Monday, February 15, 2010

Strategic Theory: The Distinction Between "The Operation", "an operation" and "Local Battle"

German soldiers, 1917, on the Verdun front

Today the news is full of the current offensive in Afghanistan. The town of Marjah is target and the battle is being proclaimed as a "turning point" with Marjah described as the Taliban's Alamo. With all the hyperbole, conflicting information and the lack of any information from the other side, how to make sense of what is going on? Strategic theory offers an option in the distinction between "operation" and "local battle".

Clausewitz's general theory and approach to strategic theory has had several significant theorists who have further developed his general theory and expanded it in significant ways. Aleksandr Svechin, who served as first a Czarist Army and General Staff officer and later as a commander in the Red Army, is perhaps the most significant Clausewitzian theorist of the first half to the 20th Century. In his classic, Strategy, Svechin writes:

The Operation and Local Battles

Thinkers who still live by the remnants of the Napoleonic era are inclined to write operation with a capital 'O'. Ludendorff dreamed of such an Operation in the World War: he would have called the attack on Vilna and Minsk in the middle summer of 1915 an Operation; however, Ludendorff did not call the Tarnopol breakthrough in 1917 in response to the Kerensky offensive an Operation, because for this breakthrough to grow into an Operation, according to Ludendorff it would have had to continue to the Black Sea and in the process cut off and take prisoner most of the Southwest Front and all of the Romanian Front. The French have thought in the same vein: they are prepared to use the term Operation for the Lorraine attack, which was planned for November 14, 1918, but was never carried out because of the armistice, and in their fantasies was supposed to cut off and encircle major German forces in Belgium.

In accordance with our notions of modern reality, we do not spell 'operation' with a Capital 'O' and have emphasized in the title of this section [An Operation with a Limited Goal], the limited goals of an operation; nevertheless we consider it necessary to make a definite distinction between operations that achieve an intermediate goal on the way to the end of military operations and local battles.

An operation does not go beyond the general combination of efforts for achieving the ultimate goal of the war because the results of one operation are the conditions in which strategy plans the next phase of the armed conflict, while actions that have no effect on the subsequent course of the war are purely local. If they acquire a large enough scale (such as the Japanese expedition to Sakhalin in the summer of 1905 or the English colonial conquests in the World War and so forth), we are amenable to calling them local operations. Such actions often pursue the goal of occupying favorable diplomatic and economic positions in concluding a peace.

Any kind of operation has its costs, and the organizer of an operation seeks to cut these costs. Local battles are two-sided costs of an armed conflict; the more disorganized the front is the higher the costs will be. Partisan warfare, although it is the embodiment of a lack of organization, is capable of greatly raising the cost of war for the enemy. Of course, higher costs are capable of defeating any undertaking; we have made this remark to avoid the accusation that we have a low regard for partisan warfare.

Insofar as we try to achieve positive goals, an operation is an incomparably more economical way of expending military force than local battles. Soldiers are very capable of seeing the difference between operational rationalism and operational shoddiness and are much more eager to sacrifice themselves when they feel that they are on the way to achieving the ultimate goal of a war. Commanders who abuse local battles themselves give evidence of the poverty of their operational talents. What may be completely impossible on a local scale or will require incommensurate sacrifices may be achieved incidentally and much less expensively on an operational scale . . .

Svechin is talking about operations for limited goals. The war in mind is a war of attrition, where the first battles were inconclusive, the war continues. He makes the distinction clear: an operation is a rational step in achieving the larger political goal of the war, in effect setting the stage for the next step or operation which in turn sets the stage for the next. The strategist uses operations to achieve the means to the political goal. A local battle, on the other hand, is simply that, a tactical conflict aimed at physical destruction of the enemy and unconnected from the operational/strategic sequence. The "operational" phase of a local battle lasts as long as surprise is in effect, at which point the battle becomes wholly tactical. Svechin says that in many of the French World War I offensives from 1915 on, surprise was considered unnecessary in comparison to the need to stockpile massive amounts of munitions and range their artillery, thus giving the Germans plenty of warning of what was coming. The battles were seen as being the first part of massive gains, of essentially the complete defeat of the enemy in a single "Operation" as Svechin describes them, but in reality lead to nothing beyond the achievement of limited tactical objectives. These objectives divorced from the operational sequence, but aiding in attrition of the enemy's combat strength. This explains why Svechin finds local battles to be uneconomical in terms of military resources.

So, a big "O""Operation" is essentially fantasy, whereas an "operation" is part of a strategic sequence, while a "local battle" is tactical (as in not only its focus, but also as not being part of a larger strategy) or even "tactics gone mad".

Verdun is a classic example of a local battle that grew to tremendous tactical proportions, became what Svechin refers to as a Materialschlacht which in effect is war/battle as an industrial process. The subject of Verdun rates a separate thread so I'll leave that for now.

