Ground Soldiers Win Wars

Armies, Battles on Land
Flattop
Joined: 17 Nov 2008, 18:31

13 Sep 2014, 01:40 #1

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In 2006, Ralph Peters, an author/analyst who retired as a lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Army, stated that "Too many of our military and civilian leaders remain captivated by the notion that machines can replace human beings on the battlefield. They cannot face . . . reality: Wars of flesh, faith and cities." Peters' comments echoed an earlier statement by another retired Army officer and author, S. L. A. Marshall, who wrote in 1947 that "So strong was the influence of the machine upon our thinking, both inside and outside the military establishment, that . . . the infantry became relatively the most slighted of branches."

History has demonstrated over and over and over again the fallacy behind this captivation with the machine. Both Korea and Vietnam demonstrated the importance of ground troops, as did the First Gulf War -- though people were so enamored with the air campaign that they managed to miss it. What is all more startling about Peters' statement, however, is that it came after the clearest evidence ever in history had been provided in Iraq, in places like Fallujah.

In the planning for the invasion of Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon deliberately selected a small ground force with which to take down the government of Saddam Hussein. Rumsfeld and others believed that the overwhelming American advantage in technology would win the war -- even in the cities. What they failed to understand is that the effectiveness of firepower and technology is greatly diminished in urban areas, particularly in this information age where the killing of civilians will often result in a strategic setback. Rumsfeld and company thought that they would not have to fight for the cities, and they were dead wrong. The cities of Iraq turned out to be the main area of contention in the war that followed the fall of Saddam. Rumsfeld and his planners had the idea that technology would trump the human element and, again, they were dead wrong, in fact, the human element trumped technology.

Rumsfeld and many others, inside and outside of Washington, did not want to accept that war is largely a contest of human will. While understanding, to some extent, that war can be ugly, vulgar and destructive, they hoped that the worst of it could be avoided by the use of technology. The result was post-Saddam chaos, an insurgency and a protracted, bloody conflict. In Iraq we should have learned that the most powerful and effective weapon in modern war is, as it has always been, a well-trained, well-armed, and well-led infantry soldier. Yet even now, after the horrors of Iraq, many view that claim to be naive, simplistic, and antiquated.

"Surely," some might say, "that was true in Washington's or Wellington's day, even Grant's and Lee's, but it surely is not in our day with our dynamic technical sophistication. After all, how can the average foot soldier possibly compare with the power of technology?" Indeed, there is a rather large array of modern weapons from nuclear bombs and missiles, deadly gases and biological agents, to super aircraft carriers, nuclear powered, and armed, submarines, high-performance fighter aircraft, intercontinental bombers, and computer networks and electronic listening technology, and on and on and on. Surely the side with the most sophisticated and deadly weapons should win and the newer and more devastating the technology the more antiquated the infantry soldier should be. This thinking is self-deceptive, plain and simple; it also is not new.

Generals once expected the chariot to sweep foot soldiers from the battlefield, and later the mounted knight was supposed to do the same, then it was supposed to be artillery. In World War I, it was machine guns, and even better, more accurate artillery that were supposed to make the infantry solder obsolete. And after the so called War to end all wars, air power led to a techno-vangelism that argued that the airplane would make ground forces unnecessary. The techno-vangelists returned after the Second World War to argue that nuclear weapons, carried by airplanes, would finally make ground war obsolete. "The day of the foot soldier is gone forever," wrote one such air power proponent in 1946. Yet the foot soldier fought and died in Korea, Palestine, Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other places. Over and over and over again, the prophets proclaiming the obsolescence of the foot soldier have been proven, not just wrong, but disastrously wrong.

Yet, as Peters noted, the prophets continue to believe. Some believe because, understanding that war is ugly, they hope to avoid at least some of that ugliness, at least for American troops, by relying on technology. "Shrinking from the horrifying reality of war's ugly face," wrote John C. McManus in 2010, "Americans have a tendency to think of war as just another problem that can be addressed through technology, economic abundance, or political dialogue."

McManus went on to say that "These are American strengths so it is only natural that Americans would turn to them in time of need. Nor is there anything inherently wrong with the idea of maximizing these considerable American advantages. But there is something more at work here. Reared in the comfort of domestic peace and prosperity, most modern Americans cannot begin to comprehend that, more than anything else, war is a barbaric contest of wills, fought for some larger strategic purpose. Victory in combat usually comes from the resolve of human beings, not the output of machines. Yet, the modern American war-making strategy invests high hopes in the triumph of genielike super-weapons and technology. To some extent, this is because Americans took the wrong lesson from World War II. They erroneously believed that victory in World War II came mainly from Allied materiel, technological, and manpower superiority. This created a zealotlike faith that these advantages would guarantee victory in any future conflict."

