Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Guerilla War Revisited

The classic requirements for the successful prosecution of a guerilla war have traditionally been:

  • a secure base in a foreign sanctuary or remote fastness where forces can be trained, equipped and readied;
  • a secure source of revenue
  • a guerilla army, or body of armed men;
  • a political arm, such as popular front, national liberation front or other such organization which puts forward an alternative program of governance

All successful guerrilla movements, from the US War of Independence onward, possessed these characteristics. Although Vietnam conflict was largely fought by North Vietnamese regulars, it still had these attributes. The intifada is a modern example of how these principles are applied.

The terrorist forces now attacking Iraq have all these characteristics, save one. They have not, as yet, created a political arm which will widely appeal to the different Iraqi ethnic groups. Other than that, they have cross border sanctuaries in Syria and Iran; a probable source of funding in the Ba'athist loot and Saudi money and fighters courtesy of international jihad. On the day they manage to cobble together a credible political movement, arising from the discredit of the current US efforts, they will be a guerilla force to reckon with. But not until.

Richard Nixon, who was perhaps the first US President since Kennedy to seriously consider winning the Vietnam War, attempted to deal with the problem of cross-border sanctuaries by incursions into the Parrot's beak and other NVA staging areas in Cambodia. He was not successful. He had greater success applying airpower directly against Hanoi, in the Operation Linebacker Series, and by mining the port of Haiphong, which essentially dried up the heavy weapons supplies from Russia.

The same problem now faces President Bush. This is ironic in one sense, because it was Syria and Iran that were supposed to have a cross-border problem with respect to Iraq, the new regime inflaming their own internal instabilities by example. But the pause in operational tempo arising from US grand strategy, has seemingly given them an opportunity to turn the tables and seize the initiative. "Seemingly" because the terrorist attacks, although they have succeeded in charming the Western media, have two glaring operational shortfalls: they have not dealt any kind of effective blow against US forces; second, they have killed dozens of Iraqis and maimed hundreds of civilians during a sacred holiday period. Their momentary fame on the pages of Le Monde must be paid for by incurring the hatred of ordinary Iraqis, and the cops in especial. There's nothing like bombing police stations to get the flatfoots really motivated.

But that does nothing to ameliorate the problem of sanctuaries, which the Iraqis cannot deal with. The problem with terrorist sanctuaries, as opposed to conventional guerilla training grounds, is that they can be very small, sometimes just a set of rooms in an apartment block in Damascus, or a basement in Teheran, or a marble-floored palace guest room in Riyadh. The terrorist operators can be infiltrated separately into Iraq and rendezvous within. The operational characteristics of terrorist cells make them hard to stop at borders. Yet they do have one glaring weakness. All foreign sponsored terrorist cells eventually have a point of contact with the secret services of that nation or with a high-ranking political leader. Some Syrian Ba'athist general, some Ayatollah, some Prince.

President Bush's warning against Syria and Iraq for not doing enough to stop terrorists infiltrating Iraq is less directed toward the leaders of that nation, as it is toward starting a thread, which will later become a basis for future action. That thread, which will amplified in the coming weeks, as US-controlled forces themselves infiltrate these unfriendly countries, is that there is a causal link between the bombing of innocents in a Red Cross facility and some loathsome controlling intelligence, which for the moment, sleeps safely across the border. Sleep tight.