Tuesday, June 07, 2005

State of the Insurgency Part V:

Tactical Errors, Unintended Consequences and Quagnmires

Belmont Club posited a question about whether increased terrorism from Islamists with access to WMD would create a self destructive atmosphere in which Muslims would possibly annhilate each other before they could annhilate the west.

I was thinking this long before Wretchard's commentary. It seems to me that "radical, wahhabist" Islam has more enemies than friends. Or should. It also seems to me that Islam itself is a sectarian war waiting to happen.

I don't mean simply the concept of "radical" Islam versus "rational" Islam. Looking at the microcosm of Iraq and it's sectarian violence with Shia being second class citizens in Saudi Arabia, Iran being largely Shia, Syria having Arab/Kurd issues, Pakistan with its radical Islamists and Afghanistan being torn between Pashto and Dari speaking Taliban vs. "leave me alone and let me grow my poppies" and, let's not forget, Yemen or the Gulf Countries that would just like to sell their oil, drag in money and be left out of the entire insanity...oh, yes, the Islamists in Indonesia and Thailand attacking everyone and anyone...it just seems like...chaos.

Is there a plan in there somewhere? I know what Zawahiri wrote and wanted to happen, but I think, just from looking over the situation, there was a huge tactical error on Bin Laden's part. Maybe two, three or four serious errors. Compound that with the Beslan atrocity and Zarqawi attacking the Shia in Iraq left and right, I think you can get a picture of the problems bin Laden and his other compatriots have gotten themselves into.

It only takes one error, one time at the beginning of a war when forces aren't massed correctly, choose the wrong target or decide to attack a target before it is properly prepared and...poof...the war is over, you just don't know it yet. Unless, of course, your enemy makes a similar mistake or two and then it can drag out as each tries to make corrective actions.

Aside from ideological issues, there were multiple errors on the part of Bin Laden that has, from this perspective, doomed his plan to failure.

The first of which, Zawahiri wrote in his book, "Knights Under the Prophets Banner", was to obtain and hold a nation state from whence the great Islamic Revolution could sally forth, support and plan, operations around the world. Afghanistan appears to be the chosen place. Bin Laden and Zawahiri expected to hold Afghanistan and cause the United States and other western forces to be "bogged down" and expend blood and treasure until they were exhausted, a la USSR in Afghanistan in the 80's, eventually sapping their will and breaking their economies to the point where the citizenry would no longer accept war and casualties, allowing the Islamist movement space and time to move onto other objectives.

Regardless of a few incidents here and there in Afghanistan, it cannot be said loud enough or long enough that this was a complete tactical error on Bin Laden's part. He expected that the same bon homme support that he and the mujihadeen had received during the USSR/Aghan war would still exist amongst the population. I wonder if he ever left his little compounds to actually walk in the countryside and see what his erstwhile hosts were doing to the population? Enternecine warfare between factions; summary decrees and executions; a beaten and much impoverished citizenry that was just plain tired of all the war and would like to have grown their poppies in peace; what was he expecting?

Yes, he did receive some assistance and was able to escape with a number of other top personnel, but it was obvious that it was by the skin of his teeth.

Did he really think after twenty years that these people would be the same who opposed the "Godless" Ruskies?

That was in fact his primary error. He did not take into account the political climate of the country he thought to use as his stepping off point. OBL should have came out of his camps more and hobnobbed with the common people. He spent too much time with his commrades in arms, insulated from the reality and receiving praises and assurances they would fight to the bitter end. He forgot that it was the common people supporting him that made him able to fight the Russians to the end along with some heavy lifting by a much greater force opposing the Ruskies on the world front politically and economically.

I think that this was an error of delusion on his part.

His second tactical error was not taking into account that weapons and technology had long changed since the time of the Ruskies. Hiding out in caves high up in the mountains no longer gave security. Bombs could find him there easily.

His third tactical error was in assassinating Massoud. His expectations were that he would send the opposition, the force that knew how he fought and how to fight back in the same manner, into a tail spin and possibly cause internal fighting, splintering the group and rendering them useless as allies to an invading force. He failed to consider that these occassions are often rallying points for demographics. The same failure that the Syrians had this year when assassinating Rafik Harrari.

