4th Generation Warfare & the Changing Face of War
October 15, 2004
[Ref 1] Mohamad Bazzi, "U.S. may be too quick to blame al-Zarqawi: Arab intelligence reports say U.S. too quick to solely blame militant for carrying out violence in Iraq." Newsday, October 4, 2004
[Ref 2] Jim Krane, "U.S. Faces Complex Insurgency in Iraq," Associated Press, October 4, 2004
The President and his advisors have repeatedly referred to the Iraq War as the "Central Front of the War on Terrorism." This pregnant phrase is misleading, to put it charitably: For one thing, it alludes subliminally to distant memories of the bloody Central Front between Germany and the Soviet Union in World War II.
More generally, the image of a central front is a quintessentially Clausewitzian concept. It implies a head on bash between two huge standing armies, representing entire nations, concentrated at the decisive point, facing each other, in a decisive battle. These armies are commanded by generals and staffs from big headquarters behind the lines, and their strategy is usually one of attrition — killing enough of the enemy soldiers to force his submission. This kind of scenario more related to what we call 2nd Generation War or 2GW (although it is conceivable a 3rd Generation War could have a Central Front).
Calling the fighting in Iraq a Central Front is a snappy metaphor, but it is meaningless. The conflict in Iraq is a 4th Generation War, and in 4GW, the closest thing to a central front is the battle for the population and public opinion, something Clausewitz acknowledged but did not examine. [New readers can learn more about the generations of war by referring to Thread 1.]
To be sure, American generals are hunkered down like 2GW battle captains behind the green line in their Baghdad headquarters trying to direct their forces against the enemy. But there is no comparable enemy headquarters. Nor is there a conventionally organized enemy army, and our enemy, whoever he or she is, certainly does not represent the unified political will of a nation in the sense that the Soviet and German armies represented the Soviet Union and Germany in World War II.
In fact, we do not even know who the enemy is: Is he made up of Sunni/Ba'athist deadenders, as Defense Secretary Rumsfeld used to say?, or Shiite rejectionists?, or foreign jihadists? or Iraqi nationalists opposed to occupation? or all of the above? or some of the a above? [References 1 and 2 attached below are two recent reports describing the uncertainties surrounding the nature of our adversaries.]
We do not know how our enemy is organized or how he reconstitutes his forces after our attacks disperse them. Perhaps our enemy forms a self organizing network … or, as some believe, a network of networks? No one really knows for sure. About the only thing we do know is that the enemy can not beat our forces if they stand and fight in a fixed battle. But does that even matter?
Do fixed battles have anything to do with the guerrilla strategy, beyond validating our enemy's hope that our heavy firepower will accidentally kill more innocent Iraqis, and thereby drive away more hearts and minds, thus generating more support and recruits for the guerrillas?
In short, the conditions envisioned by Clausewitz — and by extension, the proponents of the misleading idea of a Central Front — do not apply to Iraq.
Applying terms like "Central Front" to the conflict in Iraq is typical of the useless rhetoric that passes for strategic discourse in this war. The use of this metaphor is more geared toward creating domestic impressions than dealing with strategic and operational realities of the situation we face. It is time for some serious thinking about the nature of the threats facing us in the Iraq War — and that involves examining forthrightly the central question of 4GW — namely, how the weak confront the military power of the strong.
One my greatest pleasures in thirty-three years of work in the Defense Department was the opportunity to work with dedicated officers who took their profession seriously. These individuals are all too rare, but they are worth their weight in gold. One such officer is Colonel T. X. Hammes of the U.S. Marine Corps. For years Hammes has been writing (and warning, like a voice in the wilderness) about the changing nature of war and the rise of what we call Fourth Generation War. Many of his writings can be found in Thread 1.
