Sunday, December 12, 2004

Who comes up with these operation names?

In distant Afghanistan, meanwhile, the US Central Command has launched another offensive, this time entitled Operation LIGHTNING FREEDOM (Link). Phil Carter of Intel Dump reports on the strategic orientation of this new push, specifically that it doesn't seem to be focused on "The Hunt for Bin Laden" but more on an effort to secure more of the countryside.

What I think he could have said, though, is that this isn't actually a straight dichotomy - glamourous superspook terrorist vs wussy school repainting. The "Hunt for Bin Laden" has been a roaring failure so far precisely because it hasn't secured the countryside. And frankly, when you find yourself framing your strategy in Tom Clancy book titles it's time for an agonising reapprisal. All the "nation building" and "peacekeeping" tasks are integral to finding The Terrorists, because if you can get real security control of the countryside you constrict their ability to move around, their sources of supply and their authority. You will get them in the end - it will take a long time, but it can be done.

Historical example - Malaya. The British army's much bragged of success in counterinsurgency there took the form of gradually spreading control in the most important parts of the country first. It worked. It took from 1947 to 1960 before the state of emergency was officially ended, though. (although by then much of the country had been exempted from the emergency legislation as being free of terrorists, and was well on the way to normality) And that wasn't all - the key communist cadres kept operating with a diminishing band of followers, excluded to the deep rainforest of the mountains on the Thai frontier, until their general secretary Chin Peng finally called it a day - in 1989! Not, though, that anyone in 99% of the country had noticed their existence for twenty years. But the lesson is clear enough - firstly, that "The hunt for..." doesn't work, and secondly that the alternative policy of gradual squeeze takes a very long time to work.

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