Our enemies do not wear uniforms with flags and patches. Our enemies do not adhere to the same Law of Land Warfare that all other uniformed soldiers throughout the world are bound by. They fight often and they fight dirty. They fight in ways Americans find abhorrent. But most importantly above all else, they fight to win.
If you were to take a random sampling of American adults, and asked them to explain some basic concepts behind “Unconventional Warfare”, you would likely receive blank stares or more likely, teenagers mumbling something about “shooting people in the face on XBOX”. While the term ‘warfare’ indicates that shooting people in the face not only a possibility, but is all too often a reality. At it’s core, the concept of unconventional warfare deals with concepts that can transform warfare into something of a true art. (Note: I’m not an expert on this topic, but I’m well versed enough to know what I’m talking about)
Before we continue this discussion, it is important to contrast and define these two terms. Unconventional warfare is quite literally, warfare lacking modern conventions. During the American Revolution or the Civil War, it was conventional to line up volleys of fire until the call came to assault. During World War II, the convention was to fight with dismounted troops supported by heavy artillery, air support, and armor. Today, what used to be considered unconventional has become almost entirely conventional.
Unconventional warfare at its essence is fighting without strictly defined boundaries or protocols. The constant guiding light of strategy in unconventional warfare is not to be found in the nearest Brigade headquarters, nor in the Pentagon to be entirely honest. The strategies at the large scale are determined by same men who determine the tactical courses of action on the small scale. Decisions are decentralized. Highly trained, mature, dedicated, professional men are trusted to accomplish long-term command directed tasks with little, if any, supervision or oversight, aside from checking in and calling for support when necessary.
Our current enemy fights this way. They are effective because their global strategy is relatively simple and unambiguous: defeat the West and her allies in order to create power vacuums to be filled by players to be named later. Speaking of those players to be named later, the regional strategies are determined by a wide array of Mullahs and Sheiks spread out across the six inhabited continents of the world. From there, armies are built from the ground up: underground networks of trainers and financiers; auxiliary networks of safe houses and eight year old scouts with walkies-talkies.
Our enemy is no fool. They are clever enough to recognize that we are fighting them the way one would expect a large force trying to act like a small force engaging an even smaller, decentralized force. Where we are present, they are hidden. Where we are absent, they are many. Where we think we are safe, they attack. Where we go, they are already in our path, waiting with IEDs and small arms. When we arrive at our destination, they have already slipped away into the darkness. They know Sun Tzu’s Art of War intimately, even if they don’t know who Sun Tzu was (it’s probably difficult to read Sun Tzu when it is not actually in the Koran).
I haven’t even included the tactic of suicide bombing in this discussion. I imagine Sun Tzu would be thoroughly impressed by that one. Unconscionably abhorrent, yet ridiculously effective no matter how you look at it. Suicide bombers were, are and will continue to be a game changer in many ways on
the psychological and tactical front. Along that same vein of effective tactics: lone gunmen who achieve positions of relative trust within their , and then flip the switch and open fire on their former ‘brothers’. Disgusting, cowardly, but again—effective.
Beginning to notice a pattern? Where we fail, our enemy succeeds. While they simultaneously strike fear in our allies and hope their supporters, we only strike fear in them when our boots are on their necks. But we are often limited in our scope and range of options. Unless of course, they have a big ST6 bulls-eye on their chest. There is, however, another way: unconventional warfare, as the name implies and as it was intended. The problem, however always arises when it comes time for the Unconventional Warriors to maintain Operational Control over their own tactics and strategies.
When I think of the foundation in which the United States Army Special Forces was built on, I think of the Jedburgh teams and the OSS who disrupted lines of communication in the occupied French countryside. I think of the close bonds built by the first groups of Army Special Forces (aka “green berets”) in Southeast Asia and their Montagnard compatriots. I think of the crushing retribution on the heads of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, hand delivered by the 5th Special Forces Group and their Northern Alliance allies (on horseback no less!).
This is what the Unconventional Warriors of the United States Army Special Forces are capable of accomplishing when given free reign to fight these numerous unconventional conflicts in the unconventional manner they demand. How would one define this unconventional strategy and how would it work in current conflicts? In Part II of this series, I will discuss just that. A relatively simple outline for victory when engaged in wars where the rules are bent, broken, smelted down, and reshaped into some sort of abstract art, which is filled with explosives and remotely detonated.
Obviously, the best tactical plans never survives first contact, and the best strategic plans are always a few steps ahead. Given those truths, it is of vital importance to have men of the caliber of the United States Army 1st Special Forces Regiment on the ground calling the unconventional shots when the battle-space is full of mini-tyrants and those they oppress. It’s what we’re trained for. Hell, it’s our motto: De Oppresso Liber – Liberate the Oppressed!