Make no mistake, modern technology, firepower, sea power and air power are important to America's national security, each is of tremendous importance. "No serious person," wrote McManus, "could possibly argue that the United States would have won World War II and prevailed in the Cold War without a preeminent navy and air force, not to mention a qualitative edge in weaponry, automation, engineering, economic largess, communications, and supply. No rational individual would ever claim that there is no need for a navy or an air force. . . ." Which begs the question of why "anyone, even for a moment, [would] confer any semblance of legitimacy on the view that ground combat forces are obsolete, especially when history proves that notion so absolutely wrong?"

Again, each of these areas, air, sea and ground power, are vital. Americans most effectively wage war when the services cooperate and fight as a combined arms team. As important as air and sea power are, however, the foot soldier has always been the leading actor on the stage of warfare. Additionally, the impressive nature of technology leads to a temptation, particularly among Americans, to rely too much on air and sea power at the expense of ground combat power. Rather than being a problem of an emphasis on technology, it is, instead, an issue of too much of a good thing, to the exclusion of what is truly the most vital.

"Time and again since World War II," wrote McManus, "American leaders have had to relearn one of history's most obvious lessons -- wars are won on the ground, usually by small groups of fighters, who require considerable logistical, firepower, and popular support" (emphasis in the original).


Source:

McManus, J. C. (2010). Grunts: Inside the American Infantry Combat Experience, World War II through Iraq. New York: New American Library.
"It'd be nice to please everyone but I thought it would be more interesting to have a point of view."
-- Oscar Levant
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blackirishkarma
Joined: 09 Aug 2013, 03:20

13 Sep 2014, 16:23 #2

Interesting article. I would tend to agree with the basic premise but I think it also brings into sharper focus the problem we have with so loosely slinging the "war" word around to describe our actions against terrorism. Technically, we are did not fight a war in Iraq in 2003 and technically we would not be fighting a war there now if we return. The Iraqis themselves seem to be fighting some hybrid between a civil war and a religious crusade but even on that level I would say it is not a war as described in the article. 

Perhaps this is part of the problem but when we ask our military what is needed to fight a war this is how they respond because that is what they have been trained to do. I recently read biographies of Rutherford Hayes and James Garfield wherein both described in letters his frustration with the professional West Point soldiers in the Civil War. As politically appointed officers who learned about war at the front they both were often at odds with West Point trained officers. Both at some point grasped the idea that the key to winning the war was destroying both the enemies army and the sustenance he needed to continue the war. Both seemed to think that the West Point officers were bent on capturing territory, cities, and rail lines with the least loss of life which is what they had been trained to do. 

Our basic goal in Iraq and Syria right now seems to be destroying the ISIS military. I don't think we have specified that strongly enough and I don't think we know yet if it is possible to do without US ground troops. 

blackirish
The increase of misery in the present state of society is parallel and equal to the increase of wealth..... Unknown member of Parliament 1840's
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Flattop
Joined: 17 Nov 2008, 18:31

13 Sep 2014, 23:09 #3

We invaded a sovereign nation, how is that not a war?

Truman called Korea a "police action". It was, in fact, a war.

In the 1990s there was a term coined for operations like peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance: Military Operations Other Than War (Mootwah). Mootwah does not include counterinsurgency.

Part of the problem in Iraq and Afghanistan is that the Army purged anything and everything to do with counterinsurgency after Vietnam, while preparing to fight a techno-war against the Soviets in Western Europe -- the kind of war, but with a different enemy, fought against Iraq in 1991.

The war on terrorists is not a conventional war, but it is war nonetheless. The enemy chooses to fight asymmetrically, because they know that cannot hope to defeat our forces in a conventional fight.

While there was no official declaration of war, make no mistake, it is a war.
"It'd be nice to please everyone but I thought it would be more interesting to have a point of view."
-- Oscar Levant
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blackirishkarma
Joined: 09 Aug 2013, 03:20

14 Sep 2014, 03:58 #4

We invaded a sovereign nation, how is that not a war?

How is sending drones into sovereign nations to attack and kill people not a war? It is surely an act of war. If someone sends one into the US to attack the pentagon we will damn sure call it an act of war. The point I was trying to make is that we do a very poor job of designing military actions to fit the needs of a conflict. 

Truman called Korea a "police action".  It was, in fact, a war.

In the 1990s there was a term coined for operations like peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance: Military Operations Other Than War (Mootwah).  Mootwah does not include counterinsurgency.