So, the question from a strategic theory perspective is - is Marjah an "Operation", an operation, or a local battle? In the case of Marjah there was no surprise involved since logistical requirements (and internal political considerations) precluded it. The attack was essentially announced in advance. It is tauted as the beginning of the end for the Taliban in Helmand province, but the political resources which the Afghan state would have to provide do not seem to exist. If there is no political follow-up - as in Counterinsurgency warfare theory - there is little hope for eventual success. Some say, "we'll have to wait and see" meaning wait for something good to happen, but that only indicates the lack of any strategy at all. To be an operation this attack would have to be part of a whole sequence of operational steps leading to the achievement of the strategic goal.

On the other hand, the Marjah offensive could be simply a military action in support of diplomacy, that is the US/NATO negotiation process to remove themselves from the conflict, in effect leaving the Afghan state to its own devices. Up till now the Taliban have been operating/negotiating from a position of political strength. By presenting them with a military defeat in Marjah, the US/NATO side turns the tables on the Taliban and allows themselves a better position in which to bargain. This would be part of a larger strategy and would qualify as an operation. An operation meant to help cover a strategic withdrawal, or a radical reformulation of the political purpose as presented to the various US/NATO publics.

Marjah is just the latest in a series of "decisive battles" presented to the public. An earlier one, the second battle of Fallujah in Iraq, was presented in the same way. It kicked off right after the November 2004 US elections and lasted into December. On my last thread, bg commented:

I've been reading about the ongoing "assault", said to be the biggest offensive in the war. At first glance, it sounds kind of silly, but it reminds me a lot of Fallujah. Say what you want, the Marines did an excellent job in Fallujah, no COIN there, that was classic street fighting and was executed beautifully with tactical deception and solid TTPs. And it did make a difference in the fight in the Western desert. It was a turning point and IMO eventually led to setting the conditions that allowed the politicians to claim victory and leave.

Second Fallujah qualifies as a Materialschlacht, that is a local battle grown to huge proportions. It followed a huge logistics buildup and massive use of ordinance and commenced with little surprise. The tactical approach here reflected an industrial process rather than the "speed, cleverness, concealment, and tricks" which Svechin associates with the normal tactical approach. Concerning one Marine Corps tank company, its commander stated in regards to Fallujah, "My company has fired close to 1,600 main gun rounds, over 121,000 7.62mm and 49,000 .50 caliber rounds." An after action report of infantry house clearing stated, "To send Marines in to clear an enemy-occupied structure without heavy preparation fires was tantamount to suicide . . . Whenever we located an enemy position that needed to be cleared, we used a combination of rockets, tanks and bulldozers to destroy the structure." Thomas Ricks, Fiasco, pp 403-4)

Imo Fallujah constitutes a classic local battle victory for the US, but a US operational defeat in that the knock-on effects were used by the opposition to thwart the US's larger strategic/political goals. The laying waste to a Sunni city did nothing to popularize the Allawi government to the Sunni population who boycotted the January 2005 elections. This in turn led to a continued unraveling of what little remained of any combined Iraqi consensus. The result has been the destruction of the Iraqi middle class as it existed prior to 2003, the ethic cleansing of Baghdad and other cities, the repression of various minority groups and Iraqi women (who enjoyed a relatively high status in the Middle East prior to 2003), and the triumph of Iranian interests in the new Iraq. The current result is a strategic win for Iran - which undoubtedly influences their actions today - and a strategic defeat for the US.

So contrary to the implied conclusion of bg's comment, the US should hope that Marjah is something quite different from Second Fallujah.


  1. Seydlitz,
    I'd propose that it doesn't matter what type of fight it may be,IF the success is not exploited.
    And this glorious victory,easily on par with D -Day will not meet that yardstick.

  2. Not sure of your distinction between and "Operation" and an "operation". Can you expound on this a little?

    And I think it's important to distinguish between the issue of tactical operations that are part of a larger operational or strategic vision and allowing tactical considerations to capture the operational focus.

    Even the most bloodless operational or strategic military victory will involve some fighting. Obviously, the cleverest operational plans will so dislocate the enemy's center of balance that they will disintigrate almost without resistance. But there will always be "local battles" on the way to capitulation.

    But the reverse is the recipe for stalemate you describe as a "Local Battle" - where solution to a tactical problem becomes the obsessive focus of one or both of the combatants, and the situation deteriorates into a pointless bloodletting match. Much of the trench warfare of WW1 - not just Verdun - could be described as a "local battle" on an immense scale. The commanders were unable to either solve the stasis imposed on maneuver warfare by the combination of barriers (wire, earthworks) and automatic fire or cease attacking these defenses with the expected bloody failures.

