Military Response to Fourth Generation Warfare
5 May 2002
Greg Wilcox and Gary I. Wilson
Reprinted with Permission
At this writing, the American military response
to 11 September has been confined to the war in Afghanistan. It may be too
early to look at “lessons learned”, but it is not too early for an assessment
of whether or not we have been successful fighting Fourth Generation Warfare
(4GW) as operations unfold in Afghanistan against the Taliban or Al Qaeda.
Further, it is not too early to adjust our tactics, techniques, and even the
“American Way of War” to combat an illusive, determined, and deadly enemy
that operates outside the framework of the nation-state.
While our foes are adapting their ways of
war, operating outside the nation-state paradigm, we largely operate as a
second generation military trying to fight fourth generation adversaries.
We have yet to transition the American military from second generation warfare
to third generation warfare – even though both the Army and the Marine Corps
dallied with maneuver warfare concepts in the 1980s before relapsing into
the more comfortable attrition-style warfare. The immediate challenge we
face is reviving our third generation maneuver warfare efforts to accommodate
the challenges in combating 4GW.
This essay will re-acquaint readers with
the early warnings about 4GW; examine the meaning of 4GW after 11 September;
outline successful military tactics and shortcomings in combating 4GW; and
provide an early report card on how well we are doing tactically and operationally
in Afghanistan. What we will not attempt is to provide “school solutions”
or checklist formulae for defeating 4GW opponents … there are none.
It is important here to caveat that we still
do not have definitive factual information on what has transpired in Afghanistan.
Thus far, we have had to rely on press reports (usually unreliable and very
Western in interpretation of what happened), Pentagon briefings (not totally
unbiased), and some anecdotal reports from allied warriors. We have very few
data points from the Taliban or Al Qaeda.
We know the threat is global. There are many
hundreds of terrorist groups and other formidable enemies that have learned
by the events of 11 September how to strike at the nation-state framework
and its peoples at very little cost. They will attempt to re-apply these lessons
in ways not yet imagined against established nations – and not just the United
States. The objective of the practitioners of 4GW is to create fear, chaos,
and collapse the targeted society from within. The threat exists from the
tip of Latin America to the far reaches of Siberia.
Al Qaeda is just one such terrorist group
that is practicing 4GW. It is clear that within Al Qaeda, there are worldwide-compartmentalized
cells. This massive but loosely connected network contains financial, political,
propaganda, sleeper and assault cells as well as nonwestern constructs that
we little understand. Al Qaeda has sympathizers throughout the Islamic world.
Other terrorist groups may not be so well organized, but using the communist
techniques of united fronts, they can create effective networks, such as the
Maoist Shining Path guerrillas of Peru linked to the drug cartels of Columbia.
Another example is piracy, which could be
called maritime terrorism, even though pirates and terrorists stem from different
motives. According to Retired Naval Captain William Carpenter, pirates act
out of greed while terrorists are out to make a political point. Today, there
is a need today to bring together the problems of reporting, analyzing, and
devising methods of response. The old definition of piracy that describes
piracy as acts committed on the high seas needs to be broadened to include
incidents in territorial waters or in port.
Time is not on our side. Two developments
change the equation. The acquisition of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
by such terrorist groups and/or their sponsor states coupled with the introduction
of large numbers of young people willing to become suicide bombers are ample
demonstration that we are in a new kind of war with little time to dally.
Dirty nuclear bombs, chemical weapons, and biological agents are not difficult
to make once the critical materials are obtained, and the technology for making
such weapons is spreading at the speed of light over the internet. Transportation
and deployment of such weapons is easily done. Small dispersed independent
action groups of suicide bombers (to include women and children) supported
by social groups and sponsored by patrons can and will alter the balance of
power, as we know it. Such groups can easily attack soft targets like trade
centers, hospitals, day care centers, amusement parks, food courts, transportation
systems, communication systems, media events, sports events, concerts, public
offices, peaceful street demonstrations, airport passenger lines, etc. We
have been on the receiving end of these attacks in the past: The Marine Barracks
in Lebanon, the Kohbar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and the USS Cole in Yemen,
but it was the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September
that alarmed America. Israel has been on the receiving end of these attacks
for several years but more frequently in the recent past. The apparent success
of 4GW on the United States and Israel has encouraged more volunteer suicide
bombers and renewed efforts to acquire WMD.
Pre-emptive strikes against terrorists are
among the new realities and one of the operational necessities of the 21st
Century. Also apparent is the realization that urban operations, crime, terrorism,
and fourth generation warfare are now part of the same operational environment.
We see emerging and mutating forms of violence, conflict, and warfare. The
blurring of crime, peace, and war, the decline of the nation-state, and increasingly
lethal terrorism embody this volatile hurly burly brew.
Fourth generation warfare is manifesting
itself in highly compartmentalized, cellular, predatory networks operating
outside the framework of nation-states. How do we counter and win against
a formless foe? In fact, how do we know when we have won? These and other
questions remain unanswered. We simply do not know at this point. The scope
of this paper is limited to the military operations and tactics in Afghanistan,
but in order to evaluate the performance there, we must understand the larger
strategy, which is inseparable from the operations and tactics being employed.
Just what is Fourth Generation Warfare?
Few are familiar with the meaning of 4GW.
Some within the military forces are slightly familiar with the term but need
clarification. A more defined audience is very familiar with the concept of
4th Generation Warfare. These are the military reformers who have asked the
question: “What does the future hold for war in the 21st Century, and how
does it affect the American military forces?”
In the 1980s, John Boyd, a retired USAF Colonel,
and William S. Lind, a former Senate staffer, introduced a number of rather
provocative new ideas into formal military thinking in the United States.
