Conventional Forces, Special Forces and the Hidden Guerrilla

By Meyers, James | Infantry, March/April 2004 | Go to article overview

Conventional Forces, Special Forces and the Hidden Guerrilla


Meyers, James, Infantry


Leaders create conditions for success. Organizing, equipping, training, and leading Soldiers to accomplish operational missions are the goals of leaders. Will and determination mold Soldiers into effective organizations. Full spectrum operations demand Army leaders who are masters of both the art and the science of military operations, and have the training and temperament to adapt to any situation. Success comes from imaginative, flexible, and daring Soldiers and leaders.

- U.S. Army Field Manual 90-8, Counterguerrilla Operations

The Army's counterguerrilla manual, FM 90-8, states, Counterguerrilla operations are geared to the active military element of the insurgent movement only." FM 90-8 also states, "An insurgent organization may have both an overt and a covert element. The overt element, the guerrilla, is readily identified." FM 90-8 goes on to explain, in detail, how conventional forces should conduct counterguerrilla operations against the readily identifiable guerrilla. But what if the Army is fighting a guerrilla that isn't readily identifiable?

In an article of the October 6, 2003, Wall Street Journal, Brigadier General Martin Dempsey stated, "Right now, I have more than enough combat power. What I need to know is where to apply it." This is the situation that faces the Army units conducting counterguerrilla operations in Iraq. But General Dempsey's predicament is not limited to Iraq. From my personal experience, I watched as 82nd Airborne troops in Afghanistan conducted operations without any real tactical intelligence.

The writers of FM 90-8 were conventional Soldiers who knew how to be conventional warfighters. Their instruction manual on how to fight an insurgency was based on what they knew - how to use units trained in conventional infantry tactics to fight a guerrilla that presumably would present a readily identifiable target.

The writers knew how to "find and fix" an enemy that had a presence on the rural battlefield. Unfortunately, the battlefield tactics the writers wrote about in FM 90-8 were designed almost exclusively for use against an easily identifiable and rural insurgent (the Viet Cong). FM 90-8 fails to address in depth the tactics and techniques that should be employed to identify insurgents that camouflage themselves in the local populace as they have, and do, in such places as Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. I believe that FM 90-8's lack of depth is a major reason for the U.S. Army's continuing difficulty in conducting successful operations against a latent and incipient insurgency. I also believe there is an effective model that the U.S. Army could emulate when it is faced with conducting counterguerrilla operations against guerrillas that refuse to present an easily identifiable target.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) has been fighting a latent incipient insurgency for years involving a "resistance" that includes organized elements and unorganized, individual elements; the resistance may or may not be easily identifiable.

The insurgency they are fighting is simply their war on crime. Every day the NYPD is searching for contraband, looking for illegal weapons, getting into shoot-outs, making arrests, and defending against attacks on law enforcement officers. In recent history, the NYPD has been quite successful in reducing crime in New York City. The NYPD's success in combating crime is obvious in everything from the reduced amount of graffiti in the subways to the dramatic reduction of the murder rate.

The NYPD tried numerous things to improve its performance. Many of the tactics and techniques adapted by the NYPD were technologies and leadership ideals already in use by the U.S. military.

Now it may be time for the U.S. Army to look towards the NYPD for ideas on how to improve its ability to fight an insurgency. The part of the NYPD that I believe is most relevant to the U.S. Army is the force structure that the NYPD utilizes in each precinct. …

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