    In fact, I would say that Verdun was perhaps the Materialschlacht raised to the Nth power. Falkenhayn saw it as the solution to the deadlock, a place to bleed the French until they broke. For him, the "Local Battle" WAS the point - he wanted the French to throw bodies into the mincer where his artillery could tear them to bloody rags. It was supposed to be uneconomical - but only for the French. Falkenhayn's problem wasthat he had to attack, too, and got his own people killed in job lots...

    As far as the current "operation" goes...

    1. The ISAF/NATO force will certainly sieze and hold the ground.

    2. This may help bring the Talibs to the negotiating table, or not.

    3. The real answer to the question of "will this be something other than Fallujah" may not be answered for years, or decades. Hell, I'd argue that we don't really know all of the fallout from Fallujah!

    It's very frustrating to see these battles in central Asia played out as if the timelines are going to be days or weeks. I'm not angry because our leaders don't know what the endgame will be - I'm angry because they won't ADMIT they don't know what the endgame will be...

  3. Gentlemen-

    Agree. Where have I implied otherwise?

    The theory brings us to the discussion we now have. Consider "Operation" as essentially strategic fantasy, as the magic bullet, the masterstroke necessary to bring a contested war to a successful end in one fell swoop. Theoretically possible but highly improbable. Historical examples? One offensive operation followed by one victory. End of war.

    operation is clear I think. A sequence of military and other front actions (economic, political, home, . . . ) coordinated rationally towards a specific policy goal however inconsistent. A response to a war of attrition.

    Local battle is clear, still need not be strictly limited to the military but the full range of hostile interaction.

    The capture of the Taliban commander at this particular point in time is interesting. I wonder how many other "local battles" are going on right now in AfPak?

  4. FDChief-

    "Hell, I'd argue that we don't really know all of the fallout from Fallujah!"

    Not that we ever will. Still we already know enough . . . of a punishing strategic defeat at the same time handing Iran a strategic victory on the cheap . . . and of the after effects: the "Conservatives" unable to adjust to their crippled Empire . . . yea, I think we already know enough.

  5. Ah. So an "operation" can be an "Operation", but an "Operation" can only be an "Operation" if it is decisive - the myth/grail of the "decisive battle" - and the "local battle" is distinct from the componant battles of the O/operations because it lacks larger strategic purpose.

    I think I have it now. Thanks.

  6. I think at some point in the not TOO-distant future the arc of Iraqi history will stabilize enough to put Fallujah in context. I think right now there are just too many variables to figure out what it means.

    I think that what we might find is that both positive and negative effects look bigger than they will. The real questions will be the relative political strengths of Sunni vs. Shia and their capability to work together. If the current dynamic holds, your assessment of Fallujah as tactical success, strategic failure and geopolitical moron-grade mistake does look accurate.

    But I'd argue that there are a lot of fragments still in motion, and it might look better in the long run. For all we think we're seeing the endgame, I'd argue that Iraq is still massively in flux...

  7. Yes, but an Operation would always be singular and highly theoretical, the ultimate success. operations on the other hand are always a sequence. "Componant battle" is good. I'll have to check what term Svechin uses . . .

  8. Marja is an operation (small 'o') being masqueraded to the rest of us (not on the battlefield) as an Operation (big O) through the breathless efforts of panting media, psy-ops warriors and overly clever staff officers fresh from war college.

    It will not be decisive in the theater of battle (Afghanistan). That is because, IMHO, the insurgent almost always has the initiative and simply fades into the woodwork to await the day the "liberators" leave. It will not be any different in Helmand this time around (nor was it in 2008, 2007 or earlier).

    Notably, COL Lang posits that Operation Moshtrarak will be decisive --- decisive here on the American home front and thus ultimately to the war itself. Perhaps he is right - maybe it will be an updated Tet (although if the heavily "embedded" media escaping into American TV news is any indication, I don't think so).

    From where I sit, there are no decisive battles when fighting insurgent/guerrilla wars. Clausewitz had a hard time fitting the "people's war" (as observed during the Peninsular Campaign) into his larger vision of war for a reason. Thus, Marja becomes just another tactical battle (er, small 'o' operation) in a (never-ending?) series of battles that individually have limited-to-no impact on the broad strategic direction.


    PS - FWIW, I am in violent agreement with this: Fallujah constitutes a classic local battle victory for the US, but a US operational defeat in that the knock-on effects were used by the opposition to thwart the US's larger strategic/political goals. The laying waste to a Sunni city did nothing to popularize the Allawi government to the Sunni population who boycotted the January 2005 elections. This in turn led to a continued unraveling of what little remained of any combined Iraqi consensus. The result has been the destruction of the Iraqi middle class as it existed prior to 2003, the ethic cleansing of Baghdad and other cities, the repression of various minority groups and Iraqi women (who enjoyed a relatively high status in the Middle East prior to 2003), and the triumph of Iranian interests in the new Iraq. The current result is a strategic win for Iran - which undoubtedly influences their actions today - and a strategic defeat for the US.