Some of Boyd’s ideas are still around in bastardized form such as the “OODA
Loop”. Lind’s small pamphlet on maneuver warfare is considered a classic.
Some reforms caught on for a limited time, such as the need for maneuver warfare
as opposed to attrition warfare. Oddly enough, the Air Force, Boyd’s parent
Service, never took a second look at the crusty old airman’s ideas.
The Army used some ideas in the 1982 version
of Air Land Battle Doctrine (FM 100-5), but it was the Marine Corps, which
subscribed more fully to the concepts and ideas of maneuver doctrine and thinking.
Lind had much to do with the education of the Marine Corps, and much of the
debate about the future of warfare took place in the Marine Corps Gazette,
and in the classrooms of the Marine schoolhouses. By the turn of the century,
however, the candlelight flickered and seemed to have gone out, both in the
Army and the Marine Corps. The events of 11 September re-ignited that flame
with a vengeance.
So what is meant by generational warfare,
and what are its characteristics?
Writing in the Marine Corps Gazette in October
1989, Lind, Colonel Keith Nightengale (USA), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC),
Colonel Joseph W. Sutton (USA), and Lieutenant Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR),
addressed: “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation.” In this
initial article, the authors posed the question: “What will future war look
like?” In order to establish what war might look like in the future, the authors
chose to define what the characteristics of war were in the recent past. They
looked at significant events in recent military history that impacted on how
wars are fought. In a nutshell, they perceived three main generations of warfare
and a coming fourth generation.
In order to conserve effort, space, and time,
we have chosen to provide a précis as a basis of discussion to the events
of 11 September.
First generation warfare was reflective of
tactics and technology in the time of the smoothbore musket and Napoleon.
The tactics were of line, column, and mass armies. According to the authors,
vestiges of the first generation of warfare exist today in the desire for
linearity and rigid adherence to drill and ceremonies. The battle lines at
Gettysburg are reminiscent of first generation warfare with straight lines
and mass charges into the mouths of cannons.
It is significant that those civilizations
that did not adhere to this generational change in warfare were quickly subdued,
and in many cases colonized. European states took advantage of this newer
form of warfare to subdue much larger countries such as India.
Second generation warfare, as defined by
the authors and condensed here, was in response to the technological improvements
in firepower and communications, particularly the railroad. It was based on
fire and movement, but the essence was still attrition warfare, i.e., heavy
applications firepower. The authors were of the opinion that second generation
warfare is “...still practiced by most American units in the field.” Tactically,
World War I, as practiced by the French and British, and Vietnam, as practiced
by the Americans, were second generation warfare.
Third generation warfare was also seen as
a response to the increasing firepower on the battlefield. The difference,
however, was the emphasis on maneuver and non-linear warfare. In other words,
in addition to the improved technology, the third generation of warfare was
based more on ideas rather than the technology. The German Blitzkrieg and
later Russian operations in World War II were seen as breakthrough strategies
to defeat the more heavily armed industrialized armies of the world.
From these characterizations, the authors posed the hypothesis of
Warfare. This style of warfare was based on the trends identified in the earlier
generational shifts. They believe that future war would be characterized by:
very small independent action forces (SIAF) or cells acting on mission-type
orders; a decreased dependence on logistics support; more emphasis on maneuver;
and psychological goals rather than physical ones. This latter objective of
psychological warfare meant that the enemy’s will to fight had to collapse
The authors posed that the “idea-based fourth generation may be visible in
terrorism”. They did not propose that terrorism was the fourth generation,
but rather, they suggested that terrorism would take advantage of fourth generation
warfare. Finally, the authors identified three basic constructs of 4GW: (1)
the loss of the nation state’s monopoly on war, (2) a return to a world of
cultures and states in conflict, and (3) internal segmentation/division along
ethnic, religious, and special interests lines within our own society.
In a set of chilling predictions, the authors suggested that in fourth generation
warfare: (1) There will be a shift in focus from the enemy’s front to his
rear; (2) The practitioners of 4GW would seek to use the enemy’s strength
against him; (3) They would use freedom’s openness against itself; and finally,
(4) The 4GW force would not need a lot of money to wage fourth generation
All of this was posed in their groundbreaking article in 1989. In retrospect,
we should have paid a great deal more attention to this article than we did
then or since.
There were follow-up articles, principally using the Marine Corps Gazette
as a forum such as “The Evolution of War: The Fourth Generation” and “Fourth
Generation Warfare: Another Look,”. Both the American profession of arms
and the public also largely ignored these articles. Unfortunately, as we have
subsequently learned, the predictions of Fourth Generation Warfare were right
on the mark.
In a recent article that originally appeared in Defense Week, Harold Gould
and Franklin Spinney wrote “Fourth-Generation Warfare Is Here.” The authors
pointed out that the terrorists were able to blur the distinction between
war and peace and eliminate the distinction between civilian and military.
Abbreviating the term Fourth Generation Warfare to “4GW”, they called for
a retaliation that was a reasoned and coordinated approach to take away the casus belli as well as eliminating the threat. Gould and Spinney suggested
that the United States, and the entire world order, are now in a “new era”
of warfare; and this era of 4GW, just like rock’n roll, is here to stay.
Small groups using mission type orders carried out the attacks on 11 September.
It is rumored that only a few of the attackers really knew the extent of the
mission. There was very little dependence on any support from Al Qaeda other
than small sums of money. The FBI estimated that the attacks on 11 September
cost approximately $500,000. The emphasis of the attackers was to maneuver
against the basic icons of American society: The World Trade Center, the Pentagon,
and most likely either the White House or the U.S. Capitol. And as we now
know from the lips of Usama Bin Laden, the goal was to collapse American society
The dire predictions that many dismissed over a decade ago as irrelevant have
now come to pass. We are at war with a very elusive enemy whose intent is
to do cataclysmic harm to Americans and the American way of life. The question
is, can we combat 4GW either using the precepts of 4GW itself or earlier generations
of warfare augmented by other tools?
