PROCEEDINGS THE 10TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE "STRATEGIES XXI" TECHNOLOGIES – MILITARY APPLICATIONS, SIMULATIONS AND RESOURCES
APPROACHES TO THE USE OF AIR COMPONENT IN COIN OPERATIONS
Abstract: Until recently, the majority of political leaders used to consider that terrorism and insurgency actions were not problems that had to be solved solely through military intervention, and that COIN/antiterrorist operations required most probably the involvement of secret services, led by executive political committees, benefiting or not from the support of non-governmental entities. Paradoxically, in WWII, the failure of German military to counteract successfully the actions of Yugoslavian or Russian partisans together with the well-known American shortfalls in Vietnam against Viet Cong troops, strengthen the idea in the mind of European governments that the use of regular armies against insurgent forces is futile due to its narrow perspective over conventional operations. With the outset of the "Global War on Terrorism," 2003, the direct involvement of NATO's regular forces in the COIN operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Yemen etc. contradicted this common views of European governments. Moreover, the new reality in the theatres of operations from the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and Central Asia triggered not only the reevaluation of both the dynamics of global terrorism, but also the need for an adequate answer from democratic states in terms of more adequate theory and practice. Of course, because of the extensive involvement of the military in the counteraction of terrorism, it had to be approached as a key factor in the comprehensive analysis of any COIN operations.
Motto: "At an earlier time, a commander could be certain that a future war would resemble past and present ones. This enabled him to analyze appropriate tactics from past and present. The troop commander of today no longer has this possibility. He knows only that whoever fails to adapt the experiences of the last war will surely lose the next one."
People's actions and thoughts are a complex mixture of personal motivation, intuition, routine, and emotion. Sometimes, the articulation of a general analytical model may start from the premise that all actors will largely behave in a "rational" way even if this does not necessarily define the actual empirical results of social realities.
Modern social science have attempted for decades to build a descriptive model that should integrate human motivation and emotions in a realistic and descriptive way so that symbolical, affective, and instrumental characteristics of human actions will be integrated into a comprehensive and unique theory of social science. However, we have to confess that war becomes an increasingly irrational action. Even being so, the definition of war as either rational or irrational taking into account the humanitarian law is a viable attempt which is therefore widely used to accomplish and maintain a certain desired state from the political point of view. Military commanders have often stated that their mission is to impose order (well delineated rationale) in the first place in the chaos of combat actions, starting from the premise that war is "a mere continuation of politics by other means," in other words, exercising rational political objectives with violent means.
Most political organizations, almost all the scientific field, and almost all professions that tend to develop their own collection of quasi-esoteric1 knowledge, function based on organic hypotheses and argumentations, which are not shared with the rest of society. This doctrinary group analyzes and defines sensitive issues in a way that is not only specific to specialists' view, but it also takes into consideration own idiosyncrasies about success, and procedures of adopting operation standards.
This approach is viable in the military field. This happens because the Armed Forces are a social institution in a nut shell, which is almost shut to the rest of the world, and whose model of internal and external relationships (with the rest of the world), its projection upon the functionality of the military system of training, its mindset, its modus operandi of higher echelons, harbor the clear-cut distinction between military actions and other aspects of society. Modern world, which has undergone massive transformation after WWII regarding the liberalization of social and political doctrines, is paradoxically confronted with deepening the gap between the military and rest of society especially as far as conflicts are concerned. This situation is triggered by the fact that military mind-set tends to be more technical.
Military leaders demand that politicians provide them with clear objectives for the actions that will be conducted; in their turn, politicians prefer to stay away from clear-cut actions and declarations especially related to war and peace issues. This happens because the decisions may have an impact on their interests in certain political circles. A direct contradiction between military and political leaders will arise and so, political decision will be used as a brake on military actions. Eloquent is the example of the controversies (generated by the operations conducted on the territory of former Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War) between General Wesley Clark, supreme commander of the NATO Forces in Europe, and governmental circles from Washington.
Finally, the main problem is the definition or the proper delineation of the problem. It is still unclear whether the approach to irregular conflicts from Third World Countries made through COIN operations' doctrines is the best way to understand the dynamics of these conflicts, even if, most of the time the terrorist segment is well-represented in wagging these wars. Some theoreticians and analysts state that it is a common mistake to place conflicts like the one from Iraq, the Sudan or the Yemen in the category of "terrorist insurgency against the state," and that in these cases, we are confronted with civil wars with ethnic and religious component2.