His expectations of US reactions and capabilities were also quite wrong. I don't believe that he didn't expect retaliation in a massive form as opposed to a few missiles as seen in the Clinton Administration. He fully expected a full frontal assault, but, again, was planning on a Ruskie/Afghan effect that would cause many mujihadeen to hurry to their cause and fight the Americans there. Afghanistan was to be the rallying point, the consolidation of Islam against the west. The war in Afghanistan did not last long enough nor present large enough targets to allow the Arab demographic to rally to his side in support. I also believe, while some people in the ME may have supported a strike against the US, the type, size and outcome of the strike may have actually given some governments and their citizens pause. Unlike Bin Laden, these governments understood what was at risk if they allowed or participated in a support for the Taliban.

Bin Laden and Zawahiri were attempting to choose an the battle field. There in Afghanistan, he knew the terrain, he had resources, he had egress for many more expected fighters through Pakistan, he had set bases that he could move around in, weapons caches, supply lines, cash flow.

His primary error made this a moot point. Politics and war go hand in hand and Bin Laden had made the fatal error. The war was over in short weeks, not years and they could not inflict more damage on the enemy than the enemy could inflict on them.

With Afghanistan gone, Bin Laden must have thought he received a gift from Allah when the US attacked Iraq. There it was, a second chance to bog down the US in long warfare and create the cause du jour for mujihadeen everywhere. For all intents and purposes, it must still appear that way to him as would be mujihadeen who grew up on the legends of the fighters in Afghanistan continue to wonder into the Iraq theater. Some logistics already existed there at least as operational support to the terrorists, if not direct planning for operations in Iraq once they new it was coming. Where else could you get a built in insurgency, weapons galore and egress into a country from no less than three bordering countries?

However, post liberation, even as planning and attacks began to occur against the coalition, the movement was still anemic. They needed big publicity to catch the idealistic youth, dreaming of going on jihad. Beheadings are, in effect, double edged swords, both politically and militarily. Internally, Zarqawi as bin Laden's deputy, must have received a less than warm reception amongst the Ba'athist. Cooperation was not the first thing on their minds. There was and is a real question of ideology and who would "rule" should they be succesful.

At the same time, US errors in intelligence regarding the situation on the ground in Iraq had some major flaws in it. It appears that no one expected the incredible deterioration of the Iraqi infrastructure. It seems also that the expectations were to prop up a government, get the requisite agencies in place and allow the Iraqis to have at it before the insurgency could get a real toe hold in the area and draw us into pitched battle. I have thought, more and more, that it Iraq was not planned as the US picking it's battleground to draw in the terrorists and kill them, as it was a "holding" action, taking out a potential ally for the terrorists and decreasing operational and financial support.

As straight forward and as simple as the first presentation to the UN. Occam's Razor. The simplest answer is the most likely answer.

The second tactical/intelligence error of the US was to not take into account the sectarian stress boiling just under the surface of the Saddam regime. While it is understood that a majority of the "Ba'athi" were Sunni, I think that there was an expectation that there was an "elite" Sunni Ba'athi core group that was responsible for all the attrocities and that all the others were simply Cogs in the machine and victims of this oppression would give them common cause with their other Iraqi brothers and sisters, allowing for reconciliation and common ground for establishing a representative Iraqi government.

But, down deep inside, there were two obstacles to this path: the Shia believing that most Sunni were involved in their oppression, either directly or complicit, and requiring some vengence and the Sunni/Ba'athi who have long seen the Shia as actual or possible traitors, consorting with Iran who killed thousands of Iraqi during the Iraq/Iran war. While many would point to Saddam as the culprit in this war, it still does not settle the heart of Sunni expecting to be betrayed into the enemy's hands.

Zarqawi noted this in his letter to Bin Laden in February 2004 and planned to take advantage of it to stir up strife, get more publicity and draw in more fighters to confront the US. Here, he and Bin Laden make another mistake. Bin Laden had been much more egalatarian in his acceptance of Shia as part of the whole "ummah" and "mujihadeen" as possible recruits in his grand Islamist scheme. Zarqawi convinces Bin Laden that the Shia are dogs and traitors and should be killed. With Bin Laden's consent, Zarqawi begins a campaign against the Shia.

