Monday, August 25, 2014

This Time It Will Be Different?

One of the problems that government counter-insurgents face is that because they control the country, they have to defend the country. So if the insurgents have the capacity to mass forces, they can strike isolated and outnumbered defenders to inflict defeats and demoralize the far larger government ground forces. This will be a major problem in Afghanistan.

Nigeria faces a real problem in fighting Boko Haram:

In the northeast (Borno state) several dozen soldiers in an infantry company stationed outside the state capital of Maiduguri have mutinied and refused to go out on patrol unless they get better weapons and equipment as well as more ammunition. This sort of thing is not a surprise to troops serving in the northeast. Pressure (popular, political and media) to “do something” about Boko Haram has forced the military to establish a lot of checkpoints in areas where Boko Haram is believed to have camps and run a lot of patrols in isolated rural areas. In response Boko Haram has found they can mass enough gunmen to attack these checkpoints and patrols with a fair chance of success. That means lots of highly visible “defeats” for the army and a blow to morale because of the many dead and wounded soldiers.

One of our successes in Iraq was that we were able to not only build up the Iraqi security forces, but were able to knock down the enemy so that they relied on IEDs, indirect fire, and suicide bombers rather than on attacks that could seize ground. In time, it was rare to read reports of an attack at or above a platoon (20-50 men).

I talked about this need to atomize the enemy a great deal:

As long as the enemy can mass in company-sized units, they can overrun police stations. If they can mass in platoon strength, they can wipe out road blocks and patrols.

If Iraqi patrols, road blocks, and police stations can't hold alone, it is more likely that more sophisticated forces with tanks and artillery and air power will be needed to fight the enemy. Right now, that's US forces.

Make it so that the enemy can only gather squads or fire teams, and low tech Iraqi light infantry and police can fight the enemy effectively. Iraqis can provide reaction teams to reinforce threatened Iraqi units.

Obviously, ISIL in Iraq regained the ability to operate in large numbers and the defenders couldn't cope. In our absence, the enemy grew stronger and the Iraqis forces--especially around Mosul--grew more brittle and feeble.

We can see the problem building in Nigeria now. The answer is to carry out ground and air operations at a high enough intensity that the enemy fears massing forces; and to make sure that outposts under attack get rapid fire support and reinforcements to repel attacks.

If necessary, ground forces have to be enlarged. Obviously, some good troops are needed too (not all need to be of the highest quality) and intelligence on enemy operations is necessary. But the basic answer is reducing the size of enemy attacks so that defenders can hold their ground and inflict losses on the enemy.

It's bad for Nigeria and the region for Boko Haram to gain strength.

But I'm more worried about Afghanistan as we withdraw and end our fire support (among other support services) to the Afghan security forces:

As U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the battlefield they leave behind is changing dramatically and becoming more deadly.

No longer pinned down by U.S. air cover, Taliban fighters are attacking Afghan military posts in larger numbers with the aim of taking and holding ground, a shift from the hit-and-run strikes with posses of gunmen, explosives and suicide bombers.

We know what will happen. It is already happening. This doesn't mean that we have wasted our efforts training Afghans. It just means that the realities of insurgency give the government side a difficult task. NATO couldn't handle Libya without American help. Why should it be a shock that the Afghans need our help to fight the Taliban?

Yet the administration appears to believe that things won't go bad on their watch, so that is all that matters.

They made that bet on Iraq, too, I'll note.