We have always tended to portrait as "extremist" the enemy who is determined to fight till the end, even with the risk of losing one's lives, refusing to abandon his objectives, and not willing to negotiate, in other words, displaying irrational behaviors. However, the same conduct from our forces would benefit from another set of adjectives provided by the military and political elite – dedicated, patriotic, willing to sacrifice etc. Put differently, we are used to operating with double standards. This stays in our way when it comes to understanding an enemy who is determined to fight to the end. This happens especially when the military that confront the enemy have a different view which is different from the one of political leaders.
The wars from the beginning of the 21st century recorded an increase of insurgency uprisings and, consequently, the intensification of COIN operations. Still, the Western Armed Forces, which were organized, equipped, and trained to wage conventional wars against similar national armies, had difficulties in engaging successfully an enemy, theoretically weaker as far as conventional military force is concerned, but more powerful on the battlefield due to its motivation, flexibility, exploitation of the combat environment, be it urban area, mountainous site, or desert area. In addition, modern air component, with its capacity of attack and efficient equipment, has been sometimes less effective in responding to the challenges of unconventional conflict, its commanders displaying a total lack of understanding related to the proper use of capabilities in conjunction with the operational limitations imposed by the war against insurgents. For example, as far as the Iraqi Freedom operation is concerned, the US Forces took action with devastation effects on the battlefield, which resulted in the rapid defeat of the Iraqi troops. Nevertheless, when enemy began the insurgency war, the command echelons of the US Air Force demonstrated limited capacity to understand the way in which the air component might contribute to the success of COIN operations on the ground3. A new standpoint is therefore necessary in terms of air power doctrines so that the planning and conduct of air operation on the battlefield will contribute more efficiently to the success of counterinsurgency operations.
The new paradigm of insurgency
The classical doctrines of counterinsurgency are based on the assumption that these forces aim at eroding, and finally toppling, the current economic and social relationships that exist within a certain state.
This way, as long as the insurgents aim at disrupting the status quo, counterinsurgency forces attempt to strengthen the state and defeat the destabilizing uprising. Currently, this scenario is being implemented in Sudan, Congo, Sri Lanka, Columbia and Thailand. The initial condition is that the state should be relatively "weak" especially from the political and economic point of view even before the insurgent groups take action. There are cases in which the insurgents take advantage of and manipulate the failing state, as they are not interested in acquiring power or territory; their interest is directed towards taking a consistent share of the "legacy" after the state's dissolution, or reclaiming the "legitimacy" of possessing a space that "is not or cannot be governed" such as in the case of Chechnya, Somalia, and East Timor.
In other cases, like the one of Afghanistan, insurgent forces take action long before a stable government has taken power as we confront here with centrifugal forces.
Classical theories of counter insurgency forces highlight the need to identify the signs of insurgency prior to their uprising.
Certain analysts draw the attention towards the fact that, when the first sign of insurgency occur, nobody wants to admit that something is going in the wrong direction. This attitude will automatically lead to the government's taking few and late countermeasures.4 However, in the case of modern conflicts (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Chechnya) the outburst of war came as a result of some governmental initiatives or invading coalitions, so the insurgents did nothing but react, wagging an insurgency war.
The main problem to be solved when confronted with this type of conflict is how (through what means) and how quickly the insurgent force will be prevented from accessing funds; these measures have to be taken simultaneously with other measures meant to modernize the state/target state. Moreover, as it happened with some colonial campaigns from the past, counterinsurgency operations have to include financial and social elements that would support the beneficial effect of globalization.5
One of the most important "effects of globalization" that has to be taken into account by counterinsurgency forces is the increase of global audience that provides insurgents with communication means, used to promote their cause and gain people's support. Global communication via INTERNET opens insurgents' access to moral, financial, and human support, simultaneously creating a strategic hinterland or "safe haven" for these forces. Classical theory of counterinsurgency defines these sanctuaries as "active" and/or "passive," recommending methods to isolate or annihilate them while evaluating their effects on the field performance of insurgency forces.
