Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The importance of human terrain - Iraq and Afghanistan

Human terrain analysis has been the apex of American counterinsurgency
Image: mydailyclarity.com/2009/07/is-afghanistan-obamas-waterloo
For much of the 19th and 20th century, the economy of force or the greater propensity of force was seen and attempted to accommodate the laws of mathematics. That is, if one side has X amount of force and their adversary Y amount of force, if X is greater than Y, then the side with X amount of force has the advantage. This was otherwise called Lanchester's laws. However, in asymmetrical warfare, this linear relationship between force, utility and advantage is thrown out of the window and the real economy of force is through the population. Or, as we shall otherwise call it - "the human terrain".

What is meant by "the human terrain" is that it is a vehicle to explain the society a military operation is conducting itself in through anthropological, sociological, regional and political scientific grounds. These include understanding tribal and regional tensions, ideological motivations, religious disposition, geography of the region, human security and economic analysis.

The combination of these factors allow any military operation to understand the populace. Understanding the general population is vital to a coherent, counter insurgent strategy. The neglection of human security - food, water, shelter, protection of environmental and violent threat from actors, are the crux and the fuel of an insurgent's strategy. Without these needs fulfilled, the insurgent campaign can exploit the population, harbouring them for security from a conventional force on the back promises of security of the aforementioned.

The population is the first-line and most effective line of defence for an insurgent. Their lack of identity, lack of insignia  allows them to blend into the environment without arising detection, able to conduct "hit and run" tactics on conventional forces and force the conventional force into a war of attrition. The dexterity to interrupt arterial lines of supply to an external force allows the curtailing of efforts to assist the local population in rebuilding infrastructure and feeding insecure families.

Iraq and Afghanistan 

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the most intense, kinetic campaigns the United States has spearheaded in the recent decade. However, many commentators treat them as separate entities and while the causes of war differ, the conduct of the war isn't. Both campaigns were approached in a conventional manner, combined arms in an uber-blitzkrieg doctrine of warfare - the strategy behind this is that utility of force can neutralize the enemy. Certainly in the case of Iraq, it did. Within a few months, the Ba'athist  regime in Iraq toppled and coalition forces occupied the territory.

However, in Iraq, the lack of intelligence, human terrain analysis in strategic planning was a costly mistake. In Iraqi society, the Ba'athist regime had a wide-spread internal security network with great ease to neutralize any political dissident. The security apparatus was strong and in comparison make Nazi Germany's Gestapo relatively inferior.

In light of this, human terrain analysis and an appreciation of Iraqi society was difficult. Understanding the Shi'a and Sunni communities rivalry in the region was near impossible and wasn't implemented in the strategic planning making process. When the Coalition forces occupied Iraq, they did so with the methodology to overcome a conventional force, not an irregular one.

The Coalition faced the problems of handling a society that, for decades, had suppressed Shi'a-Sunni tensions under a brutal dictatorship collapsed and resulted in a power vacuum. In this instance, the overwhelming conventional ability severely undermined the Coalition's agility in the region. The rise in insurgency meant that the Coalition could not leave without an appropriate security force in place. A destabilized society with weak or no social and political institutions is the perfect environment for transnational terrorist actors to harbour.

The United States was fighting a war in two theatres that were not too dissimilar. Afghanistan also possessed very weak political and social institutions with prominent tribalism in the rocky, mountainous areas of the region. The cause for the United States to enter Afghanistan was to remove the Taliban from power. The Taliban harboured al-Qaeda to conduct and plan spectacular attacks on the West. This is not limited to attacks on the Nairobi embassy, the USS Cole bombing or 9/11 - it is the capability beyond which is danger, particularly the evidence of chemical and biological manufacturing in Afghanistan.

The enemy that the US was facing on two fronts consisted of hybrid warfare. The combination of terrorism, insurgency, propaganda and economic warfare to counteract the United States' conventional might is the crux of the issue. As for as economics is concerned, the US in the height of 2008 in Iraq was spending $400m per day.

The US in Iraq was fighting an insurgent force of 20,000 to 30,000 strong with pre-modern ideological conceptions and post-modern technology and weaponry. Same, true, for Afghanistan. However, the difference is that while on the surface the motives are ideological, the bulk of these organizations exploit the security grievances of the population.

If the population do not feel secure in the external presence, the United States, they will turn to the next source of physical security. Other may have been coerced. This is particularly true in Afghanistan, where the Taliban would assassinate elders of tribes, marry into families and have a monopoly on the sources of wealth in the region. This led to what is know in the in counter-insurgency strategy dictionary, attributed by David Kilcullen as the "The Accidental Guerrilla".

In Iraq, the post-invasion government corrupted by Shi'a influence resulted in the marginalization of Sunni muslims, particularly in Baghdad. The Sunni community in Iraq were deprived of access to services, intimidation and Shi'a neighbourhood death squads that would terrorize the communities. The result of this insecurity resulted in al-Qaeda exploiting the lack of security. The significance of this that members joining al-Qaeda were not because they wish to establish an Islamic caliphate and proceed on a path of world domination. The recruits of this organization were as a direct consequence of the inability to guarantee human security.

In order to defeat an enemy that uses its prime base of organization, tactics and strategy on the population, efforts to win confidence in the population is paramount. The insurgents understand this and why "hit and run" tactics are favoured.

As briefly mentioned earlier, the insurgents "hit and run" unconventional tactics is a quasi-interdictor role. Essentially, this is striking the resource driven channels of military operations through attacks on supply lines and targeting domestic infrastructure. The disruption of major arterial routes in and around Baghdad and Basra and in Afghanistan, the supply lines from Kandahar to the Afghan-Pak border undermined the Coalition's efforts to stabilize communities.

The core of the issue is to be seen as the legitimate force. By taking the population out of the insurgent's monopoly, they have no means to recruit or use the population as a means to melt into the environment. The future of American involvement lies on this premise. Emphasis in Afghanistan currently on a sustainable security apparatus is paramount. Asymmetrical warfare is a thorn in the United States' side. However, a successful counterinsurgency campaign lies with the human terrain - a lesson the US has begun to learn after several disastrous campaigns against unconventional foes. Iraq has seen diminishing violence in the past few years but a recent surge in violence in the last two months raise questions for its future.

In the case of Afghanistan, two transfers are to be made in the forthcoming decade. Firstly, the transfer of the security mandate to the Afghan security services in 2014. Secondly, the transfer of consent of persons affiliated with the Taliban to the Afghan security forces. Peace talks with the Taliban are important, as 80% of their fighters do not fight on ideological grounds but on the grounds aforementioned in this article. If the Afghan security forces are to succeed, there are to be political and social compromises to ensure stability in the region.

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