Without taking anything away from the valiant and highly professional performance of the Ukrainian army, one cannot escape the fact that the performance of the Russian army so far has been close to pathetic; intermingled units clogging the roads, No evidence of combined arms coordination, timid offensive action, incoherent command leadership, atrocious logistics, and above all a lack of fighting spirit among the Russian soldiers. some of the latter can be attributed to the fact that most Russians considers the Ukrainians as their brothers and this war cannot be popular or invoke the spirit of the great patriotic war.
Many reasons for the Russian hapless performance are advanced by the so-called “Military intellectuals.,” as well as the talking head news anchors, who have become military experts overnight. Generals are brought in to add a degree of legitimacy to the high tech maps and impressive briefings devices. In my not so humble opinion most of these people know little more than I do, and based on the intelligence community’s results record over the past two decades I am not confident that they have a handle on the situation either. It will be a long time before we know all the details but there is no getting around the third world level of military incompetence the Russians have displayed.
There is one crucial factor missing from the analysis of the Russian performance, which up to now I have not seen addressed anywhere. Since 2005 the five day war with small Georgia, the Russians have been involved what is usually known as Counterinsurgency (COIN). For the past 15 years the Russians have been involved in COIN in Chechnya, Afghanistan and places in Africa like Angola. Like us Americans, the Russians have been locked into greater Middle Eastern insurgencies in which they demonstrated -as did we -no particular ability to do well. The end state in Iraq and Afghanistan attest to that.
The problem is, that COIN becomes more than a way of war, it becomes a mindset, an all encompassing faith, like a religion, especially the population centric idea that winning the hearts and minds of the people will dry up the insurgent pool of recruits and sympathizers. The fact is…we and the Russians were aliens in another world. We are and were foreigners and detested because we were. Thousands of articles and books have been printed lamenting that we failed in COIN because of this factor or that. But they cannot quite admit the truth that none of that mattered in the end.
COIN has become a cottage industry, with favored practitioners, and particular heroes. President Kennedy drove the founding of the COIN institutions and promoted the generals who agreed with him, COIN has become a byword for the smart intellectual general who is culturally adept and knowledgeable in the political world. COIN became a dogma.
People like Col. ( Ret) Gian Gentile was an almost a lone voice criticizing the COIN aficionados . After all the promoters of COIN , the big boys, General David Petraeus, David Kilcullen, Pete Mansour, John Nagl, and host of others on the NPR and PBS short list of commentators.
Another opponent of this dogma Was my late friend Col . Harry G Summers (On Strategy: A critical analysis of the Vietnam War). As he wrote, Counterinsurgency became not so much as the Army’s doctrine as the army’s dogma…. stultifying military strategic thinking.” I would add it stultified combat operations execution even more so.
Ok So why does this over indulgence in COIN destroy an Army?
Heavy Weapons.In counterinsurgency the weapons that kills and breaks stuff the most are rarely used, e.g. Armor and artillery. Units become rusty, weapons become obsolete, knowledge disappears. In Iraq our artillery units were used as convoy protection units.
Command and control of large maneuver units are not needed inCOIN and the expertise to do so evaporates, as units higher than battalion are rarely conducting operations. In fact it is usually company or platoon size units that conduct the operations. Many units are involved in static missions with patrols to secure areas that will be reclaimed by the insurgents. The Eisenhowers and Zhukovs are not to be found. The path to fame is being able to understand the FM 3-24 and somehow implement it. My evidence suggests that few that could employ it rarely read it, but nevertheless the overall imperative of speaking and thinking COIN was always there. A division commander in Iraq agreed with me on this .
Logistics. Its one thing to resupply a firebase and quite another to supply a fast moving maneuver unit in an on-going offensive operation. COIN operations rarely requires that and the logisticians lose their skills and ability to readjust in varying combat situations. Maintenance in the field is far different from dragging broken down vehicles to a firebase ( green zone), and having to retrieve and fix armor in the field in combat conditions.It is very apparent the Russians were not up to this as many vehicles and armor have been left to the Ukrainians .
The Generals. The lack of opportunity for generals to do the job they are hired to do…i.e. lead large units commensurate with their rank into battle, they either retreat to Audi-visual CNN type headquarters watching innumerable TV screens and reading massive amounts of data, or flying hither and yon in helicopters to interfere with subordinate commanders trying to control their units . Since most of the fighting in the Greater Middle East of both Russians and Americans have been fought almost exclusively in small platoon or company size units this is the norm. In Vietnam my division commander exercised his leadership by flying above units in action and doing the job of squad leaders and company commanders.
COIN as poisonThere are many other detrimental factors that have infected the Russian, and us as well, one especially critical one is the corrosive effect the Middle Eastern “whack a mole” tedious, surrealistic war against invisible insurgents. People who wave at you during the day and shoot at you at night. The soldiers in armored vehicles feeling the humiliation of kids goading you by throwing bottles at you and shouting insults at you as you pass by.It does not induce empathy for the people you have ostensibly come to save. Our nation-building, as that of the Russians in the Islamic Middle East, were a tremendous failure. Some aficionados of COIN have suggested it is a civilizational reset sort of like the imperialistic mission of the French. A friend of mine, an American Iraqi, on a visit to her relatives in Baghdad, told me despite the shopping malls, and new cars, Iraq is more unlivable than ever; the people more grasping and chasing the almighty dollar. As I have written a number of times, the Arabs tend to absorb the worst elements of Western civilization and seldom the better ones. I also believe that the exposure to the Middle Eastern way of life rubs off those Western soldiers exposed to it for a long period of time. Inshallah is a very catchy word to go about one’s job in a lackadaisical manner.
COIN is a dirty war by nature, it breeds savagery and a gradual loss of humanity. Bored soldiers resort to drugs, looting and rapine. As the war drags on with the generals spouting positive reports, and the troops on the ground see the reality they become cynical and recalcitrant to follow orders they know are foolish. In Iraq and Afghanistan there were the “inside the wire people”, massive numbers of people who mostly just simply consumed rations, lived quite well, and those who were called upon the venture “outside the wire” and fight an often invisible enemy and endure the hostile attitude of the locals. The American tooth to tail structure is ridiculously lopsided with the fighters a small percentage of those counted as troops in media reports of” troops on the ground.” This was true especially in Iraq and Afghanistan for the Americans and in a lesser way for the Russians as well. The Russian high command general indifference to the well-being of their troops account for the less creature comforts for their soldiers.. A good book on the debilitating effects of the Vietnam war is Shelby L. Stanton, The Rise and Fall of the American Army . My contention, based on my army lifer experienced eyes and ears, is the same has happened to our present forces, assisted by the idiotic social engineering projects injected into the Army by politicalized generals.
I hope to use an expanded version of this for a paper to be presented at the annual ASMEA conference in Nov …inshaAllah.
PS I was among the boosters of low intensity conflict and COIN at an a earlier time but I’ve seen the light. Let’s hope the generals do. If they do not we are destined for our own Ukraines. perhaps sooner than we think.
addendum; Lots of grammatical errors in this article. Bad proofreading. Hope I corrected most of them.