If classical sanctuaries are geographical areas used by the insurgents to regroup or wait for external help, virtual safe havens based on the INTERNET are beyond the reach of counterinsurgency forces or governments and their influence is difficult to control or annihilate. For example fundamentalist forces from Iraq harbor the intensive use of the effects of mass media broadcasting, while the Global Islamic Media Front (al-Jabhah al-'ilamiyah alislamiyah al-' alamiyah) the production branch of Al Qaida (as-Sabah) display high professional standards. Nowadays, internet-based financial transfers, activities of training and recruitment, capabilities for clandestine communication, planning and espionage allow insurgency forces to use virtual sanctuaries for more complex and lucrative activities than sheer propaganda. As far as the attack and neutralization of these sanctuaries are concerned, the armed forces have paradoxically enough means to counteract these.
While the classical theory6 states that the insurgent activities attempt to gain state power, or at least, participate in a legitimate way in it, the last two decades have been characterized by the insurgents' interest in the destruction of the state, as an entity in international relations, and its replacement with new state entities, built based on the territories controlled by them, something that resembles the Renaissance condottieri's modus operandi. For example, during the second conflict in Iraq, the Iraqi insurgents (which either took action under the Al Qaeda umbrella, or represented the interests of the Shiite circles, supported by Iran), used the attrition war to undermine people's support of the coalition forces so that they would force the latter to flee from the Iraqi territory, leaving the legitimate political regime without the support that would have allowed them to withstand the secessionist plans of the insurgents.7
Similarly, Afghan Talibans took action in two main strategic directions: together with the attritional actions against coalition forces, they tried to undermine and discourage any governmental activities directed towards the reconstruction of the country and elevation of people's life standards especially in those regions which were under their control or where they wish to gain supremacy.8 In both cases, we notice that the insurgent groups did not take seriously the idea of an alternative government to the official one, which to promise something tangible to the local population from the controlled areas, this doctrine that contradicts the old theories of revolutionary conflict (resembling the anticolonial or communist – Maoist ones) proving that the new insurgency was rooted in the ethnical (Afghanistan) or religious (Iraq and Syria) frictions which the local state authorities could not or did not want to solve. Under these conditions, shown by the experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, the success of counter-measures against these movements with precise doctrinaire content, and the actions taking in a rather chaotic manner, become questionable, and, in any case, the results are to be visible in an extremely long period of time
However, at operational level, there are many similarities between modern insurgents' modus operandi and the old national liberation campaigns, conducted by the rebels of the mid 20th century. The insurgent from the beginning of the 21st century remains the product of the old communities and/or social networks that precede the modern state (village, tribe, clan, regional parties or religious movements that are more or less recognized officially) and which provide followers and resources, most of the time out of benevolence, but sometimes because of the threat with retaliations (Afghanistan and the Yemen). Combat tactics and military science used by modern insurgents consist of a number of local attacks, dispersed both in time and space, performed by small groups or individual fighters so that they will inflict damages, human casualties and spread terror. These strikes are managed by a command center according to leaders' interests which could be the following: obtaining financial gains, maintaining control over the territory and population, preventing state officials from regaining control or providing conditions for negotiation with the insurgents. Finally, the big award will consist in gaining the support of the local population.9 Theoreticians consider that first we need to analyze the cumulative effect of the scattered attacks performed by the insurgents in the contended space -- the so called mosquito war10 effect, which integrates not only the material worn-out of attacked troops, but also the moral dissolution caused by publicity due to the unpredictable character of these incidents. In this case, the use of modern communication means by the insurgents triggers a shift at the operative level of the war, because in most cases, any action taken at tactical level will determine quasi-direct effects on the strategic one. The influence of this factor has been previously observed in the classical theory of counterinsurgency, but the effect of "global communication" will dramatically increase its importance.
In opposition to the "classical" military theory (of Maoist type), successfully applied by the VietCong forces in Vietnam or by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (which used to build their combat position so that they could shift from local and regional structures, at sub-tactical levels, to integrated groups of forces at macro tactic or operative level, capable of conducting conventional offensive operations) the 21st century insurgents prefer to build diffuse mono or multi-level structures, thus conducting a kind of "war without leaders"11, which will deliberately avoid a specialized command and control infrastructure, that can easily be attacked and neutralized.
The advantage of such a structure was noticed in Iraq (insurgency based on local communities) and Afghanistan (insurgency based on connections within the tribe/clan), where the attacks triggered by personal vendetta or alienation of local chiefs played a more important role than in Indochina, where resistance was led by professional activists, without local connections, which were easily tracked and eliminated.
