Air University Review, March-April 1986

Air Power in
Low-Intensity Conflict
in The Middle East

 Dr. William J. Olson

INTEREST about low-intensity conflict (LIC) is on the rise again in this country. There is a certain faddishness in this interest, an air of déjà vu, and an air of unreality. The conceptual interest in limited and sublimited wars in the nuclear age is at least thirty-five-years old, and the significant U.S. government concern about how to conduct counterinsurgency warfare dates back to the Kennedy administration. Literature on the subject, though varying in terminology, is extensive. Indeed, one could argue that there really is nothing new to say on the subject. The principal value of a new terminology is that it provides a way of separating an enduring concern from past doctrinal failure and embarrassment, helps to rekindle interest in an important area, and provides the means to educate a new generation of officials on the ins and outs of low-intensity conflict. As a descriptive instrument, however, it leaves much to be desired, as continual problems with definition in forum after forum so readily demonstrate.1

Yet, coming to terms with a definition is important, for it forces us to deal with the "messy military and political realities small wars embody and the military and political costs they exact."2 It forces us to come to grips with a fundamental contradiction—the importance we assign the topic and our reluctance to come to terms with its implications.

Two major problems exist in trying to define low-intensity conflict. First is the problem of perspective. Like the Theory of Special Relativity, the perception of the phenomenon depends on one's position relative to it. Second, the definition is being forced to include too much, and, as with many such cases, expansion of meaning means dilution or defining nothing at all.

Let us begin with the realization that all our definitions of the spectrum of conflict are subjective and are based on our position relative to the conflict. We define a spectrum of conflict in relation to the wars we fight, placing total war—nuclear war—at the high end of the spectrum. We define a mid-intensity war, generally, as one confined to the use of conventional arms; but, given the haggling over concepts, it is clear that we are on unsafe ground whenever we try to define low-intensity conflict. It should be obvious that from someone else’s perspective—namely, the combatants—any armed struggle, short of war fought for limited purposes, is a total war. For them, at least, the degree of violence and the quantity and quality of arms are not adequate criteria for definition.

The Iran-Iraq War, for example, is a mid-intensity conflict by our standards, measured against the possibility of thermonuclear war with the Soviets. For the Iranians and the Iraqis, however, the war is total, with the fate of both societies on the line. Thus, for them, it is a high-intensity conflict waged with all available resources for the highest stakes.3 Similarly, we should realize, even insurgency situations are high-intensity conflicts for the primary participants (except in situations like Afghanistan where only one participant, the resistance, wages all on the outcome while their opponent—in this case, the Soviets—will survive defeat there). This is more than an academic point, for our perception of a conflict will influence our response to it, and how well or poorly we deal with a "low-intensity conflict," could depend on whether it is someone else’s "major war"—which it quite often will be.

The second significant definitional problem arises from the fact that there are so many people trying to reach a definition, and they are trying to include too much in the definition. The problem here arises from using terms such as the spectrum of conflict, which links in a linear chain such diverse events as hostage rescue missions and thermonuclear war. This linkage creates immense conceptual problems when one moves from developing a linear definition—to make illustration and discussion easier—to the practicalities of turning such notions into actual responses. It is always difficult to add apples and oranges, and that is what is being done in trying to establish a mechanistic, linear definition of a spectrum of conflict in which disparate and multifarious events are linked in some artificial whole. In short, there is no way to make a definition consistent.

In addition, the concept of a spectrum of conflict also obscures the disjuncture between what is appropriate in low-intensity conflict and what is suited to medium- or high-intensity conflict. It allows the unspoken assumption that the same force structure and method of conflict used for conflicts "higher" on the spectrum, simply on a reduced scale, are adequate in low-intensity situations. Given U.S. experience and our observations of other's conflicts in recent decades, it should be obvious that this is not the case. What is needed then is a realization that the spectrum of conflict is a semantic convenience and not an analytical or conceptual tool of any fineness; its use not only suggests linkages that obscure reality but also impedes the kind of thinking necessary to deal with the problems at hand.

Next, we should not include hostage rescue missions, relief exercises, and small-scale counterterrorist operations in low-intensity conflict. Properly, these are not conflicts but policing actions, even if they should involve special military forces, and, as such, should be put in a separate category, perhaps labeled as "marginal-military operations." Low-intensity conflict should be reserved for insurgency/counterinsurgency operations. Moreover, we must recognize that the political aspect of these situations demands our predominate attention. Indeed, the definition of LIC should not focus on the military level of conflict but on its political character.

An additional problem is one of threshold—that is, when and at what point does a low-intensity conflict move into the mid-intensity range. From a U.S. perspective, it must be at that point where major U.S. combat elements are involved in a combat capacity using more or less standard U.S. conventional war-fighting doctrine. For the nation receiving U.S. support, it must be at that point that the insurgency can field main force units in regular operations with a reasonable chance of success. In terms of Mao's three stages of insurgency, this is the ultimate goal if power cannot be won at a lower stage. It is important to remember, however, that this stage is not an absolute, that it can be reached and then given up if the correlation of forces is unfavorable, and that, for the participants, the war is a guerre à outrance regardless of the level of violence.

A final definitional problem, as well as one that plagues all efforts at execution, arises from conflicting bureaucratic interests. One commentator has noted:

The most substantial constraints on America's ability to conduct small wars result from the resistance of the American defense establishment to the very notion of engaging in such conflicts, and from the unsuitability of that establishment for fighting such wars.4

This is a problem detailed well by Ambassador Robert Komer in his study of the Vietnam War:

What we did in Vietnam cannot be fully understood unless it is seen as a function of our playing out our military repertoire—doing what we were most capable and experienced at doing. Such institutional constraints as the very way our general purpose forces were trained, equipped, and structured largely dictated our responses.5

The problem here is not a lack of will but a tendency for institutions to carry out their functions regardless of changing situations or needs—the playing out of institutional repertoires that are well known and comfortable even if they are no longer effective.

"Underlying American military philosophy," argues Sam Sarkesian, "is the assumption that military formations trained for conventional battle are adequate to engage in low-intensity conflict." In Sarkesian's view, "this 'generalist' attitude prevails throughout the military system. Simply stated, 'common' service training for appropriate military units is considered adequate to respond to almost all contingencies." This is not the case, however. "The fact of the matter is that the highly sociopolitically sensitive character of low-intensity conflict and force employment require a dimension that is hardly touched in standard military training or professional education."6

From this starting point, it is perhaps possible to outline a definition of low-intensity conflict that gives us some operational guidelines. Toward this end, let us assume that low-intensity conflict is generally confined within one country, although the participants can be assisted by external forces, and that it is generally fought between groups representing rival paradigms for social and political organization. The objective is not military conquest but social control, which may use military means as one instrument in the struggle. The objective is to win political control at the lowest cost as quickly as possible. For the participants in such a struggle, the conflict is total; but from a U.S. perspective, it should be clear that the conflict is confined and should be contained, with force being used sparingly. Unlike the Iran-Iraq situation or similar ones, where conflicting national goals and the resources available to nations open up almost endless possibilities for escalation, conflicts within states—short of civil wars—are generally more containable and amenable to political solutions. Thus, a further element in our definition should be that low-intensity conflict is the use of all the means of power—diplomatic, economic, and military—to influence or create a situation more favorable to U.S. interests at the lowest possible level of involvement. Furthermore, any use of military force must be measured against its social-political utility. Military means are a tactical element in a strategic program that emphasizes political goals and means. The use of military power, though essential, is limited, while the use of diplomatic-political power may be open-ended.

