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Thread: The Insurgent View vs. US Military View

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Default The Insurgent View vs. US Military View

    All,

    Attached is a slide I use during my presentations that usually engenders quite a bit of discussion (which Is why I use it - to stir the pot).

    This is why (in my view) we have hard times with COIN/SO/etc. Failure to understand the nature of the beast.

    Like all slides there is a heavy dose of generalization. Obviously Ahmed the RPG gunner in AQI isn't necessarily consumed with the political strategy, but his leaders are.

    A simple application of this slide is the ongoing debate over the Predator strikes in AfPak and ongoing collateral damage issues. There are many more examples.

    Again, slide is meant to provoke discussion, pro and con. So discuss!

    Niel
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    Cav,

    This reminds me of a component of my argument to include class analysis (and a rethinking of Clausewitz) into COIN. In the conventional fight, the political leadership makes the decision to go to war just once -- and so the military is intently and exclusively focused on the "Tactical". But the insurgent makes that decision to 'go to war' every time he decides to act violently; every attack is a new "declaration" of war so-to-speak because the militant/insurgent/terrorist is, in essence, a political-soldier (whereas in contrast the American soldier is just that, a soldier). So the whole focus is on the political cause, or the "Political Strategic Theater". This is because the political object precedes the military/violence means used. The problem IMO is that the military is taking the lead on addressing a political conflict, and so we are in some ways putting the cart before the horse.
    When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles. - Louis Veuillot

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Niel, I couldn't have done it better! Really great slide!!!!!
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    Default Two thoughts, slightly related

    1. I wonder just how much thinking our opponents do on any level. Those who rise to the top ranks of the current crop of insurgents seem to me to be consummate politicians. They excel at fund-raising, deal-making, patronage, and intimidation - the same skill set you find in Congress or mafioso. Like many successful politicians, they do not seem to have much strategic sense, and their operational skills seem aimed at achieving personal rather than 'organizational' goals. Look how long it took the bad guys in Afghanistan to attack one of the coalition's true vulnerabilities: its supply lines. Moreover, they don't seem to recognize that both their tactics and operational styles are typically self-defeating; terrorism, especially, rarely works and most often creates the very conditions that will lead to its defeat (or abandonment as a tactic). Finally, they don't have the C2 to either implement or sustain a coherent strategy or operational style. In Afghanistan, we often spent long hours trying to impose a pattern on events to figure out what the bad guys were trying to do; I came to the conclusion that they weren't entirely sure either.

    2. Some of the reason for the inversion pictured may be structural. I believe that the ratio of leaders/thinkers/decision-makers to foot soldiers in your typical insurgency is much higher than in conventional forces. This may not seem the case due to the hordes of staff officers and subordinate commanders in western armies, but they are not really setting policy or operating independently. Guys in caves with twenty hard-cores and a hundred stringers or part-timers are making their own tactical, operational, and sometimes strategic decisions in a way our battalion/brigade/regional commanders are not.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Marc's right, that is a great slide and I also agree with American Pride;

    "...because the militant/insurgent/terrorist is, in essence, a political-soldier (whereas in contrast the American soldier is just that, a soldier)."
    I agree with his entire comment but that senetence is key. It's true and we should never, ever forget that -- as we sometimes try to do...

    It is also unlikely to change. His comments concerning conventional versus COIN thinking are correct with respect to most but not all US Forces and I suspect that will always be true; we are probably not as a collective psychologically willing to adapt to the political and public face / relations efforts needed for us to essentially fight the Insurgent on his own terms.

    I believe that efforts to attempt such adaptation for most of the force will actually be very counterproductive. One should also remember that not all fights against non-state actors or seeming insurgents are actually counterinsurgencies...

    The Slide itself illustrates a conundrum that is not at likely to be addressed in the near term. I do not say rectified because I do not think that the dichotomy is really a problem or that we need to adapt our action to mirror the Insurgent model. We absolutely need to be aware of the difference and to develop counters for it but aside from Special Forces (not SOF in their entirety) no significant 'adaptation' is required of most units. What's required is simply acknowledgment of the difference and the development of strategic and operational flexibility to counter that. What we lack at this time is that flexibility and that is difficult to develop in a large bureaucracy. Difficult is not impossible.

    Best way to fight a fire is with a suppressive agent, a different compound or process that deprives the fire of the oxygen it requires. Another fire, a backfire will sometimes allow a temporary gain but it will rarely extinguish the original fire.

    Of course, good firebreaks and fire prevention are vastly superior to and easier than fire fighting.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Some good points, Eden.

