Academic journal article Military Review

Observations of a Strategic Corporal

Academic journal article Military Review

Observations of a Strategic Corporal

Article excerpt


There is another type of warfare--new in its intensity, ancient in its origin--war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins; war by ambush instead of combat, by infiltration instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. It preys on unrest.

-- John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1962

TODAY'S OPERATIONAL ENVIRONMENT (OE) calls for intelligence to be both gathered and disseminated at the lowest level. Platoons on the ground are making key decisions, and it is the "strategic corporals" who are the difference-makers in this age of irregular warfare. No longer are junior enlisted service members tasked only to perform battle drills and provide security in a line platoon. Everyone in the platoon is an intelligence collector and can bring something to the counterinsurgency table.

In today's warfare, the military intelligence community needs to take a step backward to move forward. We now face a new enemy, one that functioned in ancient times and that has rendered our sophisticated high-tech tools useless. Today's enemy is not the progressive and powerful Soviet Union, but the unsophisticated, ununiformed insurgent. To paraphrase David Ignatius, our enemies who live like it's the past and behave like it's the past have realized that they are fighting guys from the future, and guys from the future find it very hard to see you if you throw away your cell phone, shut down your email, and pass all your instructions face-to-face, hand-to-hand. If your adversary turns his back on technology and just disappears into the crowd with no flags and no uniforms, and your friends dress just like your enemies and your enemies dress like your friends, then the boots on the ground have a very hard time finding an opponent to fight. (1)

The Intelligible Human Dynamic

In this day and age, all the sophisticated technology in the world will not defeat our new enemy by itself. During standard Cold War operations, intelligence capabilities were quite effective in determining the enemy's intentions, situation, and likely courses of action. The rigid nature of those operations allowed intelligence personnel to apply templates to probable actions and maximize the collection capabilities of technological systems. However, in today's operational environment, such technical superiority is marginalized. We must become more aware of the enemy's intangible human dynamic. To do so requires a heavier focus on human intelligence, cultural preparation, and counterinsurgency techniques. As Montgomery McFate expressed it, "Traditional methods of warfighting have proven inadequate in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. technology, training, and doctrine designed to counter the Soviet threat are not designed for low-intensity counterinsurgency operations where civilians mingle freely with combatants in complex urban terrain." (2)

One of many difficulties we have today is convincing a chain of command that adheres to a tradition of fighting and winning wars using conventional methods that they must abandon the old ways and implement new innovative ways for a nonfighting war. In today's counterinsurgency operational environment, the main effort is the population, not the enemy. Unconventional warfare offers a solution to insurgent-fed war that kinetic or conventional warfare does not. Kinetic or conventional warfare uses conventional military intelligence, weapons, and battlefield tactics between two or more states in open confrontation. The adversaries are well defined and fight using weapons that primarily target the opposing army. However, conventional warfare simply does not work when fighting an insurgency.

In a counterinsurgency war environment, a higher number of hard-to-predict events occur, as they do on a daily basis in Afghanistan. Assassinations, improvised explosive devices, and ambushes are less likely to be picked up through imagery intelligence and signals intelligence. …

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