The view here, then, is that low-intensity conflict is going to be someone else's war, but one with implications for U.S. policy that will require a response. In addition, we should acknowledge that low- to mid-intensity conflicts are likely to be the pattern for future war and that they will present the greatest threats to U.S. interests and the most severe challenge to our ability to respond as a nation. As a result of these arguments, we shall perhaps recognize that low-intensity conflicts and Third World issues are the most pressing strategic problems facing our nation and that a solution or a methodology for responding to this type of threat is crucial to national survival.

The whittling away of our capacity to defend our international interests is a far more immediate threat than that of a general war with the Soviet Union, yet simultaneously making such a war more likely and degrading our ability to fight such a war if it should happen.Indeed, one might argue with some historical evidence that our enemies are aware of our incapacity to deal with low-order conflicts, and thus they resort to or support them as a means of striking at our interests below our effective level of response. This method could be called the termite approach—eating away at the foundations of our interests out of sight until the whole structure is riddled with rot and ready to collapse of its own weight.7

To illustrate certain comparisons between insurgencies, the need for a counterinsurgency doctrine, and other key issues related to low-intensity conflicts, I shall focus on two conflicts—Oman in 1970 and Afghanistan today—and then contrast them with the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. From these cases, one can deduce a number of specific guidelines for coping with the overall problem of insurgency and for using air power effectively in low-intensity warfare.


The insurgency in Oman had its roots in thedistant past of the country, arising from the tensions of long-standing political-religious rivalries and the hostility among various tribal groups. The incompetence of the political leadership in Oman in the 1960s complicated these older patterns of rivalry and provided the breeding ground for insurgency.

Initially, the insurgency did not have a significant ideological base, but during the course of the 1960s, Arab nationalism became a more important factor. This latter was abetted by the encouragement of Iraq's radical regime and by the charismatic influence of President Gamal Nasser in Egypt. The 1967 emergence of a radical Marxist regime in South Yemen, on Oman's southwestern border, also contributed to the development of a more radical, ideological movement in Oman.8

Slowly the older revolt, supported in part by Saudi Arabia, gave way to a Marxist-inspired insurgency supported in part by China, Iraq, South Yemen, and, later, the Soviet Union. By the late 1960s, this movement controlled significant portions of western Oman, particularly the mountainous region known as Dhufar, and was beginning to threaten the very survival of the regime. The aging sultan refused to take the steps that were necessary to confront the revolt, but his son, Qabus, perhaps encouraged by Oman's British advisors and patrons, staged a coup in 1970, replacing his father. It is with Sultan Qabus that the serious and ultimately successful counterinsurgency operation began in Oman.

the revolt

In the late 1960s, well-trained, ideologically motivated cadres began to take over the Omani revolt, converting the movement into a Marxist insurgency. An active political propaganda campaign among the villagers and tribal groups of Dhufar, coupled with intimidation or elimination of recalcitrants, gave the insurgents a fairly extensive and stable base of operations bordering Yemen, which served as a sanctuary and supply base. Many young Omanis who had been educated abroad joined the movement, and attacks against government-controlled towns and roads began to escalate in the early 1970s. However, the insurgency, troubled by internal rivalry, was poorly organized and did not demonstrate any particular adeptness in its military operations. Since it was only in its infancy as a military movement, this incompetence was understandable. Because this inability was more than matched by the feebleness and incompetence of the Omani government, the insurgency grew in spite of itself. The emergence of Sultan Qabus and his reliance on British counterinsurgency expertise came at a highly critical juncture. The new sultan gave a new sense of direction to the government and began an effective campaign before the insurgency had had a chance to establish itself as a formidable force.

The initial government effort was also clumsy and poorly organized. The new sultan had to deal with the fact that there was little innate Omani nationalism or loyalty to the central government to draw on. The bureaucracy was small, venal, and incompetent; and the military was little better, being poorly equipped, trained, and officered, except for its British advisors. However, the sultan enjoyed several advantages. He, or the sultanate, had a degree of acceptance and legitimacy within the country that could be used to muster support; and he was able to finance a more vigorous war effort as the result of oil revenues that were beginning to come into the country. In addition, he had been trained at Sandhurst and had an understanding of military matters, and he was able to call on British advisors and some nonindigenous combatants to help with the counterinsurgency effort. Furthermore, several other area states, particularly Iran, were concerned about the possibility of a Marxist state emerging in Oman and as a consequence gave both financial assistance and military support.

the counterinsurgency effort

The main features of the counterinsurgency program in Oman were the use of small, mobile forces; an education and training program for the military; an active civil action campaign to win over the population; a priority effort to undermine guerrilla support by winning over cadres and their bases among the population; the use of a blockade system to seal off the supply lines to the guerrillas from Yemen; and an internal development and reform program that proved to the people that the government was both committed to their welfare and competent to provide for their needs.

The main British contributions, apart from advice, were some pilots and a few planes for Oman's small air force, plus the loan of Special Air Services (SAS) forces, elements of the 22d SAS regiment. The SAS forces, organized into small groups called British Army Training Teams (BATTs), were the main British combat element, and it was their participation that was perhaps the key element in the subsequent effective counterinsurgency effort. The initial task for these forces, in conjunction with the Sultan's Armed Forces (SAF), was to establish firm control over the areas already under government control and to expand slowly outward from these bases. The role of the SAS forces was not primarily as a combat arm but as an advisory, recruiting, and training arm. Although the SAS teams saw action, their main contribution was to organize the Omani effort. The keys to this effort were a program to establish an effective intelligence network to report on rebel movements and developments; a program of amnesty and training to convert former rebels into government forces organized as small, mobile groups called firqats; a civil action program that brought medical and veterinary assistance, education, and engineering help to formerly destitute areas; a rewards program for turning in weapons; an active psychological operations effort; and a program to develop the SAF as a fighting force that could hold its own.

The firqat program was particularly successful and provided the counterinsurgency effort with both invaluable intelligence and actual combat support.9 The program was not aimed primarily at killing the enemy but at converting him to the government's cause, thus subtracting from the enemy and adding to the government effort with the same stroke. The firqat was not organized as a regular military unit but as irregulars, and persuasion and consultation had to take the place of orders and a regular chain of command. This approach was necessary because of the nature of the local Arab character and leadership style. Although it created headaches, the results of the extra effort were justified. The firqat became an effective instrument in combating the armed guerrilla formations and, even more important, in demonstrating to formerly remote or ignored areas that the government cared about them. This gesture helped to undermine the appeal of the insurgents, who, in turn, began to resort to intimidation tactics, which backfired as the government continued to demonstrate a clear alternative.

The civil action program, which operated along with the military campaign, sometimes caused military or security problems, but the program was important to demonstrate to the people that the government was truly concerned about their welfare and not just out to subjugate them. In one case, a government controlled town became the gathering point for many of the areas' flocks, brought in by the families of firqat members. The people, former supporters of the resistance, expected the government not only to take care of the animals but also to provide a market for their sale. This latter was a particular headache for the government forces, but it was decided to use the sultan's own air force to ferry the animals to market. In addition, "a Texas-style cattle drive supported by jet fighter cover and 5.5-inch artillery" was organized to drive many of the animals through enemy-held territory to a market center.

Amidst scenes like shots from a Boulting Brothers comedy mixed with a John Wayne Western, fire fights between pickets and adoo [enemy units] on the high ground, whoops of delight from the firqat and expressions of amused disbelief by the SAF and SAS, five hundred head of cattle were driven across the plateau down the jebel toTaqa… Next day the herd, surrounded by armoured cars, arrived at Salalah to be met by the rejoicing inhabitants . . .. There was no doubt that this signal demonstration of Government power did more to impress the people than all the broadcasts and leaflets put together.10

The story of the cattle drive clearly demonstrated the government’s power and the fact that it cared.

