Author John Arquilla discusses his new book “Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World”
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman. This is the World, it’s worth noting on this Independence Day that the declaration in 1776 may have been a little premature. After all it wasn’t until 1783 that the British called the quits. The American Revolution was a model of irregular warfare in which a weak but determined force triumphs over a vastly superior army. It’s not surprising then that our revolution features in a new book. It’s called “Insurgents, Raiders and Bandits How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World”. Author John Arquilla joins us from KAZU from Seaside, California. John, what was irregular about the American Revolution?
John Arquilla: Well at some point soldiers figured out that George Washington’s preference for fighting standup battles with the British wasn’t going to work. And when the Nathanael Greene a Quaker turned General went south to try to retrieve the situation there, he wrote a letter Washington saying, “ I am going to fight a partisan war in small bands, I will attack the British outpost in wilderness.” And, he went about the business of doing this. He did fight some standup battles. He lost them all. But his irregulars, his hit and run raiders exhausted the British eventually putting General Cornwallis on the path to York Town where he was trapped and the war was won.
Werman: Well, we’ll talk about Nathanael Greene a bit more in a second but I just want to clarify what you’re talking about. You’re just not talking militia men hiding behind stone walls and taking potshots at passing Redcoats. Um, you are talking about highly organized forces fighting in a irregular manner, I mean that’s guerilla warfare, isn’t it?
Arquilla: Absolutely, small bands, the best one that Americans know today is Frances Marian the smart fox, had a few hundred followers. He would break them up into these little teams and they would attack these small British outpost usually of not too many soldiers of their own. The British had to disperse their forces because they were trying to protect a friendly population of Torres those who wanted to remain under the ground. So, what we did was not something dissimilar to what the insurgents in Iraq or even the Taliban in Afghanistan were doing over these past several years. And, in fact we have to we are on the map, we are a country because we were insurgents. The newest country in the world South Sudan is going to be a country in five days because of its ability to engage in guerilla warfare.
Werman: You, you are drawing a parallel between the United States of America and South Sudan, that’s interesting.
Arquilla: Well I think, anytime a people fight for their freedom, they use the methods that are going to work and, and the American Revolution by 1780 it was pretty clear that our attempts to fight them in a straight forward conventional way, we’re not going to win. This irregular way did work. Now it’s important to say irregular warfare is not just guerillas and it’s not just terrorists. It’s also the use of your standing military forces in small packets, commando units doing interesting things striking at pressure points of, of the opponent.
Werman: Now the man you nominate as the master of irregular warfare in the American Revolution, this Rhode Islander, Nathanael Greene . I doubt many Americans today could tell you much about him, but what made him a master of irregular warfare.
Arquilla: I, I think first because he was self taught. He didn’t come out of the British establishment. He was a Quaker. In fact the members of his meeting questioned him closely because he had so many books on strategy in his home library. But he was a very practical guy and he said, “ Look we are not winning. He in fact, he had a catastrophe in New York earlier in the war, very nearly lost the battle of Monmouth and he said, “ you know we got to do business in a different way.” So, he had a openness of mind of doing things in unusual fashion. And, this is something that all the masters over the past couple of centuries have had. Generally they come out of different kind of background from your traditional soldiers who want to fight in traditional ways as George Washington did.
Werman: Now, another master you site is George Crook and I find it fascinating that you draw parallel between what George Crook did out in the wild west, in the Anbar Awakening in Iraq. Talk about that. Who was George Crook?
Arquilla: Well he was Nantan Lupan the Gray Wolf chief the best American Indian fighter and he was the best in part because he had tremendous respect for their culture, the Native American culture. Just as the best special operators are very culturally atuned. And what George Crook did very brilliantly, particularly in Arizona was that he reached out to the very Native Americans who had been fighting against him and he said, “ Look I want you people to have your own place, your own freedom. You don’t want us as, as your over lords . Work with me to bring these renegades in.” Crook rode off into the simmering desert with only 250 troops. Only 50 of them are white men. The rest are native Americans who were persuaded to join this cause and they defeated Jeronemo and Crook at one point after achieving one of his coups against the Apaches walked by himself into their camp and sat down and engaged Jeronemo and his braves into discussion.
Arquilla: He got them to agree to come in and they did. It’s a remarkable, remarkable success and the Anbar awakening reached out those who had been fighting us. Got them to switch sides and turned that war around. Things aren’t perfect over there but the violence went down by about 90% after we did this. Right now General Petraeus is trying to do this in Afghanistan. George Cook shoule be something of a patron saint for this kind of tactic.
Werman: You also discuss Osama Bin Laden in your book but he is not on your list of master of irregular warfare. Should he be though? I mean, after all he employed small units and in innovative ways and certainly shaped our world.
Arquilla: Osama was very good at building networks. The small band of fighters in a network is clearly the key organizational development in conflict. He did that very well. But he didn’t have a capacity of what I call swarming that is to mount more attacks. General Jobs for example would mount offensive attacks all over Vietnam at the same time. Bin Laden was only able to orchestrate a few major acts and a few smaller campaigns at any time. So, he doesn’t rise to the level of mastery because of that. We only can do swarming very well. There are probably a half a dozen night raids every single night in Afghanistan and still in Iraq a frequent practice. So, we can hit many places at once. What we don’t do is network very well. That’s why an America General Petraeus probably comes closest and maybe the historical record will judge him a master one day. But so far, we’re still much too traditionally organized. So, we don’t take advantage of our great capacity to strike in many places.
Werman: What are the key that students of war must learn from the masters of irregular warfare?
Arquilla: I think they should learn, particularly the message I tried to give to our officers is that often less is more. When we talk about, for example, we have Senator McCaine today saying that the drawdown from Afghanistan is too steep. But what we have to remember is that George Crook into the desert with 250 soldiers. We have to remember our own 11 special forces A teams a decade, it’s 200 soldiers toppling the Taliban from power. We don’t always need 150 or 200,000 uh, troops and that’s a mindset that we have to get our military out of particularly in these times. We have to reduce our defense budget. But if we believe we need to be keeping over a 100000 troops in Afghanistan and spending 2 million dollars a week, well we’re going to bankrupt ourselves and not get the job done. By the way more forces you have some of the masters in my book, the larger the forces the greater it’s vulnerability to disruption. The bigger you are the bigger the target you are. So, we need to think smaller, we got to be smaller, quicker and closer to the opponent.
Werman: Certainly does make you think. John Arquilla teaches at the Naval Post Graduate School in Montery California and is author of a new book called “Insurgents, Raiders and Bandits How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World.” John, thank you very much.
Arquilla: A pleasure Marco.
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