Wednesday, April 28, 2004


It occurred to me last night that some readers who have little in the way of formal military studies in their backgrounds might just ask the question above.

So today we'll speak briefly on why the mob can fight the Marines and, more importantly, why the Marines haven't just crushed the mob already.

It is obvious that all warfare is not the same. We witnessed the remarkable achievements of the 3rd ID and the 1st MEF during the ground war phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). It is generally conceded around the world that the United States has the most talented and effective fighting force on Earth for the conduct of all out warfare.

But there are levels of warfare that fall below the standard of all out war. The Pentagon defines these levels in a chart you can view here. By my assessment the situation we face in such locations as Fallujah and Najaf fall within the SSC (Smaller Scale Contingency) band...a band you will note that spans the spectrum from war to military operations other than war.

Perhaps you've heard someone ask "why don't we just bomb them back into the stone age and be done with it?". Intuitively you have known that such overblown action would not support the political goals we are trying to achieve. (Military History 101: Every cadet learns this quote you can too: War is merely the continuation of politics by other means" - Carl von Clausewitz) Despite the average "dove's" belief (and Hollywood's portrayal of the military...doubtless where many receive their "education" as to the nature of US Soldiers), the US Military does not trade in wanton destruction and indiscriminantly targeted weaponry. Certainly we could subdue Fallujah in short order with heavy handed tactics...but that would do little to liberate the majority of peace minded civilians living there.

And so we find ourselves engaged in a fight that takes longer than we would like, draws more news footage than it probably deserves vis a vis its strategic importance, and possible makes the US military look ineffective in the eyes of those who do not have an appreciation for the complexities of warfare including the restraint exercised by our warriors.

Not surprisingly the military has a name for the type warfare happening in Fallujah today. It is called Assymetric Warfare.
Asymmetric warfare describes warfare in which the two belligerents are so mismatched in their military capabilities or accustomed methods of engagement that the militarily diasadvantaged power must press its special advantages or effectively exploit its enemy's particular weaknesses if they are to have any hope of prevailing.
Assymetric warfare is often explained as David vs. Goliath. Certainly in a toe to toe sword battle, Goliath would have won. So David attacked from a distance, using the unconventional tactic of a slingshot (a standoff weapon) rather than the sword (a close-engagement weapon). In so doing he was able to defeat Goliath. (Of course, one wonders what might have happened to David had he not been keenly accurate with his slingshot in the first place. Point? Tactics are one thing...but competence in those tactics contribute greatly to the outcome.)

The reference goes on to point out a key element of assymetric warfare.
If the inferior power is in a position of self-defense; i.e., under attack or occupation, it may be possible to use unconventional tactics, such as hit-and-run and selective battles where the superior power is weaker, as an effective means of harassment without violating the Laws of war...

If the inferior power is in an aggressive position, however, and/or turns to tactics prohibited by the laws of war ... its success depends on the superior power's refraining from like tactics.

For example, the Law of land warfare prohibits the use of using a flag of truce or clearly marked medical vehicles as cover for an attack or ambush, but an asymmetric combatant using this prohibited tactic depends on the superior power's honoring the corresponding rules prohibiting attacking those displaying a flag of truce or a medical vehicle.

Similarly, laws of warfare prohibit combatants using civilian settlements, populations or facilities as military bases, but when an inferior power uses this tactic, it depends on the superior power respecting the law that they are violating, and not attacking that civilian target.
Obviously with the insurgents in Iraq hiding behind civilians and using mosques for weapons storage sites as well as sniper locations, they have disregarded any thought of the Law of Land Warfare as established by the Geneva Convention.

So...what is my point in all this? Simple. I want you to know that unlike the breathless reporters bringing you "dramatic footage" and wringing their hands over "increasing battles between the insurgents and US troops" the military actually studies this stuff and isn't surprised by what is going on. Indeed the military has named it and written doctrine for it. The Army and Marines train for MOUT - "Military Operations in Urban Terrain". The military leaders know what they are doing...and their expectations (as compared to those of the reporters) are that this is a methodical, time consuming process.

Is it dangerous? Yes...anytime you have loonies launching bullets in your direction with malicious intent it is going to be dangerous.

But are the insurgents "on par" with our Marines in Fallujah? isn't as close as one might believe listening to the reporters whose nation has the finest warriors in the world in Iraq, yet whom seem to believe the teenager off the street with an AK 47 is the equal of our Soldiers and Marines.

Keep faith. We'd hoped we could avoid this particular fight...well, we couldn't.

But can we win it? Certainly. And the Marines fighting in Fallujah know this will take time and patience.

Wish our reporters and our public could accept that as well.

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