Murphy's Law: April 10, 2003

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For centuries, warfare has largely ignored civilians. The object of combat was to get at the enemy troops and defeat them. But as events of the past century have shown, the enemy troops often hide among a sea of civilians. The communist guerilla tactics were deliberately based on using civilians as sources of information, support, recruits and cover. Attacking into a heavily populated area presents troops with pitfalls and opportunities. Unfortunately, hardly any troops anywhere are trained to deal with civilians in a combat zone. Part of the problem is resources. Where do you get hundreds of people to act, realistically, as local civilians? Some units have tried to improvise. Soldiers are rounded up to wear civilian clothes and role play as best they can. Sometimes, civilians near a military base are asked to volunteer and participate in some training exercises. One solution will probably come from army and marine wargame development operations, where there are already some simulations that include extensive interaction with civilians. But this merely points out the complexity of the situation. Fighting amongst all these civilians shows the need for interpreters, civil affairs troops and an intelligence effort that examines enemy civilians as well as military units. In the past, civilians were seen as a nuisance, something to just brush away so you could get on to the serious business of fighting. 

Without full realizing it, the United States has actually been in the forefront of developing new ways to deal with civilians on the battlefield, and has been doing so for half a century. This has been done via the U.S. Army Special Forces. Organized to deal with friendly civilians deep in enemy territory, Special Forces also controlled Civil Affairs and psychological warfare operations. You can see where this is leading; incorporating Special Forces functions in regular combat units. This is already happening, somewhat informally. The Department of Defense has announced that Special Operations Troops (Special Forces, commandos, Civil Affairs and Psychological Warfare) troops are a higher proportion of the troops involved than any earlier war. With the exception of Afghanistan, which was righting seen as almost entirely a Special Operations war in the first few months. The new ideas are catching on, and thus so is the future of warfare. 


 


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