The Case of Afghanistan
After 11 September, the United States focused
on Afghanistan, which harbored Usama Bin Laden under the Taliban regime. As
a consequence of the need for action, and to pre-empt any further attacks
against the United States, the American Government decided to war against
Al Qaeda in Afghanistan almost from the outset. The leadership of the Al Qaeda
was headquartered in Afghanistan, and the Taliban supported the Al Qaeda.
Other states were known to harbor terrorists groups, but the head of the snake
was seen to be in Afghanistan.
Very early, President George W. Bush addressed
the issue of the blurring of war conducted by non-state actors. He also addressed
the ancillary problem of states that sponsor terrorist groups. Marshalling
not only the entire resources of his Cabinet, but also Congress and the vast
majority of the American public, this President understood the threat to our
society and took the initial steps to deal decisively with the situation over
a long term period. A new strategy for dealing with global terrorism was born.
In the past, there was no national, much less international, response to terrorist
acts. By our nature, Americans are impatient. We are unaccustomed to hear
from our President that anything will take a long time to accomplish. Yet
in this case, the message is clear, and it has been heard. Al Qaeda awakened
the “sleeping giant”.
In retrospect, the sleeping giant has gone back to sleep as far as the American
public is concerned. The difference is mainly concentrated in the Government
and in the initiatives of the Government of the United States. While Americans
are aware of the War as brought to us nightly on TV, and of being inconvenienced
by airport security requirements, there has been no great rush by young people
to join the Armed Forces such as there was after Pearl Harbor. The patriotic
fervor has declined as the flags have begun to fade.
The Bush Administration recognized that any response to 4GW would have to
be global war, not just a military response. Bush also warned us that it would
be a long war. Although it is doubtful that anyone in the Administration recognized
the term 4GW, they did know and use the term “asymmetric warfare”, a term
used in the Army After Next studies to suggest David and Goliath wars – depicting
how vulnerable we are to unconventional attacks. The Administration also knew
what had to be done to combat the enemy, and they turned on the machinery
to do it. The strategy included a major intelligence gathering effort that
involved many different nations and sources. The price we paid for ignoring
human intelligence (HUMINT) and cultural intelligence in favor of technical
intelligence (TECHINT) over the past half-century was finally recognized.
As we learned more about the attackers, some also learned just how much the
terrorists conformed to the 4GW prescriptions identified earlier by Lind,
et al. There can be no mistake, the Usama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorists
knew what they were doing. Their intent was to severely damage the American
economy and instill fear in the public. They made a major dent in the American
economy, and that dent may leave a permanent scar on the freedoms of a democratic
republic and a capitalist economy. The total damage to our freedoms and to
our economy has yet to be fully assessed.
In order to avert the terrorists’ attempts to turn this from singular acts
of terrorism into a religious war, the Bush Administration had to carefully
isolate the terrorists. This was done by a combination of diplomacy and public
policy announcements. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Hammes described this as “netwars”
in his 1994 article.
A netwar may focus on public or elite opinion, or both. It may involve public
diplomacy measures, propaganda and psychological campaigns, political and
cultural subversion, deception or interference with local media, infiltration
of computer networks and databases, and efforts to promote dissident or opposition
movements across computer networks.
It appears that the Bush Administration borrowed from Hammes concept of netwar,
but in reality, they probably never read any of the articles dealing with
4GW. A war of religions was not in the interests of the United States, and
the use of diplomacy as well as domestic speeches and policy, successfully
countered the attempt to turn the war into a religious war.
Part of the problem was the American public who saw only the faces of Arabs
as the perpetrators of the attacks and joyous crowds of Arabs on CNN. The
Administration had an education problem on its hands with regard to its own
citizenry as well as the Islamic world.
The rhetoric of the Administration was announced in no uncertain terms: “You
are either for us or against us!” While the Administration realized that this
was irrational, they also reasoned that the message had to be sent around
the globe that the most powerful nation in the world would not truck any support
of terrorists by any nation-state. In addition, the United States made a powerful
argument for going after the terrorists sooner rather than waiting until later
when they might be able to get their hands on nuclear weapons.
This was part of an Information Warfare effort that both sides played heavily
at the onset. Usama Bin Laden used videotapes, which were sent to the Al Jazeera
Television network to spread his message to the Islamic world about the rational
for attacking the infidel and the need for a jihad. The tapes stopped after
a few months of military action in Afghanistan, virtually giving the Americans
a monopoly in the information war.
As intelligence began to pour in it was clear that Al Qaeda was not only militant,
they were entrepreneurial. There was a definite terrorist banking system with
cut outs and blind alleys. The most sacrosanct policies of international banking
institutions regarding privacy had to be opened to inspection and tracing
of accounts. This had never before been allowed, and while there was some
coercion involved, the results were that at least some of the terrorist-banking
network was tracked. We continue to find traces of financial dealings
and roadblocks to information, but the technique of “following the money”
has had an effect.
The military response was only one part of a much larger strategic response
that is still ongoing and requires daily coordination. What is normally seen
on CNN and Fox News is military action or Pentagon news releases, but behind
the scenes, there is considerable wartime activity that goes unnoticed. Such
a coordinated effort has not occurred since World War II.
Liberal use of cash did not hurt either. The domestic economy had a cash surplus
of several trillion prior to 11 September. That cash was spent in addition
to borrowing against the future to repair the damage both nationally and internationally.
Major airlines were shored up with liberal uses of cash. Airport security
personnel were nationalized. Foreign countries were promised and given cash
to support our efforts. Just how much cash was spent in this way will never
be known, but it is very probable that our access to bases in countries like
Pakistan and other surrounding countries was secured with cash.
