Reposted from donaldsensing.com. Links were good on date of original.
At the opening of the first part of this two-part series, I wrote,
Once in awhile it’s fun to do some thought experimentation. I mentioned a few days ago that I was mulling over the similarities between the counterinsurgency problem in Iraq and how the American, Canadian and British navies finally defeated the U-boat threat in World War II.
The first part consisted of a short history of the Battle of the Atlantic of World War II, the most crucial campaign of the European war.
Here I'd like to explore what similarities, if any, the present insurgency in Iraq bears to the U-boat campaign of WW2, and what lessons, of any, can be learned for counterinsurgency from the tactics the Allied navies in winning the U-boat war.
Tacticians have written for many years of the similarities between war at sea and land war in deserts. Apart from the basic flatness of terrain, though, the counterinsurgency fight (COIN) in Iraq can't bear the kind of direct comparison that conventional combat in the desert between conventional formations can uphold. Instead, COIN is a series of small-unit actions for which intelligence and precision are paramount. As well, psychological operations play a role in COIN that was had no part in antisubmarine warfare (ASW) of WW2.
Nonetheless, I think there are similarities between the insurgency and the U-boats. Like the U-boats, the insurgents are outnumbered by their foes. Even using wolfpack tactics, U-boats only rarely achieved numerical parity against warships. However, if the insurgents and U-boats alike were outnumbered by an armed opposition, they also always are (were) outnumbered by possible targets. During convoy ops, escort commanders found it was impossible to guard all approaches to the convoy at the same time. Similarly, allied commanders in Iraq cannot guard every possible target against insurgent attack, especially against suicide-bomber attack.
U-boats were able to escape detection, in the main, by submerging under the sea. Insurgents also attempt to "submerge" into the population by dress, language and using ordinary means of transportation. This tactic, of course, is by no means original to the Iraqi insurgents. Mao tse-Tung famously wrote that guerillas are fish that swim in a sea of people, so even my sea-war metaphor for insurgency is not original with me.
I recounted I part one how intelligence, technology and direct attack techniques formed the troika that turned the tide in the U-boat war. I say as well that these three items are key in counterinsurgency. But before addressing them, it would be well to point out some big differences between ASW and COIN.
In the Battle of the Atlantic there was obviously no concern for collateral damage. The only victims were fish, and their fate was of course never considered. So there was a liberty for attacking U-boats that is not found for attacking insurgents in Iraq.
The target of ASW efforts was the U-boat itself, the naval vessel. It was the destruction of the submarine that Allied ships sought, not the destruction of the U-boat's crew, per se. At least 75 percent of German U-boat personnel died in the war; of the U-boat crews who actually saw battle the percentage is certainly more than 90 percent, according to former U-boat captain Herbert Werner. But killing sailors was not itself the object for it was the U-boat machine that was lethal to Allied vessels and so the U-boat machines themselves that were the real targets. Of course, a U-boat imploding at 250 meters or more beneath the sea carried the crew to the bottom with it and U-boats that, mortally wounded, managed to surface were almost always ferociously attacked. Nonetheless, it was not lack of crews that finally ended the capability of the German navy to wage undersea war after 1943, it was the lack of submarines.
That being said, the destruction of crews did matter in one important regard. Naval historians have pointed out that U-boat captains were like fighter pilots in that a small number of both accounted for the majority of kills. The US Navy and US Army Air Corps made a habit of bringing high-scoring aces home to teach new pilots and offer their expertise developing new aircraft; America's ace of aces, Richard Bong, 40 aerial victories, died test flying a new aircraft. In all air forces, aces who scored five or more victories accounted for perhaps 80 percent of kills. The Luftwaffe's relative percentage was even higher because it did not withdraw high scorers from battle to train new pilots. The number one fighter ace of all time, in any air force, was Luftwaffe pilot Erich Hartmann, who had 352 confirmed kills against the Soviet air force. The Soviets finally adopted a tactic of identifying skilled aces and forming their tactics around individual ace's abilities. Sometimes whole squadrons of fighters would be assigned to support the attack of a single Soviet ace!
Herbert Werner recounted in his book of the U-boat war, Iron Coffins, that when the high-scoring U-boat commanders such as Korvettenkapitän Gunther Prien began to be lost, the U-boat flotilla's scores of Allied tonnage sunk began a steep decline, even before U-boat losses themselves mounted.
The Allied navies made no concerted effort specifically to find U-boats commanded by top commanders, even though the top commanders were easily identified along with their U-boats. U-boats were, for the Allies, always targets of opportunity and they were attacked with fury wherever they appeared.
