Thursday, March 8, 2018

Vox Popoli: Tactical proliferation and the decline of US military supremacy (and training our enemies!)

Quick, form a UN Task Force! Clearly we need a global Anti-Proliferation Treaty to stop the spread of advanced infantry tactics.
Is there evidence that the bad guys are getting better at basic tactics? Yes. Consider Boko Haram. Having only launched its military campaign in 2009, it has already mastered the use of coordinated fire and maneuver elements at the tactical level to execute complex raids, ambushes, assaults, and even withdrawing by echelon when on the defensive. It even staged an amphibious assault that overran a Nigerien Army garrison on an island in Lake Chad. Another example is from much closer to the U.S. homeland. Utilizing tactics diffused through U.S. military training, drug cartels such as the infamous “Zetas” and “Jalisco New Generation” have institutionalized combat training that allows them to regularly wreak havoc on Mexican security forces. In the wake of a recent downing of a Mexican military helicopter through the employment of rocket-propelled grenades, the disturbing discovery was made of tactical gear emblazoned with “CJNG – High Command Special Forces” (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion).

Further evidence comes from the Iraqi campaign to defeat ISIL. Conventional forces struggled mightily to eject ISIL from Iraq’s territory, and only succeeded due to the heavy use of Iraqi special operations forces and liberal American airpower. The battle of Mosul, for example, lasted for nine months despite significant material U.S. support and a 20:1 force ratio against the ISIL defenders. Afghan conventional military forces are often defeated by an increasingly competent Taliban. On the other side of the world, Filipino forces had to destroy much of the town of Marawi to liberate it from jihadist insurgents during a five-month siege last year. Furthermore, these enemies seem to be gravitating towards operations in urban areas. These environments hinder the United States and its partners from utilizing their high-tech advantages, resulting in a playing field that could get ever more level. Finally, given the ease with which such groups can infiltrate poorly vetted partner forces, the U.S. military has probably provided tactical instruction to the enemy directly and indirectly for a long time. As one U.S. military advisor in Afghanistan told one of us: “Sometimes a trainee just doesn’t show up right before graduation, and then – sure enough – you are fighting him on the next objective.”

In summary, rather than celebrating the (shockingly slow) destruction of the ISIL caliphate, the U.S. military should realize that one of its enemies just learned a whole lot about combat: basic infantry tactics, urban operations, and the clever blending of emerging technologies. These lessons will spread globally, and faster than many expect.

This points out two more very good reasons not to engage in unnecessary foreign wars. First, you're implicitly training your enemy. The longer you fight him, the more he will learn. Second, if you compound your error by engaging in "nation-building", you will usually find yourself literally and explicitly training your enemy.

Over time, opposing forces tend to become more and more symmetrical. This is the process that we are beginning to see, both in terms of tactics and the demographics of the militaries themselves. US military supremacy was always bound to erode, because no military, not even the Roman legions have ever remained permanently superior. But this increasingly observed tactical symmetry is a clear indication that the erosion is picking up speed.