Leadership: Tales Of The Asymmetric


April 16, 2010: Asymmetric warfare has been all the rage for the last decade. The prime example given is the Islamic terrorist use of roadside bombs, terrorizing Iraqis working for the Americans, and propaganda on the Internet to spin the mass media against the much more powerful (in a conventional sense) American forces. To the surprise of many (who observed all this via the mass media), the U.S. defeated al Qaeda, and the pro-Saddam Sunni terrorists in Iraq.

What the media missed was that the military, at least the American forces, are trained to deal with asymmetric situations as a matter of course. To a soldier, asymmetric means the unknown. All warfare is asymmetric, as you always seek to utilize deception and surprise against your opponent, as those two elements are seen as the most effective methods for surviving, and winning, in combat.

In the opening stages of any war, there will be many asymmetric elements in play. Although armies try to figure out their opponents beforehand, the planners rarely get it completely right. So the opening stages of any war are full of unpleasant surprises. In 2003, Saddam thought he could hold the Americans long enough to get the UN, or Russia, or the Moslem world, to intervene and impose a ceasefire. It was over too quickly for that. But Saddam had a Plan B, to wage a terror campaign against the Americans and their new allies (the 80 percent of Iraqis, the Kurds and Shia, who had been fighting Saddam for decades), that would wear the Americans out, and intimidate the Kurds and Shia into accepting another Sunni Arab dictator. That didn't work either. Similar situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban seek to use drug gangs and terror to intimidate the majority of Afghans into accepting a return of religious dictatorship.

But "asymmetric warfare" makes for a great headline, and journalists seek out pundits who will testify to how ill-prepared American troops are to deal with it. Ask the troops about it, and you'll get a, "well, duh, dude" reaction. That does not make for attention grabbing journalism.

How asymmetric warfare was portrayed in the news over the last decade is more of a story about how the media, rather than the military, operates. But that's a story that will rarely be covered.




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