Thursday, January 31, 2013

Surgical Approach

This morning driving into to work I learned the reason President Obama has chosen Kerry for State and Hagel for Defense is because of his preference for a "surgical approach" to fighting terrorism instead of the long and protracted wars of the last 12 years.

Immediately my mind flashed back to how we got in this situation in the first place.  Our journey begins with the same war that gives Kerry and Hagel their street creds.

The United States military of the late 1950s and 1960s were still about fighting major battles with enemy militaries.  Large manuever units, waves of fighters and bombers along with fleets of ships were going to be needed in the post World War II world.

Korea was the first post WWII conflict and reinforced the notion of force-on-force conflicts.  What was missed is that Korea was fought only to a cease fire.  To this day, Korea remains the longest cease fire in the history of warfare.

President Kennedy have some inkling that he would needed some other type of way of waging war and became enamored of special forces.  It was the use of special forces in Indochina (who were there to train resistance fighters) that would lead to the Vietnam War.

As the 1960s went on, it became increasingly necessary to deploy more and more troops into Vietnam.  Unfortunately, the Johnson Administration really did not understand what type of war was being waged.  The North Vietnamese certainly had fighter jets and tanks but as the years wore on the Vietcong relied more on guerrilla tactics.  American military forces were still fighting a classic force-on-force war against small units that would disappear into the thick jungles.

Vietnam was also the first war that showed the horrors of war on TV.  The long, indecisive battle in a country most people still could not find on a map resulted in little public support.  The counter-culture revolution was also in full swing populated by young adults that would not just blindly follow the propaganda of the United States government.

In the end, the US military lost credibility and face with the American public.  Veterans came home physically broken and mentally damaged to an unsympathetic public.  It was a war in which no one really won.

The Ford and Carter administrations as a result could not really pursue any type of strategy that would require large military conflicts.  A sort of non-engagement policy took effect.  We would really on our nuclear force to deter the Soviets but it did not seem the military would drawn into another major conflict.

Then on November 4, 1979 the world changed.  The puppet Shah of Iran (placed in power through the help of the CIA) had oppressed the Iranian people for long enough.  He was deposed and the US embassy was siezed.  For the next 444 days, the US stood in disbelief as every night on ABC news we learned that there was NOTHING that we could do.

President Carter tried using the newly formed Delta Force to rescue the hostages and they suffered one of the worst failures by US special forces ever.  During a hot refueling in blowing sand.  One of the helicopters lost visual with the HC-130 and turned into it. The resulting explosing killed 8 service members and forced the mission to be aborted (because Carter would not authorize the requested number of helicopters in the first place).

Reagan's inauguration began with the release of the prisoners.  The Reagan Administration pursued a massive build-up of the US military as if to warn Iran and others, "never again".  Reagan would never use this massive military in a force-on-force confrontation but did create the first surgical strike.

When US servicemembers were killed in the 1986 discotheque bombing, the Reagan Administration determined those responsible were from Libyan.  As a result, Reagan authorized Operation El Dorado Canyon.

On April 16, 1986, eighteen FB-111s would drop 60 tons of explosives on Tripoli (note, the French would not allow the USAF to overfly their airspace.  As a result, crews had to fly around our ally).  Civilian targets were hit but more likely were struck as a result of the Libyan air defense artillery slew their barrels backwards to fire at the departing jets.  Hence began the new notion of sending in airstrikes whenever you were pissed off at someone.

Reagan would also go after another terrrorist in Norriega by sending in Special Forces.  Unlike Hussein and Qaddaffi, Norriega survived the operation.

When it was George H. Bush's turn, he went back to a force on force scenario that strike at Iraqi forces in Kuwait. It was the one sure way to get the Iraqi occupying force out and by using "coalition forces", the first Bush administration was able to avoid potential risks of a Western/Christian based superpower attacking a Sovereign/Muslim country.

The real lesson learned though became the realization that daylight, precision bombing had finally become a reality. Bombs could be sent down the window of a suspected target. When weaponeers (those who planned the loads for USAF fighters and bombers) had a surplus of 500lbs bombs, they hooked laser guided heads and inventing the quaint art of "tank-plinking" (a term the late Gen Schwarzkopf despised!).

Desert Storm was fast and sexy. US casualties were quite low and audiences were treated to scenes of Iraqi military targets being vaporized by US airpower. The lowly A-10 became the darling of the US military. Not only could it turn Iraqi tanks into Swiss cheese, it became a flying watchdog protecting downed US airmen from Iraqi forces. Iraqi troops would later say just the sound of the A-10 engines were enough to cause them to lose control of their bowels.

The Clinton Administration took from this that the best way to answer the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was to use airpower. Clinton's preferred method of anonymous shooting was not manned fighters but rather cruise missiles. His preference being the result of the failures in Somalia. Much like Carter before him, Clinton sent Rangers and Delta Force into Somalia without the armor they needed. The Clinton administration wrongly assumed that the Blackhawks could fly above the fracas with immunity.

The second Bush administration tried to follow the first Bush administration and use massive military power to swat a fly. Somewhere along the way George W. and Chaney forgot to read about the Soviets results in Afghanistan and sent Marines and Army troops in to right the wrongs of 9/11. Chaney and Rumsfeld decided that the war in Iraq needed to be completed on the cheap and declared war on Iraq due to their position of weapons of mass destruction.

Hussein was ousted and eventually captured and executed. Osama bin Laden would take much longer and cost many lives on all sides. In the end, Osama bin Laden was dispatched by two rounds from a SEAL.

The build-up necessary to wage war under the George W. (and the first term of the Obama administration) is too costly to maintain over the long haul. The advent of drones has taken the notion of precision airstrikes to an even more sophisticated than Desert Storm planners could have ever imagined.

Drones can remain on station longer, at lower altitudes, and can do much more damage with smaller warheads since they are even more precise than Desert Storm airborne weapons. The USAF has moved more towards using warheads as small as 250lbs on the B-1B since targeting systems allow for precise placement on the target. You don't need to blow up the whole city blow when all that is needed is a single head shot.

This brings us back to the beginning. The Obama Administration now wants to rely on drones to execute a "surgical approach" instead of using massive military force. The lead would also go to the CIA instead of DOD. This should cause alarm for the public as this means much less transparency in regards to who is being targeted and why.

The more we head towards a "drone war", the easier it will be for the government to target without comment from the public. By risking our sons and daughters, we HAVE to have the American public's approval. No one cares about a drone.

The Obama administration seems to not understand that if you shoot someone with a missile, their friends and relatives will get pissed. Send in a Marine Amphibious Group and everyone wants to offer you tea. There are gains to sending in armed troops you just don't get by conducting long range, anonymous airstrikes.

Our involvement in Libya, Egypt, Algeria and Mali have only emboldened Al Qaeda to strike (something they did seem to want to do under George W.). If you want to stop Al Qaeda, you have to make all of their family, friends, and potential friends feel like they have something to lose. Otherwise the targets just become martyrs.

You only need look at "The Troubles". The British SAS sniped at the IRA for decades. They even rounded up all "potential" IRA members and sent them to the "Maze". Instead of reducing the number of IRA operatives, the numbers actually increased. The Obama administration is doing the same thing with Al Qaeda.

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