A Different Kind of War? Part II

Strategically, hybrid warfare exhibits the ultimate Clausewitzian trait of warfare as an instrument of policy and not merely an end to itself. The very nature of the military mismatch between the opponents in a hybrid style of war means that the weaker side cannot achieve a strictly military victory and will aim for a political victory by attacking either their opponent’s will to resist, or, in this era of multi-national institutions and global information, defeating their opponent in the realm of public and international opinion. This is the biggest challenge for the U.S. and other hi-tech conventional militaries. The U.S. military and security establishment likes to interpret warfare and combat as a series of discreet events, which is no longer possible or realistic. [5]

This will present a very severe challenge to large, mechanized, firepower-centric Western militaries. In most conflicts likely to be faced by the United States, Israel, or other democratic societies, there will be extreme limits at the strategic, operational, and tactical level on the amount of violence and weapons available to military forces. Warfare of annihilation, where one side completely destroys their opponent’s army and occupies their territory essentially ended in 1945. Even the invasion of Iraq in 2003 did not see the U.S. completely destroy the Iraqi army and government, one of the major psychological and military reasons the subsequent insurgency was able to take root. Future combat, or at least periods of intense fighting, will be severely shortened in hybrid wars as the weaker side will likely appeal to sympathetic media outlets and international organizations to end the complete destruction of their forces at the hand of their better equipped foes by decrying collateral damage and civilian casualties. These media organizations, international bodies and even non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will practically become co-belligerents on the battlefield, wielding disproportionate influence on the operational and political outcome of the battle. [6]

Operationally, hybrid warfare will present two significant challenges to conventional militaries. First, the weaker side does not need to achieve any major battlefield victories to achieve their political goals. As the 2006 Lebanon War shows, merely being able to fight and survive against the superior military allows the hybrid warrior to claim some measure of ‘victory’ even after suffering significant casualties. [7]

Second, the weaker power is likely to operate in a loose network of fighters that will not present a significant target for conventional firepower. Moreover, the growing urbanization of many Third-world countries, combined with the deliberate decision to wage war in densely populated areas will make the operational and tactical problems more difficult for Western militaries. The USMC is already grappling with this issue in their discussion of a ‘three-block war,’ where Western military forces may be conducting assistance, security, and combat operations in close proximity and nearly simultaneously. Hybrid warriors will not be faced with his problem and will be singularly focused on inflicting casualties on their enemies. [8]

The U.S. experienced a version of hybrid warfare in the Fallujah campaign of 2004. When U.S. Marines conducted a hasty and underprepared attack into the city in April 2004 in response to the killing of American security contractors by Sunni insurgents, they were halted not by military resistance from the insurgents, but by Iraqi political pressure and an international outcry against the alleged overuse of American firepower and the infliction of collateral damage and civilian casualties. Their ability to manipulate the “strategic narrative” kept the entire might of the U.S. military at bay for nearly nine months. When the U.S. finally conducted an all-out assault and capture of the city in November 2004, careful political and information operations preparations were conducted as an integral part of the overall military operation and the Sunni insurgents dug into the city were largely defeated. Control of the city passed to U.S. and Iraqi authorities in time to proceed with the 2005 Iraqi elections. [9]

COIN and CT operations are time consuming, messy and often do not present a clear military victory. They are often waged as small unit actions without any of the major battles at which the U.S. military excels. However, they are likely to be the major mode of combat faced by the U.S. and our allies for the foreseeable future and must be understood as warfare as deadly and earnest whether waged on the battlefield, internet or village markets. 

[5] David Johnson, "Military Capabilities for Hybrid War," Rand Corporation, 2010, www.rand.org (accessed May 2010), 1.
[6] Hoffman, 55-59.
[7] Stephen Biddle and Jeffrey Friedman, The 2006 Lebanon Campaign and the Future of Warfare: Implications for Army and Defense Policy (Ft. Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute, 2008), 1-9.
[8] Maj Philip Boggs, Joint Task Force Commanders and the "Three Block War": Setting the Conditions for Tactical Success, Monograph, School for Advanced Military Studies, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (Ft Leavenworth: U.S. Army War College, 2000).
[9] Bing West, No True Glory (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2005), 89-94, 119-123, 257-263, 317-32