As we have discussed before, there are a lot of ways to sidestep calling a military action a war. 

Part of the problem in Iraq and Afghanistan is that the Army purged anything and everything to do with counterinsurgency after Vietnam, while preparing to fight a techno-war against the Soviets in Western Europe -- the kind of war, but with a different enemy, fought against Iraq in 1991.

The war on terrorists is not a conventional war, but it is war nonetheless.  The enemy chooses to fight asymmetrically, because they know that cannot hope to defeat our forces in a conventional fight.  

While there was no official declaration of war, make no mistake, it is a war.

As we both know there are a lot of legal and political reasons for sidestepping an actual declaration of war. The point I was trying to make is that we have a lot of experts on warfare in the military but we also have a lot of people who don't seem to make any distinctions between types of warfare. 

We did a poor job of counterinsurgency in Viet Nam as well. I remain unconvinced that it is something we can ever do well. We simply don't have the stomach for it in my view. I see no reason for trying it again. Our attempts at occupying Iraq were a failure the last time. Our attempt at occupying Afghanistan has been a failure as well. 

None of that was the point of my post above. I have studied the Civil War and the Revolutionary War in much more detail than I have studied other US wars. Lincoln grasped the idea that the Union could outproduce the south both in weapons and in man power. They would almost inevitably win by attrition if they would just continously attack. The West Point experts he was forced to depend on as generals were much more interested in maneuver and occupation of territory. Until he managed to get Grant and Sherman in control he had no generals willing to destroy Confederate Armies and Confederate means of sustenance which is what eventually won the war. 

Washington was forced by circumstance into just the opposite strategy. Fighting asymmetrically, guerilla tactics, and avoidance of full scale conventional battles until he could build strong enough forces. If Washington had tried to use the same tactics that Grant used he would have been destroyed. 

The problem is one of basic human nature. If all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. The US military establishment is divided as to what is the best strategy in Iraq. Of course the Army thinks we need boots on the ground because that is what the army does. Of course the Air Force thinks we need air superiority because that is what they do. The problem we face is not one of military ability it is one of strategic implementation. I submit it is impossible to know what tools we need to use because we have not decided what we mean to accomplish. That has to come first to have success. Bush didn't do it in Iraq or in Afghanistan; at least not clearly enough to form a strategy that worked. 

From what I can tell Obama has no plan whatsoever outside of degrading ISIL's ability to fight. I am trying to be patient and let a strategy unfold but it doesn't seem to be forthcoming as of yet. 


blackirish


 
The increase of misery in the present state of society is parallel and equal to the increase of wealth..... Unknown member of Parliament 1840's
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Flattop
Joined: 17 Nov 2008, 18:31

