An application of the repertoire-centric military theory framework

There was a certain logical simplicity to the way the U.S. military trained for war prior to 9/11. During training exercises, successful units engaged the enemy, achieved their objectives, and arrived at the limit of their advance. The exercise ended and everyone broke out cigarettes and congratulated each other on a job well done. Fast forward ten years, and U.S. military forces are driving on Baghdad. We engaged the enemy, achieved our objectives and reached the limit of our advance. Everyone congratulated each other on a job well done. But eight more years of war followed. We achieved all of our military objectives, but the rules of the game seemed to have changed. (...)
Herein potentially lies the great paradox of the U.S. military: the better our conventional capabilities, the more likely we are to face increasingly irregular and asymmetric threats. Our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan not only demonstrated that we must be prepared for the unexpected; they should also remind us of the importance of history.
by Andrew Lembke

This is a fine example for how some things in warfare are only mysterious, difficult to predict and seemingly paradox if you don't understand - or rather fully absorbed my framework about repertoires in warfare:

There's everything in it:

The better the conventional capabilities (or rather the relative superiority therein), the less practical repertoire is left to the enemy. He'll use what makes sense, so the more advantage you have in combined arms battle, the less likely he is to offer such a thing and the more likely he is to focus on different tactics.
This is predictable for now, for the future - it makes simply sense. The separation between "conventional" warfare, "hybrid warfare", "irregulars" and "asymmetric threats" is a symptom of experts and other writers not grasping the real difference. The Taliban are not so much an asymmetric threat per se - initially they were quite on track to fight pitched battles. No, what happened is that the Westerners were so much better at so much that they squeezed most out of the repertoire of the Taliban - and now we see what's left, as the Taliban are forced to focus on this.

The very same Taliban will likely return to pitched battles once the Westerners are gone from Afghanistan.

It makes little sense to train now even more against the tiny repertoire that's left to the Taliban in preparation for future stupid wars.  We would only squeeze the repertoire of future enemies even more. Sure, they might drop road mining as tactic as well - what would be gained? Almost nothing. They wouldn't expose themselves during the mine production/transportation/emplacement process any more, and in most extreme "success" of ours they would revert entirely to a political opposition. Would we be able to achieve war goals as the one in Afghanistan, where we're trying to make sure Taliban don't return to power? Hardly. Instead, our success in squeezing all of their repertoire into the regions of impracticability would only ensure we would have no legitimate targets left, no point of attack at all.
So if we did now train for the next war in order to be able to negate 100% of the opposition's armed resistance repertoire, we would afterwards read how pundits claim we need to prepare political oppression for the war after next...

And that's really off-limits, for we don't want our governments to prepare for political oppression, right? That would be stupid. Terminally stupid.
It's already bad enough what they learned about oppression in a decade of occupation warfare:

Instead, the lesson should be not to fixate yourself on most extreme war goals. Be content with moderate achievements.
The Taliban had lost power by early 2002, their role as hosts to AQ was history by spring 2002. Only few dozens of AQ personnel was estimated to remain in Afghanistan afterwards, and this did not change.
We had achieved a lot by then, and nothing noticeable afterwards. A "lessons learned" insight should be that we would have been better served by being content and call it a day in summer of 2002. We would not have added any noticeable progress after 2002 if we had perfected warfare against harassment tactics and road mining; instead, the Taliban would have focused on political opposition and us leaving would still include the scenario of them returning to power as much as it does today.

Those who attempt to learn entirely military-tactical lessons from the occupation wars are widely missing the mark.

Superiority in 100% of the imaginable repertoire of violent organised conflict is not achievable anyway. It exposes an extremist mindset to strive for it.


1 comment:

  1. Great article, we seem to forget that violence is one of the tools for solving human disputes. All violence is about solving a dispute, but no dispute can be solved by violence alone. Violence depends on some degrees of mutual "agreements", that includes using the road and bombing it.