PDF The United States Military in Limited War: Case Studies in Success and Failure, 1945–1999

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In Syria the wealthy buy exemptions or, failing that, are assigned to noncombatant organizations. As a young Syrian told me, his musical skills came from his assignment to a Syrian army band where he learned to play an instrument. In general, the militaries of the Fertile Crescent enforce discipline by fear; in countries where a tribal system still is in force, such as Saudi Arabia, the innate egalitarianism of the society mitigates against fear as the prime motivator, so a general lack of discipline pervades.

The social and professional gap between officers and enlisted men is present in all armies, but in the United States and other Western forces, the noncommissioned officer NCO corps bridges it.

The United States Military in Limited War – McFarland

Indeed, a professional NCO corps has been critical for the American military to work at its best; as the primary trainers in a professional army, NCOs are critical to training programs and to the enlisted men's sense of unit esprit. Most of the Arab world either has no NCO corps or it is non-functional, severely handicapping the military's effectiveness.

With some exceptions, NCOs are considered in the same low category as enlisted men and so do not serve as a bridge between enlisted men and officers. Officers instruct but the wide social gap between enlisted man and officer tends to make the learning process perfunctory, formalized, and ineffective. The show-and-tell aspects of training are frequently missing because officers refuse to get their hands dirty and prefer to ignore the more practical aspects of their subject matter, believing this below their social station. A dramatic example of this occurred during the Gulf war when a severe windstorm blew down the tents of Iraqi officer prisoners of war.

For three days they stayed in the wind and rain rather than be observed by enlisted prisoners in a nearby camp working with their hands. The military price for this is very high. Without the cohesion supplied by NCOs, units tend to disintegrate in the stress of combat. This is primarily a function of the fact that the enlisted soldiers simply do not trust their officers.


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Once officers depart the training areas, training begins to fall apart as soldiers begin drifting off. An Egyptian officer once explained to me that the Egyptian army's catastrophic defeat in resulted from a lack of cohesion within units. The situation, he said, had only marginally improved in Iraqi prisoners in showed a remarkable fear and enmity toward their officers. Decisions are made and delivered from on high, with very little lateral communication. This leads to a highly centralized system, with authority hardly ever delegated.

Rarely does an officer make a critical decision on his own; instead, he prefers the safe course of being identified as industrious, intelligent, loyal—and compliant.

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Bringing attention to oneself as an innovator or someone prone to make unilateral decisions is a recipe for trouble. As in civilian life, conformism is the overwhelming societal norm; the nail that stands up gets hammered down. Orders and information flow from top to bottom; they are not to be reinterpreted, amended, or modified in any way. This author has several times seen decisions that could have been made at the battalion level concerning such matters as class meeting times and locations requiring approval from the ministry of defense.

All of which has led American trainers to develop a rule of thumb: a sergeant first class in the U. Army has as much authority as a colonel in an Arab army. Methods of instruction and subject matter are dictated from higher authorities.


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Unit commanders have very little to say about these affairs. The politicized nature of the Arab militaries means that political factors weigh heavily and frequently override military considerations. Officers with initiative and a predilection for unilateral action pose a threat to the regime. This can be seen not just at the level of national strategy but in every aspect of military operations and training. If Arab militaries became less politicized and more professional in preparation for the war with Israel, 22 once the fighting ended, old habits returned.

Now, an increasingly bureaucratized military establishment weighs in as well. A veteran of the Pentagon turf wars will feel like a kindergartner when he encounters the rivalries that exist in the Arab military headquarters. Taking responsibility for a policy, operation, status, or training program rarely occurs.

A high rate of non-operational U. Such criticism was never caustic or personal and often so indirect and politely delivered that it wasn't until after a meeting that oblique references were understood. This imperative works even at the most exalted levels. During the Kuwait war, Iraqi forces took over the town of Khafji in northeast Saudi Arabia after the Saudis had evacuated the place. General Khalid bin Sultan, the Saudi ground forces commander, requested a letter from General Norman Schwarzkopf, stating it was the U.

As for equipment, a vast cultural gap exists between the U. The Arab difficulties with U. The American concept of a weapons system does not convey easily. A weapons system brings with it specific maintenance and logistics procedures, policies, and even a philosophy, all of them based on U. Tools that would be allocated to a U. The expertise, initiative and, most importantly, the trust indicated by delegation of responsibility to a lower level are rare. The U. Without the needed tools, spare parts, or expertise available to keep equipment running, and loathe to report bad news to his superiors, the unit commander looks for scapegoats.

