Victor Two – a review

Recently I had to drive over to Stratford for a four day course. I knew there would be nights off and dropped into Books and Toys in Whanganui to see if I could find some new reading material (most of my library is still all packed up after our moves this year). Victor 2 Looked like a good read, a different take on DESERT STORM from Bravo Two Zero and The One That Got Away

You really have to wonder how the British SAS achieved anything in Iraq during DESERT STORM. We’ve had at least four books on the disastrous Bravo Two Zero mission – the better of the four being the ones by Mike Coburn and Michael Asher, the ones by Chris Ryan and Andy McNab seem better consigned to works of fiction.

Victor Two is the story of a more successful SAS patrol deep into Iraq. The story follows a cycle of got lost in the desert, more internal scrapping, shot up some Iraqis. I found it really underwhelming and more of an opportunity for the author to do some regimental score-settling than any credible recounting of DESERT STORM special operations.

Not really recommended as anything but light reading on a slow day, a slow wet day…

Crisis in Syria and Iraq: All-in or all-out?

Manstan 231014

Josh Wineera is having a busy week…a successful engagement at the New Zealand Association for Training and Development Conference, followed by this op-ed for Fairfax. For me, a most refreshing change from the ‘usual suspect;’ domestic talking heads that are being trotted out to ‘comment’ on the developing situation in the Middle East. Read on…

To use the Texas Hold’em poker analogy, Islamic State (ISIS) is ‘all-in’ to seize the major cities on the Syrian-Turkish border as well as swathes of regional areas in western and central Iraq. The actions are clinical, calculated and surprisingly conventional. The approach is one of simple arithmetic and follows an important principle of war – mass, or more plainly ISIS has the numbers. Unlike poker however, the stakes are not casino chips but rather millions of innocent victims caught up in yet another cycle of Middle Eastern violence.

While the much-vaunted precision-guided munitions continue to be dropped by U.S.-led coalition aircraft, the unrelenting nature of ISIS ‘boots on the ground’ is the decisive factor. Attrition of its fighters is not a concern. Thousands are ready and better positioned to be ordered into the fray. To coin the phrase, ISIS is currently the side that is the fastest with the mostest and many battles throughout history have been won this way.

So, if the tactic is to seize and hold the likes of Kobani or Anbar province on the other front in Iraq, how then might this contribute to the ISIS strategy? First and foremost a narrative is likely being developed to expose the limits and ultimate failure of the ‘West’ to effectively support the likes of the Kurds and even the Government of Iraq. This is certainly being helped along with media commentators such as Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn asserting the ‘U.S. strategy is in tatters as ISIS marches on’.

Second, and more chilling, is the perception that there is no safe place in the region to escape the onslaught. While some fight, the vast majority living under threat of mortal danger are not soldiers nor capable of putting up meaningful resistance. Capitulation and being resigned to the fate that awaits them under a barbarous regime appears inevitable.

But even with air power and small contingents of international land forces can anything really be done to roll back ISIS? At one end of the spectrum there are those that still believe this is not a fight for the West. Continued intervention is not the answer they decry.

Taken further, supporters of Edward Luttwak’s ‘Give War a Chance’ proposition argue that sitting on the sidelines and waiting until all belligerents become exhausted is a better plan. Standing by while foes battle each other is one thing, however giving a free hand for systematic cruelty and genocide is quite a different argument.

On this issue, if widespread butchery and carnage is the trigger for international reaction then according to Canadian journalist Neil MacDonald intervention in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo is more warranted.”ISIS’s acolytes are just apprentices at atrocity compared to some in the Congo”.

The other end of the spectrum leads to an all-in approach by countries that have the tenacity and dedication to endure what would be another long and frustrating campaign. The 2014 all-in version should include the familiar political, economic and military assistance. The time frame for favourable conditions would need to be measured in years not months. So how will these be different, have better outcomes, than the 2003-2011 version applied in Iraq? Politically, positive change has already occurred with Haider al-Abadi confirmed as Iraq’s Prime Minister. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed al-Abadi’s formation of a new inclusive Government in Iraq.

Oversight of political reform is paramount to ensure balance and avoid marginalising the Sunni population in particular. Economically the impact of change will be less disruptive as Iraq’s southern oil fields maintain productivity and buttress the financial markets. Inter-Governmental Organisations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are not expected to have to significantly intervene.

Which leaves the lingering question of military assistance. Right now the prime means of international intervention is air strikes and combat advisors. At best these immediate efforts will help the Kurds and the Iraqi Government stem the ISIS advances. Wishful thinking might even result in a stalemate. There is no quick fix. Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby has said “people need to understand we need a little strategic patience here…it is going to take a bit of time”.

