Unconventional Warfare is Not the Answer to Your Problem

Unconventional Warfare is Not the Answer to Your Problem by Andrea Filozof, War on the Rocks

A group of disenchanted humanitarians recently launched a spin-off of the infamous game Cards Against Humanity entitled JadedAid. Included among the deck’s many satirical (and subtly true) combinations is the game’s tagline: “Coming to terms with the fact that your intervention is the problem.” The expression applies equally well to the interventionist foreign policy the U.S. has broadly followed since the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. Although the Obama administration has dialed back large-scale counterinsurgency and stabilization operations, it has also sought to intervene through a new mechanism: unconventional warfare.

At first glance, unconventional warfare appears to provide the ideal solution to many of the problems the administration faced with prolonged occupation and counterinsurgency campaigns. President Obama attempted to strike this balance in his initial strategy against ISISL, vowing  to “increase [U.S.] support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground” while preventing American ground troops from becoming involved in a combat mission.  Unconventional warfare, per the U.S. military’s Joint Publication 3-05, “consists of operations and activities that are conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an auxiliary, underground, and guerrilla force in a denied territory.” This doctrine holds that the United States can exert its influence through limited involvement to achieve its policy objectives, sidestepping the publicly unpalatable notion of large and prolonged military commitments. Yet the perception that unconventional warfare requires only limited involvement is a dangerous illusion. Not only does training and equipping proxy forces still exact a heavy financial cost, but the operational success of proxy forces often does not lead to the desired political outcome. Serious problems arise when ways and means are not connected to ends. Without organic political solutions to accompany unconventional warfare campaigns, the United States will at best waste vast amounts of defense spending; at worst, it will find itself entangled in the same costly, long-term operations it has endured in Iraq and Afghanistan with little to show for its efforts…

Read on.

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From the blurb above, I can only conclude the author neither understood the nature of the Iraq Wars or Afghanistan any better than President Obama has.
President Bush defeated Saddam Hussein an ultimate evil, defeating and removing him was an ultimate good, and then we took on the forces of evil that jumped into the vacuum of terrorism by which Hussein murdered 450,000 plus of his own citizens ruled by terror.
Most recently I read LTG Flynn's book and must agree with him, Presidents Bush and Obama were not responsible for the rise of the Islamic State: Hussein's regime was.
The fact is The Surge, was successful because it fought Al-Qaeda and the Shia reaction to terrorism and eventually the Iraqi people themselves stepped up. President Obama embraced the theme suggested in this blurb, and millions are now refugees and homeless, the dead are still being counted and bigotry has become a symptom of Islam the radical left in the USA embrace. It is that false narrative that lends support to cockeyed theories expressed above without regard to all the facts found in history.

Last sentence of the author's concluding paragraph:

BEGIN QUOTE

Fifteen years of stability operations in Iraq and Afghanistan prove that intervention without a preconceived and organic political end state is indeed the problem.

END QUOTE

First, to understand that there was, and indeed still is, a "preconceived political end state" that the U.S./the West envisions for not only Iraq and Afghanistan but, also, for the rest of the non-western world. This such "preconceived political end state" being (a) the successful transformation of these outlying states, societies and civilizations; this, (b) more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines.

Next, to suggest that the problem -- re: Afghanistan and Iraq and the rest of the non-western world -- was/is the fact that these such "preconceived political end state" ideas of ours were not, and indeed are not, mirrored by (and thus were not, and indeed, are not "organic" to) the populations of these such outlying states, societies and civilizations themselves. (We intervened throughout the Greater Middle East, however, erroneously believing that they were. In this regard, see comments from our leadership, at that time, relating to such things as "universal values," etc.)

Thus, to suggest that our employment of political warfare, and unconventional warfare in the service of same today; this must be seen, exactly, from the standpoint of:

a. Our acknowledgement of this disconnect between (1) our "preconceived political end state" ideas and (2) the different/the alternative wants, needs and desires of the Rest of the World. And

b. Our determination to overcome this such obstacle -- by the use of "hard power" -- as has now been determined to be necessary.

(Note: Is this not, exactly, how we saw the Soviets/communists use of political warfare, and unconventional warfare in the service of same, back in the day? To wit: as a means/method employed -- by this great "expansionist" power -- to help overcome the problem/the disconnect between [a] this great "expansionist" power's transformative "political end state" ideas re: the Rest of the World and [b] the Rest of the World's determination to prevent such unwanted "transformations" from occuring?)

