Monday, August 31, 2015

It's not just the airlines

Retired Major General Robert Scales writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal 2 months ago in the context of Iraqi army failures --

The stark consistency of contemporary history tells us several things as we ponder why the Iraqi military is proving to be so inept in its war against Islamic State. First is the immutable tenet that wars are human endeavors and that culture counts. Arab culture is based on family, tribe and clan. Thus it should come as no surprise that Arabs fight best in formations that are organically grown and organized around familiar groups that share more than the same national flag. Such units fight best on the defensive. Knowing the soldier next to you stiffens your resolve to stand and fight, but helps much less amid the confusion of an offensive advance. The fact that the small Iraqi army garrison at Ramadi, manned by the best of the Iraqi regulars and regionally recruited militias, held on for more than a year against Islamic State is testimony to the strength of a defense based on close tribal ties. Yet Arab militaries can be victorious on the offensive given certain prerequisites, which we saw in the successful Egyptian attack across the Suez Canal during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. They must achieve and sustain overwhelming dominance in firepower. Their method of attack must be well rehearsed and methodical. Their offensive campaign must have very limited and straightforward objectives, which can be achieved quickly by following a carefully scripted and tightly controlled battle plan.

Wall Street Journal news article today --

Fewer than a hundred U.A.E. troops and their unmarked armored vehicles landed in a small fishing harbor on the outskirts of Aden in July, according to Emirati officers who participated in the operation. This secretive intervention prevented the Houthis from overrunning this port city, which had a prewar population of 1.5 million. Thousands of additional U.A.E. troops, with their fleet of tanks and Apache combat helicopters, arrived in the weeks that followed. They have since pushed the Houthis out of the city and seized most of the two neighboring provinces. The ground operation, which Saudi Arabia has joined, is the biggest by Sunni Arab states against the growing influence of Shiite Iran since the Arab Spring began.  

As the latter article explains, invading Yemen doesn't fit the criteria of an easy operation that can be achieved with overwhelming firepower permitting a quick exit. But the UAE -- 7 emirates under a single flag -- is showing that as Arab armies fight more and more wars, they are, like other armies, getting better at it. Of course, money helps.

The broader point is that the old assumption that the Gulf militaries would be too timid to do anything with USA backing is dead. They can, and they are. 

1 comment:

LFC said...

Interesting juxtaposition of quotations. The Scales quote does seem a bit condescending (haven't read the whole piece).

(Btw, typo:
"without USA backing")