“The Vietnamese Modification,” by Thomas X. Hammes, The Sling and the Stone, p 59, 12 September 2004.
“Second Attack on Iraq Prison in 48 Hours Wounds 5 Iraqis,” by Robert F. Worth, New York Times, 5 April 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/05/international/middleeast/05iraq.html (from Informed Comment).
Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) is a style of fighting inventing by Mao Zedong in which a small but determined force can defeat a militarily overwhelming opponent. The only problem is that it can take decades.
The same tactics were used by America’s enemies in the Vietnam War. When asked how they would defeat us, answered
In February 1951, Ho Chi Minh described how he would defeat the French
Our Party and Government foresaw that our Resistance War has three stages. In the first stage.. all we did was to preserve and increase our main forces. In the second stage, we have actively contended with the enemy and prepared for the general counteroffensive. The third stage is the general counteroffensive.”
In other words
- Destabilize the enemy while building up a fighting force. Assassinations, bombings, and the like.
- Attempt to control areas where the enemy is weak while building up a fighting force. However, do not fight regular battles.
- Use your fighting force to conquer the enemy in regular battles.
In the Summer of 2004, almost all of Iraq was in at least Stage One of Fourth Generation Warfare (4GWS1). No place was safe from terrorism. Much of it, especially Anbar province, was in Stage 2. In these areas citizens knew that when the Americans weren’t on patrols, insurgents would be around. Some of it was in Stage 3. Fallujah, for example, was a defended military installation under the Black Banner.
Bush’s November invasion of Fallujah, combined with the Iraqi elections, altered the correlation of forces in Iraq. Which makes news like this
A suicide bomber driving a tractor blew himself up Monday near the gates of Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, wounding five Iraqi civilians in the second attack on the prison in 48 hours, officials said.
In the first attack on Abu Ghraib, on Saturday, a force of between 40 and 60 insurgents began a coordinated assault on the prison using suicide car bombs, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. No American service members were killed in the attack, which lasted two hours, but 23 were wounded, 16 of them slightly, military officials said Sunday. Thirteen detainees at the prison were also wounded in the assault, which appears to have been an effort to break the prisoners out.
Over all, the number of insurgent attacks has dropped over the past two months. Last week, the number of recorded attacks per day dropped to below 30 for the first time in a year, an American military official said.
However, the attack on Saturday was the second in recent weeks involving a large body of insurgents, and it was carefully planned. That has led some commanders to wonder whether insurgents may be changing their tactics or husbanding their strength for larger attacks, the official said.
all the more surprising.
Fighting fixed battles is the last stage of 4GW. Fixed should happen when an insurgent force has a rational belief it can win. Current anti-Iraqi behavior is thrice problematic, as
- Catastrophic defeats, such as the first attack on Abu Ghraib, reveal the poor state of the 4GWS3 warriors
- Such defeats also lesson insurgent prestige, hampering efforts to claim disputed areas in 4GWS2
- As the article mentioned, insurgent attacks [total or just on Coalition forces? – tdaxp] overall are down. Using 4GWS1 capital to fight 4GWS3 is like eatin seed corn – it just makes things harder next year
So does the insurgency see a hidden strength? Or is this a last desperate gamble?
Time will tell.
Update: Glittering Eye points to The Fourth Rail, where Bill Roggio notes
[Zarqawi’s] Al Qaeda [in Iraq] obviously believes it will gain some psychological advantage in attacking American and Iraqi bases, but it may want to weight the psychological effects on their own troops after repeated failures. The assault on the prison was a military failure. Al Qaeda in Iraq states ten of the attackers were killed in the raid. They also claim to have breached the walls and overtaken a guard tower, but the US military disputes this account. The US military estimates the attacking force suffered over fifty casualties out of an estimated sixty attackers. Continued military defeats and high casualty rates will sap the will of al Qaeda’s cannon fodder over time.
Bill is right to stress the anti-Iraqi psychological failure above the military failure. It is possible that al Qaeda in Iraq is using 4GWS3 tactics for 4GWS1 purposes, but it seems foolish. It is very expensive in all senses. Bill also links to Rantingprof, who says
Why (tactically) do groups choose terrorism? Because they can’t compete at a tactical level against their opponent. If their big new strategy is to come out and fight in conventional style attacks against the American Army and the United States Marines then this thing is just over.
Good point. However, 4GW insurgents have survived terrible set-backs. The Viet Cong were destroyed in 1968, and the North Vietnamese Army significantly weakened in 1972, but American spinelessness still lost Indochina. If some on the Left (or far Right) gain influence, the same thing may still happen in Iraq. We must prevent that from happening.