Another characteristic of the 21st century insurgency is the recurrent use of the urban guerilla actions. Classical theoreticians12 did not use to define insurgency first as a mixed phenomenon, where the country areas were operational areas, and the incursions into the urban area were the exception to the rule. Nowadays, one could notice the urban jungle and the camouflage offered by the urban jungle of Baghdad or the urban maze without clear identity from the Kabul or Kandahar outskirts, where the insurgents organize their attacks using the local population both as human shields and targets. This modus operandi has significant implications at tactical level – the engagements are quick, the effect is local, but the impact on population that plays a dual role of target and witness lingers longer to be ingeniously exploited by the insurgents. Moreover, the presence of mass-media in the urban area is more visible so the propagandistic effect is guaranteed to inflict psychological shock and sectarian unrest, which will be further amplified by ingeniously intermingling negative propaganda and intimidation.
The INTERNET, cell phones, cable and satellite TV (most Iraqi households are equipped with TV satellite receivers and antennas) facilitate the coordination of actions based on web networks or cell phones, influencing in a dramatic way both insurgents' tactics, and the countermeasures taken by the counterinsurgency forces. Under these circumstances, the use of unconventional explosives (IED) combined with suicide bombers, has generated an enthusiastic imitation among insurgents, who also protect the anonymous character of sponsors. Moreover, the success obtain by IED in the field caused the crush of the barriers imposed by the "self-limited lethal power" that belonged to the classical insurgency movements, whose tactics were based on using light weapons, which meant keeping more fighters on the field and assuming greater risks in search of greater efficiency.
As a result, the extensive use of IED on the field forced patrols move on the central area of roads, thus disturbing civilian transportation and alienating further the local population. The attack with IED on the road patrols resulted in numerous collateral casualties, forcing the population to avoid patrolled areas, thus diminishing the value of patrolling and reducing the value of reconnaissance.
In conclusion, we can admit that most of the principles stated by the fundamental counterinsurgency principles and doctrines are still relevant, but their use on the field will be substantially different on a case by case basis. Therefore, classical theories are necessary, but not sufficient.
The use of airpower in contrainsurgency operations
The characteristics related to the combat environment of counterinsurgency operations determine the way in which air power is employed. Directions and modus operandi used will be influenced by the indepth understanding of the doctrine's fundamental principles regarding the counterinsurgency war. This will most probable be a long-term conflict, but its military side will represent only one element of the counterinsurgency effort.
That is why, a comprehensive and combined strategy has to be developed so that the success of the operations can be ensured, as in this case, the elements of military actions have to be integrated with this strategy. The strategy can be designed only after the conclusions have been drawn after the analysis of actors involved in the conflict: insurgents, local, governmental forces, and, if applicable, external forces that support one faction or the other. This analysis will clarify not only the sources of ideological motivation, the strong and weak points of governmental forces, but also the local interests of the parties that provide the external support to the warring factions. In these conditions, any air power engagement against potential targets (and importance in the overall strategy of the conflict) has to be wisely weighted to balance the risk of obtaining a negative impact on organic political centers. This proves that any counterinsurgency campaign is based on the interest to gain and retain the sympathy of the local population, on the one hand, and on the other, its trust in the legitimacy and competency of governments' actions.
Concurrently, as far as the external supporters of governmental forces are concerned, they have to ensure the enduring support of the local population to the cause of their ally.
Even if it is difficult to define the philosophy behind the use of air power in the context of COIN operations, due to the dynamic nature of this combat environment, we can state that air power as component of military power has to play its part in this type of operations. During the air campaign in former Yugoslavia (1999), the phases of the conventional Golf Wars, and the ones in Afghanistan, the ability of air forces to contribute in a decisive way to winning the victory were based on the in extenso use of its traditional functions: striking enemy's critical assets, neutralization of enemy's command and control networks, and blocking the adversary's tactical and operative maneuvers. These functions, that represent the operational potential of air power, do not play a decisive role in COIN operations, where the enemy key points are diffuse, the use of forces and assets is performed at micro-tactical level, being difficult to discern and even more difficult to deter, because of the camouflage offered by the population. The command and control system is thus based on the local INTERNET/mobile phone network so that leaders will never be grouped, and communicate in a conspirative and individual manner only based on personal acquaintance.
