Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Road MoreTraveled By

A video captured from the Taliban in Afghanistan illustrates the power of electronic warfare. The enemy is using a cell phone to trigger an IED on American convoys. But the Americans have their own wizardry. Their vehicles are blanketed by an electronic jamming bubble. Watch as the Taliban try to blow up American vehicles traveling along the strategic Pech River road without success. Not even praying to Allah helps.

If you think the Taliban were trying to kill American soldiers, you would only be half-right. What they were really trying to do was block a road.

A road is a the pathway to civilization and the battle to upgrade and secure the Pech river road is one of the more interesting but unsung stories of the war. The Pech River road is now well along in its construction. The Taliban have lost to civilization -- for now. Road-building has been a strategic counterinsurgency weapon since ancient times. As David Kilcullen explains how he learned this lesson:

As a tactics instructor in the mid-1990s, teaching British platoon commanders at the School of Infantry, I spent many weeks on extended field exercises in the wilds of south Wales and on windswept Salisbury Plain. Both landscapes are studded with Roman military antiquities, relics of ancient counterinsurgency campaigns – mile-castles, military roads, legion encampments – as well as the Iron Age hill-forts of the Romans' insurgent adversaries. Teaching ambushing, I often found that ambush sites I chose from a map, even on the remotest hillsides, would turn out (once I dragged my weary, rucksack-carrying ass to the actual spot) to have Roman or Celtic ruins on them, and often a Roman military road nearby: call me lacking in self-assurance, but I often found this a comforting vote of confidence in my tactical judgment from the collective wisdom of the ancestors.


Like the Romans, counterinsurgents through history have engaged in road-building as a tool for projecting military force, extending governance and the rule of law, enhancing political communication and bringing economic development, health and education to the population. Clearly, roads that are patrolled by friendly forces or secured by local allies also have the tactical benefit of channeling and restricting insurgent movement and compartmenting terrain across which guerrillas could otherwise move freely. But the political impact of road-building is even more striking than its tactical effect.


Kilcullen argues that road-building "separates the enemy from the population ... builds connectivity with and confidence in government ... creates jobs and promotes business, facilitates agriculture, and allows farmers to get crops to market faster before they spoil". Ultimately fighting extremism in the 21st century is a race to see which side can use technology better. One side wants to use it to return the world to the 8th century and the other to reach the stars.





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8 Comments:

Blogger Teresita said...

W:Both landscapes are studded with Roman military antiquities, relics of ancient counterinsurgency campaigns – mile-castles, military roads, legion encampments – as well as the Iron Age hill-forts of the Romans' insurgent adversaries.

There's another use for the Appian Way employed by the Romans, besides projecting military force and economic power to defeat insurgents, and that's deterring future insurgents. When Crassius found himself with 5,000 captive insurgents (part of Spartacus' crew), and a road that was 500 Roman miles from Brindusium to Rome, he did a little math and came up with a distance of 100 paces between crosses, and he proceeded to crucify all 5,000 insurgents along that road. And he never gave orders to take them down. So they hung up there for decades. It worked much better than a Surge.

5/03/2008 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger jms said...

What if we were to program the cell phone system so that all cell phones connected to the network would emit spurious rings at random intervals.

This would create a serious risk of pre-detonation to the perpretrators of cell-phone triggered IEDs at a minimal inconvenience to the rest of the population. It would be demoralizing to go through all the time and energy of building and burying an IED just to have it blow up with no one around, or have it kill you while you are arming it.

5/03/2008 07:13:00 PM  
Blogger ErnieG said...

jms, I would not be surprised to learn that something like that may be behind some of the Palestinian "work accidents" we hear about.

5/03/2008 08:26:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I just watched "Charlie Wilson's War", which portrays the mujahadeen as the good guys in the fight against the Russians. The movie claims that America spent $1 Billion (with a B) buying weapons for these idiots to blow Russians out of the sky.

Do you suppose they ever wonder where the Stingers and the helicopters and the cell phones come from in the first place, let alone the "Magic Cone of Silence" bubbles that jam Bad Guys' IED calls and protect Americans.

I just get so tired of being expected to dumb all the time to deal with these people.

BTW, the movie is really good.

5/03/2008 10:26:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Anyone else notice that the Anti Land Mine types of which Princess Diana was a supporter have not said squat about the massive use of IEDs?

U.S. Land mines on the border between South and North Korea - a terrible thing! And never mind the military utility of such use they said, it still encourages other to use them in ways that maim and kill innocents.

Terrorists actually blowing people up? Nary a peep!

5/04/2008 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Wretchard wrote:

"Ultimately fighting extremism in the 21st century is a race to see which side can use technology better."

Islamist terrorists tipped their hand, via 9/11, on their strategy of using technology to bring down the 'West' (and whomever else is not submitting) and restore the rightful culture of 7th century Arabia (enhanced with technological access to pornography, to judge by evidence the noble jihadists leave behind).

I am shocked (not that I should be) that there is a lot of public handwringing about the cost of the War on Terror. But one never hears discussion that brings in the counterbalancing/contextualizing information regarding the costs of 9/11. The estimates of those costs are the immediate ones and ripple effect ones, from the cost of building and planes, to the cost of implementing new security procedures, to the cost of lost investment opportunities in developing markets that may be subject to terrorism. I have seen estimates of 9/11 costing the U.S. up to two trillion dollars. I don't know what figure economists would settle upon.

But it's clear to me, if not to the media pundits, that the cost of doing nothing regarding terrorism has been, and would probably be again, much higher than the cost of waging the current war (which at least provides, as a benefit, redistribution of taxpayer funds into U.S. heavy industries.)

5/05/2008 06:48:00 AM  
Blogger John J. Coupal said...

Hate to say this, but

The quality of that video recording is excellent. The resolution of the picture would do a cinematographer proud, and the landscape framing would be expected of a Hollywood director.

No herky-jerky amateur camera work, ala Blair Witch Project, for those jihadis.

The enemy realizes that if it's going to produce propaganda, it better be of high quality to impress the technologically-savvy dhimmis.

5/05/2008 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

John J. Coupal said:

"The quality of that video recording is excellent. The resolution of the picture would do a cinematographer proud, and the landscape framing would be expected of a Hollywood director."

Perhaps some Hollywood moonbat made the video recording for them (paging Michael Moore!). Would it be less of a surprise that an illiterate goat herder made the video?

5/05/2008 09:15:00 PM  

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