The net result of these efforts was to undermine gradually popular support for the resistance and reduce the insurgents' combat capability. By 1975, the government declared the war ended; and, to date, there has been no major recurrence. However, as one observer has noted, "winning a counterrevolutionary war is like clearing a garden of weeds; it is what you plant afterwards that matters"—and, one might add, how well you tend it.11

the air war

The use of air power in Oman was constrained by Oman’s limited ability to afford air forces and its decision not to rely on air power as a major combat element. The contribution of the air force came largely in aerial reconnaissance, resupply and communications efforts, attacks on known enemy positions (or actions to frustrate attacks on government positions when the targets could be clearly identified), and, of course, supplying the special forces elements central to the counterinsurgency effort. Fixed wing aircraft, principally Skyraiders and Skyvans, provided the main support; but helicopters became an important element in supply and troop movement after 1971.

The main users of helicopters in a combat role in Oman were the Iranian special forces contingent sent to Oman by the shah in 1973. Trained by the United States, these forces relied on classic helicopter tactics and certainly made a contribution to the overall effort by providing needed manpower. However, it is debatable whether their tactics contributed anything to winning the war. Indeed, the Iranians often found it difficult to locate the enemy. The insurgents were usually forewarned about an Iranian advance, the noise of the helicopters giving their intention away; and the Iranians tended to rely on large, set-piece operations that the guerrillas were able to avoid. In addition, the Iranians tended to keep to themselves, which hampered coordination with SAF operations.12 As one Special Air Services officer noted:

The trouble was that the Iranians did not patrol at all as SAF understood it. When they did leave their bases, they moved in force. Any adoo about saw them coming from miles away and sensibly lay low until they had passed by. Consequently the only people who could get at the adoo were the firqat, and these refused to go on patrol because they thought the Iranians might mistake them for adoo on their return.13

The emphasis in the Omani counterinsurgency effort was on a sophisticated political campaign that used ground and air forces sparingly and only against known targets. After the back of the insurgency was broken, and the insurgents were pushed back into pockets where there was little or no civilian population, the campaign against them took on a more regular military character. Here ground and air forces were able to operate more or less unconstrained. The targets remained somewhat scattered and fleeting, but this circumstance did not matter since the effort could be directed at a broken and retreating enemy no longer able to hide among the people.

Soviets in Afghanistan

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is an interesting departure in the study of counterinsurgency. For years, the Soviets have encouraged insurgency, taught its principles, and supplied its practitioners. Now they are caught in the snare of dealing with their own insurgency, and the last six years have not demonstrated that they are any better at coping than others faced with similar situations. Their involvement is still developing and any conclusions are interim, but the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, their failure so far to quell the war of national liberation there, and their efforts to devise a winning formula offer many insights into the particular problems of low-intensity conflict. A consideration of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan is not meant to suggest approval for the policies being employed there or to make invidious comparisons with U.S. low-intensity conflict efforts. There are lessons to be learned from the types of things that the Soviets are doing and not doing.

Without going into detail about the events leading up to the invasion in December 1979, let it suffice here to say that the Soviets had a variety of long-term interests in the region, complicated by the fact that there was an active and increasingly successful insurgency in the country against the Soviet-supported Marxist regime that had been in power several years. For a number of complex reasons, the Soviets became convinced that they had to move into the country quickly to keep its clients in power. This determination led to the invasion in December 1979 and the years of strife in Afghanistan ever since.14

The initial Soviet invasion introduced some 80,000 crack airborne troops and mechanized forces that seized Kabul, the main roads, and other cities; as a result, Nur Mohammad Taraki was installed as the leader of the nation. In the weeks immediately following the invasion and coup, the number of Soviet forces rose to around 100,000 and has remained fairly constant until recently. The Soviet forces still dominate the cities and control the main roads—though with great difficulty—but they have been unable to crush the resistance or to drive it from its main operating bases. Without a substantial increase in forces, the present stalemate is likely to last for the foreseeable future. The Soviets, however, seem to be willing to wait.15

The invasion itself was a model of its type. It was executed with dispatch, was well-organized and planned, and accomplished all its initial objectives. It demonstrated clearly the Soviet capability to plan and execute swift operations using deception, surprise, and highly mobile airborne and mechanized forces. Clearly, however, the Soviets miscalculated the circumstances in the country and misjudged the effect that their invasion would have on both the international community and on the Afghans themselves.

The invasion left the Soviets in charge of all the main roads and cities, but Soviet and government forces largely left the countryside to the resistance. Either the Soviets believed that the suddenness and forcefulness of the invasion would overawe any resistance, or they thought that they could handle any resistance once they were in charge in Kabul.

After six years of incessant fighting, however, the situation today is nearly the same as it was six years ago, except for the fact that the Afghan Army is much less of a viable force than it was. The puppet government in Kabulremains isolated, despised by the majority of the population and plagued by internal bickering, while resistance forces are better equipped and organized—though only barely. In addition, the resistance is able to mount attacks on Soviet facilities, including both the major air base outside of Kabul and the Soviet embassy itself. The mujahidin (indigenous resistance fighters) have penetrated the government and suborned much of the Afghan Army—which has become a major source of supply for the resistance. The mujahidin are also able to harass convoys on the roads and, in several areas, have proved able to resist strong Soviet offensives, particularly in the Panjshir Valley. They have even retaken some of the major cities for short periods of time. In short, despite considerable investment, the Soviets are no nearer to dominating the country than they were in 1979.16

The Soviets were successful in achieving an Afghan political coup and installing a government they felt more comfortable with; however, by aiming at the leadership and the situation in Kabul, they failed to appreciate the depth of sentiment against the Communist government and the degree to which the local population was willing to go to resist external involvement. In addition, subsequent efforts to oppress the mujahidin have exposed deficiencies in Soviet combat tactics and techniques and have illustrated the problems inherent in dealing with an insurgency. This experience is of particular interest to U.S. analysts, providing an opportunity not only to study the Soviets in action but also to observe another superpower making the type of mistakes in a low-intensity conflict that should be familiar to the United States.

the strategic situation

As it now stands, the Soviets are unable to defeat the resistance, while the mujahidin are unable to force the Soviets out. The combat forces on the two sides are about equal in size, although the Soviets can deploy far more forces if needed and can call on the Afghan Army, while the Afghan resistance can call on a potential force of some 2,000,000—though not all at any one time. The resistance also receives considerable assistance from the general population. The Soviets have complete air supremacy and can deploy the full range of modern ground combat equipment; the resistance must rely on an assortment of infantry-type weapons, including antique Lee-Enfield rifles, captured Soviet arms, and a number of SA-7s, AK-47s, light machine guns, a few heavy machine guns, a variety of small mortars, and the odd antitank gun. The Soviets and their Afghan allies are basically besieged within their enclaves, and the resistance is largely able to move at will about the country, though such movement is becoming increasingly difficult during daylight.17

The result is a stalemate. Nevertheless, the Soviets seem to believe that time is on their side: although they have not developed a particularly effective counterinsurgency strategy militarily, they appear to be prepared to try to outlast the resistance's willingness to go on. Of course, the Soviets are still learning and are likely to experiment with various strategies over time.18

To date, their strategy comes in four main categories. First, the Soviets are trying to develop political and military cadres to take over responsibility within the country, creating at least a facade of local government. This effort is plagued by rivalry among political elements within the Afghan government itself and by the fact that the government is deeply penetrated by resistance sympathizers. To deal with this situation, the Soviets are trying to build up the state security apparatus, the KHAD, as the local version of the KGB. Even this organization has been penetrated, however. A similar situation exists in the military.

