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Thread: Collateral Damage and Counterinsurgency Doctrine

  1. #1
    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Collateral Damage and Counterinsurgency Doctrine

    Collateral Damage and Counterinsurgency Doctrine by Major General Charles Dunlap at the SWJ Blog.

    One of the most controversial issues today is the role of kinetic military force, and especially airpower, in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. While no one advocates the use of force except when truly necessary, the history of COIN efforts reveal that it is essential to success. For example, Professor Daniel Moran points out in his book, Wars of National Liberation, that in Malaya, the COIN operation most admired by many contemporary COIN aficionados, “7,000 guerillas were killed” out of total number “which probably never exceeded 10,000.”

    Nevertheless, accepted wisdom these days is that reflected in FM 3-24, that is, “killing insurgents…cannot itself defeat an insurgency.” This is complemented by a related listing of “paradoxes” which include such aphorisms as “sometimes, the more force is used, the less effective it is.” (Of course, “sometimes” is a qualifier that renders it almost meaningless because virtually anything can happen “sometimes” – to include sometimes the more force is used, the more effective it is.)

    The overall flavor of FM 3-24 is, however, most unambiguously reflected in its attitude toward airpower...

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    I recall from Sir Robert Thompson's No Exit from Viet Nam, where the author, trying to make a counterintuitive point, cited interviews with Vietnamese villagers in refugee camps who had been displaced by US bombing: Those interviewed placed the blame for their displacement squarely on the shoulders of the enemy. (There were two editions of the book, by the way. Close after the trauma of Tet, the March 1969 edition was highly pessimistic. The 1970 version, reflecting the much improved situation on the ground, expressed guarded optimism. Cynics would note that in the interim between the two editions, Sir Robert had taken the King's shilling, i.e., he became Nixon's special COIN adviser.)

    Similarly, in an anecdotal but not unique incident, when several villages in the southern panhandle of Tay Ninh Province were overrun by PAVN in the 1972 offensive, the expressions I got in Tay Ninh were along the lines of, "My God, those poor people. Now the communists will get them all killed when the bombs come!" By then the pattern was well established and well known--the enemy would overrun a populated area and, if they decided to stay for a while, the inevitable bombing would occur--although I don't recall whether it did in this instance.

    I look forward to this paper.

    Last edited by Mike in Hilo; 08-14-2007 at 06:13 AM. Reason: spelling

  3. #3
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrates that the issue is much more complicated. Specifically, it is undisputed that insurgents have caused vastly more civilian deaths than have COIN forces – air or ground - yet support for the insurgency remains robust in many areas. Put another way, COIN forces rarely enjoy any “propaganda victory” with host-nation populations when the enemy kills innocent people. Thus, the impact of civilian casualties is an issue clearly more complex than simplistic assumptions that underlay the airpower-hostile policies FM 3-24 recommends (and ISAF appears to have adopted).
    Once again take fact, blend with hyperbole, and distort the truth.

    OIF--I have seen no stats either way. That said, it would require a bracket around the specific time period in question and substantial documentation to make this assertion reasonable.

    OEF--Here is the hyperbole and distortion. The issue in OEF is very much in dispute and in fact a number of studies have shown that civilian casualties caused by coalition air strikes have been higher than Taliban suicide bombing,

    Overall, this is blog entry is exhibit A in providing a clear view on how far airpower advocates are willing to spin reality. The real issue is NOT airpower. It is NOT a dark conspiracy to undermine roles and missions of the USAF. It is the issue of how one proceeds in COIN. Clearly, General Dunlap does not accept the idea that COIN centers on the population and that the most effective weapons do not shoot. What he goes back towards in this piece is loaded up front in the argument that 7,000 out of 10.000 insurgents in Malaysia were killed. He misses the point that something--some policy, some initiative, some idea--limited that insurgency's ability to self-sustain. Part of it was population control. Most of it was political as in reinforcing the political viability of the government. Finally I would say that his centering on what airpower is singled out for cautionary notes in 3-24 is disingenous. Airpower advocates have for decades argued that aerial delivered weapons were more devastating than ground weapons. But in his concerns over 3-24, the General is suddenly discussing small warms over a one-year period or complaining that an ISAF spokesman does not understand the difference between a 500 pound bomb and a 2000 pound bomb. He msses the point that inside the kill radius the difference is irrelevant. The kill radius for a small arms round is point of impact. As for artillery and mortars, we are not firing much of either and in any case, none has the kill radius or either a 500 pound bomb or a 2000 pond bomb.