In these restrictive conditions, the maximization of air power effects in COIN operations/campaigns has to be performed in a cautious manner by carefully analyzing and establishing what air power can do in this case so that its capacities and limitation will be well understood. Next, we will present a serious of standpoints based on which we will formulate preliminary hypotheses related to the use of air power in this case, also taking into account the fact that both the analyses and the conclusions could be further refined and validated13.
1. In modern COIN operation, the winner will be that faction that will manage to efficiently mobilize and strengthen its own operation and support basis at all the levels – global/strategic, regional/operative and local/tactical, while preventing the enemy from doing the same.
The analysis of COIN operations has established that the best way of using the air power is to provide constant, efficient, and long-time support for the governmental air force. These will supplement in an efficient and short-term way the capacity of the local government to optimize the actions taken against insurgent forces.
Long-time support will allow the governmental forces to develop their own capabilities and protection against insurgency. It is thus extremely important to support the local government to gain power in a timely manner and retain as long as possible the leadership of COIN operation. This will contribute to strengthening the local population's trust in the government's ability to manage the crisis situation and ensure population's need for security. Air power can be used in this context to transport humanitarian aid where necessary, to provide medical support in the remote or underdeveloped areas, to conduct air surveillance and reconnaissance operations especially for ensuring the security of civilian air traffic and economic activities, providing and ensuring the long-term reconstruction assistance for both governmental forces, and legitimate representatives of the civilian population.
In addition, the ally/external government that will provide the support will benefit from this approach as, in this case, military and political pressure will reduce as the involved risks will decrease, and the respective government will be able to maintain its long-term engagement.
2. In modern COIN operations, "the sphere of influence" of governmental forces should include the geographical area of the bordering states, and the "area of interest" of local government should be extended (if deemed necessary) to the continental or even global level.
Currently, the principle of unique battlefield does not apply in COIN war because insurgent forces take action across borders, benefiting from real or virtual sanctuaries at global level, and the situation can further escalate if insurgent forces are supported by regional or continental powers (Ukraine, Syria).
In this case, legal/political interests will prevent the governmental forces from taking military actions meant to strike directly targets that are outside the national "operation zone". Still, there are key elements that can play an important role in the operational and political area of the insurgents, that need to be controlled and influenced by the counterinsurgency forces such as – ensuring border security, stopping the transfer of funds to the insurgent forces, controlling insecure minorities, controlling refugees, and ensuring governmental propaganda in the mass-media from the bordering states. This increasingly involves not only the diplomatic corps, but also governmental intelligence agencies, which have to solve the problem of communication with friendly forces not only at political and diplomatic level, but also at the information one.
Even if the effect of air power is indirect, it is the local government's obligation (actually of its air forces) to possess a minimum of competence and infrastructure to absorb the external support as much as possible. If the supported government has an adequate level of capabilities, the support operations can be conducted in a dynamic and integrated manner. This type of military operations, as well as ISR, RE and psychological and imagological operations function according to the principles of counterinsurgency war by strengthening governmental key areas, and providing prospective protection and justification of government's actions.
3. In modern counterinsurgency operations, governmental security forces have to gain and maintain the control over the extended and complex "conflictual/operational ecosystem" avoiding to limit its "target space" to just one or some (few, even if important) adversaries.
Classical counterinsurgency theory14 defines this type of conflict as a clash between an insurgent force (group of forces) and a government (possibly supported by counterinsurgency forces that can be internal/external, governmental or nongovernmental). The modern theory15 contradicts this binary approach stating that insurgent forces are often multiple and concurrent, sometimes in direct conflict, and that the internal or external progovernmental forces are also in competition or conflict. Under these circumstances, the main step taken by the party that fights against the insurgent movements will direct its effort towards imposing a certain degree of control/order in this complex, unstable, and chaotic environment (conflictual ecosystem). Even in this case, air power can be useful indirectly using the effects of support operation – air transportation, ISR, RE, and special operations.
4. In modern counterinsurgency operations, it is more beneficial that, based on the establishment of a unique diagnosis decided upon in advance by all the parties involved in the operations against insurgent forces, the cooperation grounds should be decided upon followed by the minimal success facilitators, than having a false command and control unit imposed from above, which in most cases will result in missing some strategic opportunities because of the centralized ambitions.