Cash gained intelligence and basic information. Military operations in and
around Afghanistan required the resources necessary to conduct war. Not only
did the Administration provide the cash necessary to get started, Congress
allocated the cash necessary to support the continuation of the effort as
requested by the Administration.
All said, the coordinated Grand Strategy, play as you go, got off to a good
start. It contains all the elements to support successful military operations
against a terrorist enemy on any number of fronts. Implementation, however,
is proving very difficult with such an enemy. Moreover, implementation may
be even more difficult with such friends as the Israelis. The situation in
Palestine exacerbates the prosecution of this war against terrorism, and it
may prove to be the unraveling of the American grand strategy if the Palestinian
question becomes the predominant focus of the Administration. In the case
of Palestine, we may be on the receiving end of Boyd’s OODA loop in terms
The theater of war is often identified as
the operational level of war in current military thinking. While there are
several governmental players in a theater, such as Ambassadors and Foreign
Service officers, CIA agents, and a host of other agencies, the military commander
is normally the warlord of the U.S. commitment. In this case, Central Command
(CENTCOM) was the responsible command for Afghanistan. The headquarters of
CENTCOM is in Tampa, FL, primarily because it has been impossible to find
a host for the headquarters in any Middle Eastern nation.
The third division of doctrine is tactics. The term tactics normally means
the conduct of battles – usually at battalion level and below in terms of
force structure. Yet this war has seen a blurring of the nice divisions of
war that were identified in conventional war structures and before the advent
of the age of satellite communications. What the young private or sergeant
does on scene can well affect strategy (or even grand strategy) at the highest
level. Likewise, the President can now direct the actions of privates and
sergeants if he so chooses. The media has transformed what was once the domain
of generals into a nightly description of “how goes the war”. The Secretary
of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have to counter potential
disinformation by giving nightly briefings to the press – possibly devoting
more time to public relations than to decision-making.
So the war has taken on a blurry admixture of strategy, operations, and tactics
in fourth generation setting. Not unlike Vietnam, there are some very distinct
An elusive enemy who doesn’t fight “fair”
Problematic identification of friend from
Experienced and hardened enemy fighters
Sanctuary (Pakistani and Iranian borders)
Delivery Platforms: Fixed wing fighter-bombers,
B-52, AC-130, and helicopters
Application of Special Operations Forces
to advise allies and conduct operations
Use of U.S. conventional forces to secure
bases and to conduct operations
Comparison with Vietnam should not be taken too far, but we have been in this
situation before and have not done well. The differences may be more important
than the similarities.
One of the significant differences is that so far, the US has resisted the
temptation of committing large numbers of ground forces to the fight. At present
there are about 6,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan compared to a high of 550,000
in Vietnam. According to the Washington Times, General Tommy Franks is keeping
the U.S. force levels low to avoid presenting lucrative targets to the Al
Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Significantly, if necessary, the U.S. can
easily extract 6,000 troops far easier than 600,000. A smaller operational
footprint enhances strategic options.
Four Phases of the War to Date
As of this writing, April 2002, there have
been what could be described as four phases to this war in Afghanistan: The
initial phase of the war was a very short phase where we applied airpower
alone with very little success. The second phase was the introduction of Special
Operations Forces to assist the opposition (alliance) forces. Combined with
the ground operations of the Northern Alliance, equipped with Russian aid
and American money, our SOF were successful in dislodging the Taliban and
Al Qaeda from their conventional defensive positions. The third phase was
the operation in the Tora Bora Mountains where we found that SOF with the
reluctant allies was not enough to both seal the Pakistani border and take
the battle to the enemy in their caves. The fourth phase was Operation Anaconda
where we used conventional U.S. military forces along with a smattering of
our closer allied special operations teams but ultimately had to call in the
local Afghani warlord to help oust the enemy from the Shah-i-Kot stronghold.
Again, the enemy appears to have been able to fade across the border into
Pakistan. (See Table 1.)
If examined through objective lenses, it becomes clear that the Al Qaeda forces
were not fighting 4GW during the first two phases of the war. They were in
conventional defensive positions. Only after they were shoved out of power
were they able to fight in the way that they are the most effective: from
the caves and in small groups against a conventional force.
||US air strikes based on
TechInt targets and in response to Afghan requests.
||7 Oct 01 – 20 Oct 01
||Not effective in dislodging Taliban.
Terrorists retained initiative.
||SOF and CIA on ground to advise, direct
CAS, and gather intelligence. Reconnaissance Pull. Adaptive
||21 Oct 01 – 15 Dec 01
||Extremely effective in forcing Taliban
and Al Qaeda into mountains. US and Allies won initiative. Rapidly
||Al Qaeda located in stronghold
||15 Dec 01 - 15 Jan 02
||Al Qaeda intimidated allied forces
who “went home” after declaring victory. Al Qaeda took initiative
||4GW applied by Al Qaeda
US forces applied to knock
out Al Qaeda in the caves of Shah-i-Kot (Operation Anaconda)
||16 Jan 02 - 18 Mar 02
||Not very effective – similar to Soviet/Afghan
war. Al Qaeda wrested initiative. Escaped.
||2GW (Attrition) applied by
U.S. Al Qaeda fought
Table 1: Phases of the Anti-Terrorist War in Afghanistan
to Date (March 2002)
By far the most interesting aspect of the
war so far has been the ability of the special operations forces to operate
in this environment. SOF were able to “infiltrate” their way into the Alliance
Forces and create a powerful moral force; leveraging the physical with the
mental and moral. These special operations teams were truly adaptive and allowed
for what William Lind calls “Reconnaissance Pull”. That is, the reconnaissance
elements (special operations in this case) pulling the rest of the force in
the direction of least resistance to achieve a considerable victory through
maneuver. Enabled to a degree never before experienced by high technology
(direct communications with air platforms and precision guided munitions).
