexive - response of the US military is to wipe out the enemy by continous directing of firepower. The assumption behind such tactics is that the opposing forces will be helpless consequent to the destruction of the physical infrastructure and heavy weaponry thatthey use. In this sense, the US military transposes its own vulnerabilities onto its enemies: the inability to sustain operations in the absence of a massive, continuing flow of logistical support. Although there exist US "Special Forces" that are trained to "live off the land" , the effectiveness of such elements is limited in both time and scale, being useful principally for hit-and-run and sabotage operations that prepare the conditrions for a standard assault by conventional forces, and not helpful in situations where a prolonged period of occupation is needed in order to stabilize the ground situation enough to prevent a recurrence of the manifestations that caused the attack in the first place
Thus, the US military has thus far developed only Stage I in a rocket, so that it generates enough thrust to send the payload beyond the earth's atmosphere. Thereafter, however, a different power source is needed to maneoevre the craft into a safe orbit and re-entry. While Stage 1 can be termed as the "Search, Locate & Destroy Bulk Combat Forces" module, Stage IIis the "Heal & Hold" module. Without that, the gains of Stage I would dissipate in an accelerating fashion, so that the enemy is enabled to retain salience and continue combat, this time in a manner different from the past. Stage III would be the phase at which a military presence is no longer needed in the target region to fulfill geopolitical objectives
Stage I refers to the engagement of the bulk forces of the enemy, usually comprising of his conventional capabilities, and to their destruction. This outcome would still leave him in possession of packet forces, which could then be employed in attritional tactics
against the Stage I victor. This is feasible only if such "packet" forces have backup from those who are not active combatants, and who are therefore difficult to identify as threats.It is to lower such support to a level where attritional tactics prove ineffective that Stage II needs to be resorted to, in order to ensure that support for continued operations against the Stage I victor declines within the target population. War operations waged by mainforce elements may be termed as *Macrocombat *,while that conducted by "packet" forces may be defined as *Microcombat* .Unless both are won, the war cannot be said to have been victoriously concluded. Should a military use tactics that generate a substantial microcombat recoil arising out of the manner in which its macrocombat operations have been waged, it would be possible that eventual defeat may follow a comprehensive Stage I "victory". As mentioned earlier, in a world where old-style colonisation is politically unfeasible, only the creation of a Stage IIIsituation - where the target population accepts and promotes the aims of the Stage I victor - can be defined as "winning the war"
By using macrocombat tactics and weaponry in microcombat situations, the US military is making impossible the transformation of a Stage I victory into the next two stages. Indeed, in the case of Iraq , it may be argued that the manner in which US forces have sought to consolidate its position subsequent to the 2003 ( Stage I) victory over Saddam's forces has had a detrimental rather than a beneficial effect on US security.Not the overthrow of saddam
Hussein, but the way in which this has been followed up,has converted Iraq into a major international threat, whereas in the past, the country was only a low-level problem,chiefly to Israel . Today, within Iraq , microwar squads are either already active or preparing operations against not just Israel but the US , Europe and Australia . This is a direct consequence of theincapacity of the US military to conduct microcombat in a way that leads to a Stage II ( Heal & Hold) situation. Despite the changing battlefield requirements over the past four decades, the US military is still structured in a manner that uses auxiliaries to provide logistic and other backup support for Stage I operations and combatants, without putting in place the capability for conducting Stage II operations. If the US had partners with an ability to carry out such operations,the lack of this module would not be critical.Unfortunately for Washington , the allies that it now has - principally the other NATO forces - are clones of its own military, equally lacking in the capabilities needed to create an environment that damps down resistance and enables the achievement of war aims beyond the destruction of the enemy's "macro-combat" capabilities,here defined as including "strategic" components such as missiles and their payloads,but excluding weapons and manpower that are capable of indulging in "micro-combat" operations - actions by separable and small-sized squads
