On War #317: Keeping Our Infantry Alive

William S. Lind
29 September 2009

The headline of the September 23 Washington Post read, “Less Peril for Civilians, but More for Troops.” The theme of the article was that restrictions General Stanley McChrystal has imposed on the use of supporting arms in Afghanistan, with the objective of reducing Afghan civilian casualties, have increased American casualties. The Post reported that since General McChrystal issued his directive on July 2, the number of Afghan civilians killed by coalition forces dropped to 19, from 151 for the same period last year. At the same time, U.S. troop deaths rose from 42 to 96. Not surprisingly, Congress is interested: the Post quotes Senator Susan Collins of Maine as saying, “I am troubled if we are putting our troops at greater risk in order to go to such extremes to avoid Afghan casualties.”

Congress is unlikely to understand what General McChrystal knows very well, namely that firepower-intensive American tactics, especially heavy use of artillery and airstrikes, will lose us the war. For state armed forces, Fourth Generation wars are easy to win tactically and lose strategically. That is, in fact, their normal course.

But what about the question the Post and Congress have raised: are the new restrictions on fire support causing more American casualties in Afghanistan? In a word, yes. But that does not have to be the case.

The problem is that virtually all American infantry are trained in Second Generation tactics. The Second Generation reduces all tactics to one tactic: bump into the enemy and call for fire. The French, who invented the Second Generation, summarize it as, “Firepower conquers, the infantry occupies.” The supporting firepower, originally artillery, now most often airstrikes, must be massive. If it is not – as is now the case in Afghanistan, under General McChrystal’s directive – the infantry is in trouble. Everything it has been taught depends on fire support it no longer has. Inevitably, its casualties will rise, and it will often lose engagements.

Fortunately, the answer to this problem has been known for a long time – several centuries, in fact. It is true light infantry or Jaeger tactics. True light infantry has a broad and varied tactical repertoire. It depends only on its own (modest) firepower. Jaeger tactics were an influence on the development of Third Generation tactics, but Jaeger tactics remain a more sophisticated version of those (infiltration) tactics. They are ideally suited to Fourth Generation wars, especially in mountain country like Afghanistan’s.

If we are to reduce American casualties in the Afghan war while sustaining General McChrystal’s absolutely necessary restrictions on supporting arms, we need a crash program to teach U. S. Army and Marine Corps infantry Jaeger tactics. The Marine Corps, which as usual is somewhat ahead of the game, has began such a program, called “Combat Hunter” (Jaeger is the German word for hunter).

This is not a case where we need to invent anything. The literature on true light infantry tactics is extensive. Works on 18th century light infantry remain instructive; I would recommend Johan Ewald’s diary of the American Revolution (Ewald was a Hessian Jaeger company commander) and J.F.C. Fuller’s British Light Infantry in the 18th Century. More recent works of value include the light infantry field manuals published by the K.u.K. Marine Corps (available here on d.n.i. and on the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Warfare School website); Dr. Steven Canby’s superb Modern Light Infantry and New Technology (1983 – done under DOD contract); and John Poole’s books. Some of our NATO allies also have Jaeger units from which we could learn.

About twenty years ago, a commander of the Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, General Burba, attempted to shift the school to teaching light infantry instead of Second Generation tactics. He formed a Light Infantry Task Force, which I visited and which was doing excellent work. The effort died when General Burba left, but some of the officers who participated in it should still be available. The Army could and should find them and their work and put them in charge of an emergency training program.

The Advanced Warfighting Seminar at EWS, which I lead, is continuing to work on this suddenly critical issue. One product in progress is a simple how-to manual showing a company commander how to convert his company to light infantry. Platoon, company and battalion commanders, as well as schools, are welcome to contact the seminar through Major Greg Thiele USMC at gregory.thiele@usmc.mil.

Retraining American infantry in true light infantry tactics is not something that can wait. It is the only escape from the dilemma of loosing troops and engagements for lack of supporting fires or losing the Afghan war by calling those fires in. The usual DOD years-long, hyper-expensive “program” with its cast of thousands (of contractors) is unacceptable. Commanders of platoons, companies, battalions and schools have a moral obligation to do this now, bottom-up, without waiting for approval from Gosplan. Not a moment must be lost.