While we should not minimize the contribution of the new technologies, the
fact is that the difference between the ineffective Phase I and the highly
effective Phase II was “boots on the ground”.
The absence of command rather than the presence of command is an interesting
feature of the second phase of the war. While there were daily reports from
Afghanistan, it was almost as if the high command (CENTCOM in Tampa) was waiting
for the SOF teams to report in through their SOF channels before reporting
to the world what was happening. The dramatic pictures of SOF soldiers in
various stages of uniform disarray riding horses, donkeys, and ATVs across
the high plains complete with laptops portrayed a situation where these fine
teams, knowing what the commander’s intent was, exploited the seams of the
Al Qaeda and Taliban wherever they could. At least, that is the way it appears
to have happened from what information is available. Within days, the SOF
and our newfound allies had achieved the equivalent of the German Blitzkrieg
across the plains of France in World War II, albeit against a much more lightly
armed enemy. The rapidity with which our SOF teams and the allied fighters
did this was amazing, but it has to be said that the Taliban and the Al Qaeda
were never trained or organized to fight the conventional fight.
There is a glimmer of hope that from the use of Special Operations Forces
in Afghanistan, i.e., small cells made up of senior non-commissioned officers
and led by seasoned leaders; supported by special air support; and aided by
allies (some of which are of questionable allegiance), we might have the foundation
of a force that is capable of coping with 4GW forces. Rather than committing
large conventional forces which have not proved to be as effective, there
is good value in investing heavily in SOF.
The battle in the hills of Tora Bora did not demonstrate that the SOF were
any better than the conventional forces used in Anaconda, but the promise
of a small, versus large, U.S. footprint appears to be the way to combat the
enemy. More to the point, the Tora Bora and Anaconda operations both show
that the SOF was equally effective as a larger U.S. force with all the command
and control paraphernalia and posturing.
The question is: why do we want to commit a large conventional U.S. force
to such battles? Part of the answer is in seeking what used to be called “glory”.
All good commanders seek to get into the battle, whether or not they lead
the best suited force. If there is a battle, then ride to the sound of the
guns. But there is more than glory involved.
The Army was highly criticized when they could not provide Task Force Hawk
in Albania to support the Kosovo Operation in a timely manner. Stung by the
criticisms, the Army has been trying to prove its manhood ever since. The
fight near Shah-i-Kot seemed like the opportunity it had been waiting for.
Despite individual acts of heroism and uncommon bravery among the troops and
unit leaders, it is clear that the Army was ill-prepared for combat at the
higher elevations among the rocky terrain and caves and in the extreme cold.
Recently, it was revealed that Usama Bin Laden was in the Tora Bora complex
but escaped. Further, it was speculated that the failure to capture or kill
Bin Laden was because the U.S. did not commit conventional ground forces to
seal the borders with Pakistan. While it is easy for armchair strategists
to conclude that had there been forces guarding the border, Bin Laden would
not have escaped, this conclusion does not track with what we know about how
the enemy operates in the guerrilla mode. They have an uncanny ability to
avoid contact when they want to avoid it. In that terrain and altitude, it
would probably have taken several divisions to seal off the border while protecting
our own rear from guerrilla attack from Pakistan. The real failure was in
misreading the cultural intelligence that should have told us that our somewhat
erratic allies were not up to this fight. Motivation of the friendlies should
have been a top priority. One suspects that our SOF advisors knew as much
and probably reported it through the chain of command. Eventually, the Afghani
warlords were turned around, but by then it was too late.
U.S. military forces, Marines and Army, had been deployed to base areas in
Afghanistan, but they had not been deployed into the combat areas. It was
in the Shah-i-Kot valley that the American generals had their first chance
to plan and execute a battle of annihilation against the mostly Al Qaeda fighters
using mostly American troops. Unfortunately, it turned out that the “victory”
of Operation Anaconda was more imagined than real. Too many Al Qaeda escaped
the noose again to claim anything but a hollow victory for the elements of
the 101st Airborne and the 10th Mountain divisions and the allied special
operations forces. The Afghan allies had to be called upon once again to come
in and mop up the cave complexes, and not only were the Al Qaeda fighters
to ridicule the American soldiers but also, our Afghani allies were not so
complimentary on their performance. It can be said that the Al Qaeda fighters
successfully ambushed and successfully escaped the clutches of the Americans.
Anaconda was an attempt to create a linear battlefield by Clausewitzean generals
using heavy doses of attrition warfare on an elusive enemy. While we still
do not know the actual results, it is clear that this battle was less than
advertised. We attempted to apply 2GW against a 4GW enemy once again (similar
to Vietnam), and it failed. In fact, it handed the Al Qaeda a moral victory
with many escaping or staying hidden.
Instead of adapting to the enemy; instead of being flexible with regard to
the response; instead of recognizing our own inherent limitations in these
altitudes; our generals perceived a conventional Clausewitzian war that they
could understand and fight, and our generals lost. No, they did not lose the
battle. They lost the strategic initiative.
Stark in perspective as a first in Afghanistan, the Army generals took over
media relations and brought back the over-optimism and “body count” of yore
– playing into the hands of the elusive enemy. Our own media quickly proved
the generals wrong without Al Qaeda as much as issuing a single press release.
The Army is still trying to recover figurative lost ground in the media from
the battle of Shah-i-Kot.
