Friday, January 24, 2020

Resist the Siren Song of the Cities

This author notes his experience with gangs providing security in Baghdad during the Iraq War Surge/Awakening. Understanding such urban power structures is important he says:

Guerrillas, revolutionaries, and terrorists increasingly choose to hide in urban terrain, where population density provides sanctuary from government observation and technology, access to millions for easy recruitment and use as human shields, and freedom to foment political dissent (often violently) against governments that struggle to provide even rudimentary services.

And yet, the US military knows little about alternative power structures in cities and undertakes little planning for how they can be leveraged, despite our recent history in Iraq of—let’s call it what it is—working with gangs.

Using the gangs (the "Sons of Iraq") made sense especially given that Saddam subcontracted them for controlling Baghdad, as I noted in this post about how secured and unified Iraq really was under Saddam:

Under Saddam, the Shia south was kept under sullen control after mass killings and continuous oppression. Western Anbar was subcontracted to the Sunni Arab tribes and not under control of Saddam. The Kurdish north was de facto independent under American and British protection. And even the center was largely subcontracted out to criminal gangs. The Iraqi state was really Saddam's family and favored Tikriti Sunni Arabs plus the security apparatus and a UN seat. It lived off of the people of Iraq but was not a country at all. No unity and no stability except the quiet calm of a corpse, and surely not even Korb believed Saddam was winning those elections at 99+%.

Our failure to realize that gangs were the real power led us to assume the actual cops could stay on the job and provide local security even though they were more mall and traffic cops than actual security. We learned. But knowing that and the tribal political networks ahead of time would have helped.

I'm all on board mapping the Human Terrain of potential conflict zones, including in cities.

But I'm against embracing the mission of fighting in such mega-cities as opposed to being capable of operating within them to achieve narrow objectives when we must to gain the objective of the broader campaign. Cities are army sponges that could suck in more and more of our Army, distracting it from achieving the campaign objective. Germany's Sixth Army learned all about that.

I'm worried we'll gain the ability to pacify cities and be drawn into such meat grinders--they have massive underground terrain, too, you know--simply because we can do the job rather than because we should.

Don't be mesmerized by the bright lights of the big cities. Be capable of fighting within cities rather than assuming that means being capable of fighting for the cities.