Al Qaeda has side-stepped “heavy punches” and aggressive strikes from the U.S., thanks in large part to de-centralized, highly mobile networks that are interlinked across the globe, said John Arquilla, a professor with the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.
Although U.S. policymakers have been slow on the uptake, there are encouraging trends in Iraq right now that point to more effective networking techniques, Arquilla told members of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities.
“Over the past year-and-a-half, more than 100 platoon-sized outposts have been created in Iraq -- most, but not all, in the vicinity of Baghdad,” he testified. “Co-located with similar-sized Iraqi units, these outposts have formed a physical network that has contributed greatly to the drop in violence there. This has happened in part because their ability to respond to terrorist acts quickly – much more quickly than larger components coming off forward operating bases -- has improved deterrence enormously.”
Iraq offers up a “powerful example” of how a network consisting of “the small and the many” can affect dynamics on the ground without adding additional troops, he argued. The “social networking” between U.S. forces and the 23 Sunni tribes in the Anbar Province was more instrumental in turning things around in Iraq than was the addition of five additional brigades, Arquilla suggested.
The successful counterinsurgency networks now deployed in Iraq should spur policymakers to more aggressively exploit the concept, he testified. It is conceivable to arrange “steep draw downs” of U.S. forces without diluting the overall range and effectiveness of such networks, he indicated.
“I understand the concern some have about drawing down to quickly,” he told CNSNews.com. “But you also have to remember that a thinking enemy will make adjustments if we don’t.”
Arquilla is the author of “Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military.” He has argued against using large, cold-war-style military formations to combat agile, loosely organized terrorist networks such as al Qaeda.
(George W. Bush, in a campaign speech at the Citadel in 1999, also called for a military overhaul. “Our forces in the next century must be agile, lethal, readily deployable, and require a minimum of logistical support,” Bush said at the time. “On land, our heavy forces must be lighter. Our light forces must be more lethal. All must be easier to deploy. And these forces must be organized in smaller, more agile formations, rather than cumbersome divisions.”)
Early American history is replete with examples of effective counter-insurgency, Arquilla told committee members. “Irregular warfare” was essential to victory in the Revolutionary War, he pointed out. Arquilla also cited the struggle against the French and their Native American allies that occurred between 1756 and 1763.
Unfortunately, America’s modern military institutions are reluctant to embrace the kind of transformation that is essential for victory in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, Arquilla said during the question and answer session.
He told CNSNews.com that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had several good ideas about military transformation that should be vigorously pursued, in his view. Unfortunately, Rumsfeld adopted a hierarchical, top-down approach to reform that ran into bureaucratic resistance, he said.
“We have mastered the gravest past challenges,” Arquilla said in his concluding statement. “Whether we will prevail yet again depends, on this occasion far more than any others – on our ability to reach back to the suppleness of our own strategic roots, and to embrace the bold organizational and doctrinal challenges that are desperately needed now.”