    On your first point re: politicians and not thinking, how is that different from the West? On your second point, I think you have a really good observation here.

    I have a suspicion that part of the reason why the differences are there is how some (not all by any stretch of the imagination) insurgent groups define their battlespaces. From what I have seen, a lot of the definition, at least for AQ and similar irhabi groups, the primary battlespace is defined as the media, which the tactical / geographic (physical space) is of secondary concern. That might be because they lack the skills and troops, but it may also be because they realize that the best way to defeat the US is to get the American people to order a withdrawl; a "lesson" in tactics from Vietnam.

    At the same time, and keeping with the idea of differing topologies of and emphasis on battlespaces, the US forces are, on the whole, as hampered in mediaspace as AQ is in Afghanistan - i.e. there are severe structural limitations on actions in mediaspace.
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    Niel:

    At least with the slide I could understand your implied point to it.

    But the implied point is the problem since it is fundamentally a slide that depicts the premise to population centric counterinsurgency and the usual critique of how the American Army doesnt get coin because we dont get the political aspect of it and only want to do tactics whereas the insurgent does and focusses on politics. Mao, Galula as opposite sides to the people's war construct would accept you slide and its implications. But why do you think it is relevant for today? Does the triangle for the insurgent fit the local villagers in the Korengal Valley?

    Too, the implication to your slide for the "correct" action on the part of the American counterinsurgent is to invert our triangle so that the majority of our focus is on the political like the insurgents. But the flaw with this approach just like it is with the American Army's current flaw in how we have templated Galula and Thompson which is to treat counterinsurgency as a symetrical response to a perceived people's war. This is why I have argued that CE Callwell's book still has relevance and insights for today in that he saw small wars as essentially wars to create moral effects among local populations and leaders but saw the use of military force not in symmetrical but asymmetrical sense.

    some thoughts from the other side, thanks for posting your slide.

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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Gian,

    Quote Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile View Post
    But the implied point is the problem since it is fundamentally a slide that depicts the premise to population centric counterinsurgency and the usual critique of how the American Army doesnt get coin because we dont get the political aspect of it and only want to do tactics whereas the insurgent does and focusses on politics.
    Honestly, when I looked at the slide, I didn't interpret it that way; I viewed it as a heuristic to get discussion going. Now, that interpretation is certainly one possible one, but I don't think that it is the only one.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile View Post
    Too, the implication to your slide for the "correct" action on the part of the American counterinsurgent is to invert our triangle so that the majority of our focus is on the political like the insurgents. But the flaw with this approach just like it is with the American Army's current flaw in how we have templated Galula and Thompson which is to treat counterinsurgency as a symetrical response to a perceived people's war.
    I would agree that that is one possible implication, but I think there are many others. One the broader issue of "should" the US invert their position, that would be insane. That isn't to say that the US should not widen the top of their pyramid, but how that would be done is a totally subject to negotiation. For example, it is quite possible to define as tactical certain population-centric basics without inverting the triangle.

    For me at least, I saw the slide as a great way of comparing conceptualizations of conflict without implying any required responses.

    Cheers,

    Marc
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    Default A third thought...

    I really should be working, but a third point occurs to me.

    3. Again from a structural point of view, the pyramids may look like they do because the insurgent has a severely limited menu of tactical options to choose from, a slightly wider range of operational styles to work within, and far greater liberty to define an overall strategy than his conventional opponent. At least from a military viewpoint, the COIN strategy is defined by political masters and can only be changed or modified with great effort. Operational options in COIN are often constrained by host nation concerns, resource constraints, requirements to integrate with other agencies and allies, etc. On the other hand, the conventional forces normally have a wide variety of tactics, techniques, and procedures to choose from. So it may be as simple as the fact that humans tend to focus on those things they actually have some control over. As my sainted grandmother said, "when there is no option, there is no problem."

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile View Post
    Niel:

    At least with the slide I could understand your implied point to it.

    But the implied point is the problem since it is fundamentally a slide that depicts the premise to population centric counterinsurgency and the usual critique of how the American Army doesn't get coin because we dont get the political aspect of it and only want to do tactics whereas the insurgent does and focuses on politics. Mao, Galula as opposite sides to the people's war construct would accept you slide and its implications. But why do you think it is relevant for today? Does the triangle for the insurgent fit the local villagers in the Korengal Valley?

