Thursday, August 03, 2006

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (8/03/06)


The myth of airpower. As our experience in Afghanistan has demonstrated, airpower is ineffective as a weapon in combating guerrilla warfare. Nevertheless, Israel's leaders and military have fallen into the trap of thinking that air power will destroy Hezbollah. Lebanon's infrastructure has been pounded and pulverized, innocent civilians have been killed, yet Hezbollah has remained relatively unscathed. The United States made the same mistake in its lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, thinking its shock-and-awe bombing campaign would assure submission and total victory. It didn't. Instead, it transformed a reasonably modern society into a basket case on the brink of a sectarian civil war, raising the level of anti-American hatred throughout the Muslim world to a fever pitch in the process.

Returning from engagements in southern Lebanon, Israeli troops remarked about the ferocity of the foe. "They're not fighting like we thought they would," one Israeli soldier said. "They're fighting harder. They're good on their own ground." Call it asymmetric warfare, fourth generation warfare or guerrilla warfare, it's the military wave of the future and--like it or not--the nations of the world had better get used to it. Highly touted by the Bush administration as the linchpin in its "War Against Terror," the Iraq War's greatest accomplishment was that it provided hands-on training for thousands of newly hatched terrorists, Iraqi and foreign. Moreover, our destabilization of Iraq, Iran's traditional enemy, opened the way for that country to make mischief in the Middle East, and it obliged.

Some experts regarded the original foray into Israel in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two captured as a way of relieving Israel's siege of Gaza. Others saw Hezbollah's intervention as having been instigated by Iran to lessen the likelihood of an attack on its nuclear program by a preoccupied Israel. Iran has already made clear that an Israeli attack on Iran would be regarded as an attack by the United States that could easily put U.S. forces in Iraq at risk. The army now occupying Iraq is not the field army that toppled Saddam, but instead is an undermanned, under-equipped ragtag force wearing itself out with unanticipated military police duty in a hostile land.

Israel now appears to be getting ready for a full-scale ground invasion of Lebanon, an action that Hezbollah devoutly desires. What Israel and Washington and London fail to recognize is Hezbollah does not have to win to be victorious. It only has to survive to prevail, while Israel must destroy Hezbollah to triumph. In no previous Middle Eastern dust-up has the United States shown itself to be so shamelessly taking sides. Despite Bush administration protestations of a desire for lasting peace, it virtually poured gasoline on an already raging fire by not calling for an immediate cease fire and by rushing bombs and aviation fuel to Israel, as if to ensure no letup in the total destruction of Lebanon and its tottering nascent democracy.

After her ineffectual attempts at shuttle diplomacy, a clueless secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, former specialist on the Soviet Union and steeped in university politics, seemed willing only to talk with one side. Intoning newly minted empty phrases, she called what is happening in Lebanon, "the birth pangs of a new Middle East." "Whatever we do," she added, "we have to be certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one." You can't make this stuff up.

Defeat in detail. Whatever shred of legitimacy our counterproductive invasion and occupation of Iraq may have had was totally undermined by our intensive bombing, glaring lack of planning, and condoned looting of Iraq's infrastructure. Iraqi deaths from today's internecine urban warfare and the more than 2,500 American dead and 21,000 American wounded represent only a portion of what this needless war has cost. Its dollar cost may exceed what was spent on the Vietnam War. As unsettling and divisive as our Iraq adventure may be, even more disturbing is evidence that lessons learned as far back as the Indian Wars in the American West are being overlooked.

On the night of June 16, 2006, according to preliminary accounts from Iraq, three armored Humvee military vehicles were at a check point overlooking a canal linked to the Euphrates River south of Baghdad. Called the "Triangle of Death," the area is a hotbed of terrorist and foreign fighter activity. In some accounts, the three vehicles came under attack, causing two of the Humvees to peel off to chase the insurgents and leaving the lone Humvee to fend for itself. The U.S. Army later said that the three soldiers had been alone in their Humvee while the other two Humvees moved out of sight to inspect vehicles. Such action would be unusual since U.S. military vehicles are supposed to travel in convoys of at least two and never to travel or remain alone.

U.S. forces stationed near the village of Yousifiya heard gunshots and rocket fire coming from the area of the check point and hurried to investigate. They found the body of one soldier dead in the vehicle. Two other soldiers were missing. Three days later, their booby-trapped bodies were found. They had been captured in the attack on the lone vehicle, and brutalized before being killed. Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the Multi-National Division-Baghdad, declined to answer questions about the incident at a press conference, and the Army has been tight-lipped ever since.

No matter how the lone Humvee came to be by itself, the well-coordinated attack on it with heavy weapons indicates that guerrilla fighters in Iraq have learned to apply a time-honored military tactic known as "defeat in detail." Instead of engaging the bulk of the enemy force in a set-piece battle, using the tactic of "defeat in detail" the commander of an enemy force brings a large portion of his own force to bear on small enemy units individually.

Use of this principle is well-founded in history. In 1862, Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson defeated three Union armies in succession in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley by attacking the enemy columns while they were separated from one another by the ruggedness of the terrain. Defeat in detail was also a major tactic of Indian tribes in their resistance to the settlement of the West after the Civil War. A celebrated example of this tactic was the Fetterman Massacre. In December of 1866, near Fort Phil Kearny, an isolated Army post in the foothills of Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains, a coalition of Plains Indians ambushed Capt. William J. Fetterman and an 80-man detachment of infantry and cavalry. Most accounts of the incident include variations on a dramatic boast attributed to Fetterman, who had been at this lonely outpost only seven weeks: "Give me eighty men and I'll ride through the entire Sioux nation."

Latter-day historians have embellished the encounter with the image of Fetterman, an overzealous, battle-hardened officer who disdained the Indians martial skills and led his men to their deaths by disobeying the orders of his commanding officer, Col. Henry B. Carrington, a Yale-educated lawyer who had spent the Civil War in administrative duties. Instead of remaining within sight of the fort, Capt. Fetterman led his men over a ridge and into the waiting hands of Chief Crazy Horse's braves.

The spectacular victory of the Sioux and their allies would have gone down in history as the greatest defeat suffered by the U.S. Army in the American West if Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his Seventh Cavalry hadn't topped it by riding into immortality at the Little Bighorn ten years later. By dividing his force, Custer gave the Indians an opportunity for yet another defeat in detail. Let us hope that commanders in Iraq have a better grasp of military history than has been exhibited thus far in the almost daily defeats in detail of American forces by twos and by threes.


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