Unquestionably, the troops that fought at Shah-i-Kot were well trained, but
for what kind of war? The troops, including the 10th “Mountain” Division elements
may not have been acclimated for the altitude, and there may have been considerable
difficulties supporting them, but there was plenty of heroism to go around
for all. In one incident a SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, fell
out of a CH-47 that had been shot up. Although he was captured and murdered,
he was not left on the ground. His buddies went back for him. That is the
mark of a well-trained, well-led, and cohesive force. But such bravery does
not mean that our military forces are prepared to fight 4GW forces.
Former leader of the Green Berets, Major General Bill Moore, U.S. Army (Retired)
said recently that “One of the mistakes we don’t (sic.) make in Afghanistan
is we don’t (sic.) send untrained and unseasoned troops in there as the Soviets
did.” “This goes to the very distinct advantage the U.S. military has over
almost every military in the world – that is, our soldiers are effectively
trained and led.” General Moore was alluding to lessons learned from Soviet
mistakes. While it is true that our soldiers are well trained, and while it
is true that we have not committed large numbers of untrained troops to Afghanistan
as yet, what we have not proved is that we can fight 3d Generation Warfare
(Maneuver Warfare), let alone 4GW. So far, only the Special Operations Forces
(to include allied SOF) have proved that they can conduct maneuver warfare.
Offering Up Some Fodder for Thought
Militarily, we have not proved that we know
how to fight 4GW. First we must understand it. To understand it requires study
and thinking. There appears to be precious little thinking going on in the
institution of the profession of arms. The war colleges are dedicated to the
principle of thinking, but they appear to have produced only clones of the
generals of World War I. Our response to virtually every conflict is to apply
liberal use of firepower. Even the Army War College innovative study “Army
After Next” resulted only in a focus on a new hardware system: the Future
We are a 2GW military trying to fight a 4GW. Before we can begin to learn
to fight a 4GW, we must first learn to fight 3d Generation Warfare (maneuver
warfare). We have to revive the teaching of maneuver warfare in the schoolhouses.
We have to practice maneuver warfare in the training areas. We have to conduct
maneuver warfare wherever possible on the battlefield – before we can ever
learn to cope with 4GW. Can we adapt? How long will it take? Who will lead?
In 4GW we have to think about how we approach this new generation of warfare.
John Boyd offered some perspective on how to fight 4GW in his thoughts on
Moral War. Few recognize that Boyd identified three categories of conflict:
attrition warfare, maneuver conflict, and moral conflict. Most recognize the
first two categories as identified by Boyd, but it is the Moral conflict that
is least acknowledged. Boyd states that this is conflict as practiced by the
Mongols, most guerrilla leaders, a very few counter guerrillas, and certain
others from Sun Tzu and Musashi, to the present.
The essence of moral conflict is extracted from Boyd’s presentation on “Patterns
of Conflict” (2.9MB PDF file) (See Figure 1). It is easy to recognize the
Al Qaeda, but is it easy to recognize the response? Boyd never finished
any specific prescription for Moral War, but he believed that the answer lays
in adaptation: “Get inside adversary observation-orientation-decision-action
loops (at all levels) by being more subtle, more indistinct, more irregular,
and quicker—yet appear to be otherwise”.
At the tactical level, Boyd believed that complexity (technical, organizational,
operational, etc.) causes commanders and subordinates alike to be captured
by their own internal dynamics or interactions – hence they cannot adapt to
rapidly changing external (or internal) circumstances. At the strategic level,
maneuver/counter maneuver suggests we need a potential for a variety of possibilities:
Rapid shifts among many simultaneous and
sequential possibilities permits one to repeatedly generate mismatches between
events/efforts adversary observes or imagines and those he must respond
to (to survive).
Without a variety of possibilities adversary
is given the opportunity to read as well as adapt to events and efforts
as they unfold.
The question arises, how are we presenting
Al Qaeda with these many different threats at many different levels? Are we
thinking of fourth generation ways of “Ai Uchi”, cutting our foe just as he
cuts us. We need special operations approaches that reflect “Bunbu Itchi”
or “pen and sword in accord”. Perhaps we are, but it is unclear that this
is the case, and it further appears that the Al Qaeda is comfortable in their
holes and with their Pakistani friends. Not all actions must be military.
In fact most should not be military actions if we are to understand Sun Tzu.
Create, Exploit, and Magnify
Impressions of danger to one's well being and survival.
Impressions, or atmosphere, generated by events
that appear ambiguous, erratic, contradictory, unfamiliar, chaotic,
fear, anxiety, and alienation in order to
generate many non-cooperative centers of gravity, as well as subvert
those that adversary depends upon, thereby magnify internal friction.
Atmosphere of doubt and suspicion that loosens human
bonds among members of an organic whole or between organic wholes.
Destroy moral bonds that permit an organic whole to
Figure 1: Boyd’s "Essence of Moral Conflict"
(Chart 122 of Patterns of Conflict)
Boots on the ground are important, but more important
is having smart boots on the ground. Special operations forces are in high
demand. Special Operations Forces have been training to operate in this type
of environment for over 40 years; so it should come as no shock that these
small teams of senior soldiers know their way around the unconventional battlefield.
Their talented teams and capabilities will be able to do more in this type
environment than entire divisions of conventional forces with large logistics
footprints and juicy targets. U.S. Special Operations Forces come with their
soft side as well. Psychological operations and civic affairs units are part
of Special Operations. Intelligence operations and Special operations have
traditionally worked hand in glove. This combination of capabilities at the
operational and tactical levels provides a potent force with which to confront
terrorism. Conventional forces will get their chances to perform against other
enemies on other battlefields, but on this battlefield, they have limited
This 4GW warfare has to be fought over the moral high
ground. This cannot be overemphasized. It will take a combination of strategic
and operational/tactical ideas and forces to achieve the high moral ground
in combating terrorism or any other form of 4GW. John Boyd described several
actions to be taken to achieve the moral high ground.