Bottom Line Questions:

If "hard power," for example: political warfare and UW employed in the service of same, "Is Not The Answer to Our Problem" (outlined above) then what is?

Should we not give "hard power" a try?

This, given that the Soviets/the communists use of such methods -- in coordination with their then-potent "soft power" -- did ultimately result in approximately 50% (or more?) of the world "going communist?"

UW is seldom "the" answer to our security challenges, but aspects of UW can contribute to achieving our objectives in select situations. The author is absolutely correct that we'll fail strategically when our means and ways don't align to ends. Furthermore, our track record using UW has not been impressive. We don't have true UW experts in the US military, we have experts in guerilla warfare, which is an important subset of UW, but it is insufficient.

The author's description of the Jedburgh teams has a few errors. They were inserted late and most teams didn't have time to have a significant impact. However, the resistance taking place throughout the war supported by the SOE and OSS (and the Soviets) had a significant impact.

The larger political issues were not managed by the Jeds, but the Supreme Allied Command. There wasn't a ready made government as the author assumed, it was actually a very chaotic situation after the Germans were defeated. The difference between our invasion of Iraq and the liberation of France was the level of effort dedicated to planning and setting conditions to ensure means and ways align with longer term political goals. I don't recall reading about senior officers during WWII lamenting about the lack of clear military objectives. It seems they had a better grasp of complexity and ensuring their operations achieved political ends, so they readily accepted so called non traditional missions when combat was over. In other words military operations were part of the larger whole, and UW was also part of that whole. Today it seems we are often moving backwards. Self proclaimed UW enthusiasts remind me of the air power tools who thought they could win wars by themselves. Conventional officers rejected UW altogether and tried to destroy SF. The problem is worse when it comes to interagency stove pipes of mediocracy. There are many self imposed reasons that have limited our ability to effectively wage war, to include UW. It's a shame, we have so much talent in our ranks that could excel in a better system.

You might be surprised that I agree in part with much of what the Captain has written. First Unconventional Warfare is never THE answer to any problem. However, it can be part of a strategy to protect US interests.

Where I strongly disagree is the Captain's characterization that we have turned to UW as the method for our interventionist foreign policy. Sure there are policy makers who pay lip service to UW but we only need to look at the debacle in Syria to see some of the UW concepts that were misapplied. UW practitioners may have offered that UW against ISIS using a campaign plan designed for Assad was not feasible, suitable, and acceptable but the administration directed it anyway rightly earning the charge from Anthony Cordesman that it is using special operations forces as "strategic tokenism."

The Captain's use of the tired analogy of the UW in WWII France (while important to be studied for many reasons) belies the fact that she does not understand modern unconventional warfare (or acknowledge the concepts of foreign UW being conducted by adversaries such as the Russians, Iranians, AQ, and ISIS against our friends partners and allies)

But where the Captain really nails it and undermines her own argument (which is okay as she helps us to understand why we need to study the art of UW in depth beyond the confines of special operations forces) is with beautiful statement:

QUOTE et the perception that unconventional warfare requires only limited involvement is a dangerous illusion. Not only does training and equipping proxy forces still exact a heavy financial cost, but the operational success of proxy forces often does not lead to the desired political outcome. Serious problems arise when ways and means are not connected to ends. Without organic political solutions to accompany unconventional warfare campaigns, the United States will at best waste vast amounts of defense spending; at worst, it will find itself entangled in the same costly, long-term operations it has endured in Iraq and Afghanistan with little to show for its efforts. END QUOTE

She gets it and as every UW practitioner will tell you that if there are no organic political solutions for the US campaign to support UW in support of a strategy will not be feasible, acceptable, or suitable.

Her criticism is misplaced. It is not UW that is the problem. It is our lack of understanding and our misapplication of UW concepts that is the problem. But again I agree with her that UW is not THE answer to every problem. But it sure as hell may be the right way to support a strategy to protect our interests in the right conditions. We just need to know when is the right time to use it. And just as important we need to recognize that our adversaries are conducting UW and we need to have our own strategies to help our friends, partners, and adversaries to counter them.