- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

During the course of our war on terror, many experts have theorized that to succeed we must kill all of those who wish us harm. The problem with that is that terrorists have an almost incalculable ability to survive, if even only in a militarily degraded form. Perhaps our best hope of winning the war against terrorists is not to opt for their total destruction, but rather to manage their existence. Since we cannot permanently kill all terrorists, we must allow them to flock to areas of “false sanctuary,” where we can monitor them, killing them when they become too populous or bothersome. In doing so, we allow the terrorists a feeling of safety and control — when in reality, they are sitting in a killing zone that has been established by the civilized world.

This particular idea has conceptual basis in a rather successful Soviet strategy employed more than 50 years ago against a decidedly large and robust retreating foe. Toward the end of World War II, the Germans, retreating under pressure after their failed attempt to conquer Russia, found what they thought was the perfect defensive strategy when confronting overwhelming Soviet force.

Whenencirclement threatened, the Germans would retreat into a series of defensive positions they called “mobile pockets.”Mobile, because the Germans would escape encirclement by fighting out of a gap in the Soviet lines and thereby creating another defensive pocket, with each successive pocket taking the Germans closer to their retreat objective.The Germans, rather than accepting decisive battle (which may have ended in there utter destruction) chose instead to create these successive mobile pockets with the hope of both surviving and creating an operational opportunity that might have otherwise been denied them.As history shows us, the Germans never got their opportunity; nor did they reach their retreat objective.The mobile pocket stratagem simply allowed an ever-decreasing number of German combat troops to eventually meet their demise, as the pockets became smaller and smaller.

Years later, when Soviet archives were made accessible and the Red Army generals of old began to speak, it became apparent that the Germans had never really had a strategy other than what the Soviets had allowed them.The Red Army, not wanting to engage the Germans in a costly decisive battle, would only partially encircle the Germans, allowing them to find and exploit a gap in the Soviet lines. The Germans would escape through the perceived hole in the Red Army’s defenses only to arrive into an operational “killing zone,” pre-selected by the Soviets.The mobile pockets, therefore, were not German defensive positions, but rather part of a sophisticated approach by the Soviets, who attrited German forces as they moved from preplanned killing fields to preplanned killing fields.

Now, let us extrapolate for a moment and see if we can apply this same stratagem to our current war on terror.What if we, after chasing terrorists from Afghanistan and Iraq, continue to work with our allies to drive terrorists from civilized states and attrite them as they displace from one location to another?And, what if those other locations were considered their mobile pockets — and our killing zones?

Eventually, terrorist capability would be degraded, as they moved from one mobile pocket to another, with us ambushing them en route and destroying them when they arrive in positions of “false sanctuary.”The terrorists, like the Germans, would feel an unfounded sense of safety and security, opting for a chance to regroup and rearm — all the while in our sights and under our observation.

To make our stratagem even more effective, we could template the enemy’s “mobile pockets” (perhaps places like Somalia and Sudan) and saturate them with CIA and military operatives prior to their arrival.Obtaining the cooperation of the ruling elites of these terrorist refuges could aid us in monitoring and destroying terrorist networks.

In pursuing a sophisticated strategy that takes into account the survival capabilities of the terrorists, we follow both a successful Soviet strategy and the thoughts of the war philosopher Sun Tzu, who cautions us not to place our enemy on “death ground,” but rather to control his movements on the battlefield in such a way as to provide us with unending benefit. In what promises tobeatimelesswar against terror, it is perhaps wise to listen to this timeless piece of advice.

Roger D. Carstens is a U.S. Army Special Forces Officer.The views expressed are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Army or other U.S. governmental entities.

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