In the 21st Century,given the ubiquity of the media and the abandonment of racial doctrines that regard human beings of different types as fair game for brutal treatment,even extinction, Stage II operations are crucial in ensuring that populations support the aims of the Stage I winner.This can be done only by a force that can suppress micro-combat operations after having taken out macro-combat capabilities
The military of the future will therefore have a corps of health workers, nutritionists and educators that would rapidly set up base in the occupied area and ensure that a process of healing gets under way. These efforts would be supplemented by a corps of engineers who would supervise a programme of setting up habitatations (in the form of tents,initially) for
the population displaced by the just-concluded macrocombat. Once the need tosuccesfully complete Stage II is actored in by military planners,those tactics that created a Falluja-type destruction of the living environment would be avoided,and methods that are less expensive in collateral suffering would be adopted. Unfortunately,in view of their incapacity to look beyond Stage I operations,most commanders regard the extra time spent on damage-minimising tactics as unprofitable.This is because they are not usually the ones tasked with follow-up. If the "partygoers" were also to double up as the cleaning crew the morning after the "festivities",they
would have a different approach to "litter". If the role of the military is defined as making a territory safe for activity,then the need for such "civilian" corps becomes evident. Recently,in operations consequent on earthquakes and tsunamis, traditional militaries have nudged their way towards such a role,and have in many cases acquitted themselves well
Although in many parts of the world,especially in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia , the US military is seen as a harbinger of destruction, the reality is that citizens of that country who are capable of conducting relief,reconstruction and healing exist in profusion. Although these days employed in massive acts of destruction of lives and infrastructure,this is
a consequence of defective training and tactics,and not intent. With its integrated military and its racially-neutral environment,the US military has the potential chemistry needed to succeed in both microcombat operations as well as in Stage II situations. However,this aspect of military necessity has been almost completely neglected by planners in the US ,a failing that is shared by NATO allies on the other side of the Atlantic , who too are superb in destruction but ineffective in reconstruction. Even in Kosovo,a theatre of far greater potential for a Stage II situation than Afghanistan and Iraq , the intrusive presence of NATO forces has done nothing to dampen ethnic and religious animosities. In the occupied province, any substantial thinning of NATO forces will lead to a re-appearance of past conflict, this time with the non-Serbian element having the advantage over the dwindling and fear-stricken Serb minority.In Afghanistan, only by a policy of non-intervention has "peace" been maintained.In that country too,the subsurface continues to be such as generate mistrust and hostility between groups that,under the Taliban,were either the victims or the torturers. As for Iraq , the operations of US and other forces there are daily creating a psychology that could make the country an even bigger source of terrorism than Saudi Arabia , Pakistan and the West Bank. The problem that the US soldier is facing is that in many of the battlefields into which he is being inserted, the tactics employed make no provision for Stage II operations.Nor is he briefed on the need to ensure that a psychological climate is not created that would generate a significant volume of microcombat operations,as is taking place now in Afghanistan and Iraq. The distinction between a potential and an actual enemy gets erased in practice, and the methods used - for example in searches - leave a residue of fear in those searched that quickly gets transformed into hatred. In Iraq ,for example,much of the anger that has generated the micocombat that has killed more than two thousand US forcessince 2003 has come from search operations that in most cases fail to locate any weapons. And when they do,the items confiscated are too small in number to retard an insurgency that can draw upon myriad hidden stores of conventional armaments scattered across the country.In the overwhelming majority of cases,the weapons confiscated were intended for self-defense against criminals and thugs.Only after the trauma of the "search" do those treated so roughly join the ranks of the insurgents.
