Monday, October 31, 2005
More on Urban Warfare
You are a commander on the ground in Iraq and your are tasked with taking back the city of Fallujah. Seizing a city by military force is never a pleasant activity. Of course, war has never been pleasurable, but fighting inside in an urban environment is particularly unpleasant. A city is like a concrete jungle where structures instead of trees are the vertical obstructions that you have to deal with. Except the jungle is usually sparsely populated. In the city you have to deal with people. Non-combatants. Civilians. In recent conflicts one of the challenges has been to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants. It happened in Somalia. It happens in Afghanistan. And of course, it happens every day in Iraq. Imagine the difficulty of using not only ground troops to take a city, but also using airpower to accomplish the mission. And by the way, both your land power assets have to be in close coordination with your air power assets. The risks of fratricide and collateral damage are compounded in an urban environment. You think about Stalingrad in 1942 and how the Germans sent a thousand planes to bomb the city into rubble, all to see the Russian resolve actually increase; Stalingrad was the beginning of the end for the once invincible German army. Fast forward to the dawn of the 21st century, the year 2000, and now the Russians are bombing Grozny into rubble. The key to success for airpower in an city fight is to conduct operations in an urban environment and not against an urban environment. More on this in subsequent posts.
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Airpower and Urban Warfare
Throughout the 20th century, when wartime leaders had to make the decision to use airpower in support of ground troops operating in a city, they usually viewed such use as a broadsword and not a rapier. In the 21st Century however, airpower has become that much needed rapier, that precise instrument that today's environment demands.
A Bitter-Sweet Track Record
During urban operations in places as far removed in time and space as Stalingrad and Mogadishu, the use of airpower is support of ground troops operation in a city (what the military calls urban close air support or urban CAS) has been plagued by a list of modest accomplishments dominated by dismal failures.
During World War II successful urban CAS was the exception rather than the rule for both the Axis and Allied powers.
After D-Day, airpower had only a small contribution in helping Allied troops seize German-held towns across the Western Front.
The Urbanization of Armed Conflict
Over the last two decades our ground troops have been involved in a series of military operations for control of urban areas. Currently, over 150,000 US soldiers and marines are involved in what are essentially urban counter-insurgency operations in Iraq.
Since the end of major combat operations in 2003, the US military has learned many lessons in urban warfare, including how to use air and space power to contribute to the fight.
The clearest representation of this new form of conducting air and space operations took place last year over the skies of the embattled Iraqi town of Fallujah.
On the technological side, this new form of conducting operations was shaped by three advances: persistent air surveillance using a new array of sensors, precision air munitions, and information technology.
I'll expand more of this topic in subsequent posts.
Here's a link to a study conducted by RAND several years ago on the subject.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
Network vs. Network
I strongly believe that in the fight against terrorist our government needs to run itself like a hybrid between a business and a terrorist network. The overwhelming majority of people in government want to do the best job they can, but for the most part they work under strict organizational limits that severely limit their effectiveness.
A terrorist organization like Al Qaida is characterized by certain qualities that allow it to operate very effectively in the Information Age by quickly responding to changes in their mission space (what they do: from day-to-day operations, to actual attacks), and their environment (where they do it, and under which conditions):
- Regional and decentralized decision-making. The leaders on the field have extensive decision-making authority. Even if some leaders are removed (captured or killed), budding leaders rapidly ascend to central positions by activating links that are already in place. Each emerging leader usually comes into the organization equipped with a pre-existing 'mini-network" of his own.
- Horizontal management structure. Dealings within the network aren't dictated by strictly allocated hierarchical relationships. Interaction between the members of the organization is founded on teamwork to achieve a desired goal.
- Rising above turf battles. To be sure there is considerable organizational friction when it comes to relations between the different terrorist networks, however, to achieve a common goal, they are mostly able to put those differences aside and work towards an objective, be it a spectacular terrorist act like 9/11 or attacking coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- An overarching sense of mission. Terrorist and insurgents are encouraged to incur in bold action at the right time; when conditions are met that maximize the effects of those actions. Marching orders from the leadership to the "foot soldiers" is usually given in clear and unequivocal terms. Fighters within the networks believe theirs is the worthiest, noblest of causes.
- Use of all information networks, to include the Internet. Al Qaida and other terrorist organizations really like the Internet; in a post-9/11 world where physical terrorist camps are, for the most part, a thing of the past, the Internet provides terrorist networks a virtual training camp/facility that is less vulnerable to American "eyes in the sky" and precision-guided munitions. However, Al Qaida also extensively uses couriers and face-to-face communications to coordinate operations. As mentioned above, each emerging leader comes into the organization with his own set of contacts, his own mini-network. This mini-network is plugged-in into the whole organization and a whole new set of relationships are created. As Michael Shrage, author of the book Serious Play states, "The surest way to add value to a network is to connect it to another network".
I'll continue expanding on these topics. The above is not intended as praise for Al Qaeda as an organization. Al Qaeda is the most despicable organization in the world. The tragedies inflicted by Al Qaeda go beyond the violence against innocent noncombatants. Al Qaeda is an example of leadership, organizational skills, and youth squandered for a violent and counter-productive cause. However, because of the environment in which Al Qaeda operates and the adversaries they faced they have been able to create and adapt their organization to the challenges of the Information Age.
You can find out more information about networks at the International Network for Social Network Analysis web site.