Archive for the ‘hybrid wars’ Category

Robert H. Scales and Douglas Ollivant
The Washington Post | August 1, 2014

Robert H. Scales, a retired Army major general, is a former commandant of the U.S. Army War College. Douglas A. Ollivant is a fellow at the New America Foundation’s Future of War project.

Military transformations can be hard to detect. They generally occur over decades, sometimes over generations. Soldiers are usually the first to recognize them, but for the perceptive, the signs of a sea change developing on today’s battlefields are there. Look carefully at media images of ground fighting across the Middle East, and you will notice that the bad guys are fighting differently than they have in the past.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the West confronted terrorists who acted like, well, terrorists. In Iraq and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and other militant groups relied on ambushes, roadside bombings, sniper fire and the occasional “fire and run” mortar or rocket attack to inflict casualties on U.S. forces.

When terrorists were stupid enough to come out of the shadows, they fought as a mob of individuals. One rip of a Kalashnikov or a single launch of a rocket-propelled grenade was enough. If they stood to reload, they risked annihilation at the hands of their disciplined, well-trained and heavily armed American opponents.

Today, it’s different. We see Islamist fighters becoming skilled soldiers. The thrust of the Islamic State down the Euphrates River illustrates a style of warfare that melds old and new. U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq used to say: “Thank God they can’t shoot.” Well, now they can. They maneuver in reasonably disciplined formations, often aboard pickup trucks and captured Iraqi Humvees. They employ mortars and rockets in deadly barrages. To be sure, parts of the old terrorist playbook remain: They butcher and execute prisoners to make unambiguously clear the terrible consequences of resistance. They continue to display an eager willingness for death and the media savvy of the “propaganda of the deed.”

We see these newly formed pseudo-armies emerging across the Levant as well. The Darwinian process of wartime immersion has forced them to either get better or die.

Some observers of the transformation admit that Hezbollah now is among the most skilled light infantry on the planet. And now there is Hamas. Gone are the loose and fleeting groups of fighters seen during Operation Cast Lead in 2008. In Gaza they have been fighting in well-organized, tightly bound teams under the authority of connected, well-informed commanders. Units stand and fight from building hideouts and tunnel entrances. They wait for the Israelis to pass by before ambushing them from the rear. Like Hezbollah and the Islamic State, they are getting good with second-generation weapons such as the Russian RPG-29 and, according to as-yet-unconfirmed reports from the fighting in Gaza, wire-guided anti-tank missiles.

These fighters are now well-armed, well-trained and well-led and are often flush with cash to buy or bribe their way out of difficulties. While the story of the disintegration of the Iraqi army is multi-causal, the fact that it was never trained to face such an opponent as competent as the Islamic State was certainly a factor.

This frightening new age is emerging due to several factors that neither the United States nor Israeli forces anticipated. First is the influence of foreign fighters. Iranian advisers throughout the Middle East are getting better at their craft. Radicalized fighters from the Chechen and Bosnian conflicts serve Islamic State forces as mentors. The terrorists of the last decade generated one-shot suicide bombers of little strategic consequence. Now they have learned to build fighting units and teach weapons and tactics very well.

Second, the bloody Syrian war has served as a first-rate training ground for the Islamic State and Hezbollah. The crucible of that terrible war permitted them to forge leaders, practice tactics, train to maneuver on the urban battlefield and build political and military institutions with mass and resiliency. Perversely, having these two Islamist organizations in conflict with each other has made each one stronger, not weaker.

Third, these new armies talk to each other, even occasionally across ethno-sectarian divisions. Social media and strategic intercessions in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq have created a body of well-informed and battle-hardened leaders and soldiers who share lessons learned.

Fourth, while these new armies are becoming more professional, they retain the terrorist’s specialty of disciplined killing. Terrorist killing used to be mostly random. But now killings are often orchestrated, media-driven executions of surrendering soldiers and opposition leaders. Such strategic killing can give the armies a psychological advantage before the clash of arms begins.

What we see in Gaza, Syria and Iraq should serve as a cautionary tale for any Beltway guru calling for a return of U.S. forces to Iraq. U.S. soldiers and Marines are still the global gold standard, but their comparative advantage has diminished. As terrorist groups turn into armies, pairing their fanatical dedication with newly acquired tactical skills, renewed intervention might generate casualties on a new scale — as the Israelis have been painfully learning


By Robin Niblett
FT | July 17, 2014

Foes think the political will for military action has weakened – the west has other strengths

As Europe’s leaders prepare for their summer break, there is one group that has little prospect of hitting the beach this August: those preparing for the Nato summit in September in Cardiff.

With the last of the alliance’s forces about to leave Afghanistan, the summit must address a fundamental question: what exactly is Nato coming home to do?

For many, the Russian President Vladimir Putin has already provided the answer with his annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of Ukraine. Nato should recommit itself to the protection of Europe and confront a revisionist Russia.

If so, how many troops should be deployed to concerned states such as the Baltics and Poland, and for how long? Should Nato build permanent bases in these countries or simply position military equipment there? How regularly should the alliance conduct military exercises in the region? And how much should its members invest in their defence and, especially, in the deployable forces appropriate to meet this new threat?

The answers to these questions will stand as a test of the alliance’s commitment to the collective defence of its members. But these questions also hide the fact that Russia’s strategy in Ukraine presents an entirely new set of challenges, which cannot be deterred or confronted by troops, tanks and aircraft alone.

Russia has adopted a “hybrid” or “non-linear” approach in Ukraine. This involves covert use of special forces and intelligence agents; local proxies; mass disinformation campaigns; intimidation through displays of military strength; and all manner of economic coercion.

Here, Nato leaders need to look beyond their traditional responses and work within the alliance, as well as with partner states such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, and other institutions to ensure security against a widening spectrum of threats.

First, at a military level, members and partners must invest in assets such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, command and control, border management, and the capacity to deploy forces rapidly throughout Europe. The ability to understand what is happening and to respond quickly is paramount.

Second, Nato planners need to co-ordinate contingency plans and exercises with national civil agencies, such as with police where civil protests are used as cover for military advances, as in Ukraine. The alliance can also help members to protect national infrastructure, including the resilience of vital cyber systems.

Third, Nato leaders must recognise that security is partly about creating the most resilient and functional states possible. While it can assist with strengthening civilian control of a professional military, it is the EU that is best placed to achieve this. The EU can help fight corruption, promote strong and diversified economies governed by the rule of law, challenge business and media monopolies, and design energy policies that will curb Europe’s dependence on Russian gas imports. So it is essential for Nato to co-ordinate more closely with the EU.

Ensuring security across the full spectrum of risks is also relevant beyond Europe. China is using a hybrid strategy to pursue territorial claims with fishing vessels, drilling platforms and market access playing a bigger role than military assets. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) uses digital propaganda alongside a resource-focused military strategy, seeking to control oil production as much as territory.

The west’s challengers think its political will to engage in military action has weakened – but in fact their “hybrid wars” can play to other western strengths. The most decisive steps in the contest with Moscow over Ukraine may prove to be US economic sanctions; the EU trade and association agreement with Ukraine; and Brussels’ block on the Russian-backed South Stream pipeline project, intended to transport Black Sea oil to central Europe without passing through Ukraine.

Hybrid actions are all the more powerful, however, when backed by the credible threat of force. Nato leaders need to co-ordinate their tools of civilian power with improved military assets to provide a broader defensive armoury against future adversaries. So pity the officials planning for the Cardiff summit. They will have little time to relax.

The writer, director of Chatham House, chaired the June 2014 Nato Policy Experts Report