    A shame, really.

    Last edited by Tom Odom; 08-14-2007 at 12:52 PM.

  4. #4
    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Default A couple of observations...

    Put another way, COIN forces rarely enjoy any “propaganda victory” with host-nation populations when the enemy kills innocent people.
    I have to wonder why he is locked in an assumption that the target for propaganda is in the host nation? This, to my mind, is certainly belied by the extensive use of videos, etc. put out by AQ for consumption in non-host nations.

    Moreover, the broader topic of civilian casualties is also discussed. Specifically, has collateral damage from airstrikes caused more enemy “propaganda victories” than have, for example, the results of land force actions at such places as Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Hammadyia, and Mahmudiyah? Is there a difference between the impact of unintended civilian causalities from airstrikes and intended injury to civilians by rogue military members on the ground?
    I think that this is an invalid comparison. How about rogue military members in the skies? The way this is phrased seems to imply that there aren't any. Given the friendly fire casualties caused by certain US air units on Canadian troops, I would beg to differ - if not "rogue" in intent, then rogue in activity. I would also like to point out that that particular action had an immense propaganda effect in Canada.

    There is also the interesting point, that seems to be left out, that it is easier for host nationals to comprehend ground fire collateral damage (since it comes from all sides), that air strike damage, since it only comes from one side.
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marct View Post
    I think that this is an invalid comparison. How about rogue military members in the skies? The way this is phrased seems to imply that there aren't any. Given the friendly fire casualties caused by certain US air units on Canadian troops, I would beg to differ - if not "rogue" in intent, then rogue in activity. I would also like to point out that that particular action had an immense propaganda effect in Canada.

    There is also the interesting point, that seems to be left out, that it is easier for host nationals to comprehend ground fire collateral damage (since it comes from all sides), that air strike damage, since it only comes from one side.
    Good points, Marc. In terms of propaganda, dead is dead. It doesn't matter if it was "friendly fire" or one of the good general's "rogue ground force members." In fact, I'd say amicide is possibly worse, since it conveys a very bad image to your allies.

    I think there's also the question of scale in terms of collateral damage. Tom touched on it to a degree earlier, but a miss with a bomb does MUCH more damage than a miss with small arms. At the risk of making this sound trivial, you're much more likely to upset the locals when you "destroy their house in order to save it" than you will if your SAW gunner sends a burst wide and kills a goat or two.

    The point of ground collateral damage coming from more than one source is also well taken. Mike touched on that as well with his Vietnam comments. Perhaps Gen Dunlap should read up on the history of air power in was a standard tactic at that time for VC/NVA elements to fire from villages, fall back, and let allied air power and artillery do their dirty work for them. Air power is a very valuable tool, but it simply can't be used in all situations...just like ground power can't be used in all situations. There are limits to what offensive air power can accomplish, and it's about time that the zealots recognized that fact.

    I read over the "new" AF Irregular Warfare doctrine this weekend and was disappointed to find nothing really new there. I've seen better products coming out of RAND and the Air University's student papers.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

  6. #6
    Council Member wm's Avatar
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    On the Lunatic Fringe


    A real consideration that seems to have been left aside here is the issue of risk. When folks put on a military uniform and get the privilege of being able to lock and load on a subset of other human beings with near impunity, they also agree (whether they know it or not) to accept a high degree of risk that they may also get themselves caught in the crosshairs. When you happen to be low crawling through a firefight, the non-combatants around you recognize the risk to which you are subjected. Seeing the risk to some airplane driver who lets fly a 500 pounder from 10,000 feet is pretty difficult for all concerned on the ground.