While western governments continue to debate the merits and risks of deploying ground troops, a ready-made force is already being brought into action. A U.S. Government contract issued in August called for interested vendors to provide security assistance mentors and advisors. The private security community is naturally abuzz with new possibilities.

Eric Prince, founder of controversial security contractor Blackwater, has waded into the conversation. Calling the Iraqi Army inept after billions spent on training and equipping them, Prince suggests, “if the old Blackwater team were together, I have high confidence that a multi-brigade size unit of veteran American contractors or multinational force could be rapidly assembled and deployed to be the necessary ground combat team”. He goes on stating, “a competent professional force of volunteers would serve as the pointy end of the spear and would strengthen friendly but skittish indigenous forces”.

There is much irony in calling for private security companies to fill the void of trainers and mentors to the Iraqi security forces. A number still stand accused of delivering poor training last decade.

Whatever arrangements are put in place by international military forces or private security companies, the processes and methods of training Iraqi’s and even the Kurds must be transformed. Doing the same thing and expecting different results cannot be allowed to prevail. While a focus on technical skills is expected, installing a sense of duty and ingraining societal values to repulse the long-term intentions of ISIS will be essential.
What is clear is this is a poker hand that nobody except ISIS wants to play. Folding and forfeiting interest in the situation does not appear to be an option for those governments already committed. It’s time to ante up or move on. In the meantime millions across the region continue to bleed and live in fear.

Josh Wineera is a member of the New Zealand National Forum for the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific. He is also a PhD candidate with the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago. His doctoral research is on training foreign security forces.

Training the Iraqi Army: The Sequel

Manawatu Standard 1 Jul 14

A sequel often fails to live up to the success of the original movie. A rehashed storyline, tired characters and predictable dialogue often make for painful viewing. Some things are simply best left as they are.

So what then to make of the recent announcement by U.S. President Barak Obama to send some 300 military advisors to help train the Iraqi Army to defeat the forces of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Certainly the light footprint, rather than deploying tens of thousands of American combat troops, represents a more pragmatic approach from a nation still battle-weary from Afghanistan and Iraq Part 1 (though some could argue this new commitment is Part 3 when considering the Gulf War of 1990-1991). During the past seven days many western media and security experts have had to resort to hourly news cycles, such is the speed of this fast-moving crisis.

While there is no stated intention for U.S. troops to engage in combat, the rapid advances by Islamic militants and the chaotic environment of this intensified and new insurgency may, in some circumstances, make that very difficult. No doubt once on the ground the advisors will be careful to keep out of the battle but as all veterans know, when you’re caught in a fire-fight everybody fights.

Within the United States, there are furious accusations and blame concerning the training and resources dedicated to raising the Iraqi Army. As reported in the New York Times, “training the Iraqi Army and other security forces was a seminal mission for United States forces before the last American troops left in 2011”. $25 billion has been spent training and equipping Iraq’s security forces, according to a report by the special inspector general on Iraq.

Lieutenant General Mark Hertling and Lieutenant General James Dubik, both former senior U.S. commanders who served in Iraq, defend the training of the local security forces despite the recent losses. Blame appears to be directed at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s, with claims of purging some of the most talented commanders and using the military to target political rivals. Dubik is reported to have panned the political interference of the military, simply stating “they are crumbling”.

Questions will now be asked of the training of foreign security forces and undoubtedly the preparation of the trainers themselves. Was cultural awareness and language proficiency sufficient to teach indigenous forces? Did it matter that ones teaching style might be different to the learners learning style, especially if the skills such as firing a rifle are more akin to rote learning? Certainly ‘mechanical’ skills are taught quite quickly, and remaining competent is more about repetition than critical thinking.

But, what then of developing such things as morale, esprit de corps, and defending both the state and the individuals of the state – regardless of ethnicity? What about ingraining an understanding of the rule of law and subordination of the security force to its civilian leaders? Leaders, that scholar Marina Ottaway reasons “should not try to impose common identities on deeply divided peoples but to organise a state that can administer their territories and allow people to live together despite differences”.When conditions such as these are met, meaningful reform and increased and enduring capability of the indigenous security sector has a chance for success.

Ironically, many commentators seem to have forgotten Obama’s speech at the West Point Military Academy just five weeks ago. “I am calling on Congress to support a new counterterrorism partnership fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity and facilitate partner countries on the front lines”, said the President. His speech was either prescient or coincidental. Irrespective, from a foreign policy standpoint, the training of foreign security forces will be a long-term objective. American historians will no doubt hear echoes of President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech at West Point, “In the years ahead, some of you will serve as advisors to foreign missions or even to foreign governments”. Kennedy further impressed on his audience the need to understand the utility of military power and also the limits of military power.

