Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Linking Strategy and Tactics


In war, in love, throughout life, the best intended and most highly prized strategic goals can be rendered unattainable by a tactical action taken in complete confidence of one's tactical capability.

In the late 1980's the Colonel, then a captain, commanded a 200-man reinforced rifle company tasked with the mission of conducting helicopter-borne operations while on a Marine Expeditionary Unit--Special Operations Capable (MEU--SOC) deployment to the Mediterranean. One of the operations for which this unit trained was take-down or reinforcement of merchant shipping--both of which called for fast-roping (sliding down a 40-foot rope dangling from a hovering helicopter) onto the cluttered deck of an underway merchantman. Great fun. Within much less than a minute of the helicopter coming to a stable hover over the target ship, a dozen heavily-armed Marines could be out of the helo and taking up initial positions on the deck. Exciting stuff.

Get a squad of heavily-armed and well-trained Marines anywhere and that chunk of territory is rapidly under their control--or destroyed; take your pick.

So, as the three of you who regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon can well imagine, the Colonel took a great deal of interest in the Israeli navy commando operation to take control of the Turkish-flagged merchant ships attempting to break the Israeli blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza. The Colonel even received some encouragement from a surprising quarter to post hereon regarding the Israeli operation. Seems there might actually be FOUR of you who regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon. Unfortunately, that fourth quarter may be somewhat disappointed at the slant this post takes. (Enough football references for you?)

The Colonel's initial assessment was that the Israelis acted appropriately and with remarkable restraint to interdict the blockade-runners. Appropriately, because anyone who believes that there were no intentions to provide arms and ammunition to Hamas (the Islamo-Fascist regime currently governing the Gaza Strip, whose over-arching strategic aim is the destruction of Israel) along with milk, cookies, and medical supplies to the Palestinian people has been smoking something a wee bit stronger than a Marlboro. Remarkable restraint, because the Israeli navy could have easily stopped the merchant ship flotilla with torpedoes and heavy deck guns--actions which have ample precedent in Israeli military history.

But, as with all battlefield activities, first reports are always false and first assessments are always off the mark.

The Israeli tactics succeeded. The merchant ships, carrying what the Israelis had good reason to believe was more than just humanitarian supplies, did not physically break the blockade. There were no pictures of torpedoed merchantmen going down by the stern or the smoke of burning merchantmen against the bright blue Mediterranean sky.

The Israeli operation may well have failed, though, to accomplish its strategic aim. Nine civilians died. They obviously were not innocent civilians. But, they were civilians. It may indeed turn out that there were ONLY humanitarian supplies aboard these ships. If that is the case, the Israeli operation will have to be deemed an even greater strategic failure.

Israel occupies a rather unique position among the community of nations. No other nation on the planet is so surrounded by enemies so intent on its destruction. This fact has driven Israeli policy and decision-makers to take actions that all-too-often do not endear them to international opinion. They don't care. Nor would you, in their position.

And, the Israelis are tactically very good. Not as good as American soldiers on the whole, but very competent. Operationally (operations link tactics to strategy), however, they suffer myopia caused by their tactical competence. They tend to underestimate the operational and strategic competence of their enemies because their enemies are so tactically incompetent.

The Colonel believes that the Israeli blockade of Hamas in Gaza has been broken. This is a serious blow to Israeli strategic goals. They wanted to prevent Hamas-fired missiles from raining down on their cities. They may have stopped a resupply of those missiles this week. The trickle will now become a flood.

There is a lesson in this for these re-United States and our tactics in Talibanistan. Our remotely-piloted drone strikes have been tactically very effective and efficacious. The problem is the disconnect between effectiveness and efficacy. The Colonel worries that our operational mindset against the Taliban and other Islamo-fascist organizations has begun to mirror the Israeli operational mindset against the terror organizations at their throats. We are busy very accurately swatting flies when we should be cleaning up the piles of barnyard excrement attracting the flies.

Reminds the Colonel he needs to clean out the chicken coop this morning.
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