  9. Nice post, Seydlitz, perhaps your best yet, maybe because I think I really get it.

    Takes me back to former wars. As I read you, Overlord was an "operation," with the landing in occupied France laying the groundwork for what we all know happened. Yes, Overlord itself was a tactical success but it was only part of a much larger scheme.

    Island hopping in WW2. Tarawa, Okinawa, etc., were operations that ended in tactical success. But that wasn't the end game. The noose tightened on Imperial Japan with each operation.

    Then there was my war, Vietnam. A bunch of shuffling around, lurching from one tactical success to another. All of it was inchoate, all of it was meaningless because of the inability to fix upon what final victory might look like. We never even knew what we were fighting for. It was kind of like, "well, gee, if we hammer Uncle Ho enough, he'll quit and leave our guys alone." Yeah, that was the strategy.

    I'd liken this whole operation-strategy thing to what I do when I use a blower to clean my yard of leaves. The objective is to get all of the crap out of the yard into the street. I continually sweep, going under trees, around shrubs, enjoying tactical success as I clear each area, with everything aimed at amassing that huge pile out there in the street where I can clean it up.

    Does my parallel work? Can we in any way tie "success" in Marjah to getting all of those leaves out into the street? I don't think so.

  10. In short, it's an Idiotic Waste of Time (IWOT) and WASF.

  11. Charles: While overall I tendto agree, let's put it in perspective. Great Powers have done this since the beginning of time; bash the wogs to ensure that the woggish "government" is at best a client and at worst a favorable neutral.

    My issue with this is that we're NOT acting like a great power. We're treating this guy Karzai LIKE he was Chiang Kai-shek and not a wholly-owned and operated subsidiary of the neocon experiment in Empire Lite.

    So if we are going to do this, we need to DO IT. Make the Afghan "government" something that an run the place after we leave. Unless and until we do then, to answer Publius question, no, we'll never get the damn leaves into the street.

    Same-same problem with "his" war. We kept giving the RVN government a blank check...while never giving them ENOUGH cash and forcing them to become truly self-sustaining. But the Chiang problem crops up here, too. To become the equivalent of the North, the South would have had to do things like end the rule of the landlords and execute and imprison the corrupt elites. And, since these were the very pillars of the regime, to do this would have been the equivalent of regime suicide.

    So Chiang couldn't "reform". Neither could Thieu. Neither can Karzai.

    And THAT makes it an IWOT and a WASF...

  12. Publius,
    I did a leaf blower analogy of the PWOT at RAW.
    Once you have the leaves on the street then the wind or your neighbors blow it back onto your property.

  13. Gentlemen-

    Thanks for the interesting comments.

    FDChief makes valid comments as to the complexity of the Iraqi situation, but I'm referring to the current war which started in 2003 with Bush's invasion. That war is seemingly coming to an end, or strategically speaking has already been resolved as far as the US is concerned. Our continued presence will not improve our strategic situation, unless the political situation were to radically change. The continued development of the Iraqi state and the suffering of the Iraqi people will undoubtedly continue and are worthy discussion topics, but outside the subject of operations/local battles.

    SP's comment as to Clausewitz is partly right, in regards to People's War, but it should also be remembered that the Spanish example indicated to Clausewitz that there was still hope of reversing the decisive defeat Prussia suffered at the hands of the French in 1806 . . . it was the reverse side of the coin in regards to popular participation in war that had made Napoleonic warfare decisive . . . French mobilization of the masses in support of the French state is countered by Spanish mobilization of the people in defense of the Spanish Nation. In both cases it is the energy provided by mass popular support that leads to decisive results, the high levels of hostility and passion.

    Publius's analogy works to an extent, but there is not actual interaction, the leaves do not themselves react to one's actions, but are simply driven from one place or another by the wind or the blower. Perhaps a better analogy would be dealing with fireants say in a large area; they definately would react.

  14. "To be an operation this attack would have to be part of a whole sequence of operational steps leading to the achievement of the strategic goal."

    I think I understand your post here, and I am willing to bet that the staffers who developed the plan to attack Marjah sold it as being part of an operation. My concern is that it will be a local battle similar to Fallujah and not support the overall operational goals that McChrystal has identified. As you all have noted, it's too hard to assess right now if that's the case or not. But you know, it worries me that some people (bg) think that the Marine operations in second Fallujah were "successful" - and here are the Marines again, using conventional tactics to search out and kill the bad guys. Is this in fact supporting operational goals? I don't know.

  15. "...the current war which started in 2003 with Bush's invasion. That war is seemingly coming to an end, or strategically speaking has already been resolved as far as the US is concerned."

    But that's my point. Your man Clausewitz would make a strong case that the issue is NOT decided - that the political problems the military actions broke loose are still unresolved, and the likelihood of further complications is high. Kurd-Shiite clashes (including military ones), Sunni-Shiite and Sunni-Kurd guerilla activities...and the (in my opinion very high) probability of some sort of military coup, led by god-knows-who that might put all this stuff back in play.

