What Happened in Mumbai

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Applying operational art in Fourth Generation war is so difficult it is hard to point to many successful examples of it. The recent assaults in Bombay are among the few and also among the best, bordering on brilliant. We may regret brilliance on the part of our opponents, but that should not prevent us from acknowledging it.

The operational logic is evident:

  1. The United States wants Pakistan to focus on fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban.

  2. To be able to do so, Pakistan must shift its focus away from the Indian threat, which requires a détente with India. A piece by Jane Perlez of the New York Times which ran in the November 28 Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that
  3. Reconciliation between India and Pakistan has emerged as a basic tenet in the approaches to foreign policy of President-elect Barack Obama, and the new leader of Central Command, Gen. David H. Petraeus. The point is to persuade Pakistan to focus less of its military effort on India, and more on the militants in its lawless tribal regions….

  4. Friends of al Qaeda and the Taliban need to block this shift in focus by Pakistan. To do so, they must ramp up the hostility between India and Pakistan. How could they do that?
  5. With a special operation in India’s most important city. Remember, a special operation must have operational significance to qualify as "special ops." If its meaning is only tactical, it’s just a bunch of yahoos running around making noise.
  6. The special operation was tactically well planned and carried out. To work operationally, India must blame it on Pakistan. Early indications suggest that may happen.

  7. If India does blame Pakistan and Pakistan feels the Indian threat is increasing, the American strategy of convincing Pakistan to focus on the Taliban and al Qaeda will have been defeated. That is operational art at its best.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, an odd combination of events may offer a strategic win-win-win opportunity for all parties: the U.S., the al-Maliki government and al Qaeda. Last week, the Iraqi parliament passed the new status of forces agreement that would keep American troops in Iraq through 2011. Washington regards that as a success, which it is not. What America needs most is to get out of Iraq before the next round in the Iraqi civil war starts.

However, to get Sunni support for the agreement, the al-Maliki government had to agree to submit the deal to a national referendum next year. If the agreement is defeated in that referendum, everyone could win. American troops would have a better chance of getting out while Iraq is still quiet. The al-Maliki government could gain some legitimacy by obeying the expressed will of the Iraqi people and telling the Americans to pack and go. Al Qaeda could claim that, in the end, the Americans were expelled from Iraq rather than leaving on their own preferred timetable, which in fact stretches far beyond 2011.

Here, al Qaeda has an operational opportunity, and it will be interesting to see if it can grasp it. At present, al Qaeda in Iraq is on the ropes, largely because its brutality toward the Iraqi population has cost it its political base among the Sunnis. If al Qaeda can think operationally, it will announce that it is suspending all combat operations until the referendum. That truce would allow it to patch up its relations with its base. Further, al Qaeda would state that if the status of forces agreement is defeated, it will not resume combat operations. It would have no need to do so, since it could claim victory. And its pledge would encourage Iraqis, who are tired of seemingly random bombings, to vote no. Al Qaeda in Iraq could recover at the ballot box from the defeat it has inflicted on itself in the field.

A strategic win-win-win would be a strange outcome indeed for this phase of the Iraq war (there is more to come). But such are the vagaries of Fourth Generation war. We will see similar oddities in Afghanistan as that war moves toward settlement. The sooner Washington can stop thinking in binary terms and get used to strange outcomes, the better.

William Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

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