The Afghan Army has dropped from more than 80,000 soldiers to approximately 40,000—and this current number must be maintained by press gangs. Morale is low, desertion is high, and at least some officers and quite a few rank and file support the resistance directly or indirectly. The Soviet military, who outnumber the Afghan Army by almost three to one, do not trust the Afghan soldiers. In combat, they tend to use the Afghans as cannon fodder, driving the Afghans in front of them in attacks. Similarly, the Afghan Air Force is closely supervised, and Afghan pilots generally fly with a Soviet copilot or escort. Still, the Soviets are trying to create loyal cadres by sending students and soldiers to the Soviet Union for training and by setting up local universities and schools to train the "right" sort. This type of force strengthening will require a long-term effort.19

Second, the Soviets are trying to develop a "hearts and minds" campaign. They are trying to promote rural development, are building schools and hospitals, and have mounted psychological operations to persuade the local populace of the benefits of socialism that is bringing an end to Afghanistan's "feudal" past. However, this campaign is seriously undermined by atrocities against the civilian population and by a bombing offensive that destroys fields and flocks.20

Third, the Soviets are trying to penetrate the resistance movement and to spread dissension and discord among rival tribes and the numerous factions that compose the resistance efforts. This campaign has had limited success, but as with everything else, it is too early to judge its effectiveness.

Finally, the Soviets are using their military to wear down the resistance. The main elements in the military effort include campaigns against known resistance strongholds (at least seven major offensives in the Panjshir Valley alone since 1980); small, mobile search-and-destroy missions against isolated mujadin groups; some nighttime operations; heavy, almost indiscriminate bombing or assaults on villages to drive the population off the land; the use of chemical weapons; extensive mining, some accomplished by airborne means; interdiction missions against supply routes; stronghold and installation protection; convoy escort duty; and hammer-and-anvil-type offensives.21

Over the course of the occupation, the Soviets have modified their effort, moving from the use of tanks and mechanized rifle formations toward greater use of helicopters, air assaults, and small-unit actions, although offensives such as those launched to seal off supply routes from Pakistan still involve armored mechanized forces. The Soviets have found that heavy tanks are inappropriate for much of the Afghan terrain and have shifted to the use of lighter armored vehicles. Interestingly, however, reports indicate that in at least some cases early on, despite combined arms doctrine, the Soviets used armor unaccompanied by supporting ground forces or these troops never dismounted from their armored personnel carriers, with predictable results. Reports also indicate that Soviet units have not responded flexibly to situations but have followed plans slavishly; and even the use of small, mobile forces has been hampered by lack of support.22

One of the most recent campaigns in the Panjshir, which came in the spring of 1984 after a long truce, also seemed to revert to older habits—reliance on large troop actions rather than on small-unit actions. The main difference in the effort was an apparent determination to garrison the Panjshir permanently. Also, it seems that the Soviets are coming to rely more heavily on a strategic bombing campaign designed to depopulate the countryside, thereby drying up the guerrilla ocean—the kill-the-patient school of medicine. The military effort, though, has not been a sustained action but a rather episodic affair, with sharp peaks and valleys. Some of this campaign style is dictated by the regional weather; in addition, the Soviets seem to be oscillating between an active military effort and a containment approach. In either event, this style is not in harmony with current Soviet military doctrine—but, of course, most Soviet doctrine is not aimed at the type of situation prevailing in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the resistance is notable to take full advantage of Soviet disabilities; itis severely divided, some groups within itspending more time fighting other resistance groups than the Soviets. Afghanistan has never been ahighly unified country, and religious regional, family, and tribal loyalties often take precedence over national identity. This lack of any cohesive nationalism or ideology means that the resistance has no consistent discipline or acknowledged overall leadership—a fact which the Soviets can exploit by inciting old feuds. The history of nonideologically based movements of tribal groups against a determined enemy is not very reassuring to those concerned about the long-term viability of the resistance in Afghanistan. Most resistance groups are small, coordination is difficult even when the will is present, and logistical difficulties limit the size of forces and operations. Furthermore, the resistance is indifferently armed, must cope with long lines of supply, and is dependent on the generosity of foreign donors and Pakistani tolerance. These circumstances inhibit the resistance capability to mount any sustained, large-scale offensive that could threaten the Soviet presence. The conflict remains a war of attrition.23

The Afghan situation illustrates that the Soviets are still struggling for a formula for coping with an insurgency. A quick review of Soviet military literature reveals increasing commentary on Russian experiences in Central Asia in the nineteenth century, the Soviet experience in Central Asia after World War I, partisan warfighting during World War II; mountain-fighting techniques, and the experiences of other nations in low-intensity conflicts. This study includes the U.S. experience in Vietnam. The Soviets are trying to learn how to operate effectively against indigenous insurgent forces in a foreign land, and some modifications in their operations indicate that some learning is going on. It is too early to evaluate the depth and long-term doctrinal impact of this effort.24

the use of air power

The Soviets' use of air assets, particularly helicopters, shows some effects of their learning experience. The Soviets are relying on helicopters for more and more of their effort, and they are using them in a range of missions, from convoy escort duties to troop insertion against resistance strongholds.25

The initial use of air power in Afghanistan, of course, was the rapid insertion and subsequent reinforcement and resupply of several airborne brigades. Once again, the Soviets proved the value of long-range inter/intratheater lift and demonstrated their capability in this area.

After the initial deployment of forces, however, the Soviets seemed to have had some difficulty in deciding how to employ their air power; and lack of coordination between ground forces and the air assets, which are controlledseparately, remains a problem. Still, the Soviets are using air power in a variety of ways. They are resorting to high-level saturation bombing and have begun to use a number of Su-25 Frogfoot ground support aircraft, perhaps for evaluation purposes. The main air weapon, though, has been the helicopter, principally the Mi-24 Hind, and the Mi-8 Hip.26The Hind is used as a fire support platform and as a roving agent, usually in twos and threes, to interdict daytime movement. The Mi-8 is generally used to ferry in forces for ground assaults. One of the standard employments has been to ferry ground forces into positions behind suspectedresistance forces and then to use ground troops in a frontal assault to drive these forces onto the "anvil" of the heliborne forces. Other helicopters are used to resupply isolated garrisons. The helicopter, however, has not eliminated the ground threat. Moreover, the resistance, despite its limited means, has taken a heavy toll in helicopters, demonstrating their vulnerability to fairly unsophisticated ground fire.

To date, the Soviets have used no low, slow fixed-wing counterinsurgency aircraft or anything similar to the AC-130. Time may change this posture. Overall, the Sovietsdo not have forces, doctrines, or weapons designed for low-intensity conflict, with the possible exception of spetsnaz. Their current strategy seems to favor what has been termed "migratory genocide," driving the people from the land through terror tactics. Once a more docile population is ensured, then the Soviets will move to more humane programs. For the present, however, they seem to be groping toward some such programs, not yet committing major efforts to carrying them out.