    In terms of U.S. military policy NOW it's moot, yes. But it wasn't two, three and five years ago when we were screwing that pooch. So the bearing isn't on Operations/operations/local battles 2010 but 2005 or 2007.

    Jason: My issue is not that this local push isn't supporting McChrystal's operational goals. It's that the "operational goals" he's stated are virtually unsupported by reality, or by the nature of the place. Afghanistan has never had a particularly effective or credible central government outside of short-lived feudal rulers. If this is supposed to somehow bring the AO into some sort of long-term Kabul-compliance the entire notion is a fantasy. So it's not a question of Operation or operational success - its a question of defining "success" as something that can actually happen. So far I haven't seen evidence of it.

  16. Chief and Herr Seidlitz:
    RE/ IZ's furtherance of producing exploding cigars and frowns for Ammurican pol/mil elites:

    Iraq (Southern anyways) might not want to become the USA's new swing Oal Producer. as to the Kurds, too many variables to consider (Israeli interference within, gettin' the crude to market, etc.. Notwithstanding of course, Col Lang's belief that Oal ain't got nuthin' to do with ongoing, deplorable events over there.

  17. JP-

    "From where I sit, there are no decisive battles when fighting insurgent/guerrilla wars."

    Agree. What would be the center of gravity of an insurgency? If you follow Galula it would be the "cause" and the insurrection itself which can hardly lead to a decisive victory. Rather only the long slow haul of counterinsurgency, or imo regarding Afghanistan the slow-death of an imperial "insurgency".


    "Island hopping in WW2. Tarawa, Okinawa, etc., were operations that ended in tactical success. But that wasn't the end game. The noose tightened on Imperial Japan with each operation.

    Then there was my war, Vietnam . . ."

    Who could say it better than that?

    Also, what about education? How kids are taught history? Is it all about the long hard slog, or the decisive battle? Okinawa was a great battle, but as you say it came at the end of a long chain, not to mention learning process . . . we don't really feel comfortable thinking about war like that, as a learning process, trial and error, slow operational progress by sequence of component battles, or only local victories and confusion as to what's going/went wrong.

  18. This has been a great thread. Thanks to all commenting . . .


    "In fact, I would say that Verdun was perhaps the Materialschlacht raised to the Nth power."

    I'd like to do a thread on Verdun and Falkenhayn. That should lead to an interesting discussion . . .


    To me the 2003 Iraq war is over; the decision made: we lost. Second Fallujha is a local battle from that past war to compare to a possible local battle being waged today in Afghanistan.

    Whatever comes next if it involves the US will be essentially a new war, which may have been your point fasteddiez?

  19. Jason-

    That worries me too.

    SP also mentioned what is being sold to the US public. So much of what passes for "strategy" in the US today seems to be more the nature of domestic information operations. Big 'O' Operations sell well but unfortunately have a short shelf life.

  20. But FDC,

    a) It can't be done.

    b) Even if it could be don, it was FFO seven years that we aren't capable of doing it.

    And all you get from trying to do it is an ever expanding effort to make you bleed and an endless supply of human time bombs set to go off 10, 20, 30 years or more down the road. Look at Israel for example.

    When have we ever accepted a foreign country dictating to us?

    When have Muslims ever shown any willingness to accept us dictating to them?

    There were times where they were too weak to resist effectively, but I can't recall any time were they simply gave up -- and why should they?

    The only reasons the Israelis got away with their terrorism after WW2 is that the British were utterly exhausted and Harry Truman made a political calculation. We've been paying for that mistake ever since. It's just stupid: we're the bad guys, and we make criminals like Al Qaeda look like heroes in comparison. We have no business being in the Middle East at all. Anyone who thinks any of this nonsense is in our national interest is a fool.

    So I take it you're saying, rightly, that we have a government of fools. What I'm saying is that they aren't just fools, they are in fact criminals, and we tolerate their crimes at our own very grave peril. Time and numbers are not on our side. Sic semper tyrannis, even -- and the worst tyranny of all is the tyranny of fools or madmen.

  21. Charles: You will get no argument out of me about the foolishness of the mistake we made in 1948. If we wanted to gove the Jews a state we had Utah; the entire notion of carving a Zionist polity out of the former Ottoman Empire was Balfourean foolishness that we should have run from like the clap.

    As far as getting involved in the Middle East, with our economic hunger for petroleum some sort of engagement was inevitable. We should have provided a good alternative to the old imperial powers. But our immediate embrace of Israel has prevented anything like a sensible policy towards the Muslim entities there, and our subsequent support of military and despotic regimes has made it impossible for us to be taken as a genuinely honest party.

    Sad. Didn't have to be that way...

