What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Asymmetric war reporting

Remember that piece from Nancy A. Youssef, describing how different Marines are finding the experience of fighting in Afghanistan from what they faced in Iraq?
"In Iraq, a half-hour firefight was considered a long engagement; here, Marines have fought battles that have lasted as long as eight hours against an enemy whose attacking forces have grown from platoon-size to company-size."
But NATO's so-called master narrative still says, about 2008:
"The significant increase in security incidents this year is due to an increased use of asymmetric tactics by insurgents."
And this is similar to what Theo Farrell said in a House of Commons hearing about Afghanistan.
"There are combat operations, which I would call formation warfare, where the Taliban or other groups gather in company-size formation-between 50 and 200 soldiers-and launch a formation attack against one of our patrol bases, or even against a forward operation base. On the other hand there are terrorist attacks, which would comprise suicide bombs, improvised explosive devices and sniper fire. The important point to realise is that this past year, as I understand it, we have seen a significant reduction in formation warfare by the Taliban, and an increase in terrorist attacks. Some observers have said that that is very worrying, because they are moving to asymmetric tactics, which presents a great challenge for us.

I see it as a positive development. The simple reason why they have moved to asymmetric tactics is that between 2007 and early 2008 we caused considerable attrition to their force structure. It is very hard to get reliable figures, but I understand from speaking to people in the Ministry of Defence that they think that around 6,000 Taliban have been killed. So we have gutted a lot of their lower command structure, which has forced them to move towards more asymmetric tactics."

There may seem to be a contradiction between what the Marines say, and what, among others, the Brits say. Both were making first-hand observations in Helmand, which makes this all the more interesting.

Now here are some statistics. First, from Anthony Cordesman's comprehensive presentaion on the Afghanistan/Pakistan war, prepared for CSIS, page 22, showing growth in the number of direct fire attacks. Watch the blue columns.
Then from ANSO's Q1 report (thanks to Christian for drawing attention to it), page 8, showing growth in the number of "close range" attacks.

And some more statistics from ANSO, page 10, about tactics, showing the proportion of small arms/RPG attacks which grew from 54% in Q1 of 2007 to where it is now, in the first quarter of 2009.
This could be interesting to address. ANSO's team concludes that insurgents have stable logistical support, a steady supply of recruits and they are capable of engaging the other side's forces in a conventional manner. At least as long as the first jet-delivered bomb does not drop by for some truly asymmetric action, I would add.

In other news, things are looking bad. In more ways than one.

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