March 15, 2011

The Hard Work of Combat

Someone once said -- I think it was Bernard Fall
-- that the French were not so much outfought at Dien Bien Phu as they were out-engineered. I thought of that while reading this line from a Jon Lee Anderson dispatch from Libya:

The rebels have lost ground because they have not learned how to hold
it. At the front lines at Ras Lanuf and Brega, they didn’t dig trenches,
and so when jets came to bomb them they panicked and ran.

Defending is hard work. No one likes digging fighting positions, and it usually takes disciplined officers and non-commissioned officers to force soldiers to do it. But in the defense, the things you do to prepare yourself when the enemy is not shooting at you -- when you would rather be smoking cigarettes and drinking tea -- are the things that keep you from being killed when the enemy is shooting at you.

UPDATE: An especially learned reader pointed me to Steve Biddle's article "Victory Misunderstood" (.pdf, p. 158) about the First Persian Gulf War in which Steve faults the amazingly bad Iraqi fighting positions as one cause of the poor Iraqi combat performance. I don't think we can draw conclusions about all Arab fighting organizations not liking to dig proper foxholes -- after all, Hizballah's defensive positions during the 2006 War were fantastic -- but we can draw such a conclusion about poorly disciplined fighting organizations not liking to dig proper foxholes.

I'll end with a word of advice for the rebels in Benghazi: START DIGGING NOW.

In Benghazi itself, though, there were no signs of preparations for a
vigorous defense, and Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the leader of the rebels’
ruling council, said on Al Arabiya
that his forces were still in control of Ajdabiya and the port town of
Brega to the west.

Dig in.