  22. Chief,
    There is no logical relationship between the need for POL and the need to stick our fingers into their affairs.
    It's really like a whorehouse,since you mentioned the clap.You simply lay your money down and get the tail for said price.You don't need to put a carrier group out their to protect the pimps-they'll sell to anyone. Anyone.
    As an example-we liberated Kuwait. So what,does it matter if we by Kuwaiti oil from Kuwaiti assholes or Iraqi assholes? It's all so simple but we just have to fuck around and make it complicated. We ignore our own capitalist philosophy and your cmts indicate that you are buying into the big lie.

  23. Jim: Don't get me wrong - if I was the President-for-life we'd be leaving these crappy little oil states to work out their own problems and in the middle of the Manhattan Energy Project, spending all those billions we piss away on ballistic missile defense towards solving our REAL defense problem; the post-petroleum internal combustion engine.

    And I'm a big believer in capitalism - we buy the gas from whomever is selling it. Petroleum is fungible, and we don't need to like the people we're buying it from.

    But knowing my country as I do, all I'm saying is that it would have been (and is) nearly impossible for us to keep from trying to be the madam in this oil whorehouse. For one thing, we would worry - as we seem to be worrying - about a potential "enemy" oil state using a petroleum embargo as a weapon. So we would and do spend a lot of time fucking around with the internal affairs of these damn oil states.

    But - since we've decided to mess around with this part of the world (regardless of my own opinions) - the least we could have done was do it teh smart way, as a nonpartisan outsider. Instead we chose the dumbest way possible, and have been beating ourselves over the head ever since...

  24. All,

    I'm late to this thread again so will offer some limited comments:

    1. I don't know if Fallujah and Marjeh are strategically analogous. Operationally, I don't think they are and tactically, they are much different. The Marjeh operation has been extensively misreported in the press as assaulting/clearing a town/city, but in fact it's a regional operation that encompasses several villages and market areas as well as the surrounding agricultural areas. It is one of Afghanistan's primary agricultural areas - a region filled with small fortified farms cris-crossed with canals - all originally built in the 1950's with US assistance.

    Operationally, the mission isn't that unusual in that its goal is to seize key terrain. If it has any larger strategic effect, I think it will manifest in changed perceptions both in Afghanistan and here at home. I think that's what Col. Lang means when he says it will be "decisive" - he thinks it will be decisive in terms of US political support, one way or another. The local perceptions matter as well and that, it seems to me, is the real thrust of the operation and it's why we projected exactly what we were going to do - the goal being to attack the Taliban's credibility.

    Whether this is a discrete operation intended to produce limited effects in RC-South or whether it is part of something bigger, I don't know, but I suspect the former.

  25. --

    February 18, 2010
    by LTC William Astore (ret.)

  26. Just when you thought the Cheney gang couldn't sink any lower...

    The Atlantic --

    February 17, 2010 "MAY THE JUDGMENT NOT BE TOO HEAVY UPON US" by Andrew Sullivan

  27. Thanks Charles for that little bit of hysteria concerning Clausewitz that I have been dealing with for years. I was hoping that we were beyond that on this blog.


    Wouldn't "key terrain" in a Counterinsurgency war consists of the population and not positions? If we are dealing with Counterinsurgency warfare, as has been told us countless times, then the military actions have to be exploited by political programs drawing the local population to the Kabul government . . . otherwise this is not an operation in the sense of counterinsurgency, but just a local battle in conventional tactical terms (2nd Fallujah?). Unless of course as I mentioned in the original post, this is laying the ground for diplomacy.

    Two more Taliban leaders in the bag in Pakistan . . .

  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. Oh, I just thought you'd find it interesting Seydlitz.

  30. Charles-

    No offense taken, but did you read it?

    "Clasping Clausewitz to our collective breasts, we marched forward seeking new decisive victories."

    There are other quotes just as bad. Consider that this thread has referred to "decisive victory" in this context as "fantasy".

    Mr. Astore does Clausewitz and strategic theory a great disservice, since it is precisely strategic theory which has been noticeably absent during the last nine years of US policy formulation as I have repeatedly pointed out. In fact our government system of strategy making is decidedly Clausewitzian and was deliberately subverted by the previous administration . . .

  31. Seydlitz,

    Yes, the pop-centric COIN crowd believe that the population is the most important "key terrain" but I don't think they would consider it the only key terrain. There are a lot of people in the area and ISAF made it pretty clear they intend to follow up the military operation with political and economic programs, though it remains to be seen whether those will pan out and be sustainable. The history on that score is very good.

  32. Andy,

    Wars are not about lame metaphors, and this is no war -- after the first year or so it degenerated into what Iraq was from the start: a pointless, malicious rape.

    Do you have children?

    Imagine someone doing to their lives what we've done to the lives of every child in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last eight years... for the sake of nothing more substantial than vacuous nonsense.

    It's hard to contain my anger when I think of that, and impossible to contain the grief.