    Too, the implication to your slide for the "correct" action on the part of the American counterinsurgent is to invert our triangle so that the majority of our focus is on the political like the insurgents. But the flaw with this approach just like it is with the American Army's current flaw in how we have templated Galula and Thompson which is to treat counterinsurgency as a symmetrical response to a perceived people's war. This is why I have argued that CE Callwell's book still has relevance and insights for today in that he saw small wars as essentially wars to create moral effects among local populations and leaders but saw the use of military force not in symmetrical but asymmetrical sense.

    some thoughts from the other side, thanks for posting your slide.
    Sir,

    Good point. This slide (as you can see), doesn't give the answer, and neither does the discussion of it.

    What it attempts to do is highlight what the average Stage 1/2 insurgent is doing in a broad sense. Ahmed the IED emplacer is not thinking in these terms. But his leadership knows that his IED strikes and attacks have political value far more than their tactical value.

    Examples:

    * COP Wanat battle. Tatical US success (assault repelled with heavy Taliban casualties) 9 US KIA. Political/Strategic victory for Taliban (can inflict pain on coalition, coalition weak/unprepared). Goal is to demoralize USA and also show local populace Americans are vulnerable despite technology. (among possible others). We tout our tactical success, and wonder why no one cares. (See also: Tet offensive)

    * Any given week, A-Stan. TIC situation results in JDAM drop. Taliban clames XX civilians killed. US says they were all bad, or at least most of them. US believes its reports, locals believe the Taliban. Truth is muddled. Advantage: Insurgent, because it is the local people's perception that really counts. (Though US's matters too)

    * Insurgent places IED on Route Tampa in Iraq, destroying one of 20 5k fuelers. Is he trying to halt fuel shipments to CF in Iraq? No. He doesn't have that capability (though Sadr tried in April 2004, and failed). He videotapes it and uses it as a recruitment video. US people worry about vulnerability of our soldiers and seeming inability to halt these IED attacks. Home support dwindles, attack by attack. We are tactically successful because my M1 tank still gets gas every day, and the other 19 fuelers made it in.

    Solutions:

    Depends on where you are. But do we always understand things in this light? The first step on an appropriate solution is understanding the problem. We have tended to look at enemy attacks from the S2 perspective about "What are they trying to do to us tactically?" (i.e. Close MSR Tampa). Less often we ask "What is the enemy trying to accomplish pol/strategically by this action".

    It goes back to my fundamental mindset changing question -

    It isn't "Where is the enemy"

    It is "Why is the enemy there? (and why did he just do that)"

    Which leads to "what things did he need to have to do it?", etc.


    ===

    The goal isn't to guide people to a box, the goal is to understand and begin asking the questions that arrive at the appropriate answers for that location.

    But yes, many people simply want a checklist to success, whether COIN or HIC. Doesn't exist.

    Niel
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    Niel,

    I think you're on target with this. This gives me an excuse to post my favorite quote from Mao. In my view, it's relevant here:

    “There are some militarists who say: 'We are not interested in politics but only in the profession of arms.' It is vital that these simple-minded militarists be made to realize the relationship that exists between politics and military affairs. Military action is a method used to attain a political goal. While military affairs and political affairs are not identical, it is impossible to isolate one from the other.”

    -- Mao Tse-tung
    Not sure if it's still the same way, but one of the problems I encountered in Iraq was the disdain soldiers had--especially leaders--for truly trying to understand the domestic political situation on the ground. Lots of times they'd finger-drill it during briefings, but you could tell they weren't really interested. Granted, this was back in 2003.

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    Quote Originally Posted by marct View Post
    Niel, I couldn't have done it better! Really great slide!!!!!
    I should come clean that I didn't make this slide.

    My boss stole it from a Brit General who briefed something like it, came home, and had us adapt it at the COIN center. The inverted triangles work well.

    Great thing about the army is that plagiarism isn't frowned upon.

    Niel
    Last edited by Cavguy; 05-20-2009 at 09:27 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    I should come clean that I didn't make this slide.

    My boss stole it from a Brit General who briefed something like it, came home, and had us the COIN center. The inverted triangles works well.
    LOL - whatever, it works .

    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    Great thing about the army is that plagiarism isn't frowned upon.
    I never would have guessed (hey, I read FM 3-07-1 and a lot of stuff looked very familiar )!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    It goes back to my fundamental mindset changing question -

    It isn't "Where is the enemy"

    It is "Why is the enemy there? (and why did he just do that)"

    Which leads to "what things did he need to have to do it?", etc.


    ===

    The goal isn't to guide people to a box, the goal is to understand and begin asking the questions that arrive at the appropriate answers for that location.