The intervention of American advisors, even in concert with airstrikes requested by the government of Iraq, will not bring closure to this current crisis. For the U.S. or even the U.N. the dilemma remains familiar. Do something, which could turn out to be counter-productive, or do nothing which might seem counter intuitive. Regardless, as the intervention of advisors has already occurred the focus must be on helping arrest the threat of total civil war and establishing the necessary space for political dialogue, negotiation and ultimately reform.

If this is the outcome achieved, then perhaps this whole situation is not so much a sequel but rather an epilogue that is desperately needed by all the people of Iraq.


Josh Wineera is a former irregular warfare lecturer with Massey University. He is a PhD candidate with the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago. His doctoral research is on training foreign security forces. 

The people that really count

What’s always puzzled me is that for all the bluster about these being population-centric wars, very few American reporters feel comfortable living with the people or listening to what they have to say.

These words were part of a comment by Carl Prine in response to the link posted up by Doctrine Man this morning  U.S. military to pass oversight of embedded reporters to Afghan security forces . My care factor over the subject of the article is fairly low – I think the whole embedded media idea is in need for a fairly severe overhaul to ensure that reporting is fair and truthful and that

a. isn’t simply a clumsy extension of the campaign information operations plan, and

b. protects the hosts from Mikey Yawn ‘biting the hands that fed them‘ or Paula Broadwell ‘I have ideas above my station‘ style embarrassments…

However, on the subject of population-centricity…


…the Hector’s Dolphin population is much like the populations of in COIN theatres, places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Malaya, France, etc. Like those populations, the poor old Hector’s Dolphin can do what it likes to ensure the survival of its way of life but all that is largely meaningless without the support of the population(s) supporting the intervention/COIN campaign

In fact, when you think about it, much the same applies to the insurgent forces as well…without the support of the populations caring, caring nations like North Vietnam, Great Britain, Iran or Pakistan (yes, there will be a test later on to match up supporters with supported!), many, and most, insurgent campaigns would fade away like a five year old’s ice cream in the sun…and conversely, with the support of the COIN/intervention force domestic population, the same will occur. Perhaps, the melted ice cream could become the 21st Century version of the classic COIN inkspot, one that transforms rapidly into a sticky spot of the map that just attracts flies?

ImageSo, when we talk about population-centric warfare, we are not referring to the population of the nation, province or other area where the insurgency is physically occurring – or we shouldn’t be if we have a good handle on this COIN thing – but instead we should be referring to the populations that support their nation’s participation in any given COIN campaign. When these populations stop caring, either by simply allowing apathy to run its course, or by actively opposing support, that nation’s effective contribution to the campaign is doomed…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Geometry

As this week’s challenge, ‘geometry‘ was very specific in what it wants “…find a good subject that contains an interesting geometry…try to crop tightly into the subject to make an unexpected composition…” Hmmmm…unexpected seems to imply ‘so that it’s actually identify is concealed’…more hmmm….OK, here goes…crops to the top, originals to the bottom…


…and the orginals…

Water intakes on one of the hydro-electric dams in the Waitaki Valley

Wing fence on the YF-23 prototype at the USAF Museum

SR-71 at the Eglin Armament Museum

Remnant of the Iraqi ‘Supergun’ from DESERT STORM days in the Imperial War Museum at Duxford

The application of FM 3-24 principles and success in COIN

Staying up lat-ish last night to watch Torchwood: Miracle Day when I knew I had a 0300 start this morning was probably not the best idea I ever had but, like many, things, it seemed like a good idea at the time and I know that if I record something I only rarely go back and actually watch it…

It’s still very dark outside and the webcast from the COIN Center at Fort Leavenworth has just ended…the topic for discussion this morning related to principles identified in the RAND study Victory Has A Thousand Fathers and their application to FM 3-24, specifically from the perspective of what an updated FM 3-24 might include.

I really don’t like Victory Has A Thousand Fathers – the idea is good: to study historical COIN campaigns and determine what truisms or principles can be derived from those campaigns.  This, I believe, is a necessary and long overdue step in the development of useful doctrine for the contemporary environment as for too long there have only really been two dominant schools of thought in this area:

  • The false prophets of Malaya who fail to truly understand that campaign and whom only glean the most superficial principles from it, namely a misapplied emphasis on ‘hearts and minds’, and who ignore the context in which that philosophy was applied and how it was applied.
  • The COINdinsta who forget that FM 3-24 was a seminal, timely and truly useful publication – for the situation that the US faced in Iraq, in 2006 and 2006. It has limited applicability as writ for dogmatic application in other campaigns.