The Israeli Invasion of Lebanon

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon was not an example of a low-intensity operation, nor was it exactly a counterinsurgency operation; but it is useful to examine this invasion by way of contrast and to see how the massive (in relative terms) use of air power can affect a situation. The principal targets of the Israeli invasion were the irregular forces and political infrastructure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a largely guerrilla force. The Syrian forces based in Lebanon were also major targets, however, and much of the Israeli effort was aimed at crippling the Syrians.27

Technically, the war between the PLO and Israel is not an insurgency, yet it is hard to categorize it as anything else. The tactics employed by the PLO are also those used by insurgent forces, but the main body of guerrillas happen to be fighting from exile. Both parties in the fight claim the same land, and the PLO and its supporters outside the country view Israel as an occupying power. Itis this "war from the outside" and the landlessness of the PLO that give the struggle its peculiar characteristics.

How the PLO came to be in Lebanon and how the organization was able to build a base of operations there against Israel are complex stories in the long sagas of both Lebanon and the Palestinians during the last several decades. Suffice it to say that, from the mid-1970s, the Palestinians were able to build up a fairly extensive political and military infrastructure in Lebanon, from which they could organize attacks into Israel. In addition, the PLO was strong enough to challenge Lebanese authority and had become a major actor in the civil war in that country. The instability in Lebanon and, the fact that the PLO could use this nation bordering Israel as a base of operations, a unique development for the Palestinian movement, excited fear in Israel. This fear, plus the fact that the Syrians were expanding their presence in Lebanon, particularly to extend their antiaircraft missile network and flank Israel, increased Israeli security worries. As a result, the Israelis executed a well-planned and almost flawless operation—up to a point—aimed at liquidating all their security problems in one move.29

The invasion, like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, was a classic in swift, well-coordinated operations. Relying largely on combined arms tactics, the Israelis overwhelmed the lightly armed Palestinians and devastated the Syrian Army and Air Force. The air campaign against the Syrians, particularly, was a model of its type.

The major objectives of the Israeli campaign were to eliminate the Palestinian presence in Lebanon, to destroy Syrian forward-based surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites, and to provide an opportunity to resolve the Lebanese civil war in such a fashion as to restore order on Israeli's northern frontier and to preclude the possibility that Lebanon could be used as a base for either the Syrians or the Palestinians. This bold program may also have had an unspoken assumption—namely, that, by the invasion, the United States would be involved in the subsequent settlement process and would thus complement the political objectives by working out a comprehensive settlement.29

As a military venture, the invasion was, for the most part, a stunning success, although, given the fact that the Palestinians were a ragtag force, the Israelis might have been expected to do even better. Virtually all of the specific military objectives were achieved, and the air campaign against the Syrian SAM batteries in the Biqa Valley were masterfully executed. The Israeli Air Force also performed beyond even its expectations in dealing with the Syrian Air Force and showed an imaginative use of remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs). The ground forces, too, overwhelmed the Palestinians quickly and dealt a series of sharp blows to the Syrian Army. In so doing, they demonstrated the effectiveness of helicopters in the antitank role, although their losses indicated the vulnerability of helicopters to even unsophisticated fire.

Perhaps the only negative note in the military effort was the relatively poor showing of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in conducting military operations on urban terrain and in some mountain areas. Reluctant to risk the lives necessary for a major effort to root out the PLO in Beirut, for example, the Israelis turned to artillery and air strikes to destroy PLO positions. Past experience in urban terrain has demonstrated time and again that such exercises are of very limited value and that no amount of conventional bombing will dislodge a committed enemy. The Israelis also paid a price for these tactics. Although the amount of damage done in Beirut by Israeli attacks was fairly limited (the air strikes, in particular, being highly controlled and surgical), the television image broadcast worldwide of seemingly indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets did nothing to bolster Israel's international reputation. Much less publicized was the discipline of Israeli ground forces in conducting urban operations; in these military actions, the various units involved operated under strictly enforced rules of engagement that prevented them from harming civilians even if these civilians were providing shelter for guerrillas. The IDF suffered casualties on occasion to avoid alienating Lebanese opinion by indiscriminate fire in response to provocation.

However, despite its obvious excellence in the planning and execution of the Lebanon campaign, did Israel achieve its objectives? The spectacular nature of the military operation has tended to obscure the fact that the invasion had a largely political purpose. While it may be too early to draw final conclusions, interim judgments suggest that the operation was only of limited success and that its ultimate costs may have exceeded any benefits. The invasion demonstrated Israel's conventional military capabilities, which were hardly in doubt, but the Israelis have not found a formula for disengagement that will accomplish their original goals. Under pressure to withdraw, the IDF has been the object of continual harassment, while more people have probably been killed or wounded than in all the Palestinian attacks on Israel. Meanwhile, these and other complications have created doubts and some political division within Israel about the wisdom of the invasion; and both the invasion and the subsequent occupation of Lebanon have promoted the radicalization of the Shia population on Israel's border, a threat that may eventually prove more serious than the PLO. In addition, the PLO has not been eliminated from Lebanon and may be in the process of returning.30

Beyond these negative outcomes, the cost of keeping occupation forces in Lebanon has put a further strain on a crippled Israeli economy, which can ill afford the diversion of money and manpower. Despite the invasion, the Syrians remain in the Biqa; all of the Syrians' materiel losses have been more than replaced by the Soviets, who now have an even greater claim on Syria; and the Syrian influence in Lebanese internal affairs has only increased. The Lebanese situation is not much clearer than it was before the invasion; in fact, although Lebanon may be limping toward a return to national unity, the new government may not necessarily be favorable to Israel. The ultimate result may strengthen the Arab siege of Israel, particularly if the PLO is indeed reinfiltrating Lebanon.

It is not clear at this point that the Israelis accomplished anything more than a temporary disruption of the PLO. Also, it is not clear whether the large-scale invasion justified the costs or achieved anything of lasting value. However spectacular the military success, it should not obscure the fact that the Israelis failed politically. They demonstrated their unique command of conventional warfare, but their handling of the insurgency—the concern that provoked their invasion—still remains in the category of palliatives.

One should acknowledge other significant facts. Given the regional and international character of the insurgency, unilateral Israeli means to resolve the problem are severely limited. A political solution may be completely impossible, even if the Israelis are prepared to deal with the PLO—but that is not the issue to focus on here. The question that must be asked is whether military means can substitute for political ones. The invasion of Lebanon, unlike other Arab-Israeli wars, was not a struggle for survival against overwhelming odds, with massive forces marshaled on Israel's borders. Clearly, there was no immediate or overwhelming military threat. The main objective was to use the military to achieve a political end. The success of the venture remains highly dubious and underscores the inadequacy of substituting arms for policy.

Lessons for U.S. Decision Makers

From the foregoing discussion, it is possible to derive nine major lessons, which can be grouped into three general categories. These have an impact on low-intensity conflict thinking and merit attention in organizing the U.S. effort to cope with future low-intensity conflicts:

As noted earlier, there is a problem in defining low-intensity conflict, both because of its ambiguity and because of rivalry between various agencies for influence. This problem, in turn, generates difficulties in developing doctrine, as the services, civilian agencies, and influential individuals remain in disagreement about what should be included in the doctrine. The definition and doctrine are not simply matters of intellectual interest but carry with them implications for force structure and, of course, funding. Thus, there have been many definitions of low-intensity conflict and a number of doctrines, as well as a steady stream of commentaries on the requirements for counterinsurgency campaigns. Nevertheless, we seem impervious to the lessons, the advice, or the needs.