Was it really meant to stir up "sectarian violence"? Yes, but, again, I believe that Zarqawi and Bin Laden make more mistakes, expecting too quail the Shia quickly. AFter all, he had the logistical support, supplies and monies. What did the Shia have?

Now the Shia have guns and tanks and money and control of the political process. They aren't weak or victims anymore. Zarqawi wanted to stir up a civil war between Sunni and Shia in order to create chaos, cause failure of the Iraq endeavor with US withdrawl. The question is, what did he expect to happen afterwards? If the US withdrew and left them to themselves, how would he stop the civil war? Or not? They didn't care, seems to be the answer and, regardless of any assistance he may be getting from Iran, once the Shia and Sunni were at each others throats and the US was withdrawn, the law of unintended consequences would kick in.

I believe this was a major tactical error. Shia have not resorted to all out sectarian war against all Sunni, but have been waging slow but sure selective "assassination" and "retaliation" against any who they knew to have ties with the Ba'athi or that they suspicion have assisted the "insurgent" wahhabists. While the Sunni (mostly tribal or religious politicos) decry these operations, whole groups of Shia are rounded up and killed. Retaliation by Shia comes swiftly against those whose tribal names are recognized.

As Wretchard at Belmont indicated (and a few others in the past), this battle may have started with Bin Laden attempting to draw "Islam vs. Western Civilizatin", but it may well turn into an internal war that has been brewing for several centuries: Shia vs. Islam.

The destruction of Islam, if it ever comes, will not be at the hands of the west, but at it's own hands. As Wretchard points out, if these people get hold of weapons of mass destruction, it could well be that Mecca is taken out, not by the US, but their own devices.

This isn't just from reviewing Iraq. As I noted earlier, there is sectarian violence in Pakistan, Syria and now Nigeria, not to mention the Janjaweed Arab militias killing any black Muslims or others that they can find. So much for Bin Laden, Zawahiri and other groups great plans for a unified and strengthened "Ummah".

One thing I found interesting, Zawahiri in his book "Knights Under the Prophet's Banner", actually lambasted the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt for giving up most of their violent resistance against the government and attemtping to join the political process. Today, it seems more likely that the Muslim Brotherhood will get their wish before Zawahiri and Bin Laden.

Looking back into Iraq, the killing of mostly Muslim citizens and the other attrocities committed by Zarqawi and other extremists juxtaposed against Iraqis going to the election box, continues to slowly whittle away at support across the Arab and Muslim world. It is small and barely trackable, but still there as recruits slow down, al Jazeera and Arab news refer to their activities as "terrorist" and fronts continue to move in on an ever smaller circle to the leadership, operational and logistical support.

Today, I was reading an interview at Right Wing News with Jack Kelly, a columnist, and he made an observation in a few short words that directly coincides with this analysis:

We can defeat the terrorists, we are defeating the terrorists. The terrorists are held in much higher regard in Western newsrooms these days than they are on the so-called Arab street. That’s partly because the unrepresentative nature of their goals has been publicized throughout the Middle East thanks to the huge turn-out of the Iraqi elections and the negative response throughout the Middle East to Al-Qaeda suicide bombing attacks. Iraq has proven to be a quagmire, as the people on the left have asserted, but it’s a quagmire for Al Qaeda, not for the United States.

I think that last sentence explains it entirely. Afghanistan was too far away and too out of touch in the heart of Arabia for any Arab or Muslim citizen to relate, see or understand on a regular basis what occured to the people there during the Taliban. It was just a feint echo in their lives and easily dismissed as false or mitigated by the "good works" of the Taliban.

Now the stories are up front and persona, on their door steps every day, staring at them from news papers, TVs and across the border. Now they must fear the battle coming to them directly and not necessarily on the wings of a US jet.

In short, while Bin Laden and company had been insisting that the West was splitting Muslims from the true religion of Islam, it would appear that Bin Laden, Zawahiri and Zarqawi will accomplish this on their own. Whether this is a tactical means of "sorting the chafe from the wheat" or an unintended consequence, instead of unifying the Umman, they have succeeded in cutting it into many pieces, sects and strenghts.

