Tactics of the Islamic State

In a post on the situation in Iraq today, Pat Lang has suggested that “This has Guderian, Patton, Manstein, et al., written all over it.”

True. Boyd did a nice summary of these tactics:

Message: By exploiting superior leadership, intelligence, communications, and mobility as well as by playing upon adversary’s fears and doubts via propaganda and terror, forces of The Islamic State operated inside adversary observation-orientation-decision-action loops.

Result: Outnumbered IS fighters created impressions of terrifying strength—by seeming to come out of nowhere yet be everywhere.

Hence: Subversive propaganda, clever stratagems, fast breaking maneuvers, and calculated terror not only created vulnerabilities and weaknesses but also played upon moral factors that drain away resolve, produce panic, and bring about collapse.  Patterns of Conflict, chart 28.

OK, I did make a few insignificant changes to bring it up to date.

Centers of gravity — Do they still matter?

Decisively defeating al-Qa‘ida will involve neutralizing its CoG, but this will require the use of diplomatic and informational initiatives more than military action.  LTC Antulio J. Echevarria II, USA (ret.)1/

This most perceptive statement, written before our invasion of Iraq, raises the issue of whether the center of gravity concept offers anything for the types of conflicts we find ourselves engaged in today.

At least twice in the last week or so, I’ve seen “centers of gravity” in articles about US defense policy:

Zen Pundit on American Spartan

Mark Safranski has posted his review of American Spartan, Ann Scott Tyson’s story of US Army Special Forces Major Jim Gant in Afghanistan. Read it.

Here’s my review of Mark’s review.

As Mark notes, the strategy of supporting local insurgents goes way back, and it can be highly successful — the United States wouldn’t be here if the French hadn’t taken this approach. But it’s also true, as he notes, that if you create a monster to fight a monster, you have, in fact, created a monster. You’d think we might have learned this from our first Afghan adventure. So I certainly agree with Mark when he says that “It should only be done with eyes wide open as to the potential drawbacks (numerous) and it won’t always work but the militia option works often enough historically that it should be carefully considered,” but “eyes wide open” is easier after the fact. Even a mechanical system of three or more parts can become complex and therefore unpredictable. So we have, at the very least, the US forces, the various tribes and militias, and the government. You see where I’m going with this, and that’s before we consider that the players are hardly mechanical parts whose behavior can be predicted over any length of time. Continue reading

Islamic “Fundamentalism”

If your conception of ISIS imagines illiterate fanatics making suicidal charges in pickup trucks and are confused about how a glorified motorcycle gang could conquer half of Iraq and Syria, wiping out a $25 BN US investment in the Iraqi army in the process, you might want to learn more about the roots of the movement and how it is trained and led today. Such an understanding may come in handy in the future.

For background, try William R. Polk’s article, Understanding Islamic Fundamentalism, on consortiumnews.com. As he explains:

Some of [Sayyid Qutub's] writings bear comparison to the Islamic legal classics. As a group, they have attracted a mass readership — believed to be in the tens of millions — throughout the Islamic world and have apparently influenced men as opposed to one another as the leaders of the Taliban, the Saudi Royal Establishment, al-Qaida, the Iranian and Iraqi clerics [Arabic: ulema] and now the various and competing groups of Syrian militants. Sayyid Qutub is the philosopher of the Islamic revolution.

Implicit in his writings was the idea that Islam is under attack and therefore must defend itself because failure to do so would be to contravene the intention of God. Continue reading

Is blitzkrieg enough?

Did the Germans win WW II?

Maneuver warfare, a modern updating of the infiltration tactics that led to the stunning German successes in 1939 through late 1941, is a better way to fight opposing military forces: Create a gap in the enemy defenses, penetrate into his rear areas, cause panic and chaos, and exploit before he can figure out what’s going on. Numbers become irrelevant and can even be a vulnerability once panic sets in. Continue reading

Was the war really fought over oil?

The claim is often made that we invaded Iraq in 2003 to secure our access to its oil reserves, or, more cynically, to secure the profits of US energy-related companies. To me this policy made sense, at least in the short term. It was morally reprehensible and would probably hurt us in the long run but at least I could understand it. It made a lot more sense than the reasons the Bush administration announced: non-existent WMDs, non-existent cooperation between Saddam and Osama bin Laden,  and fulfilling the non-existent desires of the Iraqi masses to adopt electoral democracy and become close allies of the United States.