14 Sep 2014, 04:48 #5

How is sending drones into sovereign nations to attack and kill people not a war?
I don't recall ever arguing that it wasn't.
I have on many occasions called the attacks on the WTC and Pentagon acts of war.
We did a poor job of counterinsurgency in Viet Nam as well.
Outside of the Marine Combined Action Platoons, we didn't actually do counterinsurgency in Vietnam.  Westmoreland chose instead to fight a war of attrition, finding the enemy and killing more of him than he kills of you.
I remain unconvinced that it is something we can ever do well.
The Marines have a lot more experience with counterinsurgency.  Officers like Petraeus were outliers in the Army.
We simply don't have the stomach for it in my view.
What we don't have is the patience.  We want to hurry up and destroy the enemy, but we want to use technology to minimize deaths among civilians and our own troops.
I see no reason for trying it again. Our attempts at occupying Iraq were a failure the last time.
Actually, we did quite well under Petraeus.
Our attempt at occupying Afghanistan has been a failure as well.
Afghanistan is a very different place.
I have studied the Civil War and the Revolutionary War in much more detail than I have studied other US wars.
I have studied World War II the most, but have studied other US wars to some degree.  I may have studied Iraq the second most.
They would almost inevitably win by attrition if they would just continously attack.
As noted, attrition was Westy's "strategy" in Vietnam.  It was the wrong strategy for that war.
The West Point experts he was forced to depend on as generals were much more interested in maneuver and occupation of territory.
As B/H. Liddell Hart stated, getting an old idea out of the military harder than getting a new idea in.  Taking Richmond was in line with accepted military theory.
Until he managed to get Grant
and Sherman in control he had no generals willing to destroy Confederate
Armies and Confederate means of sustenance which is what eventually won
the war. 
Grant believed that Lee's army, rather then Richmond was the Confederacy's center of gravity.  Nonetheless, he marched on Richmond, knowing that Lee would defend it.
In a counterinsurgency, the people are the center of gravity, which is why armies fighting insurgencies are supposed to protect the population -- so minimizing civilian casualties actually serves counterinsurgency.
Washington was forced by circumstance into just the opposite strategy.
Washington was the insurgency.  It was less important for him to defeat the British on the battlefield than it was for him to preserve his army.  Mao said that there are three stages of insurgency/guerrilla warfare.  The first two involve establishing and preserving the insurgent force while harassing the enemy; in the third stage the insurgency transitions to trying to destroy the enemy on the battlefield -- an example being the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu.  Washington at Yorktown would be another example.
The US military establishment is
divided as to what is the best strategy in Iraq. Of course the Army
thinks we need boots on the ground because that is what the army does.
I highly doubt that the Army wants to go back into Iraq.  The generals will certainly argue that ground soldiers will win the war, but that doesn't mean they will argue that they must by American soldiers.
Of course the Air Force thinks we need air superiority because that is what they do.
Air superiority is not applicable since there is no enemy air force to defeat; while ISIS may have some air defense capability, it is nothing compared to what Saddam had.  The Air Force will push arguments for strategic air power, rather than for tactical air power (close air support).
The problem we face is not one of military ability it is one of strategic implementation.
Sadly, the ability to formulate strategy is a lost art in the Army.  After Vietnam the Army pursued tactical excellence in order to defeat the Soviets in Western Europe.  It took an outlier like Petraeus to come up with a strategy and, fortunately, he had given many years to studying counterinsurgencies.
I submit it is impossible to know what tools we need to use because we have not decided what we mean to accomplish.
The tools will serve the strategy, which should be designed to implement the policy the president comes up with -- assuming any of that actually happens.
Bush didn't do it in Iraq or in Afghanistan; at least not clearly enough to form a strategy that worked.
The president's job is to formulate the policy, and it is the job the generals of formulate the strategy.
If we are going to fight insurgencies, we really should go against the grain and listen to the Marines.
"It'd be nice to please everyone but I thought it would be more interesting to have a point of view."
-- Oscar Levant
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blackirishkarma
Joined: 09 Aug 2013, 03:20

14 Sep 2014, 16:11 #6

Please note the inherent contradiction in these two statements. You are suggesting that the president should or has to listen to people who you yourself claim have no answers.

Sadly, the ability to formulate strategy is a lost art in the Army.  After Vietnam the Army pursued tactical excellence in order to defeat the Soviets in Western Europe.  It took an outlier like Petraeus to come up with a strategy and, fortunately, he had given many years to studying counterinsurgencies.

The president's job is to formulate the policy, and it is the job the generals of formulate the strategy.

Regardless of disagreements you and I may have on the current situation I think it is fairly easy to see that none of the required pre-requisites for successful accomplishment of a military goal have been achieved. 

I would like to read why you think we were successful in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq. Perhaps I am simply unaware but as far as I can tell all phases of our actions in Iraq beyond the first invasion stage of removing Hussein were abject failures. Some were of course worse than others but I seem to have missed the part where we were successful after the initial invasion phase.

blackirish
The increase of misery in the present state of society is parallel and equal to the increase of wealth..... Unknown member of Parliament 1840's
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Flattop
Joined: 17 Nov 2008, 18:31

14 Sep 2014, 16:25 #7

Please note the inherent contradiction in these two statements.
I am saying that this is how it is supposed to work.  Before Vietnam, this is how it worked.
I think it is fairly easy to see that none of the required
pre-requisites for successful accomplishment of a military goal have
been achieved.
We have no idea what is going on behind closed doors.  Leaked reports to the press are not an adequate way of finding out.  We'll have to wait for the history books.
Perhaps I am simply unaware but as far as I can tell all phases of our
actions in Iraq beyond the first invasion stage of removing Hussein were
abject failures.
I would not call the surge, nor Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy abject failures.
Last edited by Flattop on 14 Sep 2014, 17:04, edited 1 time in total.
"It'd be nice to please everyone but I thought it would be more interesting to have a point of view."
-- Oscar Levant
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blackirishkarma
Joined: 09 Aug 2013, 03:20

14 Sep 2014, 17:30 #8

Flattop wrote:
Please note the inherent contradiction in these two statements.
I am saying that this is how it is supposed to work.  Before Vietnam, this is how it worked.

Ok.... In my opinion this by itself is reason enough to demand no more soldiers be sent to Iraq, Syria, or anywhere else in the middle east until we can find a way to make it work that makes some sense.
I think it is fairly easy to see that none of the required
pre-requisites for successful accomplishment of a military goal have
been achieved.
We have no idea what is going on behind closed doors.  Leaked reports to the press are not an adequate way of finding out.  We'll have to wait for the history books.