    But yes, many people simply want a checklist to success, whether COIN or HIC. Doesn't exist.

    Niel
    Cavguy,
    You got my vote. The motive is everything, I would add why did it will lead to who did it and how does he/she benefit from the action.

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    Cavguy might have done well to put "reflector belts, property books and sideburn length" at the very base of the pyramid right below "tactical". In any given organization, there are going to be those who trivialize and "don't get" the big picture, as well as those who won't be able to think for themselves--as Col. Gentile mentions, there will be those who blindly slap templates of Ramadi over a map of Helmland.

    The question is, how well is the Army promoting strategic thought? I would argue that we have gotten much better at challenging our leaders to see the greater strategic and political picture in recent years, but there are some communities that haven't experienced this phenomenon.

    Coming from the aviation community, I think that we in particular have yet to experience this renaissance in strategic thought as our land-based bretheren have done. I don't think I've ever heard anyone in the aviation community use terms like "sectarian violence", "money as a weapons system", "commander's emergency relief program", and I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've heard the term "information ops".

    The only times I've heard a grand operational overview of Iraq or Afghanistan was from decidedly non-aviation units. If you do an intelligence overview briefing for aviators and begin talking about sectarian differences, you'll typically see a bored aviator raise his hand and ask in an annoyed voice, "I just want to know if there are any MANPADS in the area".

    Some areas of the Army, unfortunately, still fit the triangle diagram.

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    This is also how I describe the role of SOF, which goes to why the conventional forces often misunderstand us as well.

    I don't know how many times I heard a Flag officer at PACOM or PACFLT say "You SOF guys out there doing your tactical stuff." or words to that effect.

    I would then have to explain, that you judge whether or not something is tactical, operational or strategic, not by number of stars on the commander's collar, and the nature of the task,, but by the nature of the purpose.

    Absolutely, tactical tasks executed by the wise insurgent are done with operational/strategic purpose intended. Similarly, when you get into a situation where your SOF guys are doing tactical tasks for mere tactical effect, you have lost the bubble on where/how you should be employing them. On the surface it may look the same, but the difference is tremendous.
    Robert C. Jones
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starbuck View Post
    The question is, how well is the Army promoting strategic thought? I would argue that we have gotten much better at challenging our leaders to see the greater strategic and political picture in recent years, but there are some communities that haven't experienced this phenomenon.
    Why would anyone in the Army do Strategic Thinking? It's none of your business, except to inform the Political Leadership, to whom you report whether the goals they seek can be aided or achieved by military means. When they say "do it," you do it.

    The top of the slippery slope for the implied reasoning is "We shouldn't be here. We shouldn't be doing this" - which is the current mind-set of some senior British Officers - so no surprise.

    “There are some militarists who say: 'We are not interested in politics but only in the profession of arms.' It is vital that these simple-minded militarists be made to realize the relationship that exists between politics and military affairs. Military action is a method used to attain a political goal. While military affairs and political affairs are not identical, it is impossible to isolate one from the other.”

    -- Mao Tse-tung
    Mao was not a genius (his mistakes cost millions their lives) and this shows why. The military implements policy, it does not make policy. The competence of a military is something that limits or enhances policy. There is a body of opinion that strongly suggests that Mao was misreading Clausewitz (which he read) when he was stating this.

    THE SLIDE
    Ok, so what does this tell us? In terms of action and effect, what can you extrapolate from that slide, in terms of different actions?

    I'm pretty sure the Tamil Tigers would not agree with it. Tactical incompetence lost them their base areas and a lot of other things.

    Most insurgencies have to opt for symbolic success because they cannot gain real success. Most insurgencies are limited to tactical actions with perceived and symbolic meaning. I see that more as a "So what" observation than anything really insightful. If they gain symbolic advantage by blowing up tankers, then stop giving them targets. If you can't, then deal with it.

    The British Armies response to 4 very large IED's on the border in 1978/9, was to stop 95% of military road movement on the border with the Republic for 16 years. Not rocket science.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    Why would anyone in the Army do Strategic Thinking? It's none of your business, except to inform the Political Leadership, to whom you report whether the goals they seek can be aided or achieved by military means. When they say "do it," you do it.
    This slide isn't telling the Army to think/develop the strategic plan. But it is suggesting that simply focusing "in their lane" on tactical/operational actions has political/strategic/military effects, and that tactical successes can cause the strategic plan to fail. It also suggests that one's tactical actions in a COIN environment should be viewed broader on its overall effect on the objective than simply by its tactical results.
    THE SLIDE
    Ok, so what does this tell us? In terms of action and effect, what can you extrapolate from that slide, in terms of different actions?
    See above. This slide isn't meant to be a solution, as I mentioned to COL Gentile. It's meant to be a framing slide, thought/discussion generator for issues later in the presentation. One can view it as a reflection of the famous quote of the NVA General to Harry Sumners (although some dispute its accuracy ) - "You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield ... Yes, but it is also irrelevant".