One of key principles in the classical theory of the counterinsurgency war is the unity of effort and the unique command so that the high command can manage the effort at all levels of action. However, nowadays, the presence and the activity of international humanitarian aid organizations, of different global mass-media organisms, and non-governmental religious support organizations play an increasingly important role in ensuring success even if they take action beyond government's control. Even if these entities do not accept the directives of the forces involved in counterinsurgency activities, they ask for their assistance every time they are in trouble.
In this case, air power can be used successfully not only to ensure the support of these actors through air transportation, search and rescue, medical emergency, but also to protect them through surveillance and reconnaissance missions, rescue operations from the enemy territory and air interdiction.
5. Modern counterinsurgency operations have such a strong political background that the comprehensive control of mass-media or the lack of it can transform the simplest operations in "decisive battles of the political war" which will finally decide the victory.
Even if the classical theoreticians of this phenomenon draw the attention towards the importance of the political, non-military element16, this becomes decisive in modern counterinsurgency operations in the combined effort against insurgent forces, because the non-military national elements, even if they have less resources at their disposal, will have a great influence on the success on the battlefield. We will mention here not only the governmental agencies in charge with counteracting insurgent forces (intelligence services, police, and legal system), but also those that need to solve people's problems (medical, and educational services or those that take care of reconstruction in the areas destroyed by war). In this case, air power will be an indispensable instrument in ensuring these types of operations – air transportation playing a decisive role in assisting nonmilitary governmental agencies.
6. We cannot speak in modern counterinsurgency operation about "total victory" from the military point of view, at least in the first phase of the conflict. More likely, "permanent confinement" can be a realistic objective, followed by the subsequent elimination of the political influence and military capabilities of the insurgent forces which will prevent them from transforming into terrorist movements (without possibility of winning, but very destructive in nature on long-term).
In the context of modern COIN operations, where the insurgent forces are organized in combat cells, use suicide attacks, communicate globally, and take advantage of the grey mass of people from the crowded urban areas, the blind pursuit of the classical military victory on the field will most probably lead to the transformation of insurgents' movements in a never-ending series of residual terrorist attacks, connected with the virtual environment, almost invisible among people and which will continue their attacks on long term. For this reason, victory in modern counterinsurgency operations has to be redefined and directed towards disarming and reintegrating insurgents in society, together with obtaining people's support for permanent and institutionalized anti-terrorist measures meant to prevent the terrorist cells (originating in former insurgent movements) from reactivating.
Air power can contribute to fulfilling theseobjectives not only by conducting classical air support operations such as ISR, special operations or air transportation, but also through the so called "selective strikes" against the leaders that will not accept defeat or who do not agree to negotiate to solve the conflict. Because of air power's capacity of projection over great distances, it can be used to strike selectively individual targets among insurgent groups. Still, there are factors that need to be thoroughly analyzed before taking action. This analysis includes understanding target's structure and conduct, envisioning the short and long-term effect, and analyzing the risk of collateral damage.
7. In modern counterinsurgency operations, secret information could mean the comprehensive knowledge of the real political, social, and economic conditions in the theatre of operations, this cognizance being based on unclassified information, that is usually quasi-public, but difficult to access.
The paradigm of modern espionage, based on the need to gain access to the classified information of governmental or para-governmental services, can be totally improper in COIN operations. In this case, it is more important to track the operational impact on public perception when governmental actions are taken against insurgents. The information obtained from human sources (HUMINT) and that from electronic interception/ deciphering plays an important role and that is why, more effort in this area will have spectacular results. In modern COIN operations, where often more insurgent movements need to be monitored in this cultural and demographical jungle that has to be "cartographied," the basic principles of intelligence activity become extremely important and have to be applied as detailed knowledge about the geographical, human, cultural, and informational environment, based on a combination of open sources and those coming from "the ethnography of forbidden zones".
The strategic nature of war is changing continuously together with the evolution of human society, but modern states struggle to adapt to fighting and winning in this new environment. Nowadays, almost all the armed forces of democratic states are engaged in a conflict against so-called revolutionary forces, insurgent ones in fact, but which are still a challenge to democracy. In order to solve this problem, the Euro-Atlantic community has to gain an original and profound strategic mind-set, which should match the one that led to victory in the Cold War.