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All this explains why I many times heard in Egypt that U. I have observed many in-country U. They obfuscate and mislead to such an extent that U. More generally, Arab reluctance to be candid about training deficiencies makes it extremely difficult for foreign advisors properly to support instruction or assess training needs. A lack of cooperation is most apparent in the failure of all Arab armies to succeed at combined arms operations. A regular Jordanian army infantry company, for example, is man-for-man as good as a comparable Israeli company; at battalion level, however, the coordination required for combined arms operations, with artillery, air, and logistics support, is simply absent.

Indeed, the higher the echelon, the greater the disparity. This results from infrequent combined arms training; when it does take place, it is intended to impress visitors which it does—the dog-and-pony show is usually done with uncommon gusto and theatrical talent rather than provide real training. This problem results from three main factors.

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First, the well-known lack of trust among Arabs for anyone outside their own family adversely affects offensive operations. In a culture in which almost every sphere of human endeavor, including business and social relationships, is based on a family structure, this orientation is also present in the military, particularly in the stress of battle.

Offensive action, basically, consists of fire and maneuver. The maneuver element must be confident that supporting units or arms are providing covering fire. If there is a lack of trust in that support, getting troops moving forward against dug-in defenders is possible only by officers getting out front and leading, something that has not been a characteristic of Arab leadership. Second, the complex mosaic system of peoples creates additional problems for training, as rulers in the Middle East make use of the sectarian and tribal loyalties to maintain power.

This has direct implications for the military, where sectarian considerations affect assignments and promotions. Some minorities such the Circassians in Jordan or the Druze in Syria tie their well-being to the ruling elite and perform critical protection roles; others such as the Shi'a of Iraq are excluded from the officer corps.

The United States Military in Limited War: Case Studies in Success and Failure, 1945-1999

In any case, the assignment of officers based on sectarian considerations works against assignments based on merit. The same lack of trust operates at the interstate level, where Arab armies exhibit very little trust of each other, and with good reason. The blatant lie Gamal Abdel Nasser told King Husayn in June to get him into the war against Israel—that the Egyptian air force was over Tel Aviv when most of its planes had been destroyed —was a classic example of deceit.

During the war, for example, not a single Jordanian liaison officer was stationed in Egypt, nor were the Jordanians forthcoming with the Egyptian command.

Third, Middle Eastern rulers routinely rely on balance-of-power techniques to maintain their authority. This makes building any form of personal power base difficult, if not impossible, and keeps the leadership apprehensive and off-balance, never secure in its careers or social position. The same applies within the military; a powerful chairman of the joint chiefs is inconceivable. Joint commands are paper constructs that have little actual function. Leaders look at joint commands, joint exercises, combined arms, and integrated staffs very cautiously for all Arab armies are a double-edged sword.

One edge points toward the external enemy and the other toward the capital. The land forces are at once a regime-maintenance force and threat at the same time. No Arab ruler will allow combined operations or training to become routine; the usual excuse is financial expense, but that is unconvincing given their frequent purchase of hardware whose maintenance costs they cannot afford.

In fact, combined arms exercises and joint staffs create familiarity, soften rivalries, erase suspicions, and eliminate the fragmented, competing organizations that enable rulers to play off rivals against one another. This situation is most clearly seen in Saudi Arabia, where the land forces and aviation are under the minister of defense, Prince Sultan, while the National Guard is under Prince Abdullah, the deputy prime minister and crown prince.

In Egypt, the Central Security Forces balance the army. In Iraq and Syria, the Republican Guard does the balancing. Politicians actually create obstacles to maintain fragmentation. For example, obtaining aircraft from the air force for army airborne training, whether it is a joint exercise or a simple administrative request for support of training, must generally be coordinated by the heads of services at the ministry of defense; if a large number of aircraft are involved, this probably requires presidential approval.

Military coups may be out of style, but the fear of them remains strong.

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The United States Military in limited war : case studies in success and failure, 1945-1999

Any large-scale exercise of land forces is a matter of concern to the government and is closely observed, particularly if live ammunition is being used. In Saudi Arabia a complex system of clearances required from area military commanders and provincial governors, all of whom have differing command channels to secure road convoy permission, obtaining ammunition, and conducting exercises, means that in order for a coup to work, it would require a massive amount of loyal conspirators.

Arab regimes have learned how to be coup-proof. Arab regimes classify virtually everything vaguely military. Information the U. To be sure, this does make it more difficult for the enemy to construct an accurate order of battle, but it also feeds the divisive and compartmentalized nature of the military forces.