Undermine guerrilla causes and destroy their cohesion
by demonstrating integrity and competence of government to represent and
serve needs of people – rather than exploit and impoverish them for the
benefit of a greedy elite.
Take political initiative to root out and visibly punish
corruption and eliminate grievances at the grass roots.
Infiltrate guerrilla movements and employ the population
for intelligence on the guerrillas
Deploy administrative talent, police, and roving counter-guerrilla
teams into affected regions.
Take and keep the initiative by relentless pursuit.
Employ the guerrilla’s own tactics of reconnaissance, infiltration, surprise
hit-and-run, and sudden ambush to keep roving bands off-balance and to make
base areas untenable.
Emphasize capture and conversion to government cause
-- instead of harsh anti-population reprisal measures and “body count” –
as a basis to undermine guerrilla influence.
Visibly identify central government with local political/economic/social
reform in order to connect government with hopes and needs of people, thereby
gain their support and confirm government legitimacy.
Destroy guerrilla cohesion and break their hold upon
the population via political initiative that demonstrates moral legitimacy
and vitality of government and by relentless military operations that emphasize
stealth/fast tempo/fluidity-of-action and cohesion of overall effort.
Boyd did not perceive the type of global war now facing
us, including terrorists who are willing to sacrifice their own lives to take
the war to the enemy. Even so, there is little doubt that he would stand by
his prescriptions to fight the moral war, just as he had outlined, to create
the mismatches essential to defeating the enemy.
The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force
General Richard B. Myers, is of the belief that this current war against global
terrorism resembles that of World War II in at least one significant way.
He recently told Congress: “During World War II, the services showed a remarkable
capacity to learn from the experience. At the beginning of the war, they faced
conditions they had not prepared for, but managed to adapt themselves in the
midst of the fight, and within a short time had established an extraordinary
degree of teamwork and combat efficiency. We face a similar task today—to
defeat multiple enemies who are capable of striking us with asymmetric means
from locations around the world. Wining this new global war will require us
to exhibit the same flexibility in adapting to changing conditions.”
General Myers is right with regard to the need for “adaptation”
in handling the mismatches presented by the enemy and creating our own mismatches
over the enemy. We might even use the term “transformation”. We cannot afford
a one-dimensional or two-dimensional fighting force. “Transformation” must
not be restricted to a single event where some tinkering is done with organizations
or policy. Transformation and adaptation must be the hallmark of any capability
to provide for the national defense, and particularly to fight 4GW, and it
begins with thinking organizations. Our military forces must be able to transform
to the environment in order to survive and in order to win. That also means
transforming how we think about fighting and how we fight. Combating 4GW is
quite different from combating 2GW. The Al Qaeda can elect to attack the U.S.
using 4GW, but the dilemma confronting us is that U.S. military must be able
to fight and win in all forms of warfare.
As any American military officer will tell you, the great
strength of the U.S. Armed Forces lies not in her generals but rather in her
strong non-commissioned officer corps. These fine thinking and acting NCOs
have an unspoken but God-given mission to train their troops and even their
own second lieutenants despite the training schedules and despite the orders
issued from on high, not because of them. There is little doubt why the basic
training camps are dominated by the NCO drill instructors. They know how to
train. Training is the secret to success on the battlefield. As Douglas MacArthur
said: “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days
and on other fields will bear the fruits of victory.” MacArthur was talking
about team sports, but the essence of sports is taught by the coach, and the
coach in military terms is the nearest sergeant.
Vietnam saw the introduction of the “instant NCO” which
appalled the officer corps. As a result, many of the responsibilities and
authority of the NCOs were taken over by the officer corps. While the responsibilities
have been given back in some areas, the authority was lost forever. Nevertheless,
the NCO corps has been reborn and has assumed leadership where it is absent
and even where it is not. Much of the micro-management extant in the mid-grade
and senior grade officers may be traced back to the Vietnam War. Maybe we
have forgotten how to cut our subordinates loose to do their job.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff needs to institutionalize
the adaptability of which he speaks.
There have been some serious efforts by the Administration
to confront this war on a scale that it demands. The seriousness with which
the President addresses the issue is evident in the resources that he is committing
to this war. There is still more that has to be done to effectively address
the issues. We have to convince the terrorists and their families and their
leaders that terrorism is morally wrong, not something to be celebrated. This
is a challenge to any political leader as it addresses religious, societal,
economic, and political differences. But it is a challenge, which we must
accept and counter if we are to win.
What is winning, and when will we know that we have won?
It is doubtful if anyone knows the answer to this pertinent question. Moreover,
the question is presumptuous. We may not win especially if we persist in seeing
things solely from a western perspective. The threat is considerable, and
few Americans recognize the extent of the threat. It will take much more than
Active and Reserve, Marines, Airmen, Soldiers, and Coast Guard to win this
Our military forces so far have mixed results in trying
to cope with 4GW. We have the potential of dealing with 4GW by learning from
the Special Operations Forces and their experiences and applying them in new
ways based on people and ideas, not addiction to technological hardware. We
will fail if we insist in using traditional 2GW military responses with conventional
forces where they are inappropriate.
Can we fight 4GW and win? The jury is still out. We have
had some success on the ground in Afghanistan, but the recent employment of
conventional forces in Operation Anaconda is regression to a failing concept.
No matter how many Predator Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV) armed with Hellfire
missiles, no matter how many satellite photos, and no matter how many signals
intercepts, this war, like all others, will be won or lost by ideas.
It is not too early to adjust our tactics, techniques,
operational thinking or even the “American Way of War” to combat an elusive,
determined, and deadly enemy that operates outside the framework of the nation-state
in a fourth generation milieu. We must approach today’s fourth generation
thorns with better ideas and Musashi’s spirit of shin-ken sho-bu…to be done
in deadly earnest.
