Mar 2, 2009

Irregular Warfare – How to Fight an Irregular Foe

Irregular Warfare – How to Fight an Irregular Foe

Call it what you like: 4th Generation warfare, asymmetrical warfare, or fighting against cowardly terrorists and ‘dead-enders’. But the hard fact is that warfare these days is no longer the mano –y –mano fights of Tarawa, Chosin, or Fallujah, and instead pits our regulars against their irregulars. Shades of Francis Marion – the Swamp Fox of the Revolution – except we’re on the wrong side of the sand berm.

But as the news from Afghanistan worsens as American use of airpower continues to kill too many civilians, the Taliban’s stories of Western disregard for Afghan lives seems to ring true – it’s difficult to win a ‘hearts & minds” battle when even President Karzai protests the bombing deaths of women and children.

With much of America’s military still tied up in Iraq, CENTCOM has developed a strategy that addresses both the shortage of troops and equipment that continues to hamstring our fight in Afghanistan, as well as the issue of engaging the local citizenry a’la the successful Marine – Sunni alliance in Ramadi and Anbar that defeated AQI.

The concept needed to win this type of war, where the citizens don’t trust a failing government that has ceded power to foreign militaries and NGO’s, is called the “Whole Nation” approach by CENTCOM.

Elegant in its approach to fighting an enemy and also engaging the local population, Centcom’s recent Deputy Director of Operations, Brig Gen Robert Holmes explains how “it’s using the resources of our entire country; the military, the departments like State, Treasury, and Justice, as well as the private sector.” The war in Afghanistan is more than just an issue of killing lots of Taliban; Gen David McKiernan has been calling for more troops since he came on-station in May 2008, yet he’ll be the first to tell you that the 17,000 Marines and soldiers President Obama is sending is just a drop in the bucket - it is simply not possible to seal the Afghan-Pak border and halt the influx of foreign fighters.

The theory is that viable local and provincial governments will buy time for the Karzai regime to sort out its own crippling issues. Massive police corruption, an increasing volume of opium exports, corruption in the central government; the West is trying to build a country while simultaneously trying to halt an invasion by neighboring religious zealots and warlords which is being orchestrated, or at least supported, by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI).

The issues today are far more than just Iraq and Afghanistan, Brig Gen Holmes explained; there are threats from Shia extremists from Saudi Arabia, Pashtuns in Wazieristan building contacts in Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia, an African-Arab problem that’s causing the mass slaughter in Darfur and Somalia; these are inter-regional threats that when added to the Kurd-Turkey issue, Sunni-Shia in Iraq, and the Arab-Israeli-Hezbollah-Lebanon matrix.

There are similarities within all these crisis areas, as Holmes told me…”we need to build a local infrastructure that makes the police a respected part of their society…one includes judges and fair trials…essential services like schooling and sanitation, as well as provides jobs that give the local citizenry the ability to have a better life.”

The American military and NATO forces cannot continue to build the infrastructure necessary; Marine officers are highly trained to lead Marines; their best us is not sit with sheiks or mullahs developing a local jobs plan or re-opening schools.

While “Clear-Hold-Build” is the proper strategy for this type of warfare, officers and senior enlisted are not necessarily the most qualified Americans to provide the “Build” end of the strategy, and this is why CENTCOM hosted the workshop.

The Interagency Task Force (ITF) is designed to provide counter-strategies as well as out-maneuver the threats posed by these regional and local actors. By acting as the coordinator at CENTCOM to the other agencies, the ITF can work with Department of State, USAID, the Dept of Justice, the Small Business Association, or whatever other federal agency who has expertise needed to make this strategy work effectively.
Ignoring the Democratic vs. Republican political sniping that makes the nightly news, this is nation-building in Central Asia. As in Iraq, CENTCOM has recognized that a stable country is one that provides border security, rule of law, governance, and economic development to its citizens – and also that the local people will uniformly support whichever government can provide these services to them, usually regardless of religious affiliation.

If one is going to codify a body of laws, then lawyers from the Dept of Justice are needed to help write the laws. Since providing jobs is an alternative to being paid to plant IED’s, then economic experts from the SBA are necessary. Agricultural experts from USAID and the Dept of Agriculture are needed to help provide alternative crops to growing poppies…imagine if the SBA and USAID teamed up to help build a jobs program in Helmand Province, now the single largest supplier of opium in the world. But the agencies have to work for the benefit of the United States, as opposed to protecting turf, carving out their own fiefdoms, or in the case of the State Department; having their employees and diplomats refuse to even accept stations in Central Asia.

Will this concept work? It worked successfully in Ramadi and Anbar Province, where the Marines and Sunni’s came to a common agreement on the dangers Al-Qada-in-Iraq posed to them. It can work in Afghanistan, and some of the other impending flash points when the locals become convinced that the real power of America lies in the stability and ideas offered by its people, and not just in numbers of Marines, howitzers, and soldiers on the ground.

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