Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR Sept 2010 Contents GLOBAL SUPPY CHAIN REPORT
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After the defeat of Saddam, which was a
conventional operation, after a hiatus of only
a few short weeks, the battle moved avowedly
out of the countryside into the towns. You
could still get blown up on a country road,
but the adversary was very ready to have
the fight in towns and in village squares and
marketplaces. The nature of the conflict was
characterised by a reliance overwhelmingly
on explosions to debilitate the coalition’s
willingness to fight, through car bombs
and IEDs. This became another big point of
difference between what happened in Iraq
and what now occurs in Afghanistan and
most other insurgencies the Australian Army
has experienced before that.
In Vietnam we put it under the heading
of ‘Mines and Boobytraps’ in that operating
environment like nowadays it was pretty
much the search for a needle in a haystack.
Basically, the enemy put mines on the roads,
but not with the same proliferation as in Iraq.
It’s a bit hard to characterise, but while it was
not quite an afterthought weapon against us
in Vietnam, it was more a tactic to annoy us
and make us more cautious, rather than a
full-on campaign to achieve a knockout.
These days it is the possibility that in
the next hundred metres of road a 200 kilo
explosion might blow me to kingdom come
and all of my comrades in this vehicle.
Because of this we needed our soldiers to be more protected. But if you are
highly protected and walking on your two feet, then you’re still vulnerable.
I mean, simply protecting the front of a man with a very heavy flak jacket,
and protecting the back of his neck and his head with a helmet, and maybe
even giving him a very hard visor to protect his face and his sight all goes
only part of the way.
All of these are very important things to do for the individual but
wearing all this stuff you can move only at a snail’s pace for a very short
period before you become exhausted. Secondly, you’re still vulnerable
because you have a lot of limbs and can’t be totally encased in armour – it’s
impractical. So, we had to retain some foot mobility but overall become
more mobile and that mobility had to be protected.
The Australian Army has certainly evolved a very strong COIN doctrine,
COIN where it happens to be in an urban environment. I think we
have adequate doctrine, we already had an adequate doctrine for COIN
in a rural environment, which could be adapted to take into account
slightly different terrain or evolved tactics by the agrarian or non-urban
insurgent. The doctrine for urban-based COIN operations is very much
of intelligence, overwatch, highly cautious manoeuvring, and of doing
one’s utmost to avoid creating a new wave of enemies through collateral
damage. I can’t stress enough the role of intelligence in that.
In some ways, the operations in Iraq, in those what I might call the
middle years of insurgency, around Falluja and the like, were a ghastly
insight into the issues of a wholly kinetic approach to the enemy operating
in that urban complex environment. Of course I’m focusing in on the
terrible impact on the innocent, of people slugging it out on your street
Iraq was much easier terrain than the jungle, but provided much more
difficulty in identifying and finding and fixing the enemy because of the
will-o’-the-wisp nature of the insurgency, it was almost like the Afghan
situation without the terrain. I’ll put it this way, the operational areas of
Iraq in those days, were much more densely populated with the contest
happening on street corners and roadsides, where people who may or
may not have been politically motivated, some of them may have been
motivated by religion and some might simply have been angry at the
continued presence of unwelcome foreign troops.
But these were people who could move from the living room, past the
settee under which they’ve got their AK, out the front door to engage a
passing convoy or patrol, and then reverse the process when they’ve had
their fill and this became virtually intractable for the US coalition until
such time as the Iraqis themselves became exhausted with the terrible life
that this was imposing and started to organise to ensure peace and security
on their own streets.
In Afghanistan, we sent Special Forces in late 2001 after 9/11 and they
were operating primarily in their special operations role, but you might
say in a more conventional setting. They certainly had a long-range
reconnaissance role, they had to be combat capable, combat ready, and in
operations like Operation Anaconda, they had to play a very strong fighting
role because if you’re the only troops in a particularly brutal area and the
need arises, then you must fight, and the SAS were prepared to fight, but it’s
not the way they’re organised, to get involved in pitched battles.
That did come their way once or twice, and I was very grateful that they’d
had the sort of opportunity to establish their operational patterns and their
own self-confidence in East Timor, in a less demanding situation. I think it
would have been pretty tough to go straight into an ancient battleground
like Afghanistan in 2001 against the Taliban, who’d been fighting for years
against the Soviets and each other, and here come the Americans, or the
Northern Alliance and thus for the Afghans it was more of the same. They
February 2005 Australia’s Chief of Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove, is greeted by senior
Indonesian officers at Banda Aceh airport during his visit to troops engaged in tsunami relief.
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