Retired MG Bill Moore makes the point that our soldiers
(especially our Special Operations Forces) at the tactical levels have been
trained to adapt, take independent action, and handle the mismatches. This
seems to be more true of our Special Operations Forces than of our conventional
force. Low-level independent action by semi-autonomous forces is one part
of the answer as to how to fight Al Qaeda (and other 4GW fighters) on their
home turf. The real answer is in how our leaders think, and we are far from
any acceptance of either maneuver warfare or 4GW within the U.S. military
Another clue may be found in Boyd’s moral war approach.
We have to constantly generate our own mismatches over the enemy. Rather than
micro-management from above, the answer may be a bottoms-up approach. The
thought that the CENTCOM Headquarters remains in Tampa – out of the theater
– tends to reinforce a concept of small trusted units that carry a big stick
in fighting 4GW.
Clearly, the SOF have a better idea! Can the rest of the
U.S. military establishment learn from them in time?
About the authors: LTC Greg Wilcox, USA, Ret., retired in 1984
after serving in both armored cavalry and infantry units. He is a veteran
of three tours in Vietnam. Col. G. I. Wilson, USMCR, Ret., was one of the
authors of the original paper on 4GW and has remained a prolific writer on
 The Army’s Air Land Battle doctrine of the early
1980s came near to an expression of maneuver warfare. The Marines were more
serious about maneuver warfare and studied it in their schoolhouses in the
1980s. The effectiveness of the I Marine Expeditionary force, executing
a maneuver warfare stroke through numerically superior defense forces into
Kuwait city during the Gulf War demonstrated the validity of maneuver warfare
doctrine. See also: U.S. Government, Department of Defense, Honorable Richard
Cheney, “Annual Report to the President and the Congress”, February 1992,
 Secular Turkey, for example, is a prime target for attack. See: Andrew Borowiec, “Turkey Target for Terrorists”,
Washington Times (May 1, 2002).
 William M. Carpenter, David G. Wiencek, “Piracy on the South China Sea”
Conference Paper, South China Sea Conference, American Enterprise Institute, September
7-9, 1994, p. 4.
 “OODA Loops” describe a process of getting ahead
of the enemy’s decision cycle. The acronym stands for Observe, Orient,
Decide, and Act. This process is time dependent, that is, it has to be
done faster than the opponent can do it, and it implies a continuous
process until what Boyd called a “death spiral”. The term OODA Loop is universal and can even be found in modern day business
texts as a strategy for dealing with the competition.
 William S. Lind, Maneuver Warfare Handbook
(Boulder: Westview Press,
 Lind, William S., et. al., “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth
Generation,” Marine Corps Gazette (October 1989): 22-26.
 Lieutenant Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, “The Evolution of War: The Fourth
Generation,” Marine Corps Gazette, (September 1994). All articles referenced
as Fourth Generation Warfare can be found on the
www.d-n-i.net web site.
 William S. Lind, Major John F. Schmitt, and Colonel Gary I. Wilson,
“Fourth Generation Warfare: Another Look”, Marine Corps Gazette, (December
 Harold A. Gould and Franklin C. Spinney, “Fourth-Generation Warfare
Is Here,” Defense Week (October 15, 2001). This article is also on the
 Dan Eggen and Bob Woodward, “U.S. Develops Picture of Overseas Plot:
Hijackers Spent $500,000; at Least 4 Trained in Afghan Camps,” Washington
Post (September 29, 2001) p. A1.
 James Fallows, “Behavior Modification”, The Atlantic Monthly (April
2002) pp. 28-29.
 “Usama Bin Laden Biography and Psychological Profile,” This paper is
in the private collection of Greg Wilcox. To the best of our knowledge,
it has not been published, but it has been distributed over the internet.
See also: video tapes of Usama Bin Laden aired over Al Jazeera in November,
 Hammes, op.cit.
 U.S. Government, Whitehouse Press Release: “Shutting Down the Terrorist
Financial Network”, November 7, 2001.
 Rowan Scarborough, “U.S. Learns From Mistakes of Soviets in Afghanistan”,
Washington Times, (April 24, 2002).
 Catherine Philp, “Inadequate US Troops Pulled Out of Battleground”,
London Times (March 12, 2002).
 See Lind’s Maneuver Warfare Handbook.
 Jason Vest, “Mountain Warfare Is Not the Only Thing Slowing Down the
U.S. Army”, as featured in Franklin C. Spinney Blaster, “Subject: #442 –
Captured by the One-Eyed Cyclops (I): Vest Report”, March 22, 2002, pp 10-13
of 18 pages. See: http://www.d-n-i.net .
 Barton Gellman and Thomas E. Ricks, “U.S. Concludes Bin Laden Escaped
at Tora Bora Fight”, Washington Post, (April 17, 2002).
 Cf: Paul Haven, “Operation Anaconda Under Scrutiny”, c.
Press, MILINET, 19 March 2002. John F. Burns, “The Battle: Mop-Up Units
Find Few Bodies or Survivors,” New York Times, (March 17, 2002). Dmitry
Litvinovich, “The Anaconda Choked on Her Own Tail,” Pravada, (March 14,
 Scarborough, op.cit.
 Boyd, op cit., see: “Patterns of Conflict”,
 See: Musashi, Miyamoto, The Book of Five Rings, trans. Thomas Cleary,
Boston: Shambhala Publications. Inc., 1993.
 Boyd, ibid, p. 92 of 1979 briefing.
 Paul Mann, “Modern Military Threats: Not All They Might Seem?”,
Week & Space Technology, (April 22, 2002).
 See: Musashi, Miyamoto, The Book of Five Rings, trans. Thomas Cleary,
Boston: Shambhala Publications. Inc., 1993.