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On Point

Deception and Warfare


by Austin Bay
June 30, 2004

China's great sixth century B.C. strategist, Gen. Sun Tzu, had a poet's knack for the epigram -- the ability to "write tight" and sneakily sinking the infinitely complex into a single phrase. His "Art of War" is a diamond mine of insight.

"All warfare is based upon deception," Sun Tzu wrote, simultaneously succinct and voluminous. Italy's Renaissance political genius, Niccolo Machiavelli, added this point: "Though fraud in other activities may be detestable, in the management of war it is laudable and glorious, and he who overcomes the enemy by fraud is as much to be praised as he who does by force."

Sun's and Machiavelli's soundbites are the "deep background" for a RAND pamphlet titled "The Art of Darkness: Deception and Urban Operations" (see the RAND website, www.rand.org). Written by Scott Gerwehr and Russell Glenn for the U.S. Army and published in 2000, the short study examines the role of deception in city and suburban security operations.

The immediate relevance to Iraq is obvious. Follow the train of headlines -- U.S. Marines in Fallujah, the British in Basra, the U.S. Army in Najaf, Iraqi police in Baghdad.

However, the global scope of urbanization has put a Mogadishu, if not a Los Angeles, in virtually every corner of the planet. As early as the 1960s, European strategists began to see Western Europe as an extended city. For French strategist Pierre Gallois, "urbanization meant "a nation's human and material assets are now concentrated in relatively small spaces and their annihilation would require only a handful of missiles."

"The Art of Darkness," though pre-9/11, presciently addresses urban fighting in its 21st century War on Terror context. Gerwehr and Glenn note: "... many of the advantages held by U.S. forces are curbed or eliminated by the distinctive qualities of the urban environment." Cities are ripe with opportunities for an enemy to "deceive" U.S. sensors and soldiers. They also offer opportunities for the United States and its allies to employ deception -- if troops are trained for it.

In urban terrain:

-- The scope for deception is greater than in any other.

-- "background noise" (the bane of city life) "hampers" sensors and "counter-deception" operations. "Urban clutter" also limits the employment of certain technologies.

The "presence and proximity of noncombatants" complicates intelligence operations. Non-combatants and "important sociopolitical institutions" (e.g., mosques in Najaf) also complicate the politics, which complicates combat operations. The complications are reflected in what the military calls an ROE, the Rules of Engagement, which tell soldiers when and what to shoot.

The authors' analysis of the Chechens' deception operations in the defense of the Chechen capital of Grozny against Russian forces (January 1995) has resonance for Fallujah-type operations. The Chechens used Red Cross vehicles to move troops and "co-mingled forces with non-combatant crowds and activities when moving in advance or retreat. ..." Russian soldiers were frightened and confused. I thought the Baathists intended to turn Fallujah into a Grozny. They failed. What looked like political reluctance in Fallujah may well have been operational caution by U.S. forces to ensure accurate intelligence.

Put another recent RAND studies on the must-read list. Published in 2003, "America's Role in Nation-Building, From Germany to Iraq" is a balanced, multi-author historical survey of U.S.-led nation-building efforts since World War II. This caveat, in the "Lessons Learned" chapter, adds to the debate on troop strength: "... post-conflict nation-building, when undertaken with adequate numbers of troops, has triggered little violent resistance. Only when the number of stabilization troops has been low in comparison to the population have U.S. forces suffered or inflicted significant casualties."

The book has a succinct and dead-on discussion of challenges faced in Iraq. "The military, security services and bureaucracy need to be radically reformed and purged." A working justice system must be created, the economy overhauled. "Any attempt to achieve transformation in Iraq would have had to face these challenges," but the United States must "cope with unsympathetic neighbors -- Iran, Syria, and Turkey. All have an interest in shaping Iraqi politics and perhaps destabilizing a smooth transition."

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