So to the troika of intelligence, technology and attack should be added the deaths of key enemy commanders.
Because locating insurgents and U-boats alike is so difficult, intelligence always plays the predominant role. Neither insurgents nor U-boats could be targeted unless Allied operators knew where they were. For this purpose, signals intelligence plays the leading role. However, insurgents enjoy an advantage that U-boats never did: the ability to hand carry orders or information to one another. U-boats could receive orders only via radio but insurgents can, and do, send paper orders to one another via courier.
Yet that permits a tactic that as far as I know was never employed by Allied naval commanders in the U-boat war, even though it could have been attempted: the insertion of bogus communications. I don't know whether Coalition intelligence operatives are trying to cause disarray and distrust among insurgents by inserting "chaff" into their communications chain, such as false orders, bogus missives or poison-pen letters; I would guess they are.
There is another huge advantage that the Coalition has over WW2 ASW: the fish would never fink out a U-boat, but they do fink out insurgents. Remember, according to Mao the fish are the people, on whose support (voluntary or not) the insurgents depend. But the people of Iraq are finking out al Qaeda insurgents with a frequency that has been rising across the country for a year, and finking our even Iraqi insurgents with increasing vigor as well. Iraq the Model reports, for example,
The Anbar tribes’ campaign to rid the province of Zarqawi’s terror organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq is in its 2nd day and so far, 270 Arab and foreign intruders have been arrested.
Usama Jad’aan, the leader of Karabila tribes in Qaim told al-Hayat that “the operation will continue to eliminate terror elements according to a quality plan” and added “270 Arab and foreign intruders have been arrested, in addition to some Iraqis who were providing them shelter”.
Sheikh Jad’aan added “the operation is conducted in coordination between the tribes and the minister of defense Sa’doun al-Dulaimi and since we arrested hundreds of terrorists, I don’t expect the operation to take a lot of time”.
One effect of this increasing amount and quality of intelligence is that the insurgents are suffering key losses they cannot replace, just as the U-boat flotilla did. Unlike during the U-boat war, Coalition forces are specifically targeting key enemy personnel. Every time a senior terrorist leader is captured or killed, or a skilled combat leader or bomb maker is removed from action, the chances of future successes fall more than mere numbers would indicate. More than any other kind of land warfare, insurgency is personality driven. America can replace a division commander much easier than al Qaeda can replace a first-rate super-cell commander.
Part of the Allied intelligence effort in the Atlantic was what we would today call combat information. Reconnaissance and target detection were essential to finding U-boats and lining them up for attack. The B-24 Liberator bomber was the manned equivalent of today's Predator armed UAV; the Liberator with a crew of 10 carried the electronic means to find U-boats and the weapons to attack them. In Iraq, when intelligence identifies locations of likely terrorist activity we have the technical means to surveil the area day or night for days on end and attack terrorists in real time. Furthermore, "battle hand off" with fully integrated electronics among different platforms is a reality, just as Allied ASW squadrons seamlessly relived one another when a U-boat was located and attacked.
"Intentional lethality." One of the ways the Allies turned the tide in the U-boat war was the command decision to attack U-boats ruthlessly with the aim of sinking them, however long it took. Beforehand, warships principally intended to spoil the U-boats' attacks against convoys. Likewise, once terrorists and their cells are identified they must be targeted with the idea of removing them from battle permanently. This doesn't always mean lethal attack; capture is just as good and often better from an intelligence perspective. It does mean, though, the ruthless pursuit against insurgents should be a central tactic.
However, unlike the U-boats, there is more than one variety of insurgent. Al Qaeda foreigners are the deadliest and most active, but also the smallest group. Baathist and Sunni insurgents form the majority of the insurgency and this fact requires some finesse. Politics also complicates COIN in Iraq in ways that did not pertain in the U-boat war. Although the sovereign Iraqi government is willing to kill Iraqi insurgents when and where necessary, it would much prefer them to abandon the insurgency. Unlike the U-boat war, there is present in the COIN fight in Iraq elements of civil war. This is a major difference that shapes the battle in ways that should not be underestimated.
The same troika, intelligence, technology and attack, that served Allied naval commanders so well against U-boats in World War II is still at work in fighting insurgents in Iraq. To it we should add the intentional targeting of key insurgent commanders. Another advantage COIN commanders have over their ASW predecessors is that the sea was neutral in the Battle of the Atlantic, but the sea of people in insurgencies is not neutral. The people always take one side or the other. Today the insurgents are having to cope with an increasingly hostile sea in which to submerge for protection.