True enough. I am going by results more than leaked reports. So far..... they are not good enough to warrant more involvement; specifically in Syria. The truth is we don't know who we are dealing with in Syria. We know Assad is desperate (and with good reason). We know that at least part of those fighting against him have visions of installing a religious based theocracy that will not be acceptable to Syria's neighbors and a greater danger to Israel. 

I have less issue with bombing targets in Iraq than I do with trying to train and outfit anyone in Syria. It is a black hole of diplomacy where we cannot reasonably understand what is going to happen in the near future. Why, under these circumstances, would we possibly increase our involvement until we know what we are getting into. Our intelligence in Syria is no better than our intelligence was in Iraq, possibly even worse. 

It all seems a recipe for staying out of it completely. The old mantra of aiding enemies of our enemy has proven to be disastrous in the middle east. It brought about the rise of Hussein in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and is probably in large part responsible for ISIS as well. 
Perhaps I am simply unaware but as far as I can tell all phases of our
actions in Iraq beyond the first invasion stage of removing Hussein were
abject failures.
I would not call the surge, nor Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy abject failures.

I disagree. I was not being argumentative when I asked you to explain further. It is quite possible that you have good reason for making such statements that I am simply unaware of. I would like for you to further explain why you believe this is so. 
 
 
The increase of misery in the present state of society is parallel and equal to the increase of wealth..... Unknown member of Parliament 1840's
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Flattop
Joined: 17 Nov 2008, 18:31

14 Sep 2014, 17:47 #9

My understanding is that, a year ago when Obama was thinking about intervening in Syria, the military wanted nothing to do with it, and successfully persuaded the president not to intervene.  My guess is that the military still wants nothing to do with Syria.
Before the surge, and the implementation of Petraeus' strategy, Iraq was imploding.  Casey, under pressure from Rumsfeld, implemented a transition strategy and was reducing the the number of U.S. troops in country.  There was some effort at counterinsurgency, and Casey did send officers newly arrived in Iraq to a kind of counterinsurgency school for a week or two, but force levels remained a problem, and the effort was, perhaps, a bit half-hearted.  The surge brought troop levels up, not necessarily to an ideal level, but one adequate enough for the strategy that was then implemented by the new commander, which was to secure certain areas of Baghdad while partnering with both formal and informal Iraqi forces -- the latter being neighborhood groups.  The results were that violence fell significantly, and a successful hand-off was eventually made to Iraqi forces, allowing us to leave the country.  What happened after that is on the Iraqis.
"It'd be nice to please everyone but I thought it would be more interesting to have a point of view."
-- Oscar Levant
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blackirishkarma
Joined: 09 Aug 2013, 03:20

14 Sep 2014, 18:31 #10

Before the surge, and the implementation of Petraeus' strategy, Iraq was imploding.  Casey, under pressure from Rumsfeld, implemented a transition strategy and was reducing the the number of U.S. troops in country.  There was some effort at counterinsurgency, and Casey did send officers newly arrived in Iraq to a kind of counterinsurgency school for a week or two, but force levels remained a problem, and the effort was, perhaps, a bit half-hearted.  The surge brought troop levels up, not necessarily to an ideal level, but one adequate enough for the strategy that was then implemented by the new commander, which was to secure certain areas of Baghdad while partnering with both formal and informal Iraqi forces -- the latter being neighborhood groups.  The results were that violence fell significantly, and a successful hand-off was eventually made to Iraqi forces, allowing us to leave the country.  What happened after that is on the Iraqis.

Let's be clear here. What you are calling neighborhood groups were actually more often local warlords and crime bosses. Anti-American violence fell significantly but local intersectarian violence did not. Kidnappings, robbery, looting, extortion, and all manner of criminal activities ran rampant during this period. 

Also, it was the local warlords, and crime bosses that fostered the sectarian divides that are tearing Iraq apart today. The have nots in this situation are the support groups that ISIS depends on for its survival and local support today. 

I suppose you could say that within the narrow confines of temporarily decreasing anti-American violence the strategy was a success. If that was the goal, then yes, it was successful. In the bigger picture of things it tended towards increasing tensions amongst the Iraqis themselves and that is exactly why Iraq is imploding now. On that level, the level of creating a viable Iraqi system of self government it was quite literally an abject failure. 

We are seeing the same results in Afghanistan. This is why I don't believe we do counterinsurgency well. The end results speak for themselves. 
The increase of misery in the present state of society is parallel and equal to the increase of wealth..... Unknown member of Parliament 1840's
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