Although I agree with the findings of Victory Has A Thousand Fathers as briefed this morning, they are weakened by the paper’s overly narrow and selective focus:

  • The scope of the study is restricted to only 1978-2008, omitting the post-WW2  ‘golden age’ of counter-insurgency and many other critical campaigns of thus nature. While there would have been a need perhaps to keep the initial sample size to a manageable number, this arbitrary period omits a large proportion of relevant campaigns.
  • The list of COIN campaigns 1978-2008 is somewhat limited: missing are any of the campaigns fought in Southern Africa in this period, as are those from the Middle East including Israel v Palestinians, and Iraq v Kurds;  East Timor is not listed, nor is the campaign in Southern Thailand – while it is flawed in other ways, at least both of these campaigns appear in David Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla.
  • Kiwis and Australians will be surprised to see that Papua New Guinea 1988-1998 which must be the Bougainville campaign is listed as ‘red’ i.e. a failure for the host nation government. The island of Bougainville is still very much part of PNG and that the world has heard little from that part of the world since the withdrawal of the monitoring force in 2002, is a testament to the effectiveness of that force 1998-2002.

The principles for COIN derived from Victory Has A Thousand Fathers were on slides that I missed during the discussion (too slow with the screen grabs) so I’ll cover those in a couple of days once they are posted on the COIN Centre events page.  What follows are some of the other insights from this morning.

There is a case for the use of force in Irregular Warfare but first, let’s stop calling this COIN. As we know, COIN is a very specific and very narrow slice of the broader realm of IW: the continuing abuse of the term ‘COIN’ to describe operations in the contemporary operating environment unhelpfully muddies the waters. Specifically. these slides discuss the repressive use of force but we need to consider this just as much as we have to consider the other side of the pendulum that it’s all about being nice to everybody.

One of the most refreshing things about FM 3-24 during our review of COIN doctrine in 2007-08 was that it acknowledged the need for use of force within a campaign, a most realistic diversion from other nations’ COIN doctrine which was based upon either experience in peace-support operations (whole different ballgame), super-localised internal issues (go Northern Ireland!), or Malaya (myth city). If there was no potential for the application of force, then the military is not needed i.e. the military is not a cheap labour force, nor an easy substitute for the other government agencies and non-government organisations that should be there.

While FM 3-24 does have a strong population-centric element, it was written for a specific campaign (Iraq) in a specific period (2005-6). That notwithstanding, the population-centric elements are well-balanced with other key principles and truisms for irregular warfare and I think that many critics only cherry-pick thos easpects they want in order to criticise and few if any consider the publication as a whole.

This is the Hierarchy of Assessment referred in the last two points:

In simple terms, it all comes down to national interests linked to campaign objectives and being able to measure the same; and at the tactical level, specifically, as recommended below,  link development objectives to those campaign objectives and national objectives i.e. no more AID for its own sake. This just creates legacy dependency issues.

One of the questions asked this morning was “…I’ve recently returned from RC-S .  Agree with HNG but it does not to have a national flair to it.  If a specific district enforces the govt rep there, the HNG should be deemed endorsed…” This is the real rub in Afghanistan where the role and legitimacy of central government are in an entirely different context to that of Iraq. Shifting the emphasis for effective government from a central to a district government focus can produce strong district/regional government but usually at the expense of the central government. But then as we discussed in the opening day of the IW Summit in May, a ‘horses for courses’ approach to Afghanistan might find that a federalist system of strong provinces and weak central government might be the best for Afghanistan – after all, it seems to have worked OK for the last two millennia…

As the US Army and USMC gear up to update FM 3-24, the time is ripe for some robust discussion on the content of its next iteration. Most definitely the sections of air and maritime power need to be expanded and updated. The forum for thoughts on this topic is at the COIN Centre Blog….

Getting it….

Not getting it…

One of my ongoing beefs with ‘modern’ COIN is the misperception is that successful COIN is all about being nice, of waging war without casualties (although casualties amongst one’s own soldiers appear to ‘OK’), and having this great expectation that one day ‘the people’ will just rise up, out of gratitude for the niceness shown them by the security forces and cast out the insurgents…

The simple fact is that this ‘doctrine’ is all lala-land, cloud cuckoo vunderland fantasy. That’s pretty much the theme of Wilf Owen’s article in the Spring 2011 edition of the British Army Review (I’d post a link to BAR but it seems that it is a highly classified publication and not one suited to easy intuitive location via the Power of Google), titled Killing Your Way To Control. He takes particular issues with statements like

Effective counterinsurgency provides human security to the population, where they live, 24 hours a day. This, not destroying the enemy, is the central task. (from Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla)

Unlike in general war, the objective is not the defeat or destruction of the enemy, but neutralisation of a threat to stable society. (from JDP 3-40)

And guess what? He is absolutely 100% correct! Was it Douglas MacArthur, addressing the cadets at West Point, who said something like “Your duty is clear and inviolate: to win our nation’s wars”? Something about “Victory, always victory”? Even if victory might mean achieving your objectives on your terms as opposed to victory always equating to absolute, grinding under the steel-shod boot, unconditional victory…

Use of the military is, should be, the final option in execution of national policy to achieve national objectives…because it is brutal and unpleasant – and effective when employed properly. The military should be used when other instruments in the DIME construct are not effective. That is not to say that once the military deploys, the rest of DIME takes for some time out; it just means that the lead agency has changed.

