The root of the problem facing US and other Western armies fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan – as well as Israel’s confrontation with the Lebanese Hizballah and the Palestinians – is that no Western war strategist or theorist has come up with a tactic for fighting Islamic terrorists or jihadists engaged in guerrilla warfare.
On Wednesday, Nov. 15, Gen. John Abizaid, head of US Middle East forces and commander of the war on terror, urged quick action to strengthen Iraq’s government. He predicted that the sectarian war in Baghdad would surge out of control within four to six months unless immediate steps were taken.
Addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee, Abizaid said: “Our troop posture needs to stay where it is.” He advised expanding the practice of military advisers embedded with Iraqi army and police forces.
The day after his testimony, reports appeared in the Washington and London media citing President George W. Bush as calling for a “last big push” to win the war in Iraq. Instead of beginning to draw down US troop strength next year, he may add an extra 20,000 soldiers, according to informed sources.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources add that the main mission of the beefed-up US force will be to liquidate the sectarian death squads raising the level of carnage in Iraq. It will most likely be composed of a National Guard division.
Those sources also report that the president’s refusal to give ground in the face of rising calls in Washington for a swift ext from Iraq is also influencing the policy review conducted by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, chaired by former secretary of state James Baker and ex-Congressman Lee Hamilton.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources note that Bush’s decision is not so simple. Round about Thanksgiving on Nov. 23, he may have to decide between that “last big push” in Iraq and a military operation against Iran over its persistent advance towards a nuclear weapons capability.
Israel stubs its toes on the same deficiency
In any case, US generals like the leaders of other Western armies are beset by a major unsolved difficulty, the lack of a decisive strategy for defeating Islamic terrorist organization, whereas Islamic terrorists – whether al Qaeda, Hizballah, Hamas, or Iran, are not daunted by the task of taking on any Western army.
Therefore, even the effort to bolster the Iraqi army and the extra US troops for a last push in Iraq may achieve short-term goals, but no victory, against Iraq’s terrorists and insurgent guerrillas. Neither will these measures stabilize the pro-Western governments of Iraq, Lebanon or the Fatah leaders of the Palestinian Authority. For this, a winning military tactic is still lacking.
The IDF, formerly renowned as one of the world’s finest armies, has stumbled against this difficulty against the Hizballah in Lebanon and the radical Palestinian organizations such as Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees of Gaza, which are leaning further towards al Qaeda. Equally, the US army has no recipe for vanquishing the Iraqi Sunni insurgency or al Qaeda terror in Iraq or putting a stop to the vicious sectarian conflict tearing the country apart.
This deficiency is clearly demonstrated in the three primary war theaters of our times: Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The conflicts vary in intensity, geography, the size of the combatant forces and the degree of asymmetry between their adversaries: Western-style armies, on the one hand: low-grade militias like the Hizballah, Taliban, Hamas, the Iraqi Muslim Army and terrorist organizations, on the other. Yet common to all are the methods employed and the objectives shared by the latter groups: All share a burning desire to attack American, Western and Israeli armies and kill as many infidels as they can.
Their other goal is mainly tactical: to beleaguer and isolate Western forces in three ways.
Maneuvered into negotiating with terrorists
1. By trapping them in a hostile civilian environment which collaborates with the guerrillas and terrorists in their midst rather than with the Western army. Western forces pursuing their war on terror cannot therefore avoid causing collateral damage to civilian targets. Their troops must then withdraw to bases which become islands in a hostile sea of local and international recriminations.
Americans and Israelis alike are therefore reduced by this maneuver to accepting that their war on terror cannot be won on the battlefield alone and settling for a combination of military and diplomatic solutions.
2. By penetrating and subverting the pro-Western regimes, such as those led by Nouri al Maliki in Baghdad, Hamid Karzai in Kabul, Fouad Siniora in Beirut and Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority.
These fledgling governments, security forces and military establishments can be undermined from within much faster than the Americans or other Western patrons can consolidate them.
3. By using the neighboring states of the embattled countries as their logistic hinterland out of reach of the United States, NATO or Israel – unless these Western forces are ready to expand the area of conflict and draw on military manpower beyond their means. In Afghanistan, the Taliban and al Qaeda use Pakistan and Iran for their support base and sanctuary. In Iraq, the terrorists and insurgents use Iran and Syria, both of which fulfill the same function for the Palestinians and Hizballah. After five years of struggle, during which the United States and Israel never attacked these countries, terrorist and guerrilla commanders view them as safe and natural support bases
For all these reasons, General Abizaid was correct when he said he does not need any more troops for Iraq. Even if American troop strength were to be boosted to a quarter of a million or 300,000, they might be able to make a certain difference in Baghdad. But the hordes of Muslim guerrilla and terrorist fighters streaming into the country through Syria and Iran, plus local insurgent and militia forces, will always find ways to penetrate local governmental and security bodies to wreak instability and bloodshed.
Maybe it takes a guerrilla to beat a guerrilla
This brings DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military experts to the conclusion that large-scale military frameworks such as divisions, brigades or even battalions, are ineffective against terrorist or guerrilla forces. These conventional units may gain the upper hand in local confrontations, but their victories will be limited in their strategic effect and duration.
Success will endure only until the terrorist forces return to the fray, having regrouped in safety across a friendly border with the help of willing civilian communities.
The Americans discovered this after waging large-scale campaigns in the Shiite holy city of Karbala in 2004 and the Sunni-al Qaeda stronghold of Falluja in 2005. Neither affected the strategic situation in the war as a whole.
Israelis likewise found little point in reoccupying Ramallah, Nablus or Gaza because of the quagmire effect.
The only plausible military option still open to the Americans in Iraq, NATO in Afghanistan and Israel in the Palestinian territories and against Hizballah in Lebanon is a dramatic shift in tactics that essentially entails resorting to enemy tactics, in word, guerrilla warfare versus guerrilla warfare. A vital element in this tactic is not being pinned down to a local arena by the opposition, but to cross borders and take the war into his logistical sanctuaries which were hitherto immune from attack.
This is not a new or original method; it was devised 70 years ago by the British general Orde Wingate to combat an earlier form of Islamic terror besetting British-ruled Iraq and Palestine. Certainly some of his commando-style innovations might be disinterred today to battle the contemporary forms of anti-Western Muslim terror and guerilla warfare.