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Why Victory in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the War on Terror will elude US Forces

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Message Mitch Gurney
When nations and their conventional armies waged war in the past measurable results were often attained largely because the stronger force prevailed by inflicting sufficient damage motivating the populace of the weaker foe to exert pressure on their government to either change political course or surrender. Today in Iraq or Afghanistan this will not be possible. There is nothing the civilian populace, their governments or even their armies can do to stop insurgents from crossing their borders and engaging in combat with US military forces.

One lesson that should have been learned from our experiences in Vietnam is the effectiveness of the guerrilla warfare tactics employed against US forces. No degree of carpet-bombing was effective in suppressing it, and as is well known more than 50,000 American soldiers and a disproportionate ratio of innocent Asian civilians lost their lives.

'Guerrilla,' 'insurgency,' and 'terrorism' are various forms of asymmetric tactics. Conventional forces must be able to clearly identify their opponent in order to successfully engage in combat. Obviously part of the strategy in asymmetric warfare is to make this extremely difficult. The militants gain an advantage over their conventional opponent since they, on the other hand, are extremely easy to identify and attack.

Another advantage asymmetric militants have over a conventional army is that they are not state centric and are 'recruit-able' on a global level. Anyone from around the globe angered with US foreign policy can participate in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Conventional armies, however, rely primarily on support from its nation's citizens. Such support is seriously compromised when a pre-emptive war of aggression is launched under false pretenses, the mission is poorly defined, and the strategy pursued is destined for failure.

There is little to be gained in belittling the nature of asymmetric tactics as some are inclined to do, referring to the militants as cowards for hiding among the innocent or some other colorful terminology. Doing so is missing the point of their strategies. They know what they are doing and comprehend that they are no match in sheer weaponry and military power for a direct confrontation with US forces.

During our revolutionary war with England the US militia changed tactics on the red coats, catching them off guard and slow to adapt. Even though the opposing armies were traditional in that each was state-based, the methods employed by either side were very different. The tactic of warfare at the time was chiefly of the opponents 'dueling' by facing off in open fields as they marched toward one another. Our militia, in nearly every respect, was no match for this style of fighting and in response, adopted an asymmetric strategy by hiding behind trees and buildings, successfully picking the redcoats off as they dutifully marched down center field.

The asymmetric tactics of the 21st century have metamorphosed to where the militants now hide within the civilian populace, thus driving the battlefield into the urban areas. It is critically important to grasp not only the psychology behind this transformation but also the implications and consequences of failing to adapt.

Unfortunately, as is evidenced in Baghdad, Fallujah, Haditha and elsewhere, there exists a tragic cleverness in driving the battle field into urban areas and catching civilians in the crossfire. A conventional response through the collective use of powerful weaponry and bombs, coupled with frustrated soldiers fighting an elusive and difficult-to-identify enemy, cause a disproportionate ratio of innocent civilian causalities to militant causalities, in conjunction with massive urban destruction. The civilians grow equally as frustrated, since the enemy is just as elusive for them. Now caught in the middle, they are powerless to affect any influence over the situation.

As the carnage and destruction continues, the danger to US forces will increase, since they are the most visible target on the field in the eyes of civilians and militants alike. Civilians with nowhere else to turn may develop a rationale, whether reasonable or not, that if what they perceive as a brutal and destructive US military were to leave, so too, to some degree, will their problems. The ranks of the insurgents will grow exponentially as this rationale and subsequent rage escalates.

Several additional distinguishing characteristics also exist with today's asymmetric tactics as compared to a conventional military tactic and are illustrated through analyzing and comparing the cost factors, troops, and equipment requirements necessary to sustain the conflict. The US has some 158,000 troops plus billions of dollars in hardware in Iraq while the insurgents successfully bog them down with an estimated 15 to 20 thousand militants with minimal hardware. With only 4 years into it, Iraq alone is forecasted to cost up to a trillion dollars. Since the US must borrow these funds at nearly 12 billion dollars per month from host countries like China, Japan, and others, it's conceivable the restive elements supporting asymmetric militants need do nothing more then keep the US bogged down in engagements like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Predicated upon the fact the US utilized asymmetric tactics in our proxy war with the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 70's it seems practical to conclude the perspectives summarized here are understood by our military and political leaders. With Soviet-Afghan outcome so clearly obvious, the question then becomes, why are we pursuing a strategy when its inevitable outcome is so predictable?

Supporting articles:

Civilian Deaths Undermine War on Taliban By Carlotta Gall and David E. Sanger The New York Times Sunday May 13th, 2007

Iraq war has other ill effects Damage to the U.S. is certain to endure

By John Arquilla Sunday, May 27, 2007


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I am a political activist living in Northern California. Over the years I have become increasingly concerned at how misinformed the general public has become and by the "Bread and Circus" style conditions existing in America today. If there is a (more...)
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