It will not be sufficient to devise a definition and doctrine for low-intensity conflict without following through on the measures needed to implement them. One basic matter that we must consider is force structure to deal with low-intensity conflict situations—what forces, how many, and how configured. We cannot assume that existing force structure, equipment, or modified doctrine will meet the special needs of low-intensity conflicts. We must design our forces, equipment, training programs, and C3I systems not to overwhelm the insurgency with sophistication but to respond in consonance with the situations.31

The main requirements in designing a response are political, not military; but it is important to have a force structure that can respond with flexibility within this context. As the case studies indicate, political considerations predominate in dealing effectively and efficiently with insurgencies, not the use of this or that weapon system. This fact does not mean that force is ruled out but simply means that its utility must be measured against its contribution to political ends. Since U.S. involvement in low-intensity conflict is likely to be coalition warfare, continuing assessment is necessary.

In considering a U.S. response in such circumstances, we must bear in mind also that this country's ability to deal with the situation must be based on the political climate at home. The Vietnam War raised the issue of political will and this country's ability to use its combat forces overseas in conflicts without clear purposes. Since low-intensity conflicts are always likely to involve ambiguity, the question of this country's ability to become involved in low-intensity conflicts remains in doubt. The lesson of Vietnam in this regard is not that the United States should not go to war without absolute approval at home, as Colonel Harry Summers, USA (Ret), and others have argued, but that popular opinion is subject to change despite the justifications. Limited wars may still have to be fought; the issue is how to keep U.S. involvement limited so as to avoid major disapprobation. Any involvement will require a political effort in this country to justify U.S. purposes.

Such involvement also means coalition warfare, which imposes its own special problems in designing a U.S. response. Although Colonel Summers and I disagree on most things, he is right when he points out that coalition warfare creates special problems for the United States, one of which is the disparity of interests and goals of the erstwhile partners, which can be exploited by the opposition.

Another key political problem for the United States in low-intensity conflicts is the question of nation or institution building in the host country. In most cases, the conflicts within a given society have developed from a lack of local political legitimacy. The insurgency not only menaces the survival of a government but also demonstrates that it is not in sufficient control of its own internal affairs or sure enough of the loyalty of its own people to govern effectively. If the country in question lacks a competent bureaucracy and an effective military, the United States, as the coalition partner, must help to promote the necessary institutions and legitimacy that are essential for the government's survival. Nation building is a complex and tricky task, one that the United States can only assist in. This country cannot impose democracy on others. Thus, U.S. involvement in low-intensity conflict may mean dealing with ambiguous situations in which there will be severe constraints on the ability of the United States to influence events. While assisting a force and its leaders in another country may be essential, it can carry hidden dangers, one of them being the creation of a military system in the host country that can come to dominate the political system and thus aggravate the problem. In countries with legitimacy problems, the creation of a strong, competent military may be the first step toward creating a system of military rule. Thus, caution must be exercised in developing a nation building policy.

The final set of considerations in developing a U.S. response to low-intensity conflicts is the issue of constraints on the development of a consistent policy. In addition to those already mentioned, certain systemic problems inhibit the formulation of an effective response. One of the main problems is the continuing struggle in this country among various institutions for resources and attention. It is by no means universally accepted that low-intensity conflicts should receive the attention that is suggested here. Moreover, the struggle among various elements of the bureaucracy for priority of their interests means that any attempt to establish a clear agenda is fraught with turf battles.

Complicating this situation is the fact that bureaucracies tend to deal with problems, however unique, with a set of well-established responses. When this conventional syndrome, also described as the gyroscopic effect, is prevalent, agencies tend to resist new ideas or methods even if the old responses have proved inadequate. This problem has been particularly acute in regard to low-intensity conflict situations: although the standard responses have been singularly ineffective, the system refuses to learn. In part, this complacency stems from the fact that low-intensity conflicts do not represent a system-threatening crisis, one that overrides parochial concerns and gives the disparate elements of the system a sense of common purpose.

A final constraint is the question of command and control. Low-intensity conflicts require a high degree of coordination and control to make sure that ends and means are well matched. This requirement presents a particularly difficult problem for the United States, given the diffused nature of its political systems and the almost anarchical approach it takes in dealing with foreign countries. The reverse side of this problem, however, is also an acute concern, for low-intensity conflicts, at the ground level, require that local authorities have discretion in responding to the demands of the moment. Inflexible or misinformed authorities who are distant from the immediate situation but who feel the need to be in control can paralyze any effort, no matter how well-thought-out. Thus, the question of excessive control is just as crucial as the need to have a clear line of command and control in guiding the U.S. low-intensity conflict effort. Central to dealing with these key issues is the need for a clear policy, both military and political, for U.S. involvement. What is required is more than a rationale but an articulated statement relating ends to means, purpose to abilities—a statement expressing concrete goals and clear limits.32

The use of air power by the United States in a low-intensity conflict, whether directly or as part of an advisory effort, will necessarily be within a political context, both here and in the target state, that must receive primary attention, for it will shape U.S. involvement and thus the employment of force. Nevertheless, the foregoing discussion has some implications for the U.S. Air Force that need to be recognized before any such conflict requires our participation.

Traditional air doctrine as we conceive it is inappropriate for low-intensity conflict, I believe: extension of tactical air doctrine to the counterinsurgency effort is inadequate and wrong. Moreover, the United States is ill-equipped and ill-prepared to advise on or conduct a low-intensity conflict. Unfortunately, we may find also that the remedy for this situation of inadequacy is beyond our capacity or at least beyond our willingness to make the necessary adjustments.

Tactical air doctrine and the attending force structure are designed for conventional wars against conventional enemies. In most low-intensity conflict situations, control of the air is established by default, while isolation of the battlefield, where there are few and fleeting fixed battles, is a non sequitur. The use of high-speed, high-performance aircraft and heavy ordnance, like the indiscriminant use of long-range artillery, is counterproductive. Targets are difficult to identify, distinguishing friend from foe is largely a matter of chance, and time on station is too ephemeral. What are needed are slow planes that can be directed discriminatingly by ground observers who have an understanding of the situation. The air platform needs to be stable, tough, inexpensive, and easily maintained and operated in an austere environment. Ordinarily, the AC-130 would be an excellent candidate for this task; however, because it is so expensive and difficult to maintain or operate from remote or poor facilities, it is a bad choice for most low-intensity conflicts. Similarly, expense, time on station, and difficulty of maintenance are reasons why helicopters are not necessarily the best answer to the situations of low-intensity conflict.

The important point that we must recognize is that low-intensity conflict is someone else's war, not ours, not the "big one" that our systems and doctrines are designed for.33 It is this orientation toward general war—with the accompanying notion that general-purpose forces and weapon systems designed to fight the Soviets in Europe are capable of fighting any other conflict anywhere else—that largely disqualifies the United States from low-intensity conflict. Our weapon systems and doctrines are directed toward dealing with the Soviets, just as theirs are centered on us. The consequences of such an orientation when applied in a different context are plainly visible in the current Soviet experience in Afghanistan. In order to deal seriously with low-intensity conflict, we must develop a force structure and doctrine that clash with the big-war syndrome. It is our inability to recognize this fact and to accept the consequences that makes any successful response on our part doubtful.

For example, the United States Air Force currently has no air platform for low-intensity conflict (excepting the AC-130). 34 With the exception of the JVX, none are programmed. The Air Force does not have a small, intratheater lift aircraft capable of operating from remote, austere fields; and it has few pilots who are familiar with such aircraft built by other nations, so that a training mission is precluded. The Air Force deemphasizes special operations and, for bureaucratic and budgetary reasons, finds the idea of low-performance aircraft embarrassing. The tendency is to develop sophisticated jets manifesting the "zoom-zoom" syndrome—and to encourage other states to acquire them regardless of whether these nations have the material base, technical expertise, or strategic need for such systems. In fairness, other states want them, but we offer few alternatives. In some cases, we build ourselves out of the market. Unfortunately, however, our interests and those of our international friends mean that we are still called on for assistance, and our predilections often lead us into offering bad advice or assistance inappropriate to the local need.

