Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Almost grasping 4th GW

David Ignatius wrote a painful column today as he is reaching for an idea of asymmetrical power and capability and barely scrapes his fingernails against it before he pulls back.

What's striking is that most of them were killed by roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

The United States is losing the war in Iraq because it cannot combat these makeshift weapons. An army with unimaginable firepower is being driven out by guerrillas armed with a crude arsenal of explosives and blasting caps, triggered by cellphones and garage-door openers.

This is Gulliver's torment, circa 2007. We have thrown our money and technology at the problem, with limited effect

No, it is losing this war as there is no clear strategic objective, minimally clear operational objectives and the illusion of tactical success and kill rates are used to substitute for the blind strategic and operational perspectives. We are also losing this war because the insurgencies are operating on a faster OODA and innovation loops.

Low-tech seems to trump high-tech. The military is operating nearly 5,000 robots in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared with 150 in 2004. The latest model, dubbed "Fido," has a digital nose that can sniff explosives. Yet the bombs are so cheap and easy to make, and the robot sniffers are so expensive and finicky to operate, that the cost-benefit ratio seems to work in favor of the insurgents.

Up to this point, he has the central concept of the different scales of innovation loops and the velocity of change. And then he fails miserably and resorts to a combination of technofilia and centralized decision making.

Someday, perhaps, the Pentagon will track and target bombers by identifying biological tags -- smells or DNA traces that are unique signatures. Someday, we will be able to examine the microbes on an insurgent's skin or in his gut to find out if he was trained in Iran or the Bekaa Valley or Afghanistan.

As borders become less and less effective at keeping people, ideas, and the gray and black market economies of the world contained, what good will this do us if our responses will be the same relatively ponderous responses and not an attack against critical nodes and bottlenecks in the networks? Indiscriminate force is not an option in a counter-insurgency war if a strategic constraint is no intentional genocide. Restraint is one of the core attributes any counter-insurgent force must possess in abundance so the following solution to the IED problem has been discarded:

There are technologies that would allow us to detonate every roadside bomb in Iraq by heating the wires in the detonators to the point that they triggered an explosion. But these systems could severely harm civilians nearby, so we're not using them, either. "In our system, we often are not given credit for the fact that we are very concerned about collateral damage," Meigs said.

Such a system would cause massive collateral damage, reinforce the narrative that the United States does not care about Iraqi casualties, thus reinforcing the insurgency, and leading to an innovation that got around the metal wire bottleneck. The only solution that Mr. Ignatius proposes is a complete abandonment of operational and strategic thinking in favor of more tactical excellence:

The simple, low-tech answer to the IED threat is to reduce the number of targets -- by getting our troops off the streets during vulnerable daylight hours, to the extent possible. It's an interesting fact that very few IED attacks have been suffered by our elite Special Forces units, which attack al-Qaeda cells and Shiite death squads mostly at night, with devastating force. They blow in from nowhere and are gone minutes later, before the enemy can start shooting. That's the kind of asymmetry that evens the balance in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under this plan, the insurgencies would own the day, and most nights as the IED threat will have established significant credible attrition to channel US forces to predictable hours and routes, thereby reducing US option space while increasing insurgent option space. During the day, the complete lack of US forces able or willing to patrol means that any insurgent counterintelligence network will be easily able to roll up any pro-US networks embedded in the population and either kill them or flip them to feed disinformation into the US OODA loop.


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