If securing access to oil were our real strategy, I would have expected us to cordon off the oil fields, empty the region of its indigenous inhabitants, and pump the place dry. As I said, morally reprehensible but a coherent strategy. We didn’t do that, of course. So perhaps we had a more sophisticated plan to achieve the same results? If so, it didn’t work very well. The average price of a barrel of domestic crude in 2002 in March 2013 dollars was $29.49. For 2012, it was $87.68. So we invested some $3 trillion (up from the original estimate of $80 billion), and what we got for it was a tripling of oil prices. Some bargain. Continue reading

Bill Lind: 4GW is Alive and Well

4GW is Alive and Well

William S. Lind
Special to Slightly East of New

25 May 2013

So “the world simply didn’t develop along the lines it (4GW) proposed”? How do you say that in Syriac?

The basic error in Chet Richards’ piece of April 19, “Is 4GW dead?” is confusing the external and internal worlds. Internally, in the U.S. military and the larger defense and foreign policy establishment, 4GW is dead, as is maneuver warfare and increasingly any connection to the external world. The foreign policy types can only perceive a world of states, in which their job is to promote the Wilsonian nee Jacobin, follies of “democracy” and “universal human rights.” They are in fact, 4GW’s allies, in that their demand for “democracy” undermines states, opening the door for more 4GW. Continue reading

We’re doing something wrong

Compare what we got out of our Middle Eastern adventure (not forgetting to include its $3-5 trillion opportunity cost) to what the Chinese are doing in Africa in the meantime:

All across the continent, Chinese companies are signing deals that dwarf the old railroad project. The most heavily reported involve oil production; since the turn of the millennium, Chinese companies have muscled in on lucrative oil markets in places like Angola, Nigeria, Algeria, and Sudan. But oil is neither the largest nor the fastest-growing part of the story. Chinese firms are striking giant mining deals in places like Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and building what is being touted as the world’s largest iron mine in Gabon. They are prospecting for land on which to build huge agribusinesses. And to get these minerals and crops to market, they are building major new ports and thousands of miles of highway.

Howard W. French, The Next Empire, in the May 2010 Atlantic Magazine.

For want of a nail …

According to a story on BBC.com, the radar observatory at Arecibo may have to cancel its mission to observe the asteroid Apophis.

Times are tough, I hear you say. And indeed they are.

But there’s significance here, over and above interesting data on a 300 meter wide rock, with a mass of 27 million tons, hurtling through space. The first is that Apophis stands a small chance of striking the earth. How small? Well, that’s what the mission is, or perhaps “was,” supposed to determine. And Arecibo, in Puerto Rico, is the only telescope that can make that determination.

What if Apophis does hit the earth? It’s only 300 m wide, after all. We can already calculate that it will come within 18,300 miles of us in 2036, but an uncertainty of only a few hundred meters could, given the complexities of gravitational mechanics, solar winds, and unknown objects in space, mean the difference between hitting or missing. That’s what Arecibo could determine when the asteroid makes a flyby in January 2013.

What if it hit? The object that caused the Tunguska event in 1908 has been estimated at a few tens of meters across. The resulting blast over Siberia was roughly equivalent to a decent sized nuke (10-15 megatons). An asteroid like Apophis would likely produce a much larger effect. It would obliterate any city it landed near and could cause tsunamis if it struck in the ocean.

Low probability stuff, no doubt, but possible. What would it cost to have Arecibo find out? Brace yourself: $2-3 million. That’s “million” with an “m,” roughly what we spend in 20 minutes in Iraq alone. Unfortunately, the National Science Foundation doesn’t have the money for the mission. In fact, it’s cutting Arecibo’s overall budget by about 25%, which leaves just enough to keep the observatory running.

Point is that actions have consequences, and this small incident shows how we are beginning to feel the consequences of spending $3-5 trillion (Bilmes-Stiglitz estimate) on eradicating non-existent WMDs in Iraq and hounding rag-tag Taliban light infantry in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. May be worth doing, but as the late Milton Friedman loved to point out, there’s no free lunch. Actions have consequences, and costs.