Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Front line??? What front line???

There's been a massive change in warfare in the last thirty years, and a couple of generations of Americans have slept through it. All too frequently those sleepers have been senior commanders in our armed forces, and the politicians supposedly overseeing them.

The last "regular" war, with front lines, maneuver elements, and head-to-head combat was the Korean War. Mass-troop-formation warfare became too expensive, both in equipment and trained manpower, to engage in such wars any longer. While some nation-states fail to grasp this, while many generals flatly deny it, the day of set-piece warfare is dead.

That doesn't mean that some set-piece battles may occur, just that they'll be extremely rare, and limited both in scope and objective. The last large push by mechanized divisions against an entrenched enemy, the attack on Baghdad by US military forces, was mostly a farce, not a war. Combined-forces warfare, combined with special operations, demoralized, decimated, and destroyed the enemy in a running battle that lasted 30 hours, and raced over 150 miles. The enemy couldn't even keep up with where its units had been overrun, and sent new orders to batallions and divisions that had been destroyed hours before.

I presided over the death of "tactical reconnaissance" as it existed from the days before World War II until the late 1980's. The death was caused by one thing - the speed of armored and armed-infantry elements. Sending a reconnaissance aircraft to "find and report" an enemy concentration is all well and good, but when it takes an hour to return from the battle scene, another hour to process and interpret the imagery, and another hour to get the new information to the commanders, it's three hours old. A powerful armored maneuver unit can travel at 40 miles an hour. The commander you're sending that message to has probably already been engaging the enemy for an hour by the time your message gets to him. Technology had made tactical reconnaissance, as it had been formerly practiced, totally useless.

Luckily, the United States developed much more rapid acquisition and distribution of information. But that's only part of the changes affecting the battlefield. The same technical changes that killed tactical reconnaissance also forced other changes. The changing nature of the enemy has made even more changes necessary. The armed forces of the United States has made some of those changes, but a lot of necessary changes are only now being considered, and commanders whose thinking is mired in the experience of the 1970's and 1980's are slow to accept them.

Vietnam was a watershed - a hybrid war that bridged both the old and new concepts of warfare. It held elements of the battles between nation-states - North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union on one side, and the South Vietnamese and its allies, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Korea and Thailand on the other. It tas also the first war where large number of local insurgents engaged in a guerilla war, often brutally, to force loyalty to a government other than the national government under which those people lived.

The guerilla war model has spilled out over virtually the entire Asian, African, and South American portions of the world. A small band of ideological zealots can command authority by force, often applied as much against the local populace as against any government forces. Such a model inflicted so much damage against the Soviet Union it was forced to leave Afghanistan. The drain, economically, politically, and socially, eventually led to the collapse of that nation. The civil war that erupted after the war used many of the same tactics to bring an ultra-conservative, ultra-hostile government to power.

The success of the United States armed forces were the result of three things: overwhelming control of the battlefield, from the ground to the skies; the use of overwhelming force to destroy the majority of the Taliban fighting equipment through bombings, rocket attacks, and other weapons; and the willingness to work with local commanders who opposed the Taliban, making it more a mutual effort to expel a hostile enemy than an invasion. The elections last week highlight the effectiveness of that plan, although there's still a lot of work to do to bring security to the whole country.

Iraq required a different approach entirely. There were no armed locals that could actually be used as allies to overthrow Saddam. The Kurds in the north had their hands full just maintaining their personal security. An armed invasion and period of occupation was the ONLY way to achieve victory in Iraq. The first part of the battle's been won. There are beginning to be significant victories against insurgent forces in the nation, and the Iraqis themselves are both beginning to play a more substantial role in those victories and in developing the concept of self-defense, self-reliance, and self-esteem. They are seeing, more and more often, that those they oppose are not Iraqis, but islamofascist hate-filled warriors against all non-Wahabbi, pro-freedom forces, regardless of nationality or religious beliefs. The war is becoming less and less the US against Islamists, and more and more freedom-loving Iraqis against totalitarian fundamentalists.

The war is a long way from over. Iraq hasn't become both united and terror-free, an essential ingredient for peace. The fundamentalists are losing ground, however, as safe-haven after safe-haven is being taken from them, and the people are turning their backs on them in increasing numbers. The hot-headed Shi'ite Monqtar al Sadr is finding that fewer and fewer are willing to listen to him, and his Iranian backers are beginning to realize they picked a poor tool to stir up trouble among the Shi'ite Iraqi population. An election in January that has even a 70% appearance of legitimacy will be the death knell for both al Sadr and the fundamentalists. The bloodshed between now and January will be horrendous, as both adversaries attempt to derail democratic success. Eventually, however, within two or three years at the most, Iraq will not only become the number one nation in the Arab world that practices individual freedom, the right to vote, and the protection of personal property, but also the most prosperous, forward-looking, and successful of all Arab Islamic states.

Even that won't end the fundamentalist war. There will still be the need to deal with the state sponsors of terrorism Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and perhaps Somalia. The Arab world - in fact, all of Islam - must work through their own particular Reformation, and become capable of living among others without promoting violence against non-believers, or be destroyed. Already, however, there are states initiating change, as they see the handwriting on the wall - the United States will NOT tolerate another attack against it or its people, and next time, we may not be tolerant enough to force change the slow, dangerous, and expensive way.

It is no longer impossible to kill a billion people, and the followers of Islam that say they worship death need to think long and hard about that.


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