    I'm pretty sure the Tamil Tigers would not agree with it. Tactical incompetence lost them their base areas and a lot of other things.
    "Pedants will be able to cite exceptions, and thus undermine useful (insightful) theory. Their depredations must be firmly resisted by one simple test: does the theory generally aid understanding of useful military problems? If so, then exceptions are permissible."



    On a serious note, it doesn't suggest tactics are unimportant. It does suggest it is only important within the broader context of the objective. which CvC I am sure would agree with.

    Niel
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    Default William,

    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    ... except to inform the Political Leadership, to whom you report whether the goals they seek can be aided or achieved by military means. When they say "do it," you do it.
    I think this gets to the point of Cavguy's (really excellent) slide. If "war is the continuation of politics by other means," the traditional, institutionalized response of most Western armies is that "we do war, not politics." That's probably an inevitable outgrowth of the idea of military subordinated to civil authority, and the strict non involvement of serving military in political affairs. If that is the cultural paradigm, it will carry over to the battlefield, where the military will focus on combat and leave the political dimension to the politicians. I think that is Col. Gentile's point:

    Quote Originally Posted by Gian P Gentile View Post
    This is why I have argued that CE Callwell's book still has relevance and insights for today in that he saw small wars as essentially wars to create moral effects among local populations and leaders but saw the use of military force not in symmetrical but asymmetrical sense.
    Our adversaries, on the other hand, view this as a political struggle, and a "totalitarian" one at that. There is nothing off limits, if it will further the desired political goal. Their military actions may be determined by operational or tactical concerns, but the strategic goal has little to do with troops in the field or territory conquered.

    How we deal with the issue is another question. Do we ask the military to become more attuned to the political dimension? Does the State Department need to develop some sort of "Directorate for COIN" to address the political dimension while the military focuses on combat? Is there an intermediate approach? Or something else entirely?
    Last edited by J Wolfsberger; 05-21-2009 at 02:32 PM. Reason: Clarification
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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    This slide isn't telling the Army to think/develop the strategic plan. But it is suggesting that simply focusing "in their lane" on tactical/operational actions has political/strategic/military effects, and that tactical successes can cause the strategic plan to fail.
    So if you are saying "doing stupid things is counter-productive" then I'd agree. Who would not? This applies to all forms of conflict. The whole point of the Tactical-Operational-Strategic construct is that actions in one/each generate effects in the others. Yet Corporals cannot really have strategic effect. They can only make Strategy more difficult by undermining it.

    It also suggests that one's tactical actions in a COIN environment should be viewed broader on its overall effect on the objective than simply by its tactical results.
    Agreed, but all tactical actions have to viewed in a broader context. Commander's intent if nothing else.

    "You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield ... Yes, but it is also irrelevant".
    And if the US Armed Forces had stayed in RVN, like they did in Korea, the NVA could never have won. High casualty rates, which lead to the sapping of the will to fight/endure, is what caused the US to abandon its commitment to RSVN. Own high casualty rates were, in part, the result of tactical actions and decisions.

    "Pedants will be able to cite exceptions, and thus undermine useful (insightful) theory. Their depredations must be firmly resisted by one simple test: does the theory generally aid understanding of useful military problems? If so, then exceptions are permissible."


    On a serious note, it doesn't suggest tactics are unimportant. It does suggest it is only important within the broader context of the objective. which CvC I am sure would agree with.
    CvC sure as hell would. Tactical success is no less important in Security Operations than Combat Operations. I strongly object to the idea that "tactical success can be counter-productive." If it is in anyway counter productive it is not tactical success!

    The circumstances under which the successful and legitimate killing or capture of enemy is "counter-productive" are so small that I doubt they could be usefully codified.

    If the enemy makes you believe that doing him harm, will somehow do you harm, he's won! - and you have no legitimate recourse to armed action. - EG: Ghandi - and Ghandi was not an insurgent! He used Politics, without warfare - so not a military problem.
    Last edited by William F. Owen; 05-21-2009 at 03:22 PM. Reason: Lysdexia
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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