10 January 2012

Sound Off! Tactical, Operational, or Strategic

Where is the war won?

... At the tactical level, the land of the NCO, the last 100 yards, where bullets fly and bodies drop?

... At the operational level, where resources are synchronized, multipliers are applied, and the XO loves it when a plan comes together?

... At the strategic level, where the politicians call the shots and the only rifles in use are on parade, where vehicles are bought by the hundreds, and nations are rallied to the cause?

Sound off with your thoughts in the comments below!

By: Brant


S O said...

It depends.
At which level did the opponent lose it?

Thge key to the answer is a look at the critical (sum of) difference(s) which pushed outcome to its historical result.

Besides, wars usually have many losers, rarely real winners.

Guardian said...

S O's comments are more accurate, but I will offer a sweeping generalization and say that wars are won at the strategic level. I think that has been the experience of the US in the modern era, with which I am the most familiar.

It is at the strategic level that the will to use military force is created and sustained or lost, achievable (or unachievable) goals are set, the exit strategy is established (or ignored), and resources are allocated.

Vietnam comes to mind. I believe it is the origin of the phrase "Won all the battles, but lost the war."

I think this also applies to the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As far as I know, we have never really lost a major engagement or battle in those conflicts. Even the close calls, like Wanat, were a win for us. However, I fear that our goals in both conflicts are/were too ambitious.

The stated goal in Iraq was originally to ensure that Saddam Hussein no longer posed a WMD threat to his regional neighbors or the rest of the world. Done. "Mission accomplished" as the infamous banner said.

But regime change forced us to adopt Colin Powell's famous "Pottery Barn rule": "we broke it, so we own it" and then the goal became to leave behind a reasonably functional and stable *Iraqi* government (not the three natural Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish fragments). The difficulty of that was underestimated at the strategic level and the task was made even more difficult by strategic decisions like de-Baathification.

I look at Afghanistan similarly. Our original strategic goal was to essentially to disrupt al-Qaeda's ability to conduct large-scale terrorist attacks against Western targets. We were probably 60% done in the first 90 days and now we're maybe 90% done? (especially with OBL swimming with the fishes in the Arabian Sea). But we (rightfully) overthrew the Taliban because they provided a safe haven to the real targets (AQ). This again invoked the "Pottery Barn rule" and now we have to figure out how to leave behind a functional, stable Afghan government that isn't quite as bad as the Taliban were. That's hard.

besilarius said...

Depending on the situation, a war can be won by any major success at either the tactical, operational, or strategic levels.
Only the peace can be won at the strategic level.