On War #319: The First Front

William S. Lind
26 October 2009

An article in the October 23 Washington Times points to what I think may be the next important evolution in Fourth Generation war. The piece concerns Mexico’s third-largest drug gang, La Familia. La Familia is best known for beheading people it does not like. But according to the article, its real claim to fame may be as a pioneer in seizing the mantle of legitimacy previously worn by the state.

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On War #318: Operation Albion

William S. Lind
19 October 2009

Last week I had the pleasure of helping lead a staff ride of Operation Albion for the Baltic Defence College. Especially for people with an interest in amphibious operations, Albion is one of the best case studies history offers.

In Operation Albion, which was carried out in early October, 1917 – our staff ride duplicated its timing – Germany took three large Baltic islands, now Estonian, from the Russians. In effect, it was Germany’s Gallipoli, though with very different results.

As a case study, Albion offers lessons on many levels. Two are of special importance. First, Albion illustrates a marriage of amphibious operations with the new German stormtroop tactics of late World War I, tactics that when combined with Panzer divisions created the Blitzkrieg. Instead of doing what the U. S. Marine Corps still does and send in landing waves that take a beachhead, then stop and build up combat power for a further advance – the Somme from the sea – the Germans landed multiple thrusts which immediately advanced as far and as fast as they could, without regard for open flanks. Speed was their main weapon, speed made possible because part of the force was equipped with bicycles.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love NSC-68

For you youngsters in the audience (or those who slept through PoliSci 102) , National Security Council Report 68, issued in April 1950 and approved by President Truman the following year, provided the blueprint for America’s conduct of the Cold War.  It’s a sophisticated document and well worth pondering for lessons today — along with George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” and “X” article, upon which it draws heavily.

Army Major Jeremy Kotkin has done just that.  In the attached article, The Shadow Course of Action, or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love NCS-68 (243 KB PDF), he calls for a reassessment of US foreign policy as fundamental as that which led to NSC-68:

What is a vital national interest and what is existential to our way of life, is the credibility and influence we must maintain as a world power to pursue other policies of vital interest. We must achieve a positive result in Afghanistan and not be seen to run from adopted partners in Kabul in a fit of capriciousness. To do this, we must understand two lessons: 1) to learn the 5 critical differences regarding national interests so we again do not allow ourselves to think we can force non-vital socio-economic change in another country, and 2) realize that the largely unilateral efforts of the U.S. military are not the solution to a non-military problem.

This is a significant piece, and I suggest you break out a good single malt and dig into it.

Editor’s note:  MAJ Jeremy Kotkin entered the US Air Force from Rutgers University as a communicator in 1995.  In 2008, he transferred to the Army as a Functional Area-59, Strategist, and is assigned to the J5 directorate at the US Special Operations Command in Tampa.  The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

[CR:  It should also be noted that 36 years before MAJ Kotkin’s transfer in the other direction, I switched affiliation from the Army to the US Air Force.]

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Macgregor on Afghanistan

Retired Army COL Doug Macgregor’s latest take on what we should do in Afghanistan (500 KB PPT):

The best we can do is withdraw our forces with the publicly stated understanding that how the Afghans govern themselves is their business.

However, if the Afghans harbor anyone—al Qaeda or anyone else who threatens the United States and its allies—we must state clearly we will annihilate those who threaten us without concern for the welfare of those Afghans who harbor them.

Compare with Strategic Game, Chart 57:

With respect to others (i.e., the uncommitted or potential adversaries) we should:

Respect their culture and achievements, show them we bear them no harm and help them adjust to an unfolding world, as well as provide additional benefits and more favorable treatment for those who support our philosophy and way of doing things;


Demonstrate that we neither tolerate nor support those ideas and interactions that undermine or work against our culture and our philosophy hence our interests and fitness to cope with a changing world.

Buy Doug’s latest book:


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Two opinions on Afghanistan

which I recommend everybody read:

Reform or go home, by David Kilcullen in yesterday’s New York Times.  Pretty much sums it up — it’s the Afghans’ problem.  Although I think his emphasis on early elections is misplaced (in IWCKI, I quote Lee Kuan Yew as observing that elections may be the end point of an evolution to democracy, but they are not the beginning), his point that it’s all about governance is hard to dispute.  Of course, “governance” is the one thing that outsiders cannot provide.  Draw your own conclusions.

