The De-Evolution of Warfare

A. Scott Piraino

Conventional warfare is dead. More precisely, wars with national armies fighting across opposing lines will be the exception in the future, not the rule. Instead the twentieth century has seen the rise of guerrilla warfare and its vicious stepchild, terrorism.

The Boer war was the first modern guerrilla war. In 1906, German settlers fought the British Empire for control of South Africa’s wealth. In a war of small battles and skirmishes, Boers used hit and run tactics to stalemate the British troops. The term “commando” was first used to describe these small units carrying out raids and ambushes.

The tactics of guerrilla warfare are simple. Modern automatic weapons and explosives make small groups of soldiers much more lethal. They can strike quickly at occupying forces, then disappear into the native population. In a war against a hidden enemy, the occupying army becomes demoralized and withdraws.

Terrorism is a de-evolution of guerrilla warfare. Instead of targeting an occupying army, an entire population becomes the enemy. Using anything from makeshift bombs to weapons of mass destruction, small groups of fanatics can cause death and destruction far out of proportion to their numbers

We can argue the morality of this new warfare, but we cannot deny its effectiveness. Guerrillas have defeated the US in Vietnam, and the Russians in Afghanistan. A bombing campaign forced the French to withdraw from Algeria. After ten years of terrorist warfare the exhausted British have negotiated a peace settlement with the IRA.

Western Democracies have had few successes against this new form of warfare. Our troops are brave and skilled, but our generals and political leaders order the impossible. In theater after theater, they have sent armies to occupy hostile territory, then lacked the stomach to prosecute the war as viciously as the enemy.

Only repressive regimes can finally defeat guerrillas and terrorists. Since it is futile to fight an elusive enemy hiding in hostile country, the solution is to target the entire population. Ethnic cleansing has emerged as a cruel but efficient military strategy, but liberal governments hesitate to use this tactic.

Again, we can argue the morality of ethnic cleansing, but we cannot deny its effectiveness. This is the truth of the new war; It is no longer possible to conquer hostile territory without deporting or destroying the hostile population. This does not bode well for conflicts raging around the world today.

In Chechnya, the Russians are seeking to avenge their failed invasion of 1996, when the Red Army was humiliated by Chechen guerrillas. Unable to expel the Russian army with conventional forces, The Chechens have resorted to ambushes, raids, and terrorist bombings in Russian cities. The Russians cannot win, but are unwilling to withdraw and admit defeat. They have resorted to scorched earth tactics, in effect ethnically cleansing the Chechen people.

Israel has been locked in an endless war of attrition with the Palestinians for over thirty years. Of course Israel cannot withdraw from the conflict without dissolving their country. So they endure uprisings, raids, and now suicide bombings from the Palestinians who hate them. The bloodshed will continue unless both sides make a lasting peace, or one group is deported or destroyed.

Now that the United States has been drawn into a War on Terror, we face the same military dilemma. In response to the September 11th attacks, the US immediately invaded Afghanistan. Operation Anaconda was a sweep of the mountainous terrain in Afghanistan, seeking the terrorists responsible for the attacks.

We have arrested many suspected terrorists, but we have certainly not destroyed Al Qaeda, or captured Osama Bin Laden. In the past month, battles with Taliban guerrillas have intensified, with reports of hundreds of soldiers and aircraft fighting near the border with Pakistan. Our war in Afghanistan is far from over. So far 35 US troops have been killed, many more have been wounded, and the targets of terrorist attacks.

After September 11th, no one could deny our right to pursue the perpetrators of such murderous acts. But the Bush administration has given up the moral high ground with this reckless invasion of Iraq. Now in Addition to Afghanistan, 130,000 US troops are committed to a hazardous occupation of Iraq.

Since Operation Iraqi Freedom officially ended on May 1st, 182 US soldiers have been killed, more casualties than during the invasion. The commander of the occupation forces in Iraq recently admitted that there are an average of fifteen attacks per day against US troops. The Iraqi resistance is using modern guerrilla tactics, hit and run attacks and terrorist bombings.

Terrorist bombs have struck the UN headquarters in Iraq, the Jordanian embassy, and a very powerful car bomb struck a holy shrine in Najaf. 140 people have been killed and hundreds more wounded by these attacks. So far these attacks have not claimed any American lives, but that will inevitably change now that the bombs are aimed at US troops.

Two weeks ago a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with explosives into a US command post in Irbil, killing two Iraqis and wounding 53, including four Americans. Yesterday a another suicide carbomb was detonated just short of the Bagdhad Hotel, killing six bystanders and wounding dozens more. Both bombs were aimed at US personnel, and only the fortunes of war have prevented any US deaths.

The US invasion of Iraq is devolving into a guerrilla war, a war we cannot win. This unwarranted invasion has only fueled the grievances of radical Muslims, and provided these militants with convenient targets by placing US troops in their midst. The Bush administration is still telling us that we can win the War on Terror by occupying Iraq. They would do well to remember two earlier US interventions in the turbulent Middle East.

In 1983 the United States entered a civil war in Lebanon, then withdrew after a terrorist bombing destroyed a Marine barracks, inflicting hundreds of casualties. In Somalia, a commando mission went awry, and a company of US Army Rangers was caught in a ferocious firefight in the city of Mogadishu. The United States withdrew from both theatres after suffering ignomious defeat at the hands of local guerrilla and terrorist fighters.

The Commanding General of US ground forces admitted last week that the Iraqi resistance was growing stronger and more tenacious. Of course he did not publicly condemn the war or admit to the futility of conquering Iraq. But he did add that, “we should not be surprised if one of these days we wake up to find there’s been a major firefight or a major terrorist attack”.

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Published in: on October 12, 2003 at 5:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

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