Military historians and theorists certainly have unusual role models.
Witness the popularity of David Galula, a relatively obscure French officer from the Algerian War, whose writings are prominently featured in the US Army’s Counterinsurgency Field Manual. Or T.E. Lawrence–the legendary “Lawrence of Arabia”–canonized by counterinsurgents, despite the fact that Lawrence himself waged an insurgency. And let’s not forget the original “Dead Prussian”, Carl von Clausewitz, who, despite never winning a battle and never finishing his legendary book, lives on as a demigod of modern strategic thought.
(To be fair, Clausewitz is certainly one of the greatest experts in martial thinking, but his language is often quite difficult to pierce. Then again, both of these traits seem to be common to many Prussians. Ahem.)
Add to this list the Rhodesian Light Infantry, best known for their “Fire Force” tactics. In fact, according to two former RLI soldiers, in an article at the new and improved Small Wars Journal, the Fire Force holds the key to victory in Afghanistan.
If the US Military is to become serious about winning the war on terror, it must abandon the shackles of past conventional tactics and become more adaptable at finding, engaging and killing an enemy that is ruthless, cunning, and fleet-footed. It takes a thief to catch a thief, a hyena to catch a hyena. Only by divesting itself of the limited or unsuccessful doctrines and tactics of the past, can the U.S. military begin to train soldiers to outwit the terrorists at their own game. To do that it is essential to learn to think, smell, and taste like the terrorists, watching them in the shadows and waiting, and when found, smashing them with overwhelming force in full view of the surrounding villages.
An excellent–and completely flawless–strategy for trouncing the Taliban and restoring stability in the face of the Karzai kleptocracy.
I just have one question, though.
Where is Rhodesia?
Don’t waste your time trying to find Rhodesia on a map; it doesn’t exist any more. Rhodesia was a former British colony predominantly governed by White settlers who fiercely resisted transitioning control of the country to the Black majority.
Though the RLI waged a highly efficient counter-guerrilla campaign–in terms of the number of enemy killed–the White government eventually conceded to internationally-monitored elections, though the newly-elected leader, former ZANU insurgent Robert Mugabe, would form a long-standing dictatorship. Nevertheless, the nation of Rhodesia ceased to exist, and Zimbabwe was born.
Of course, you wouldn’t suspect that by reading the article:
The Fire-Force doctrine and “Pseudo Team” concepts described in this paper were used by the Rhodesian Army during its successful counter-insurgency campaign from April 1974 to April 1980. During that period, Fire-Force units achieved an overall kill ratio of 80% per engagement, and it was not unusual for a Fire-Force to be engaged in a number of separate combat deployments during the course of a single day.
To be fair, the RLI developed a surprisingly effective airmobile force, especially given the size of Rhodesia’s air force (augmented with additional helicopters from South Africa). Nevertheless, the RLI’s counter-guerrilla campaign was a product of necessity, not of strategic design: Rhodesia lacked the requisite number of troops for saturation patrols, and never linked their military success with civic action.
The authors also imply that Fire Force tactics drastically differ from standard airmobile tactics already in use in Afghanistan. But though the equipment and the doctrinal terms might differ, the Fire Force’s raiding techniques are not too far removed from those seen in raids conducted over a dozen times a day by ISAF.
Fire Force doctrine called for spotting insurgent bases with the aid of observation planes, or the elite Selous Scouts. Upon detecting guerrila camps, a quick reaction force, consisting of armed Alouette III helicopters (nicknamed “Kill-Cars” or “K-Cars”) in the attack role, plus transport Alouettes (nicknamed “G-Cars”) could be dispatched from nine forward operating bases dispersed throughout the country.
The G-Cars could land four troops each at blocking positions around the insurgent camp, supported by 20mm cannon fire from the a door gun mounted on the K-Cars. All the while, fixed-wing aircraft could drop a number of munitions to aid the blocking force.
Once this cordon had been established, Rhodesian Light Infantry–RLI troops were cross-trained as paratroops–could then be dropped in by a C-47 at very low altitude, sometimes 300 feet above ground level. After assembling, the sweeping force could overrun the guerrilla camp and exploit the site. Over the course of such raids, the RLI killed over 1600 guerrillas.
Of course, airmobile Quick-Reaction Forces (QRFs) and cordon raids are par for the course in Afghanistan. The difference is that instead of jerry-rigged K-Cars, G-Cars, and spotter planes, we have specially-built AH-64 Apache gunships, UH-60 Black Hawk assault helicopters, and surveillance drones.
There’s also the curious inclusion of airborne troops aboard DC-3s, a result born more of desperation than innovation. As the Alouette III carried a mere four troops, and in short supply at that, it was understandably difficult to carry a sizeable heliborne force into combat zones. Thus, the DC-3, carrying sixteen to twenty paratroopers, served as a heavy assault-carrying platform, much as UH-60 Black Hawks and CH-47 Chinooks serve today.
The RLI was certainly a well-trained and effective force, even more so when one considers the immense resource constraints they faced. Nevertheless, political forces were not on their side, and, as always, heliborne raids came with a heavy price. Despite killing over four hundred guerrillas in a cross-border raid on a ZANLA base in Mozambique, the loss of two helicopters (one to an RPG) and fifteen troops marred the success of Operation Uric. And though another cross-border raid Mozambique, Operation Mardon, would smash a large ZANLA base and destroy tons of supplies, it took great effort to evacuate over 140 Rhodesian troops, who had been stranded behind enemy lines.
In any event, always a fan for books on insurgency and airpower, I’m looking for a good book on the Rhodesian Civil War and the Rhodesian Light Infantry. Suggestions? (Besides the few pages dedicated to the RLI in the excellent “Airpower in Small Wars“, of course.)