How “We” Lost Yemen


How We Lost Yemen – By Gregory D. Johnsen | Foreign Policy.

yemen drone

Tonto used to say “We? White man..?” I haven’t seen the new version of The Lone Ranger so I’m not sure if Johnny Depp resists the temptation to weird this classic out…

The first thing that I like about this article is that it starts with “…drones, ships, and planes have all taken part in the bombardment...” and avoids the tendency of the uninformed to focus solely on the drone aspect of these attacks. Yes, for sure, we all know that ‘drone‘ isn’t the right word from a UAS geek perspective but as has been pointed out to me, the nice people at Merriam-Webster (the dictionary you use when you can’t afford real English!) still include as one of the definitions of drone “…an unmanned aircraft or ship guided by remote control…” Unfortunately, that definition is more apt than its other two definitions of drone as either “…a stingless male bee (as of the honeybee) that has the role of mating with the queen and does not gather nectar or pollen…” when we all know that the modern use can both collect and sting; or, and I had not seen this one before, “…one that lives on the labors of others…” although one might offer than a number of commentators on the so-called Drone Wars may be doing this.

The author asks why AQ continues to grow if this campaign has been so apparently successful – wasn’t it just not so long ago that victory in the war on terror was declared? Just as all the US and UK Embassy’s slammed the doors behind them as they knuckle down for yet another AQ-inspired assault? His answer? “…Faulty assumptions and a mistaken focus paired with a resilient, adaptive enemy…” I think that he is absolutely right and to these I would add reliance on resurgent but disproven ‘shock and awe‘ doctrine – we will so dazzle them with our technology that they can not fail to be overcome…yup…hasn’t worked for the last two decades and it’s not going to now…

Among the faulty assumptions are a demonstration of a total lack of grasp of military operations, culture and human factors – that, today, there are still people in power that believe that what work in one place will, without any supporting evidence work somewhere else: Yemen is not Pakistan is not Afghanistan is not Iraq. This is the same fundamental hubris error that the US made attempting to translate FM 3-24 from its successful implementation in Iraq to the total basket case that is Afghanistan (at any time).

Another is that there is some sort of subtle but vital distinction between launching strikes from an unmanned aircraft and launching them from a manned aircraft or a naval vessel or sharing the luff with a special operations team. Apart from avoiding the potential for inconvenient bodies to be displayed during News at 6, strikes from unmanned aircraft are really, as we all know deep down inside, just another form of national power employed in support of national objectives.

But…there’s always a but…might we assume that an inherent reluctance to be seen to put blood on the line by using drones further undermines national credibility especially in the absence of a declared or properly recognised or accepted conflict? Would the kinetic cross-border campaign against proponents of terror be more credible if it was conducted with manned resources i.e. to be specific, if human resources (a term I generally hate as aren’t resources things to be exploited?) aka nationals of the nation waging the campaign were actually doing the border crossing bit and not, as in the case of unmanned aircraft strikes, sitting back in the relative safety and comfort of an undisclosed top-secret location?

Although his model was flawed and needs further development, David Kilcullen was right – the accidental guerrilla not only exists but is created by precisely this sort of heavy-handed, poorly-formulated use of force. As the author of the article points out, the current campaign in Yemen is focusing on individuals and not on countering or neutralising the actual network in which they exist: control the water and the fish are yours for the taking…continue to play a short game and you are destined to play the short game forever – sort of like Happy Gilmore Hell…The article concludes:

The United States can do a lot of good in Yemen, but it can also do a lot of harm. And right now it is playing a dangerous game, firing missiles at targets in the hopes that it can kill enough men to keep AQAP from plotting, planning, and launching an attack from Yemen. After this terrorism alert that has sent America’s entire diplomatic and intelligence operatives in nearly two dozen countries scrambling, it may be time to rethink that approach in favor of a strategy that’s more sustainable — and more sensible too.

When you consider this statement – which I totally agree with – you might see the fundamental flaw (and irony) of a campaign strategy that employs shock and awe to conduct attrition warfare. As I recall, after the bloodbaths of WW1 and its sequel, we decided that we could do this war-fighting thing a lot smarter and developed concepts of manouevrism and asymmetry. It looks like the only ones that read all those books were the bad guys…

 

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