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Family and Friends is my everyday journal. Captain's Log is where I pontificate on religion and politics.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lawrence's Algebra of Asymetrical War

I left a comment at Private Buffoon mentioning T. E. Lawrence's equation for revolt against an outside power. He's asked me to write a guest post for his site. Which I am honored to supply.
Russ has had a few posts explaining how great powers lose small wars. The term for this type of warfare is referred to as asymetrical, ie how did Hannibal lose the Second Punic War when he constantly defeated the Romans? How did England lose America? How did the U.S. lose in Vietnam?

T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) figured it out and wrote it down in his book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Wonderfully available on the web free of charge. Public domain is soooo nice.

Here is his equation:

Then I figured out how many men they (Turks) would need to sit on all this ground, to save it from our attack-in-depth, sedition putting up her head in every unoccupied one off those hundred thousand square miles. I knew the Turkish Army exactly, and even allowing for their recent extension of faculty by aeroplanes and guns and armoured trains (which made the earth a smaller battlefield) still it seemed they would have need of a fortified post every four square miles, and post could not be less than twenty men. If so they would need six hundred thousand men to meet the ill-wills of all the Arab peoples, combined with all the active hostility of a few zealots.
How many zealots could we have? At present we had fifty thousand, sufficient for the day. It seemed the assets in this element of war were ours... The Turks were stupid, the Germans behind them dogmatical. They would believe that rebellion was absolute like war, and deal with it on the analogy of war. Analogy in human things was fudge, anyhow; and war upon rebellion was messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife.

He goes on to explain that to win the war they didn't need to kill Turks, only thier materials. Tear up the rail lines, make them have to constantly repair and replace what was destroyed and eventually the monetary cost would make them leave.

Golly Gee does that sound like what's happening to us in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Russ posted this over at his site (see link above) and added this. I thought it pertinent to add it here.
FYI: using the "20 men every 4 square miles" rule equates to a force in Afghanistan of about 1.25Mn!
Given modern communication systems, improved war-making technology, etc., suppose Lawrence's estimate could be halved: that's still more than 600K troops.
... and this seems close to the troop/area ratio Shinseki had in mind for Iraq when he proposed a force of "several hundred thousand" needed to pacify the country following the invasion (taking "several" to mean 3-5... middle = 400K).

So... when was the last time you heard anyone propose sending 500K additional troops to Afghanistan?
When do you think you WILL hear anyone propose sending 500K additional troops to Afghanistan?


K.L.Shepherd said...

Actually that is basic military doctrine for centuries before the Romans (see Sun-Tzu). Plus that math doesnt hold true for today (aircraft, helicopters). They have no real ability to stop our supply lines at all. They only steal the items that are independently sent by truck. I live and work in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I know, I have seen this first hand. Look I am as Liberal as they come on most things but is extremely hard to see the faces and hear the stories and wonder what is right or not. That is another question but this is in answer to your post, no in any sort of way does that sound like that. They have not pushed us out of anything, they control no supply lines at all. They have no real way to stop our supply line and they know it. Asymmetrical war only works on a symmetrical army. We fight asymmetrical so it makes the traditional tactic of supply line destruction as T.E. Lawrence outlines as a limited tactic at best. As I said, I live and work there. The real problem is that we were ever in Iraq wasting resources and giving time for them to establish supplies and allies and for that I will curse Bush until my dying day.

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

I think you guys are both right (not that I have any first hand knowledge at all.) I think Bush took his eye off the ball with his adventure in Iraq and we may never win (whatever win means) in Afghanistan.

P M Prescott said...

K.L. Shepherd, You're there, I'm not. You obviously writing from an ivory tower. You are most likely right.
I agree that going into Afghanistan was the right response to the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and if it had been done right at the time our national purpose would have been achieved in creating a viable stable country. Bush wasted the opportunity and our resources for achieving it. In the end it still comes down to how many lives and money to we keep spending in both places.

P M Prescott said...

Yogi, Bush didn't take his eye off the ball, he intended on invading Iraq even before he was elected in 2000. 911 was just the excuse to do it.

Michael Manning said...

An interesting post that gives me pause to consider many things, PM.

P M Prescott said...

I'm glad it did.