Several otherwise rational individuals have given the examples of 1945-51 Germany and Japan to claim that a similar result is in store in Iraq and Afghanistan . The fact is that the times and the situations are so different that any such comparison is erroneous. In the first place, both Germany and Japan were defeated to an extent that would be politically impermissible in today's age of 24-hour television news. The loss of manpower within theenemies of the present day is considerably less. Second both the losers of 1945 had postconflict enemies - in the shape of the USSR for Germany and China and the USSR for Japan - that prompted a mood for reconciliation with the US,even within those who had previously borne arms against US forces.Inthe case of both Afghanistan and Iraq,the primary enemy of those now battling the US and coalition forces remains the US and its principal
western allies. Third, the internal situation within a broadly-united Gernaany and Japan in 1945 was very different from the ethnically-divided societies that Iraq and Afghanistan have become after decades of despotic rule that favoured some segments of the population overthe rest. While the 1939-45) Macrowar promoted the unification of the populations of Germany and Japan ,the long-running microwar in Iraq and Afghanistan has only divided the population of both
.Indeed,by giving priority to "religious" Pashtuns in Afghanistan and disaffected Sunni Arabs in Iraq - both groups favoured by Saudi Arabia – the US military is distancing itself from secular and nationalist Pashtuns,Tajiks,Hazaras and other disadvantaged groups in Afghanistan,and from quiescient Sunni Arabs,Shias and Kurds in Iraq.In India, the mass killings of Hindus and Muslims followed a partition that was imposed by the colonial masters ostensibly to avert just such a catastrophe. In India from the 1930s on to 1947,the British - admittedly not without provocation from clumsy tactics by Mohandas Gandhi - backed religious zealots against secularists,the same way as is being witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan today, ironically to avoid a partition,this time. However,the recent history of both countries makes it probable that a *de facto *separation of territories will take place in both countries,in the absence of a constitution that creates a genuinely federal structure. Because of the western tendency to adopt policies that support the Wahabbi interests of Saudi Arabia ,the religious elements in Afghanistan are being backed. Because of a perceived need to "protect" the interests of
Turkey ,those of the Kurds in Iraq are being ignored. In fact,a Free Kurdistan made out of Iraqi territory would force both Iran as well as Turkey to treat their own Kurdish minorities better,and would therefore be likely to damp down rather than accelerate separatism in those two countries. To revert to the Indian example, neither has Tamil separatism in India increased as a result of the growth of such sentiments in Sri Lanka ,nor did the formation of Bangla Desh in 1971 lead to separatist activity in West Bengal , the neighbouring Indian state that has the same ethnic mixture in its populaton as Bangla Desh. If both Turkey and Iran are facing Kurdish independence movements, it is because of the discrimination practiced by Ankara and Tehran against that minority. In the case of Iraq , past atrocities against the Kurds and the discrimination against the Shias reached such levels that the "Saudi" solution of the (preferably Wahabbi) Sunnis remaining as the *primus inter pares *in the new setup is unfeasible. Only Shia primacy and equality between Kurds and Arab Sunnis will work in Iraq , despite the efforts of Washington to implement the policy favoured by Riyadh . The case of Afghanistan is even worse, as the Saudi-backed Pashtun zealots committed such atrocities on the rest of the population that each effort by Hamid Karzai to return these elements into administrative salience speeds up the process of disintegration and distrust of a US that despite its experience with the Taliban continues to favour (Saudi-Pakistani favourites) Pashtun religious zealots over moderate Pastuns,Shias and other ethnic groups. By its clumsy efforts at restoring the *status quo * in both Iraq and Afghanistan,the US is making impossible the development of Stage II conditions in both countries.A sensible policy would be to remain neutral in internal ethnic and other rivalries.Certainly,the worst course is the present one adopted by the US and its western allies,of giving primacy to Wahabbis in Afghanistan and to Sunni supremacists in Iraq
.In brief,it is not only military choices that have an impact on the battlefield,but political decisions. Given the imperative of avoiding the level of casualties that was witnessed in past conflicts, including Vietnam , planners will need to design a strategy that leverages existing
potential and actual support bases within the target populations. Most importantly,the limits of military power will need to be understood and accepted.In neither Iraq nor Afghanistan , for instance,has the US and its NATO allies the micro-combat capability to prevent the dynamic towards effective separation that is building up in both states. Such a dynamic needs to be factored in as a given,and war aims crafted that are separate from those of a "nation-preserving" kind.In the case of the US, while outsourcing software may be understandable,less so is the outsourcing of policy to Saudi Arabia in Iraq and in other Mideast locations,and toPakistan in Afghanistan . US interests are very different from those of these two religious states,even though the former are being neglected in preference for the latter. While a 21st Century military would continue to be under civilian command, it would have within itself the expertise needed to make assessments of the "chemistry" of the populations affected by operations ,so that judgments may be made on likely responses to specific operations. Such an analysis group would serve to warn the civilian leadership of the limits of military effectiveness,so that missio objectives do not get extended to unfeasible limits,the way they have been in Iraq after the 2003 Saddam-Bush conflict.
