On Monday 17th October, ITV showed a documentary called ‘The World’s Deadliest Arms Race’. It detailed the developments of the conflict in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s adoption of the IED (Improvised Explosive Device) as a method of fighting the high-tech coalition forces.
Highly effective, low-tech weapons
These low-tech weapons may be constructed using the most simple, everyday chemicals and rudimentary equipment but they are sophisticated in that through their simplicity, they can defeat the various detection devices that Western Forces utilise. The aim is to wear down the Coalition’s will to continue the fight and through mounting casualties, the Taliban believes that the national support for the campaign will be eroded and political commitment will wane. This is a classic insurgence tactic and a methodology that has been used for a long time.
Attacking the network
The documentary pointed out how coalition forces were using a more sophisticated response which they called, ‘attacking the network’. This involved careful analysis and the gathering of information, followed by military precision strikes, either by stand-off drones or through special forces operations. The aim is not to defeat the IEDs, but to attack the people who make them.
The use of the Internet has been widely publicised as an effective method of exchanging knowledge across a wide network. The instructions required to build an effective IED are readily available and relatively unsophisticated. Almost anyone could quickly make a weapon such as this.
Identifying the network that organises, funds and directs the insurgence requires a break from the confines of the traditional operational environment. Academics have been employed to identify and analyse these networks and to isolate the key elements for targeting. This complex game of 'cat and mouse' is driving new methods of enquiry, but also shaping the methodology for future military operations.
Balancing the force
Western forces have evolved sophisticated weaponry in order to defeat other high-tech forces. This technological race reaches a tipping point when a new entrant (such as insurgency) opts out of the high-tech response, switching off their phones and computers in order to go back to basics. These insurgents become invisible and deadly. The point is that by following this military approach becomes an unsustainable zero sum game. It becomes unpractical and unaffordable. In order to defeat this response, the military campaign must get closer to the enemy, win hearts and minds and turn the operational landscape against the insurgent, denying them the freedom to manoeuvre, occupy safe houses for bomb making, access material and plant devices.
All back to basics
It is incredibly difficult for complex organisations such as Western military forces to strip away the sophistication, to cut through the 'information clutter' in order to see the critical thrust of an effective strategy. The multi-dimensional and complex operational environment is extremely challenging for the modern commander, yet the lessons of the past resonate more strongly than ever in today’s campaigns.
Next steps along this road
It is not surprising when I say that any solution must be owned by the indigenous populations. The capabilities, policies and practices must reflect the local culture and reflect their values. Understanding the aims and objectives of the population is a difficult thing to achieve and also to compounded, especially when the military force is drawn from a very different social values framework. Sometimes, just understanding each other is the beginning of a very long road.