Air power provides numerous advantages to the party that uses it in any type of operations. In COIN operations, air power can contribute decisively to making decisions on the battlefield because of its capacity to act rapidly, over long distances, and with overwhelming force. Still, there are certain limitations in these types of operations as, most of the traditional functions that are considered the cornerstone of air force doctrine, are drastically reduced by the political and military framework of the counterinsurgency war. For example, strategic bombardment proves its effectiveness only in some cases, but the limited number of objectives and the specific structure of insurgent forces will render this type of air strike ineffectively. Punitive or coercive attacks have demonstrated both their potential and limits, and that is why, they cannot be considered an efficient instrument in all the cases. Selective attacks will prove useful in certain cases, but the most important role played by air power in COIN operations is in air support operations, air interdiction, and close air support
Air interdiction limits enemy's capacity of commanding and controlling its forces, while affecting its logistic support.
Even if the situation on the battlefield provides less possibilities for air interdiction operations, the air force presence in the operation zone and its readiness to conduct air interdiction operations, will have a positive overall effects.
Insurgent forces will be forced to adapt to the threat of air interdiction, thus avoiding extensive maneuvers.
The capacity to conduct close air support (CAS) will enable organic forces to take unrestricted action in any part of the theatre of operations, thus giving them the freedom of movement that is so important in COIN operations. More numerous areas will allow governmental forces to take action in an effective way in support of the population so that in the end, population support will be directed towards the government and, as a result, the insurgents' purposes will be undermined. Air support operations will provide the governmental forces with the necessary support to restore its credibility in the eyes of its own citizens.
The environment that is common to COIN operations poses a major challenge to air power. Ways and means, through which air power can be used, have to be established only after the thorough understanding of the basic conditions regarding that particular conflict.
If air power can be used against insurgents, this action/operation has to be conducted with great care because the wrong use of air power at tactical level can have an impact on the strategic objectives of the whole campaign. The incorrect selection of the targets, incidents that involve fratricide and/or collateral damages, which are too extended and unjustified by the goal pursued, can have an extremely negative impact on the campaign.
Air power provides the commanders with operational capacities based on the use of sensors and airborne weapons platforms. They will offer, in their turn, a range of capabilities, among which, some are useful in COIN operations. Each platform, weapon and/or sensor has its own advantages and disadvantages that have to be understood by commanders and used only adapted to the context of the COIN operations they are involved in.
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2 Stephen Biddle , Dr., Afghanistan, Iraq, and US Strategy in 2009, Statement before the Committee on Armed Services, United States House of Representatives, First Session, 111th Congress, 12 February 2009.
3 Thomas R. Searle, Dr., Making Airpower Effective against Guerrillas, Air and Space Power Journal, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, Fall 2004, pp.13–14.
4 Robert Thompson, Revolutionary War in World Strategy 1945-1969, Taplinger, New York., 1970, pp. 20-21.
5 David J. Kilcullen, Globalisation and the Development of Indonesian Counterinsurgency Tactics, in Small Wars and Insurgencies, Vol. 17, No. 1, 44–64, 2006.
6 David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, Pall Mall, London, UK, 1964, p.3.
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8 Seth G. Jones, Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, National Defense Research Institute, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA, USA, 2008, pp.48 – 54.
9 Gordon H McCormick, Steven B Horton, Lauren A Harrison, Things fall apart: the endgame dynamics of internal wars, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 28, Issue 2, Special Issue:The Long War - Insurgency, Counterinsurgency and Collapsing States, Routledge, Colchester, Essex, UK, 2007, pp. 321-367
10 Bernard FALL, The Theory and Practice of Counterinsurgency, Naval War College Review, April 1965.
11 David Kilcullen, Counterinsurgency Redux, Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, Vol. 48, The International Institute For Strategic Studies, London, UK, 2006, pp.111-130.
12 Bard E. O'Neill, Insurgency and Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare, Brassey's, Washington, SUA, 1990, p. 91.
13 David Kilcullen, op.cit., ibidem
14 Robert B. ASPREY, War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History, Doubleday, NY, USA, 1975, Vol.2, p. 1247.
15 David W. BARNO, Challenges in Fighting a Global Insurgency, US Army War College Quarterly Parameterss, 2006, pp. 15-29.
16 Simon C. Smith, General Templer and Counter-Insurgency in Malaya: Hearts and Minds, Intelligence, and Propaganda, Intelligence and National Security, Vol.16, No.3, 2001, Coastal Carolina University, Conway, SC, USA, p.65