Colonel Hammes has just written a book expanding on his ideas about 4th Generation Warfare. Chet Richards, the Webmaster of Defense and the National Interest, has written the attached insightful review of Hammes' latest effort, which is herewith submitted for your consideration. Readers who want to obtain this important book can buy it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison, from a letter to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822
[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]
U.S. may be too quick to blame al-Zarqawi
By Mohamad Bazzi
Middle East Correspondent
Al-Zarqawi's own militant group has fewer than 100 members inside Iraq, although al-Zarqawi has close ties to a Kurdish Islamist group with at least several hundred members, according to two reports produced by an Arab intelligence service.
The Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi, 37, has used the media effectively to inflate his role in the Iraqi insurgency. In recent months, he and his supporters have claimed credit for scores of suicide bombings, attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces, kidnappings and beheadings of foreigners, and coordinated uprisings in several Iraqi cities.
The assessment contradicts many of the Bush administration's statements about al-Zarqawi and his terrorist network. Before invading Iraq in March 2003, the administration argued that al-Zarqawi was a top lieutenant of Osama bin Laden. U.S. officials said al-Zarqawi had taken refuge in Baghdad and was a major link between Hussein's regime and bin Laden's al-Qaida network. But that assertion has never been proven, and there are doubts about al-Zarqawi's relationships with both bin Laden and Hussein's government, as some Bush administration officials have acknowledged in recent months.
"The Americans are inclined to focus on one individual as the mastermind of all the troubles," says one of the reports. "In reality, the situation in Iraq is more complex. There are many small groups that sometimes work together, but at other times they have different agendas … There are former Saddam loyalists, home-grown Islamic extremists, foreign extremists and Kurdish elements."
By mid-June of this year, the administration also shifted its view of al-Zarqawi's relationship to al-Qaida. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld conceded that al-Zarqawi might be more of a rival than an associate of bin Laden's. Al-Zarqawi "may very well not have sworn allegiance to [bin Laden]," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing. "Maybe he disagrees with him on something, maybe because he wants to be 'The Man' himself and maybe for a reason that's not known to me."
Rumsfeld added, "someone could legitimately say he's not al-Qaida."
"People who gravitate toward militant movements are attracted to the ideology, and al-Zarqawi has very little to offer," Rashwan said. "He does not have a jihadist manifesto."
U.S. Faces Complex Insurgency in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. military is fighting the most complex guerrilla war in its history, with 140,000 American soldiers trained for conventional warfare flailing against a thicket of insurgent groups with competing aims and no supreme leader.
In other U.S. wars, the enemy was clear. In Vietnam, a visible leader - Ho Chi Minh - led a single army fighting to unify the country under socialism. But in Iraq, the disorganized insurgency has no single commander, no political wing and no dominant group.
the estimated 20,000 insurgents have little in common, although groups have occasionally worked together in temporary alliances of convenience. U.S. commanders describe the war as a "compound insurgency" sorted into four groups with different tactics and goals.
Three are made up of Sunni Muslims, almost all of whom are Iraqis. A fourth group is radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, formed of Shiite Muslims, Iraq's largest social grouping.
Ordinary criminals also pitch in on attacks when they are paid. And gangsters who abduct people regularly sell their hostages to terror groups, which have beheaded some.
"History is replete with insurgencies that failed," one general said privately during a discussion of Iraq.
History is also replete with insurgencies that triumphed. Vietnamese guerrillas ousted the United States in 1973. Afghan militias similarly embarrassed the Soviet Union in 1989.
If the insurgents are unorganized and unfocused, their tactics are classic. Guerrilla wars often feature car bombings, assassinations and abductions in the early stages, said Richard K. Betts, director of the Institute for War and Peace Studies at Columbia University.
As the militants gain strength, they progress to fielding combat troops, Betts said. In Iraq, large formations of Iraqi insurgents have met with mixed success. U.S. commanders claim their troops killed more than 4,000 al-Sadr fighters in April and August. But Sunni fighters in Fallujah and other cities have mounted daring attacks and melted away with few killed.