Theories about 4GW are not yet like the laws of thermodynamics, by Fabius Maximus, a reprint from March 2008. Fab reminds us that what we’re involved in in Afghanistan is not 4GW for the most part but “counterinsurgency,” that is, interfering in somebody else’s civil war, and occupation (a losing game, at least since the end of WW II). The 4GW part — attacking the remnants of al-Qa’ida in Pakistan — is a very small part of it, requiring at most a few hundred troops.  If this seems low, ask yourself:

  • How many al-Qa’ida, that is, fighters under the command of OBL and his staff, are there?
  • How are they organized and equipped?
  • So why would we need more than a battalion of US special operations forces, marines, or armored cav to defeat them?

Finding and eliminating them might require an awful lot of other types of people, but relatively few combat forces.

Comments are welcome; please observe our comment policy.

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About light infantry tactics and the tactical challenges in Afghanistan

Sven Ortmann
30 September 2009

William S. Lind has proposed a re-training of U.S. infantry with what he calls “true light infantry or Jaeger tactics” to solve tactical challenges in Afghanistan. He especially referenced General McChrystal’s restrictions that recently limited the Western ground forces’ ability to address tactical challenges with fire support.

A simple step from “Second generation” to “Third generation” tactics may be easy to communicate, but it’s too simple and doesn’t promise to solve the problems in Afghanistan and similar conflicts nearly as much as Mr. Lind implied.

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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.”

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On War #316: Last exit before Quagmire

William S. Lind
22 September 2009

The Washington Post yesterday made available an unclassified version of General Stanley McChrystal’s long-awaited report on the war in Afghanistan. Politically, the report is bold, in that it acknowledges the enemy has the initiative and we have been fighting the war – for eight years – in counterproductive ways. But intellectually, both as analysis and as prescription, it is five pounds of substance in a 50 pound bag.

The report’s message can be summarized in one sentence: we need to start doing classic counterinsurgency, and to do so, we need more “resources,” i.e. troops. In a narrow, technical sense, that statement is valid. Classic counterinsurgency doctrine says we need hundreds of thousands more troops in Afghanistan.

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AF Intel Head Embraces 4GW

Although he may not realize it:

Its not just in the technology realm that America’s enemies are seeking advantage.. Unable to counter the U.S. dominance in long-range strike, enemies in wars use information operations among the people to influence perceptions about civilian casualties and deny the U.S. ability to leverage its asymmetric advantages. Deptula said media-savvy opponents who skillfully manipulate global public perceptions are an example of successful “Effects Based Operations,” a doctrinal term that recently has fallen into disfavor, except among air power advocates. Greg Grant, “US Air Dominance Eroding,”  quoting Lt Gen David Deptula, USAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance.

As Lind et al. noted in the original paper on the subject:

Two additional carryovers must be noted as they may be useful “signposts” pointing toward the fourth generation. The first is a component of collapsing the enemy. It is a shift in focus from the enemy’s front to his rear. Terrorism must seek to collapse the enemy from within as it has little capability (at least at present) to inflict widespread destruction. First generation warfare focused tactically and operationally (when operational art was practiced) on the enemy’s front, his combat forces. Second generation warfare remained frontal tactically, but at least in Prussian practice it focused operationally on the enemy’s rear through the emphasis on encirclement The third generation shifted the tactical as well as the operational focus to the enemy’s rear. Terrorism takes this a major step further. It attempts to bypass the enemy’s military entirely and strike directly at his homeland at civilian targets. Ideally, the enemy’s military is simply irrelevant to the terrorist.

They go on to note that 4GW and terrorism are not synonymous:  “… This is not to say that terrorism is fourth generation warfare, but rather that elements of it may be signs pointing toward a fourth generation.”  Most theorists on the subject would agree that events have confirmed their suspicions.

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On War #315: The Taliban’s Air Force

William S. Lind
14 September 2009

The Taliban’s air force recently delivered another devastating strike, hitting two fuel tanker trucks that had been captured by local Taliban-affiliated forces in northern Afghanistan. As usual, many civilians were killed, inflaming the local population against NATO forces in an area that had been relatively quiet. The air strike was thus not merely tactical but operational in its effects.

As is always the case with the Taliban’s air force, the air strike was a “pseudo-op.” A pseudo-op is where one side dresses up in the other side’s uniforms or otherwise duplicates his signatures, then does something that works against the goals of the simulated party.

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