What, then, is the appropriate use of air power in low-intensity conflict, and what should the overall U.S. military role be? If the stress in U.S. involvement is on political programs, is there a role for the military? And if, as suggested, there are many constraints on the use of air power, is there a role for air power?

The main U.S. military role will come in combat support and combat service support, including training and education missions that support the U.S. political effort and the activities of the host country to respond effectively to an insurgency. Air power is most helpful in noncombat or support roles—that is, in intelligence collection/reconnaissance, troop movement, resupply, and showing a presence. In addition, it can be employed effectively against known enemy formations or to interdict attacks on friendly positions. These roles require a number of different systems specifically designed for such tasks and able to operate in relatively austere situations. Also required is a doctrine that subordinates the use of air power to political purposes. One of the indirect consequences of too great a reliance on air power, even for troop movement, is that it creates an artificial distinction between the war on the ground and the war in the air. It also reinforces another deceptive dichotomy in that it stresses maneuver and mobility over political activity. Maneuver and mobility are obviously desirable, but military means alone will not achieve political ends.

The U.S. role in promoting such uses of air power requires programming and acquiring a number of systems, trained pilots, and support staff capable of working in a low-intensity environment; working to change current doctrine on the use of air power for low-intensity conflict; and an effort to convince Congress to remove restrictions that prevent our encouraging Third World states to buy the air platforms they need from other suppliers when we cannot provide them. Second, for the Air Force, it means creating a low-intensity force, perhaps comparable to its tactical or strategic air elements, though not as large. The Air Force is taking, perhaps, the first steps in this direction with the creation of a Center for Low-Intensity Conflict, but it remains to be seen whether this new body will have the scope and influence necessary to affect U.S. air power doctrine for low-intensity conflict to any significant degree. If such serious attention is not forthcoming, the Air Force should abandon low-intensity conflict to the U.S. Army and allow the Army to develop the appropriate systems and force structure. The Army, then, must come to terms with all of the problems and challenges. These suggestions may be unpalatable, but they are realistic in terms of the demands for an effective response. The question is whether to take low-intensity conflict seriously and to deal with the implications of doing so.

In regard to the political effort that should form the context for any U.S. involvement in a low-intensity conflict, the problem is particularly complex. Colonel Summers points out that

... the United States is singularly unequipped to orchestrate the regional application of US power. Although military unified command headquarters may pull together Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine elements . . .. there are no equivalent regional agencies to coordinate and control diplomatic, economic, sociological or psychological power.35

Summer notes further that the situation is even worse at the national level:

[While] the National Security Council can consider and decide on actions.... there exists no supranational command authority short of the President himself to control operations ... and thus coordinate the efforts of the Department of State… Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the other activities involved in support of low-intensity conflict.... This lack of unity of command almost ensures [that] there will be no unity of effort.36

One might add that, in the absence of any sense of crisis, the various elements of the bureaucracy will not willingly accept any infringement of their authority. Yet, the importance of low-intensity conflicts demands a more sophisticated and dedicated approach. The attenuated nature of the situation may obscure its importance, but the United States cannot simply address the problem on a departmental, piecemeal basis. The solution lies in clear, decisive, sustained guidance at the highest levels, supported by the bureaucracy and the services, to effect the necessary changes for dealing with low-intensity conflicts.

The first step in this direction is to establish an ad hoc group for low-intensity conflict at the national/National Security Council (NSC) level, perhaps chaired by the U.S. Vice-President but with the active support of the President. The purpose of this group would be to provide a focal point for thinking on low-intensity conflict and an action agency to promote a coordinated effort among all government departments and agencies concerned. It would be a high-level lobbying group and clearing house that could establish priorities and provide sustained guidance.

In addition to this body, a corresponding ad hoc group under civilian control is needed to coordinate and direct all U.S. efforts in a situation that has been designated a low-intensity conflict. Such a group, located in the host country but with direct links and responsibility to the national-level/NSC group, would direct all U.S. in-country activity for the duration of the crisis. Such a body would subordinate all normal U.S. official relations with the country in question and would coordinate its policy with the national commission. This solution is not likely to win the approval of the various competing bureaucracies, but the demands of a low-intensity conflict policy and the needs for consistency and coordination must override business as usual.


    1. For an example of recent studies on the issue, see US Policy and Low-Intensity Conflict, edited by Sam Sarkesian and William Scully (New York: Transaction Books, 1983). There are also an increasing number of conferences on the subject, and the services, particularly the Army, are trying to develop doctrine and forces for low-intensity operations.

    2. Eliot A. Cohen, "Constraints on America's Conduct of Small Wars," International Security, Fall 1984. p. 153.

    3. For a similar idea, see Andrew Mack, "Why Big Nations Lose Small Wars: The Politics of Asymmetric Conflict," in Power, Strategy, and Security, edited by Klaus Knorr (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press), 1983, pp. 126-51.

    4. Cohen, p. 165. Peter Bahnsen, a defense expert at OSD, makes a similar point more wittily when he defines low-intensity conflict as those wars the U.S. military does not want to fight. Major Andrew Krepinevich also argues convincingly that the U.S. military avoided giving special operations and counterinsurgency anything but lip service; see "The United States Army in Vietnam: Counterinsurgency Doctrine and the Army Concept of War." unpublished paper, United States Military Academy.

    5. Robert Komer, "The Bureaucracy Does Its Thing: International Constraints on US-GVN Performance in Vietnam," Rand R-967-ARPA, August 1972 (Santa Monica, California: Rand, 1973), p. 45.

    6. Sarkesian and Scully, p. 11.

    7. See Stephen Rosen, "Vietnam and the American Theory of Limited War," International Security, Fall 1982, pp. 83-113. Rosen also notes that bureaucracies are slow to change without an overwhelming sense of vision (p. 109), inhibiting effective response to low-intensity conflict, which is commonly an attenuated threat.

    8. The literature on the insurgency is limited and varies in quality. See John Peterson, "Britain and the Oman War," Asian Affairs, October 1976, pp. 285-98; John Peterson, "Guerrilla Warfare and Ideological Confrontation in the Arabian Peninsula: The Rebellion in Dhufar," World Affairs, Spring 1977. pp. 278-95; John Peterson, Oman in the Twentieth Century: Foundations of an Emerging State (Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978); Bard O'Neill, "Revolutionary War in Oman," in Insurgency in the Modern World, edited by Bard O'Neill, et al. (Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1980), pp. 213-34; Aryeh Yodfat, The Soviet Union and the Arabian Peninsula (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984); D. L. Price, "Oman: Insurgency and Development," Conflict Studies, January 1975; Bard O'Neill and William Brundage, "Revolutionary Warfare in Oman: A Strategic Appraisal," Middle East Review, Summer 1978, pp. 48-56; John Townsend, Oman: The Making of the Modern State (London: Croom Helm, 1977); Nabil Kayleni, "Politics and Religion in Oman: A Historical Overview," International Journal of Middle East Studies, Winter 1979, pp. 567-79; F. A. Clements, Oman: The Reborn Land (New York: Longman, 1980); George Lenczowski, The Middle East in World Affairs, fourth edition (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1980), pp. 682-88; Area Handbook for the Persian Gulf States (Washington: American University Press, 1977); and J. C. Wilkinson, "The Origins of the Oman State," in The Arabian Peninsula: Society and Politics, edited by Derek Hopwood (London: Allen and Unwin, 1971), pp. 67-88.