And what is it about the military that both makes it an option of last resort and one so effective? Simply…the use of force…brutal force, whether blunt or surgical, but brutal none the less because force can only be brutal. Who talks about let alone attempts to develop and  apply ‘nice’ force? And this is Wilf’s point, and, for an irregular environment,  encapsulated nicely in the extract he selects from the UK’s 2005 Land Operations

Neutralising the insurgent and in particular the leadership forms part of a successful COIN strategy. Methods include killing, capturing, demoralising and deterring insurgents and promoting desertions. This is an area in which military forces can specialise and should be a focus for COIN training. The aim should be to defeat the insurgent on his own ground using as much force as is necessary, but no more.

Now we know that there are times, especially immediately following an intervention and lodgement when the only people who can realistically maintain and provide essential services like power, water, electricity, sewage and security are the military. Forget about some imaginary gendarmerie with shovels that will miraculously appear and relieve the military of such onerous and unpleasant tasks…never happen…

Nor is anyone saying that forces optimised for high-end force on force  major combat operations can successfully instantly reconfigure, collectively and individually, into an irregular warfare scenario. If there was one myth that was majorly debunked in the last decade it was the “If you train up (for MCO), you can easily step down (for COIN)”. Thus, a choice must be made between a dual force optimised one side for MCO and irregular warfare on the other: just to be real clear, two forces – NOT one size fits all; or a deliberate acceptance that one’s forces will only be capable of engaging in one form of conflict OR the other. Most nations forced towards the latter choice will probably tend towards a specialisation in irregular warfare up to a limit of national capability on the spectrum of operations.

And while the logical threads in population-centricity unravel, this does not mean that the military should isolate itself from ‘the people’. GEN Petraeus was right in Baghdad in 2006 when he brought the troops back in amongst ‘the people’ and ended the daily tactical commuting/sallying from the FOBs. The military is not some horde to be hidden away – if ‘the people’ is where the adversary(s) are, then that’s where the military should be – configured and trained for the application of force in that specific environment just as they would/should be for any other unique environment.

And on the spectrum of operations…let’s not forget that it is NOT the linear progression from peacetime to all-out warfare that is it portrayed as…a more accurate model would have peace in the middle, surrounded by a ring that includes peacetime engagement (a smidgen up from peace), peacekeeping, peacemaking, irregular warfare, HADR, limited war (e.g. the Falklands War), major war (DESERT STORM, OIF Part 1) and full-on all-out war (Red Storm Rising).

Imagine that ring being like a trembler switch (who didn’t used to watch Danger: UXB or The ProfessionalsSteady, it’s a trembler!?) from which a nation can flick from peace to any state around that ring, and from that state then flick to another and another or back to the stable centre. Accepting that there are two clear extremes, peace and all-out war, most nations would assess the planning for one, peace, carries too much risk as it would naïve to expect peace to remain constant in the most benign scenario. Similarly few nations can afford to truly step up to the full range of capabilities required for the other extreme. Thus most opt for a point in-between.

But regardless of where that point may lie, the primary role and output of that national military force is the application of force. That is why the lead group in the Air and Space Interoperability Council is the Force Application group, with six important but supporting groups. That is why, in the continental staff system, the staff branches are NOT all created equal – operations leads, supported by whatever combination of numbers floats your boat – whoever heard of logistics or intelligence supported by operations? That is because the ops branch is all about creating and delivering effects – and the effect that the military delivers best…is…force.

So you might imagine just how it felt as I scrolled through my ‘most recent’ view on Facebook to see the link to Wilf’s paper first from DoctrineMan! (still not sure about people who include punctuation in their name) and a ways further down, the original post at Small Wars Journal.  Even more so when I realised that Wilf, who I have spent more time at Small Wars disagreeing with than ever agreeing, had authored it.