When George W Bush declared that year that "major combat operations" in Iraq had ended,he was unaware that the microcombat that could follow macrocombat would prove even costlier in terms of military personnel lost than during Stage I. A 21st Century armed force would see combat as a unity,and make provision for succeeding in Stage II as well. Indeed, except in the case of a punitive operation, a conflict cannot be considered as won until Stage III
Much has been made of the Saddam-Bush conflict's witnessing of "Shock and Awe" tactics. These are of value only in Stage 1, as thereafter the continuation of such methods is likely to generate a "coiled spring" effect. As long as the military pressure remains,the spring will continue to be held back, only to leap into operation as soon as the pressure gets relaxed. In this context, tactics such as visible patrolling of locations that are otherwise nonsecure become counter-productive, as the enemy "coils" back during each patrol, giving his rival a false impression of tranquillity,only to re-emerge as soon as the patrol passes. What is being seen today in Iraq and in the West Bank are tactics certain to ensure defeat, as they are useful only in a Stage I situation, which no longer exists in either place. The propellant nature of the restrictions imposed on everyday life by Stage I tactics usually outweighs significantly any deterrent effect. The propulsion towards a larger number of microcombat operations becomes more powerful. It is usually more advisable to accept the risks of a less restrictive ( Stage II) approach, as the security environment can be expected to improve once routine activities resume. A Stage I approach kills such activity, thus leaving a vacuum often filled by the transformation of bystanders into microcombatants . While heavy reliance on pre-emptive firepower can temporarily depress casualties to the occupying military, the "coiled spring" effect will come into play as soon as there is a withdrawal or even a draw-down ,assuming the same Stage I tactics
.Upto the 1939 conflict, it was practical to bomb populations from the air, killing off large numbers so as to dampen any move towards challenging any part of the force that was carrying out the bombardment. Indeed, such a use of airpower was the reason why then Air Minister of the UK Lord Londonderry favoured a bigger bomber force in 1935, not the threat from the Nazis,which he dismissed. A little over three decades later,Richard Nixon was able to
similarly bomb villages in Cambodia , Laos and Vietnam , and massively employ pesticides such as Agent Organge. Although Pol Pot is given the blame for the countless number of civilians killed in Cambodia during that period, the contribution of Nixon to the carnage was not small. In 1990, during the Gulf War, the US Air Force quickly ended the open bombing of lines of Iraqi soldiers,instead of finishing them off, as would have taken place just a generation ago. These days, such Stage I operations need to be compressed into as short a time as possible,before domestic and international reaction kicks in against the slaughter. A modern military would therefore ensure (1) enough resources to quickly complete Stage I while (2) conducting the offensive in such a way that it does not retard the Stage II "Heal & Hold"operations.
Unless one were to buy into the conspiracy theory that claims that George W Bush,Dick Cheney and Tony Blair deliberately wrecked Iraq's oil industry so that petroleum prices would reach levels that provided a windfall to their friends (and hurt emerging rivals China and India) , the visible incapacity of the US military to assure the safety of even the limited number of oil installations in Iraq shows that army's incapacity to go beyond Stage I "Search,Locate & Destroy Bulk Combat Forces" operations. If the US military is the body of the "eagle", then it is a bird that has only one wing,NATO,adept at Stage II but clumsy and ineffective in graduating to a Stage II and Stage III situation. Whether it is Afghanistan or Kosovo, European NATO forces have shown themselves unable to heal psychological wounds, alter the dynamic of intra-territory tensions and undertake physical reconstruction of assets destroyed in Phase I. The only way the US military will be enabled to get a second wing will be if a country such as India , with a military having extensive experience in Stage II operations, joins with it. An India-US combination would fuse together extensive Stage I and Stage II capacities, creating a military instrument that can not merely destroy but recreate, not merely ravage but renew. For ultimately, it is Stage III in a conflict - the phase at which the target population acts in a manner friendly to an alliance's geopoltical objectives, that defines victory. However,for this to materialize,the US will need to remove the inherent racism of its approach to India, a country that it effectively regards as inferior to other allies France and Britain in the need to retain a deterrence against nuclear attack. New Delhi has two strategic options before it,that of joining hands with the US, or combining with the "Have Not" powers China and Russia,in securing primacy first in Asia and subsequently in Europe.