In conclusion, I believe that Bin Laden and Company, lost this war before it even got underway. They did not prepare the political ground work; they greatly under estimated it. Something that should have been news above and beyond the attacks of the same on the US intelligence and administration. While there might have been anger on the "Arab Streets" it was not great enough for some not to question if the cost to benefit ratio as inordinately lopsided.

Secondly, his main strike to cut off the command and control structure of the US failed miserably. With the US congress still whole and in session, the US could and would retaliate immediately. The time he was hoping to gain from the chaos and political infighting that would occur before action, did not happen. He lost this battle in the skies of Pennsylvania.

Third, he failed to know his enemy and worked off of perceived ideas, some right and some wrong, but mostly relying on his past experience with a similar enemy. He falied to know their technology and he certainly did not know much about equipment or the men on the forces.

Fourth, he failed to prepare the physical battle ground and hold it, losing much time to escaping, re-grouping and re-arming.

Fifth, he chose Zarqawi to command in Iraq and opened up what is essentially a second front against the Shia.

Not good tactics at all.


Donal said...

bin Laden made the mistake most amatures do- he expected the enemy to do what he wanted. You'd think the enemies of the US would relaize by now that the last thing the want to do is get our attention- it always ends the same way death, destruction, and the end of whatever cause they were fighting for. Even Vietnam the war we "lost" ended that way if you look at a long enough time period.

Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files said...

That's the thing that has the LameScream Media the most beside themselves lately: Iraq is proving to be ALQ's "Vietnam" and they can't stand to see their little darlings lose. In their own minds they were rooting for ALQ as if they were the "little guy underdog" kind of thing, David versus Goliath. Well sometimes David's just a little Hitler wannabe demon pup that needs a swift kick across the room by its betters.

They'll try to WMD us, though, and might even take down one or two cities, but even then, we'll come back stronger and further vivisect their movement, as said in the film Man On Fire, "PIECE BY PIECE".

Jim said...

Congress doesn't do anything useful--in fact the US would be far better off without 99.9% of what they do--so thinking that killing a bunch of congress-critters would somehow incapacitate the US is wishful thinking on bin Laden's part.

In Iraq, Zarqawi's attacks on civilians just can't possibly be a good idea from a PR standpoint. Even the US media, most of which normally is quite ready to carry his water for him, has a hard time spinning those in his favor. How much influence bin Laden might have had on the decision to shift tactics to attacks on civilians in Iraq, I don't know.

Donal said...

Well Jim from the terrorists prespective- they had to switch to civilan targets. Every time they hit a US military target they got their asses handed to them they couldnt afford the losses that was causing.

Cynica said...

Al-Qaeda is not the only source of radical Islam. Even if Al-Qaeda is wiped out, which may even be the case now, there will always be other groups promoting extremist causes.

Kat said...

I agree Mavenette...I think that Al Qaeda is just a general term and bin laden is like the "fixer" or the "ambassador" one of the heads of a group that is able to bring others together in a loose cooperative.

Using the terms "Al Qaeda" to me means exactly what it means to bin Laden and company: the base. it is basically the hub. not necessarily all controlling, but the place or thing through which these others can be contacted and coordinated.

I don't see their activities as done through a single leader with one machavellian plan, but multiple leaders, sort of like the G8 or UN of the Islamists. They cooperate to make effect.

This is the difficulty in identification and tracking. Like a giant, international criminal organization with a tendency towards miliary operations.

I believe that Bin Laden did not plan on attacking the Shia at first and did not come up with the plan himself, but gave tacit approval to Zarqawi, like a Don sanctioning a hit.

If he didn't, then Zarqawi would have been on his own, both logistically and monetarily. Maybe bin Laden didn't exactly like it but it was the best game in town after Afghanistan? That is my take on it.

Jim said...

Every time they hit a US military target they got their asses handed to them

You got that right, Donal. Some of the video I've watched from time to time shows exactly why, too. Their marksmanship, in general, is atrocious, and my sense is that their small unit tactics aren't much better. Driving a car with a bomb in it into a crowd is easy; engaging well-trained, well-disciplined, and well-armed infantry is not.