Note: There will be no On War column for the next two weeks, as I will be in Greater Sweden (Sweden plus the Balticum), first with Mr. Chapman’s Skargardsflottan, then revisiting Operation Albion.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact (no e-mail available):

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
1423 Powhatan Street, # 2
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Direct line: 703 837-0483

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Filed in Uncategorized | 12 responses so far

12 Responses to “On War #317: Keeping Our Infantry Alive”

  1. JRBehrmanon 29 Sep 2009 at 4:04 pm 1

    Here are some relevant reflections from the civilian intelligensia today on Swedish Life Regiment Hussars by Matthew Yglesias and others, myself included.

    Yes, Hussars were mounted but otherwise light infantry — quite the opposite of Swiss pikes. The term is seems as suitable for well-equipped infiltration and reconnaissance troops today as Jaeger.

    In any case, a life regiment is selected for courage and professionalism — specifically a readiness to sacrifice one’s own life for others’. Contrast such selection with our ruling elite comprised often of those all too willing to sacrifice others, maybe murder a colleague, so to speak, in order to gain fame, status, wealth, or … tenure. Is tenured professor the Anglo-American overclass version of a Life Guard.


    A country that is ruled by a symbiosis of contingent-fee tort- and bond lawyers pimped out by campaign consultants, that spends as much as we do on agro-military pork, and that is as dependent on ordnance technology imported from, say, Sweden or Switzerland as we are has precious little business making fun of European militaries or traditions, especially allied ones.

    In any case, check out “Captain GARS” and Lennart Tortensson operating alongside the United Mine Workers of America in the 1632-series of alternative history in order to see how modern or antique might interoperate on the moral and mental and at least some of the physical planes of strategy.

  2. loggie20on 29 Sep 2009 at 6:49 pm 2

    Plans, Organizations and Coordination are ignored, useless, what other result than to lose.

    You cannot use firepower, because that kills too many of the locals, who are killing your guys, whom you are fighting and whose succor is from the population the US is attempting to turn into good (Calvinist, neocon determined) serfs of the Anglo Norm variety. Not a chance towards gaining any outcomes that way.

    Cannot withdraw because then the Calvinist necons will complain that the US lost another lost cause.

    So, the answer is:

    KEEP LOSING, with no strategy, and no operational sense/acumen. And skill the folks we are hearts and minding with INEPT TACTICS!!!

    Only winners are the warfare state war profiteers.

    In the OODA applied by the US there is no observe and orient.

    Just trying to retire before the collapse.

    Could Caligula do any better? Worse?

  3. EmeryNelsonon 30 Sep 2009 at 12:30 am 3

    One of my favorite subjects and one I’ve been talking about for so long I bore myself. Of course the chances of real change taking place are slight, as bureaucratic memory insures we’ll leave before we change our tactics. The issue was always, “We can lose with few US casualties (and a buttload of dead Afghans) or win with heavier American casualties by and creating enemies through the indiscriminate use of firepower”. Here’s hoping something actually comes of this.

  4. senor tomason 30 Sep 2009 at 1:22 am 4

    “Congress is unlikely to understand what General McChrystal knows very well”

    Yep, Senator Collins is definitely no military genius. From her comment, she seems not to be familiar with the concept of tactical victory followed by strategic defeat. Perhaps someone should tell her about a place called Viet Nam.

  5. loggie20on 30 Sep 2009 at 6:05 pm 5


    It is not “lose with few casualties” opposed to “win with a lot of casualties”.

    Casualties do not make a win, as Patton said: “no soldier won a war by dying for his country”.

    Statements inferring a lack of stomach for casualties implies NATO continue to forget about values, strategies and resources.

    All needed to argue a reason to go do a war.

    Stomach for casualties is no predecessor of success by any measure unless you sell grave stones or profit by replacing blown up hardware.

  6. armsmerchanton 01 Oct 2009 at 8:39 pm 6

    I imagine that these tactics should be further updated in light of the success of UAV recce. Every squad leader would be even more effective if he had a video feed to warn of enemy concentrations, night vision of surrounding obstacles, etc.