    Tom Odom made an important point about kill radii. A related point about risk is in order. The folks not wearing uniforms (the folks our forces are supposedly protecting/liberating/saving/etc. from the bad guys) who happen to be in the area where the combatants are engaged have not agreed to put themselves at extra risk to have themselves blown away. They are living their lives and just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The combatants (at least those who are wearing the "white hats") have a special responsibility to minimize these civilians' risk. Compare the CEP and blast radius of a 2000 lb bomb delivered from a fast mover flying at, say, 2,000 feet with that of a single round of 5.56 (or even a controlled 3-round burst)delivered at 100 meters with eyes on the target. I think all would agree that the risk to the non-combatant is much less in the second case.

    There is nothing like being right in front of the good folks one has come to help in order to demonstrate dedication to their cause. TAC AIR does not seem to provide as much of a warm fuzzy feeling to those folks, IMHO.

  7. #7
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    Default Wedding party blues

    Recall that early on in the war in Iraq when the Air Force was "bombing wedding parties" because of the "threat" from celebratory gunfire? The theme kind of wore itself out after it was used a few times and the search was on for another victim strategy to incite the fidels. You can see a similar enemy victim strategy at work in Afghanistan whenever we bomb a large concentration of enemy forces. What we are seeing is not in reality collateral damage so much as the enemy's deceptive use of a victim strategy in order to get us to stop destroying their concentration of forces when they mass for attacks or celebrations of lynchings of "spies." You saw similar tactics by Hezballah in their war with Israel.

    I think the collateral damage in these situations is distorted to the point that we should not credit it with belief without discussing the enemy's use of human shields and very young boys as fighters. don't forget the Taliban propaganda video of the young boy cutting off the head of a "spy." Remember that when they show young boys injured in an attack and claim they were civilians. The claims by medical personnel that the injured are civilians are also suspect since those people have no way knowing whether they are Taliban or not since they wear no identifying uniform or dog tags. As an Afghan officer said recently, "When they have the rifle to their shoulder they are fighters, but when they put it on the ground after the fight they are civilians?"

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    Default Domestic poltiical legitimacy

    I can only concur with the discussion so far, including Merv Benson’s warning that we do need to be wary of our enemy inflating numbers and/or simply manufacturing from a whole cloth an incident of civilian casualties.

    What Dunlap also seems to miss is the issue of broader perceptions of the use of force in Afghanistan (and Iraq) that such incidents create in the minds of our own publics and wider international community. Mark and Steve point to this with their observations about amicide. But it is broader than this. If one reflects back to the war over Kosovo, one of the more significant emerging political issues as the war wore on stemmed from the public’s knowledge of the directive that Allied aircraft fly no lower than 15,000 ft coupled with tragic collateral damage from aerial attacks (some of which were hyped up by the Serbian gov’t). Striking was that a commonly articulated public complaint in 1999 is exactly what wm noted; a growing perception that the Alliance was not willing to risk a single life to save innocent civilians. This public perception amongst our own populations started to present a political problem in 1999 and it is starting to create a real problem today.

    Dunlap seemingly exposes his lack of understanding that our forces on the ground need to be seen as legitimate by the local population, but also that our use of force needs to be perceived as legitimate by our populations and allies. The apparent callous disregard of civilian casualties (however much this is a function of enemy info ops) does impact adversely on our publics. In the case of Afghanistan, that it seems to be the US that seemingly is so callous (ie, the recent request by the Brits for the Americans to go away) makes it very difficult for Euro gov’ts to sustain what limited commitments they have to Afghanistan, never mind increase their contributions and relax their ROEs as NATO, Washington, London, Ottawa and The Hague have been urging.

    Arguments such as those put forth by Dunlap do not help the situation.


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