What was disappointing was the number of people on both DoctrineMan! And Small Wars fixated on pulling every literal point of contention from the article. I was sadly reminded of the 45k+ morons who ‘liked’ the Boycott Macsyna King Book page; or the moral minority who all ‘just know’ that Casey Anthony killed her daughter and that there was no need for all that legal dues process stuff: let’s just string her up!! Wonder sometimes if western society is descending to a point where the capacity for independent thought is lost…and we all just become drones circling the brightest, loudest light…

The irony in his article that he does not point out is that while British Army doctrine in 2005 included the quote above from Land Operations (now that I think about it, I was working at Uphaven on CLAW 1 when it was released and got to bring the first copies back home), this was the same period that the UK was trumpeting the success of Malaya and the triumph myth of ‘hearts and minds’ that set irregular warfare back decades. If only the UK had read and applied its own doctrine… (What’s that? You read doctrine? And apply it?)

So where does this leave us? Wilf has articulated what we have probably known along, what the dead Germans told us is right, that the military is about the application of force, not the application of ‘nice’, as an extension of policy. That force may be applied to create the conditions where others can see to the building of a stable society, hopefully where such existed at some stage before; equally as much it may be applied to simply attrite an adversary to the point where further resistance is either untenable or impossible.

But, harking back to the dead Germans again, the ultimate target for force is one specific part of what is popularly accepted as the Clausewitzian Trinity: of ‘the people’, the action arm and the leadership of any collective entity, military force ultimately targets the leadership to either eliminate it as the driving force behind the organisation, or convince it to consider and change its ways. That’s what the military is for….

A legend in its own mind

This week the air campaign in Kosovo is examined. The gradualist/risk strategy was employed despite its apparent discrediting in the Vietnam War. This led to a conflict between the commanders. General Short wished for the implementation of a punishment theory. It remains true that ground forces were not committed. However, was it the air campaign alone that achieved the favourable outcome or is there other factors? Was this a true convergence of ‘effects’ generated by the fortuitous or planned combination of offensive military action and the actions of a range of non-military players?

The gradualist (graduated escalation?) strategy was discredited in Vietnam? The elements of strategy and tactics that were discredited in Vietnam (and other conflicts where the same has occurred) were those that were separated from the professionals in those fields and dictated largely by powerful but inexperienced (in warfare) politicians.

Ground forces were not committed in Kosovo? So which famous armoured brigade crawled over narrow mountain roads into Kosovo? (Clue: its emblem is a rodent) Who raced the Russians for Pristina airport? Who’s still there now? While the air campaign may have helped set the scene for a relatively successful positive outcome to the Kosovo campaign, let’s not forget that the other instruments of the DIME (Diplomatic, Informational, Military, Economic) model were also decisively engaged in regional, domestic and international fora; and that these elements also deserve recognition for the roles they played in the campaign.

Russian vehicles mount a road block at Pristina Airport. A British armoured fighting vehicle and Landrover provide assistance

It might actually be argued that Serbian land forces would have been more decisively engaged had a land campaign been conducted in the traditional manner. The ability of the air component to engage Serbian land forces proved to be far more difficult than in the super-optimal environment of Kuwait and southern Iraq, and there is considerable evidence that a large number of targets engaged were ‘spoofs’. As events in the Falaise Gap (1944), Quang Tri province (1972) and the road to Basra (1991) showed, land forces in contact and on the move are significantly easier to engage with aerial fires.


Given that the first Gulf War concluded with a notion of air power being capable of winning wars, how has the employment of air power since then challenged that assumption?

This notion existed in a very few minds and if there is one single reason for air power’s lack of traction as an equal component of military power, it is the constant assumption of achievements that do not exist. Air power did not win the Kosovo campaign, Gulf War 1,or the Battle of Britain any more than my three-legged floppy-eared Spaniel. Not only do the domains operate together as part of the joint environment, there is no solely military solution to conflicts and these military options are employed as part of a whole of government inter-agency and broader comprehensive approach.

The notion that dominated military thinking after DESERT STORM was that of the revolution in military affairs, the dreaded RMA, but not one in air power. DESERT STORM was the first conflict where information had been employed as a decisive tool. As it turned out as the 90s unfolded, much of the hype from that conflict was simply just that, hype; but at the time it had swayed the minds of the world to justify both the conflict and the methods by which it was conducted. While the application of air power may have influenced the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, that movement did not actually start until after the commencement of the ground war. This action offered an unacceptable threat to Iraqi land forces and forced the withdrawal, or maybe rout would be more accurate. While air power advocates may crow over the road to Basra, it is arguable whether that level of destruction was actually necessary or that it contributed anything meaningful to the conclusion of the conflict. For whatever reasons, air power was also unable to deter Iraqi repression of Shia in southern Iraq.

So how have events since March 1991 challenged the assumption that air power won the 1991 Gulf War? Quite simply there has not been a single campaign or conflict that could claim to have been ‘won’ by air power. To flip that around, every conflict since March 1991 has required ‘boots on the ground’ (or ‘boats in the water’ in the case of counter-piracy campaigns) to force a conclusion:

Somalia. 1992-95 and current. Air used for ISR and mobility; a strong air bridge into Mogadishu during the former campaign. All decisive actions fought on the ground with air in support.

