Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Bombs Away

In WWII, several new theories of war were developed, most of which are still in practice today.  From the Blitzkrieg, essentially an armored thrust designed to penetrate deep into the heart of the enemy lines and create chaos in the rear area, to the idea of Strategic Bombing, the idea of bombing civil infrastructure to reduce overall military power, we still employ most of the ideas honed in the conflagration that engulfed the world.  The major problem is that we are no longer fighting WWII.  We have seen the severe weakness of the standard playbook in recent years, and unfortunately have failed to recognize and adapt to the changing realities the battlefield presents.

Take the Blitz for instance.  One could aptly call it a spear thrust, because that's almost exactly what it is.  The support, and the actual fighting formations all move on the same roads at the same pace in the same direction.  When facing down a numerically superior force in a defensive posture, the Blitz works quite well.  However as we saw in Iraq, sweeping aside a numerically superior force was almost laughably easy but securing the areas we had gained was next to impossible with the forces we had available.  Many of the weapons and soldiers that would ignite the insurgency were able to slip into the populace because the US formations were not able to sweep and clear the towns like Nassaryiah or Najaaf that they just swept through.  When the insurgency was finally upon the troops they had to go back and sweep and clear a lot of the same towns that they'd fought through in the initial push.  Whole stockpiles of military munitions were left unguarded, and the failure to provide order and prevent looting showed how totally inequitably the generals had prepared for the Iraq War.  One wonders how many lives on both sides might have been saved if the ground commanders had had both adequate forces, and the wherewithal to say that getting to Baghdad in 30 days was less important than securing Iraq for the long haul.

Then there's Strategic Bombing.  Perhaps we should have learned in the Korean War, when B-29 formations ran out of significant targets within the first week, that Strategic Bombing doesn't work if the enemy has no infrastructure.  Advocates of Strategic Bombing often point to WWII, in both Germany and Europe, and also to Bosnia and Kosovo as proof positive that it can work.  But there were other factors that make it clear that it was more a supporting factor than an actual causal one.  For instance during one night when Tokyo was hit with a massive incendiary strike over 100,000 people died, which is more than the combined total of deaths from both atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  But Tokyo wasn't the only target hit.  Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe. . . really every major Japanese city was almost leveled, as was nearly every German city.  Even the London Blitz in 1940 should make it clear that such bombing it not entirely effective.  It is true that such attacks did affect industry, and thus have a supporting role in ending the war, but the Germans had to be almost completely smashed from both sides, and the Japanese had to have super-weapons dropped on them before they gave up.

Even the example of Kosovo is fundamentally flawed.  True the bombing campaign did have an effect, but not as great as we often try to make it sound like it did.  Did Milosevic step aside because American bombers were blowing up his infrastructure with impunity, or was it because the US was starting to mobilize ground forces?  We may never know exactly, but it raises enough of a question that we should not be so readily relying on air strikes as the one stop shop for winning wars.

Perhaps most of all the drone program should prove the inherent fallacy of Strategic Bombing.  Since there is no infrastructure of note for the Taliban and al Qaeda who seem perfectly happy to "rough it" in what is essentially early steel age conditions what targets are there left for the roving war planes?  People.  There's just one slight problem here.  In simplest language we don't know who we're killing.  We don't know what we're hitting, and once the missile is launched there's really no recalling it.  True there are a ton of terrorists that have been killed, but who else have we killed?  Doctors?  Engineers?  Perhaps even the very people that we might be able to use as assets against the propaganda of the terrorists.  Relying on Strategic Bombing in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Libya have lead to the situation spinning out of control, and the view from the top becoming even more confusing than ever.  We simply don't know whose doing what with whom and for what purpose anymore.

Now with armed intervention in Syria looking ever more likely it seems almost a foregone conclusion that it will take the exact same route as the intervention in Libya.  We have no idea who the rebels are, and no way of gaining even a semblance of control, but we will most likely use a series of low risk air strikes to "help" the rebels.  This will work *eventually* to weaken the Assad forces and potentially even weaken Iranian influence in the region, or it might backfire and create a chaotic churning mass of old rivalries and hatreds that continue to churn for the next decade or more.  The fault lines in the Middle East are not solely along the borders of Israel, but everywhere where there is more than one race, and Syria is perhaps one of the most diverse ME nation.  Arabs will kill Assyrians, Kurds will kill Arabs, and throwing Persians or the half dozen other ethnicity will only make it worse.  That is to say nothing of the rift between Sunni and Shi'a.  Worse still, as we have seen in Afghanistan, and Iraq, internal conflicts have a way of spilling over into neighboring nations.  The violence in Syria seems to be corresponding with an uptick in the violence in Iraq.

Libya was at least a stable state before the Qaddafi was targeted.  Now the Libyans don't even really have a semblance of order, it is controlled by roving militias which might as well be the same as firing the police forces of Chicago and turning it over to the Gangs.  This is to say nothing of the serious military hardware that was just left behind by the Qaddafi regime.  Surface to Air Missiles, (SAMs), anti-aircraft artillery pieces, artillery shells, long range rockets, mortars. . . in the hands of an army such things would be trivial and out dated even, but in the hands of terrorists who neither recognize nor fight for any state, unparallelled chaos could be wrought across the globe.  This is what is in store for us if we intervene in Syria as we did in Libya.

We can no longer afford to kid ourselves that we can win a few wars inexpensively but dropping a few "surgical" bombs in key places.  Air Power will always play a role in warfare for as long as we are able to fly, but we can not pretend anymore that it is the be all end all.   If we are to intervene in Syria it will take an Army and Marine Corps that we simply don't have anymore.  If we intervene we will need ground forces to secure the weapons left behind, and provide order during the transition.  With the looming draw downs due so sequestration, and the cost of over a decade at war, sending any appreciable ground force into Syria would strain the ground combat services nearly to the breaking point.  Worse still the Navy and Air Force would be unable to support those troops as they too are looking at drastic cuts to their manpower and capabilities.

In all honesty I can not see what anyone hopes to gain by involvement in Syria.  The same people who cited how Iraq was an "Illegal War" seem to be pushing us towards Syria for might the same reasons we got involved in Iraq.  With Us influence on the wane in the last five years, it would be doubtful how many allies we could entice to such a venture.  We could always "go it alone" but as I said before we simply don't have the forces, or perhaps even more important the political and popular will to do so.  Unfortunately our President has backed himself into a corner by talking about "red lines," and issuing dire threats to the Assad regime.  Now that it appears that chemical weapons have in fact been used the US must intervene or lose even more face and political clout internationally.  The Drone President can not simply whip out a few strikes from UAVs hold up some dead terrorists and claim victory this time.  As the Bard said; "Let us talk of Graves, of worms, and Epitaphs. . . Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings; How some have been depose; some slain in war, some haunted by the ghosts of those they deposed."


Unknown said...

I really enjoy your posts and I learn so much about military history that I feel I should know.

Former EMN3 from the late 90s

I'd like to buy you a beer sometime, I make my way to Morgantown every so often for work.

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