  7. Rob Pon 02 Oct 2009 at 4:38 am 7

    Don’t let Gen McChystal off the hook so easily. Great, he issued an ROE edict to protect his precious behind and reduce the headaches he has from civilian casualties, but he did not let the new edict sink in at the lower levels which left troops in the lurch.

    Prime example is the MTT team that lost 4 (5 with interpreter) of their members (my MTT is 11 total; 16 with interpreters) when the air support they were relying on to cover their retreat was denied, after being promised to them, due to the new ROE edict. Full story referenced under On War #313 as well.


    Wonder which does more damage to chances of victory, dead civilians in a gun battle or a lost battle where our enemies actually repulsed the American allied force?

    BTW, I am fully in support of Mr. Lind’s ideas on this, I just wish the General would have better prepared the units under his command or at least gave them the chance to get prepared, even if it took an extra month or so. If I can think of a few ways to do it, I’m sure the smart guys with stars on their collar (or chest) can do it.

  8. Maxon 04 Oct 2009 at 9:48 am 8

    “Wonder which does more damage to chances of victory, dead civilians in a gun battle or a lost battle where our enemies actually repulsed the American allied force?”

    Great question, succinct.

    Here’s one answer. in either case you lose,
    be it short term, or long term.

    It’s a no win scenario, start to finish,
    YOU shouldn’t have been sent in in the first place.

    The only senseable option is to cut these losses,
    and get out now before it ends up really costing us.


  9. Maxon 04 Oct 2009 at 10:00 am 9

    “Every squad leader would be even more effective if he had a video feed to warn of enemy concentrations, night vision of surrounding obstacles, etc.”

    Even better, if the local popluation trusted us,
    liked us, and wanted us there, they would co-operate, and keep our pepole clued in on
    the tactical level.

    Think about it.


  10. Maxon 04 Oct 2009 at 10:04 am 10

    “if the local popluation” (snip)



    Eight U.S. troops killed in east Afghan battle
    ASADABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Insurgents stormed remote Afghan outposts near the Pakistani border, killing eight U.S. troops and cutting off scores of Afghan police, officials said on Sunday, in the deadliest battle in more than a year.

  11. Maxon 04 Oct 2009 at 12:15 pm 11

    “If I can think of a few ways to do it, I’m sure the smart guys with stars on their collar (or chest) can do it.”

    Sorry Chet, I can’t let that one go, it bugged
    me long after I read it and logged off.

    You’ve seen how the US automotive sector has
    been all but anihillated by inane management.

    You’ve seen how the US financial sector was driven
    to collaphs by similarly inane managment, self interests predicated on greed and short term gain.

    What’s to make us “beleive” the US military
    and it’s leaderhip ranks, policitcal and industrial backing is any different ?


  12. loggie20on 04 Oct 2009 at 8:47 pm 12

    “Wonder which does more damage to chances of victory, dead civilians in a gun battle or a lost battle where our enemies actually repulsed the American allied force?”

    How do you define victory?

    The VC and NVA lost virtually every battle in Vietnam, by the US’ reckoning of win or lose, to them it did not matter. As long as they kept their base. Which was opposed to the base types the US supported in the provincial capitols and Saigon.

    The Viet Minh victory in Vietnam was long and very expensive, but to them ousting the US was worth it.

    It built theor vision of civil society.

    If the populace is on your side, that is they really want what the ISAS is “protectin”g, the populace would oust the insurgents with limited “help” from the occupiers.

    The populace in Afghanistan is likely more interested in the ISAS losing or being repulsed than losing kin to hostile fire. The Afghans have been taking casualties from western invaders since 300BC.

    To pacify Afghanistan would require tactics similar to the way the US treated the Cherokee in 1820. Move them to lands where they can be controlled and eventually destroy their culture.

    Way too many resources required, a lack of civility and far too much modern communications to do that now.

    There are better ways to keep terrists from harming the US mainland, and nothing the terrists can do will damage the US constitution.

    However, the things that need to be done to achieve a recondite form of victory in Afghanistan will harm the US constitution, require the type of people who pacified the Balkans in the Nazi era and bankrupt the US, all for no threat to US instituitions.

    What does victory look like and is the price the end of a civil US?

    Worth the cost?