Bosnia. Resolved by the deployment of a powerful US force prepared and empowered to play the warlords at their own game, meeting force with force. Primarily a land mission during the decisive post-Dayton phase with air in support.

Rwanda. Air could have played a decisive supporting role here in 1994 by enabling the mass airlift of troops to reinforce the small UN force and reduce if not halt the genocide.

Kosovo. See above: possibly a contributor to the scene setting before the deployment of land forces, however there are arguments that the air campaign was largely counter-productive and actually strengthened Serbian resolve.

Bougainville. The 1997 deployment of peacekeepers (withdrawn in mission success in 2003) was supported by air for ISR, local mobility and maintenance of an air bridge for resupply and reinforcement.

Solomon Islands. 2000, 2003, 2006-current. Land force deployment supported by air for ISR, local mobility and maintenance of an air bridge for resupply and reinforcement; air transport also employed during various NEO during these periods.

East Timor. Major ground force deployment (division level) supported by air for ISR, local mobility and maintenance of an air bridge for resupply and reinforcement; kinetic air support also stood to during the lodgement phase in 1999.

RNZAF Iroquois helicopters fly Australian troops in Dili, Timor-Leste.

South Ossetia. Major, albeit one-sided land force on force confrontation between Russia and Georgia, with air in support (primarily on the Russian side after Day1) for ISR, strike, mobility and CAS.

Chechnya. Primarily a land conflict between conventional Russian forces and irregular Chechan forces; significant air resources employed by Russia to no discernible positive value.

Iraq. The primary effect of the no-fly zone campaign and its associated sporadic strikes into Iraq 1991-2002 was to keep the wounds between Iraq and the US open and festering. While the ‘shock and awe’ aspect of the opening of OIF was feted, the reality is that a decisive land campaign was always identified as the decider in this campaign, both the Plan A campaign to May 2003, and the insurgency to mid-2010. While ‘shock and awe’ can trace its roots through the Powell Doctrine of the 90s back to the ‘triumph’ of Gulf 1, the primary driver behind it was SECDEF Rumsfeld’s belief that greater reliance on technology would reduce defence costs by eliminating large numbers of expensive personnel.

Afghanistan. Neither the British (between the wars) nor the Russians (1979-89) were able to quell local tribesmen by air. OEF was always predicated on a strong land campaign supported by air. The air bridge into Kabul in the earliest days of the campaign was a key enabler for early successes however air has remained in a supporting role to the land campaign. The mission to take down OBL was a land mission supported by air i.e. no UAV-delivered PGM through the window.

Sierra Leone. Primarily a land-based peacekeeping operation. The British JPR mission in 2002(?) was a land force mission supported by air for mobility and CAS however use of kinetics was hindered by misperceptions of proportionality with the rules of engagement.

Israel v Hizbollah. A classic example of how not to do it. Not only would any other aspect of the DIME model been better employed to counter HIzbollah rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza and Lebanon, but the use of air power as Israel’s tool of choice not only illustrated how behind the times Israeli military thinking was but also had the opposite effect to that desired, regionally and in the court of world opinion.

Libya. The ultimate (so far) example of how not to employ air power. Not only has this meddling extended a minor internal conflict into one likely to drag on for years, but it has seriously damaged the credibility of air power as a decisive force and its advocates. Already some NATO nations are trickling land forces (under the guise of training and liaison) into Libya to attempt to recover the situation. This is what happens when you start to believe your own press.

It is to our benefit that the one strategic scenario where the use of the air and space would have had a direct and decisive effect on the outcome of a conflict is the one that has never come to pass…

(Un)reality Check

The Gulf conflict is considered with regard to Warden’s five ring model and the concept of the self-contained air campaign. The criticisms of Warden’s theory of parallel warfare will be analysed as will its relevance to a smaller air force such as the RAAF.

The 1990 Gulf War was a little more, from an air power perspective, than Warden’s largely discredited theories. It saw the first real demonstration of the US’ global air power reach with B-52 missions launched from CONUS; it demonstrated the rift between USAF and USN where the only common ATO format was printed paper; it validated the role of CAS aircraft like the A-10A, to the immense disgust of the fast jet fraternity; it proved the value of SEAD as a key enabler and tactical alternative to low-level strike e.g. the RAF Tornado airfield attacks on Day One; it saw the advent of stealth and practical information technologies; and it saw the birth of the myth of surgical warfare….


1. Warden & the self contained air campaign – is it now possible for air power alone to force a favourable conclusion to any conflict?