    9. Colonel Tony Jeapes, SAS Operation in Oman (London: Kimber, 1980).

    10. Ibid., pp. 139-41.

    11. Ibid., p. 236.

    12. Ibid., pp. 161, 192-93.

    13. Ibid., p. 192.

    14. For studies of the background on the Soviet invasion and on Soviet interests in the region, see Henry Bradsher, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1983); Richard Newell and Nancy Newell, The Struggle for Afghanistan (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1981); Mark Heller, "The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan," Washington Quarterly, Summer 1980, pp. 36-59; Hanah Negaran, "The Afghan Coup of April 1978: Revolution and International Security," Orbis, Spring 1979, pp. 93-113; Alfred Monks, The Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan (Washington: American Enterprise Institute, 1981).

    15. See Claude Malhuret, "Report from Afghanistan," Foreign Affairs, Winter 1983/84, pp. 426-35; Alvin Rubinstein, "Afghanistan: Embraced by the Bear," Orbis, Spring 1982, pp. 135-53; and Colonel Jerome Haggerty, "Afghanistan: The Great Game," Military Review, August 1980, pp. 37-44.

    16. See Major Joseph Collins, "The Soviet-Afghan War: The First Four Years," Parameters, Summer 1984, pp. 49-62; Major Terry Heyns, "Will Afghanistan Become the Soviet Union's Vietnam?" Military Review, October 1981, pp. 50-59; Edgar O'Ballance, "Soviet Tactics in Afghanistan," Military Review, August 1980, pp. 45-52; "Afghanistan: Four Years of Occupation," U.S. State Department Special Report No. 112; Gregory D'Ehi and Charles Bork, "Afghan 101: Yale Journalists Tour Jihad Battlegrounds," Soldiers of Fortune, January 1984, pp. 46-49, 86, 88-92; Master Sergeant William Beck, et al., "Afghanistan: What Impact on Soviet Tactics," Military Review, March 1982, pp. 2-11.

    17. Major Joseph Collins, "Soviet Military Performance in Afghanistan: A Preliminary Assessment," Comparative Strategy, No. 4, 1983, pp. 147-68; G. Jacobs, "The Years of Soviet War Operations Evaluated," Asian Defense Journal, December 1982, pp. 34-36, 38-39, 43, 44-45; Jan Hogg, "Afghans Seize New Types of Soviet SMG." Jane’s Defense Weekly, 28 January 1984, p. 101. Strategic Review, Winter 1981, p. 72; David Isby, "Soviet Tactics in the War in Afghanistan," Jane’s Defense Review, 1983, pp. 681-93; the Afghan-Soviet War: Stalemate or Evolution," Middle East Journal, September 1982, pp. 151-64.

    19. Borje Almquist, "Get Shot in the Back of the Head or Become Cannon Fodder," Dagens Nyheter, 3 February 1984, p. 12 (JPRS, 1984); "Current Assessment of Afghanistan Situation," Le Monde, 15-17 November 1983; Patricia Claude, "Year of the Afghan Jihad," Le Monde, 28 and 30 December 1983.

    20. Ibid.; Sven Lindquist, "Soviet Tactics," Dagens Nyheter, 29 April 1984, p. 4 (JPRS, 1984); Moham Ram, "Jihad, Soviet-Style," Far Eastern Economic Review, March 1982, p. 16.

    21. "The Soviets in Afghanistan: Winning by 'Making Terror Reign,' " Baltimore Sun, 27 November 1983; Edward Girardet, Afghanistan: The Soviet War (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985), pp. 30ff. Mathew Stevenson, "Traveling the Afghan Archipelago," American Spectator, February 1984, pp. 11-14; Oliver Roy, "Afghanistan: Four Years of Soviet Occupation," Swiss Review of World Affairs, March 1984, pp. 8-11; Robert Toth, "Soviet Jets Rain Bombs on Afghans," Los Angeles Times, 25 April 1984; Roger Fontaine, " 'Migratory Genocide' Considered Part of Moscow's War Strategy," Washington Times, 17 July 1984; Malhuret, op. cit.

    22. Isby, op. cit.; Collins, op. cit.

    23. Anthony Hyman, "Mujahidin Tactics," Islamic World Defense, January-March 1984, pp. 20-25; Bradsher, op. cit., pp. 218-26; Richard Newell, "Revolution and Revolt in Afghanistan," The World Today, November 1979, pp. 432-42.

    24. Isby, op. cit.; Isby, "Afghanistan 1982: The War Continues," International Defense Review, No. 11, 1982, pp. 1523-28.

    25. Ibid.; O'Ballance, op. cit.; Collins, op. cit. Various issues of Krasnaya zvyzda also indicate Soviet interest, although this is generally expressed indirectly.

    26. Ibid.

    27. See Richard Gabriel, Operation Peace for Galilee: The Israeli PLO War in Lebanon (New York: Hill and Wong, 1984); Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari, Israel's Lebanon War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984); Dr. Karl Schnell, "Experiences of the Lebanon War," Military Technology, July 1984, pp. 23-33; and Anthony Cordesman, "The Sixth Arab-Israeli Conflict: Military Lessons for American Defense Planning," Armed Forces Journal International, August 1982, pp. 29-32. Day-to-day coverage of the invasion was provided in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Jerusalem Post.

    28. On the background of the Lebanese situation, see ltamar Rabinovich, The War for Lebanon, 1970-1983 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1984). and Walid Khalidi, Conflict and Violence in Lebanon: Confrontation in the Middle East (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1979).

    29. Gabriel, op. cit.; Schiff and Ya'ari, op. cit.

    30. Schiff and Ya'ari, op. cit.

    31. The literature on counterinsurgency is fairly uniform on this position. Also see Bard O'Neill, "Insurgency: A Framework to Analysis," in Insurgency in the Modern World, edited by O'Neill et al., pp. 1-42.

    32. Rosen, op. cit.

    33. The OV-10A may be a suitable candidate for an all-purpose low-intensity conflict platform, but a serious effort is needed to examine its potential. The danger here is that in considering the aircraft, we shall overload it with the type of sophisticated gear that this country favors but that generally makes our systems too expensive or complicated for others. The development of a low-intensity conflict vehicle will go against many of the institutional prejudices of the United States military. The effort is important, however. I have benefited from discussions with various Air Force low-intensity conflict experts, including Colonel Ray Stratton, Colonel John Roberts, Major George Schriever, and Lieutenant Colonel William Hudspeth. In addition, Jerome Klingaman of the Air War College has shared his vast experience, and I have also benefited from his unpublished paper titled "Light Aircraft Technology for Small Wars."

    34. This is an overstatement and does not take into account the AC-130, but, as noted earlier, the AC-130 does not fit the criteria of an inexpensive, easily maintained platform able to operate out of unsophisticated fields. The AC-130 is fine for U.S. use, but it puts us out of the market for coalition warfare if we are to train local forces and provide them with equipment they need.

    35. Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr., USA, "Principles of War and Low-Intensity Conflict," Military Review, March 1985, p. 48. Emphasis added.

    36. Ibid., pp. 48-49.


William J. Olson (Ph.D., University of Texas) is Regional Security Affairs Analyst for the Persian Gulf /Southwest Asia Region at the U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. He has been a Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and the University of Sydney, Australia, as well as a research analyst at the Library of Congress. Dr. Olson is the author of Britain’s Elusive Empire in the Middle East, Anglo-Iranian Relations during WWI, and numerous articles on U.S. policy and Middle Eastern affairs. He is currently editing a book on U.S. strategic interests in the Persian Gulf.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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