  33. Charles-

    "It's hard to contain my anger when I think of that, and impossible to contain the grief."

    Which is why your comments take on the character of some sort of moral crusade. Haven't we had enough of THAT?

    You got into some pretty nasty name calling on my last thread, and I let it go, but I'm not going to let it go on this one. The title of this thread is "Strategic Theory" which precludes crusades. How the other posters on this blog react is up to them, but i think my reaction should be clear from this point on.

    By all means comment, but let's keep it civil and maybe try to learn something from each other . . . a useful goal which I think everyone can agree on. Also it isn't so obvious how our views are going to set with those we normally do agree with - at times we find ourselves agreeing more with those we have argued against in the past. Complex issues are like that.

    So, what do you say Charles, shall we leave the Crusades to the Middle Ages?

  34. Oops, on my last comment I meant to say, "The history on that score is NOT very good."

  35. Seydlitz,
    Weren't WW1 &2 ,Korea,VN,Grenada, Panama,Desert Storm,Afgh and Iraq all Crusades?
    It is all about words-there is no key terrain in COIN, and the irony is that NOR CAN WE WIN HEARTS AND MINDS. We can talk about operations and anything we want,but it's all sophism. It's all simply blood feasting that will lead us nowhere since we have come to accept killing as a tool of diplomacy.
    Bottom line is that we kill a lot of bad guys,god i love that concept,but we sure don't win wars. That's because we are so stupid and think that briefings and bullet charts win battles and that people will love us when we invade their homeland.
    As a CGSC grad i often marvel at the quality of our schooling back then, but in all of our assignments we did exactly what we were taught not to do.Surely a War College grad ordered the battle for Hamburger Hill.
    Now , i agree that Charlie is emotional and does drone on, but then again we balance him out with bg's comments. Somewhere between twix and twain there should be a shred of reality. In reality all of us here are emotional.
    In WW2 we had operational concepts a plenty, and we ignored these realities for political considerations. When you fight battles to prep for diplomacy then you've entered a lala land.Sure in Clasewitz's day this was true ,maybe, but now we fight with unconditional surrender and regime change as our goal. This leaves little wiggle room for diplomats.
    I'm always shy to really cmt b/c i fear being ot and this is your living room that i'm visiting.

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  37. Charles,
    Whoa big boy, i'm on your side.

  38. Seydlitz,

    BS. I just don't tolerate rape, torture, murder, or war crimes. You shouldn't either. If telling the truth is offensive to you that's your problem, not mine.

  39. Charles-

    I think you're the one who has difficulty accepting the situation, which is why you seemingly lash out at the wrong people. Where have I posted anything in support of the war crimes you condemn? Nobody here as far as I know is responsible for any of the crimes you've mentioned.

    The failures are political and have to do with the current US political situation. This is not a thread on a political topic or even politics in general, but on strategic theory and applying strategic theory to two different military operations.

    You allow your rage to cloud the situation, and that approach has had absolutely no positive effect, or am I wrong? What has been the positive effect of your approach since 2001? You alienate needlessly the people you should be attempting to win over. You even alienate the people who formerly were on your side . . .

  40. Seydlitz,

    Where have I said you did?

    I was commenting to Andy most recently. As you know, strategy is a matter of objectives. A military officer who allows his skills to be used for purely political ends is, at best, an incompetent, and at the worst, a traitor. The invasion of Iraq was unlawful in the same sense that the Nazi invasion of Poland was. The pointless occupation of Afghanistan degenerated to the same level long ago, and what we are doing is potentially suicidal in the long term.

    Invade France and take Paris I can understand; Invade France and convert the French into Austrians is infantile idiocy.

    And here we are.

  41. Charles-

    Civility is all I ask.


    Not only the "pop-centric COIN crowd", but classic Counterinsurgency warfare would have it so. The current military operations would be overshadowed by the follow-up political operations (Galula's ratio is 20/80) and "politics" is seen as an operational instrument. If their political follow-up is not in place than the military action has no utility value, from a counterinsurgency perspective since making this type of war military heavy is the road to defeat.


    Eisenhower called the European theater of Operations in WWII a "crusade" after the fact and it obviously had its propaganda value, but what we do here, our discussion, is not a crusade.

    What do you think was the spark for this thread? It was bg's comment concerning Fallujha which was addressed to me on my previous thread. Jason shared my reaction btw. So that comment set this thread in motion . . . With an application of strategic theory and a new thread in order to discuss the subject and an invitation to bg and others to look at this subject from a different perspective . . . I don't claim to have the answers, but I do have plenty of questions.

  42. Seydlitz,
    None of my cmts are an atk or criticism of anything that you have said/written.
    We're all friends here. That's why we come to this watering hole.

  43. Seydlitz,

    The proof really will be in the pudding and time will tell whether this operation supports any strategy or goal, COIN-related or otherwise. As it stands, I have no idea. I've been following Afghanistan long enough that I'm cynical and Gen. McChrystal is only the latest in a line of Commanders who've come into Afghanistan and tried to change the game, though McChrystal's changes reach further than his predecessors.