Only as an exception to proven rules. The number of times where air power alone had a strategically decisive effect on the outcome of a conflict could be counted on the fingers of one hand:

The Doolittle Raid which provoked strategic stupidity (Midway) on the part of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The Battle of Coral Sea which ended the Japanese advance south.

The two USAAF atomic bomb missions against Japan.

The Berlin Airlift was the first major Cold War confrontation and proved Western resolve to stand up to Uncle Joe.

The Linebacker II campaign which lead directly to the settlement under which US forces withdrew from South Vietnam.

2. Warden sees wars as essentially discourses between policy makers on each side. Is the implication that all actors are rational and will achieve rational results, a valid one?

There is not much evidence to support any proposal that any aspect of human behaviour is governed by rationality. Discourse between policy makers is diplomacy, not war.

3. The mind of the enemy and the will of his leaders are targets of far more importance than the bodies of his troops. Does Warden differ from Clausewitz with this assertion?

No. Warden’s ‘theory’ is nothing more than the popular interpretation of Clausewitz’s Trinity (government, people, military; or, for the COE, leadership, people and action arm) with icing on it but not adding much of anything new. Warden’s take on this has been described as “…if you hit enough things with a hammer, eventually there will be a reaction…” i.e. Warden’s application of force in Gulf War 1 was not a precise surgical application of force and there is yet to be any connection shown between the ‘Warden’ campaign and the eventual eviction of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. On the other hand, the systematic obliteration of those forces and those in southern Iraq was definitely a key factor in the Iraqi withdrawal.

Ultimately, an history bears this out time and again, it is the will of the leader(s) than is the ultimate target and determinator.

4. Did a special set of political circumstances allow the Gulf air war to be so seemingly successful?

Not really. Gulf War 1 was the first real information war when a large part of the conflict was ‘fought’ on the television screens of the world. A disproportionate amount of coverage depicted the socalled surgical strikes; considerably less was devoted to the proportionally more attritive air campaign conducted against Iraqi land forces in and around Kuwait.

If so, would it be wise to draw universal conclusions from it?

No but unfortunately, many did, adopting as doctrine (or maybe dogma?) that a clean surgical war was now possible. After the air power false triumphs in Bosnia and Kosovo, this culminated in the ‘shock and awe’ campaign that opened Operation IRAQI FREEDOM in March 2003. Eight years down the track, this misperception still exists although with reduced popularity and it is currently being disproved again in Libya. It may be that Ghaddafi reads and applies more air power doctrine than NATO…

5.  Do Warden’s theories as employed in the Gulf War only have application in state-on-state conflict?

If ‘If you hit something often enough, it should break’ is the theory, then, no, it can be applied more broadly; whether it will be any more effective than it was in 1991 though is debatable. It would more doctrinally sound and have a greater chance of success to stick with targeting Clausewitz’s attributed trinity: leadership, people, action arm.

Opportunities Lost

‘Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.’ – Thomas A. Edison.

Conversely, some opportunities are seized because they appear easy and not really like work at all. I’ve just watched an item on the midday TV News covering the handover of the town of Sangin in Helmand Province from Royal Marines to US Marines. Approximately one-third all all British combat casualties in Afghanistan have been in and around Sangin…

The British “have decided, given limited resources, to focus on the central part of the province” and leave the hot spots of northern Helmand to the U.S., says Col. Paul Kennedy, commander of U.S. Marine forces in the area.

The true test will come over the next two months, when the last Royal Marines leave Sangin to the U.S. Marines. Right now, the Americans just have to fight; they don’t have to manage relations with the local Afghan government, navigate tribal politics or promote economic growth.

Once the Royal Marines are gone, those jobs will fall to the U.S. Marines.

Going into Afghanistan in 2001 probably looked like an easy win for the Blair Government in Great Britain and a far easier ‘sell’ than Iraq in 2003. I heard Tony Blair in a TV interview here a couple of weeks ago and all the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan were someone else’s fault…largely Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Iran in Afghanistan…without their meddling, one got the impression that Messrs Blair and Bush (Jnr) would have triumphed in both campaigns…

The simple fact is that with intervention comes responsibility and, whatever else people might think or say about the US, it is doing its level best to uphold its end of the stick – in stark contrast to its former ally that bailed in Iraq – from the relative back water of Basra and is now starting to slither away in Afghanistan…335 casualties (so far) and for what? The UK Government does a disservice to every soldier who served by failing to step up to the plate and accept responsibility for its actions

While the UK bleats about being undermanned in Helmand, it continues to slash back its military forces in all three services with all the enthusiasm and passion of Freddy Krueger or Jason from Friday the 13th…in the final analysis, I guess that Britain finally decided that it was only ‘in’ war and not ‘at’ war after all…

Soon they all be getting back on the helos...