Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dunlap is right, but does his point matter?

For my readers who don't feel like reading through the recent essays written by Air Force Major General Charles J. Dunlap, I can summarize his point in two sentences:

Advocates of traditional counterinsurgency doctrine argue that air power is not as effective as ground presence when fighting an insurgency. They are wrong because ground troops can cause just as much collateral damage to the local population.

He's right to a certain degree. Ground troops can easily harm just as many civilians as a pilot in an F-18. If you abstracted Dunlap's logic to its furthest extent, ground forces should actually be causing the preponderance of civilian casualties because there are more of them and operate closest to them. I'm even willing to accept that statement on its face value.

The only problem with Dunlap's argument is that it is missing one key element: The objective of counterinsurgency is to establish and maintain public order, not merely fight off insurgents. Just read this statement:

Consider, for instance, this astonishing statement from a ISAF spokesman: “I am assured by uniformed colleagues in NATO that there is a marginal difference to the potential for civilian casualties between using a 500lb bomb and a 2,000lb bomb."

If military people really believe that there is only a “marginal” difference between a 500 lbs. bomb and a 2,000 lbs. bomb, then the depth of misinformation is truly disturbing. Accordingly, my article will examine the technologies and processes that operate today to limit collateral damage from air-delivered munitions.

What does collateral damage matter when you accidentally bomb a wedding? Or someone's home? Does an Iraqi care whether the Air Force dropped a one-ton bomb in his neighborhood or is a quarter-ton okay?

Setting aside accidents and collateral damage, how would General Dunlap feel if bombs rained down on his hometown at random intervals? Does he think he could live a normal under such conditions?

The key to winning a counterinsurgency is understand both the military and the social dimensions of the conflict. An aircraft can attack insurgents, drop leaflets and provide humanitarian relief, but it can't establish trusting relationships with the locals, gather intelligence, or ensure basic order like ground troops can.

Unless the Air Force is willing to get out of its collective cockpit and spend some serious time working with the locals, it will never be flexible enough to play anything more than a supporting role in stability operations.


Eli said...

What if, in a gesture of generosity, the Air Force provided the jets and training for an Iraqi version of the Blue Angels? Wouldn't that count as contributing to winning hearts and minds?

Galrahn said...

You are on point here.

Dunlap is taking only the kenetic aspect of COIN and applying it as the focus, but it isn't. The AF has a limitation it cannot overcome, and needs to accept in its COIN role.

From the air, they simply cannot build moral clout with the local population required for effective COIN operations, and without building that moral clout with the population, they aren't going to establish the type of relationship necessary for building the mutual interest factor required to be successful in COIN operations.

His argument has some merit from a kenetic perspective, but it misses the over arching goals in COIN operations.

Robot Economist said...

Eli - Not be cynical, but who do you think the Iraqis would blame if one of those 'Prophet's Angels' crashed into the stands during a demonstration?