    As I think I've made clear here previously, I think many ships have sailed and our options at this point are pretty limited. While the rhetoric coming from the leadership is all about a COIN campaign and our supposed "vital" national interests in Afghanistan, I think it's clear to most people the limiting factor for any strategy is US political support, which isn't going to last more than a year or two.

    So I'm still hoping the big secret plan is to distract the neocon war party and gain the initiative in Afghanistan to allow political space for US disengagement.

    I'm sure you've read reports on the capture of several high-level QS Taliban leaders in Pakistan. Coming during the Marjeh operation is this coincidence or something more? I don't know and so far haven't seen much evidence one way or another.


    Yes, I have two kids and a third on the way. You may not think it's a war, but it sure looks like one to my friends and everyone on both sides who are doing the actual fighting. Regardless, please don't confuse discussion on these topics here or acknowledgment of some grim realities for advocacy.

    I think we're all here in basic agreement that the US needs to get out of Afghanistan and soon. How that might be practically accomplished is something we may disagree on and it only seems reasonable that we should be able to discuss it civilly.

    For what it's worth, I think Seydlitz is someone you should listen to and his recent comments are very well said.

  44. Seydlitz,

    Well I'm all for civility, but that's precisely the problem here:

    Dropping a GBU on an eight-year-old girl is distinctly un-civil. I have the same problem with raping an entire nation, only more so.

  45. Andy-

    "Proof's in the pudding"

    Agree. And I'm not very optimistic on the counterinsurgency front, but in the recent capture of the Taliban leaders in Pakistan I sense the faint stirring of operational art . . . Could be that these actions may lead to bigger things and that after so many years in the strategy wilderness, the US is finally getting its act together? We'll see.

  46. seydlitz,

    Great post, and great comments by all. Not going to lie to you, my memory of the first battle or second battle of Fallujah and just about everything else in Iraq has gone to shit. Sometimes I can't delineate between memories of when I was a true believer in the mission (which I was truly was, primarily because as a young LT/CPT, I couldn't wait to go to war and didn't really care so much when or where) and how I view the world now after fighting 4 different regional conflicts in a stretch of 7 years.

    I find the distinction between operations and local battles as being very interesting, I've never heard that before (they don't teach that kind of stuff any more, the dearth of military education is depressing). But you keep bringing up the captures in PK, so my question is, are those operations or "local battles"? Or are they a different category all together?

  47. Oh, and just to add, the recent captures of Talibs in PK are nothing new, we've been doing that for 6 years or more. I am really interested to hear your take on the effectiveness of rolling up (or Pred Stirkes) of Talib/AQ in PK and how it relates to strategy and why you stated that this could be the start of us getting our act together.

  48. bg-

    Thanks for commenting.

    As to the recent Taliban captures, it's not only the quality of the prisoners but the handling of the capture itself . . . compare with Cheney/Bush handling of captures (Noor Khan especially comes to mind) where the "local battles" of US domestic politics called the shots. (In typical Bush fashion Khan was eventually released without charge three years later.) Current handling of the release of information indicates understanding of operational art, from a theory perspective.

    Like I said, only "stirrings" at this point, but keep an eye on Pakistan. Could be that we are seeing the orchestration of an historic split between the Taliban and the ISI/Pakistan . . . still a bit too early to tell imo.

  49. seydlitz, I am confused. What do you think is going on different in PK today than what was going on two years ago? There hasn't been any change of handling of releasing info, it has been "business as usual" in PK since 2009. What am I missing?

  50. bg-

    I just know what I read in the newspapers. Compare the first recent capture as in when the capture was made and when the information became public with either Noor Khan in 2004 or the 2006 liquid bomb plot. Both of the two latter cases left bruised relations with allied intelligence/police agencies. This latest one seems not to have. Just a small indication, and perhaps nothing, but sometimes even I try to be optimistic.

  51. Seydlitz,
    I've been thinking about this entire thread,and as a consequence thinking about the topic.
    Hence, the invasion of Russia or WW2 comes to mind. Most historians deliniate 5 strategic errors that the Hitlerites made that lost them the war.
    WE all know those,so i won't repeat,BUT the most important mistake was starting the thing in the first place. This is NEVER on the list.
    Somehow i think this is germaine to your topic.

  52. This man is an idiot, a liar, and a murderer:

    GEN. PETRAEUS: [W]e're there for a very, very important reason, and we can't forget that, David. We're in Afghanistan to ensure that it cannot once again be a sanctuary for the kind of attacks that were carried out on 9/11, which were planned initially in Kandahar, first training done in eastern Afghanistan before the attackers moved to Hamburg and then onto U.S. flight schools.

    Meet the Press (2010.02.22)

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