RT reports that the United States Air Force has finally decided to deal with ISIS in Afghanistan. Today at 7pm local time the USAF dropped their largest non-nuclear ordnance, designed to destroy below-ground bunkers, on a subterranean ISIS HQ in the region.
The strike, carried out with the normal calming assertions regarding the intent to reduce civilian and allied casualties, signifies a gigantic change in US Military operations.
It has always been true that the only way to fight an asymmetrical war is, well, asymmetrically.
First, a quick explanation of asymmetrical warfare. An asymmetrical war is where one side is under-powered, undermanned, and under-equipped, Instead of battling their superior enemy conventionally, the inferior side attempts to maximise damage and casualties and terror, so that the cost of a war mounts and eventually begins to cause serious harm to the superior side’s home-front and economy.
The superior power, normally the United States in our lifetime, has a few options to deal with this sort of combat. It has, historically, gone with an option that doesn’t really exist in the strategic sense and that is: throw piecemeal, insufficient forces into things until the enemy succeeds in destroying your economy.
As a small example, a Ford truck, a handful of AK-47s and some locally-trained militiamen (normally trained by one American agency or another in the first place like the Mujahadeen) costs a fraction of what the US Army puts into even training and equipping a single soldier. I won’t even get into the billion-dollar armour and planes and ships and base facilities. The US Army is built almost specifically to lose a war of attrition.
For that reason, their recent foreign wars in the Middle-East have always been completely disastrous, and this follows from their apparent strategy in Vietnam, which was an equally-proportioned disaster. Except that it didn’t go on for as long, and the Vietcong were much smarter and more deadly than their Middle-Eastern counterparts.
Just as historically, the reasons for a lack of total commitment to their various warring fronts has been because other great powers have been in the background, shaking their heads. In Vietnam, the Chinese forbade “disproportionate” American military activity.
More recently, the UN and Russia have repeatedly attacked the US diplomatically over illegal conduct in the Middle-East, and not without reason. Atrocities have been committed, the death toll is rising precipitously, and the war itself is blatantly illegal according to the UN Charter and US domestic policy on war.
So what’s the flip in strategy? I mentioned there were a few options for the superior power trapped in an asymmetrical war (usually for political reasons) but there are only two viable ones: get out, or win.
Since the Americans have demonstrated a total unwillingness to leave the area, they seem to have decided on option number two.
The difference is that these days, it may not actually be necessary to occupy the entire countryside to get yourself a win. Technology, particularly rocket and military technology, have apparently advanced to the point where non-nuclear ordnance can be decisive.
In past ages, artillery was also a method of force attrition: a bombardment was meant to “soften up” the enemy before your armoured and infantry formations moved in to engage the enemy.
Today, the United States dropped a bomb that measures in at twenty-one thousand pounds. While the damage is still being assessed, the quote from Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona (ret.) goes that it would “feel like a nuclear weapon to anyone near the area”.
The US Military has also allegedly made statements to the effect that they would be pursuing operations in the area until ISIS had been eradicated.
So, takeaways? A quick, hard expenditure of blood and treasure will be a lot more effective than a piecemeal, nonsensical, long-term expenditure of same. Compressing a lot of violence into a few weeks is very persuasive.
However, the problem remains. The region, the religion, and the people are going to be as battered, brutalised and upset as before. There’s no plan. No regime-change. No infrastructural plan in place. There’s nothing to this strategy that hasn’t been tried before. The difference is that those strategies were political in that they attempted to change demographics, government, and civil liberty status in the region.
The dropping of the MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air-Blast Bomb) signifies an uncompromising and aggressive stance against enemy militants. In other words, this appears to be an actual military strategy, aimed to win a war.
The shift we’re actually seeing is that this is not an ideological conflict any longer. The US isn’t trying to “heal” the region, or “co-opt” ISIS. It has finally decided to win a war, instead. That carries with it its own unique problems, but at least the strategic goals are narrow enough to be achievable.
In the coming days, we’ll see whether there are war crimes, if any other great powers have a problem with this, and how the various infiltrating sects of ISIS and the interests of other regional powers take this new aggression.