- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The mini-war between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia is only a few days old, but many tactical and strategic lessons already are emerging from it.

First, the Russians have not repeated the mistake the Israelis made in their abortive attempts to expel Hezbollah, the Shi’ite Party of God, from southern Lebanon in July 2006.

The Russians did not rely on air power alone to rout their enemies, even though the Georgian army was not dug in with anything like the preparation that Hezbollah had invested in its underground positions to withstand the Israeli air force.

Where the Israelis sent just a few thousand ground troops into southern Lebanon, the Russians boldly sent a far larger ground force into Georgia: the 58th Russian Army of the North Caucasus Military District backed by the formidable 76th Airborne “Pskov” Division.

Unlike hapless Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2006, the Russians applied the classic Carl von Clausewitz principle of concentration of force against their enemy.

Like the Israelis in southern Lebanon in 2006, the Russians did not hesitate to bomb and shell inhabited areas when they felt the tactical conditions required it, but they proved far more aggressive and successful in their incursions by tank columns.

Second, although the Georgian army had a formidable force on paper, it could not stand up against major military formations of one of the world’s leading armies.

Third, this reinforces a broader lesson that has been taught repeatedly in the conflicts of the past 17 years since the 1991 Persian Gulf War: Postage-stamp-size countries like Georgia, or even small but supposedly more formidable ones like Iraq, are usually no match for a superpower or a major regional power.

The U.S. armed forces blasted the Iraqi army to smithereens in about a week of combat, when the Iraqi force was the fourth or fifth largest army in the world, in 1991 and in 2003 rolled all the way to Baghdad with only about 150,000 troops.

Fourth, any major power like the United States, India, China or Russia will always be far more formidable militarily when its political leaders and commanders are not afraid to sustain significant levels of casualties to achieve their tactical objectives.

The Indian army taught this lesson to Pakistan after being taken by surprise in the 1998 Kargil conflict. Indian fatalities in that short, bitter war in the Himalayas are thought to have been well over 2,000. The Indians showed little tactical sophistication and no brilliance.

But their operations were straightforward, and they achieved all their tactical goals.

Fifth, the remarkably widespread anti-Russian prejudice by many American pundits and supposed military experts proved to be simplistic ignorance: In any war, no army performs with 100 percent efficiency and brilliance. Most armies and commanders are pleased to get the job done at all, however messily.

What matters is being at least marginally better trained, motivated and rapidly moving than the enemy.

The Russian forces in the current conflict have been a lot better than that. They have been up against a weak opponent, but, like the U.S. Army in the Persian Gulf War and the Iraq war, they are proving themselves vastly superior to their opposition.

Sixth, the Russian army is far better than the forces that bungled their initial drive into Chechnya in 1994, or even those that started the Second Chechen War in 1999.

The vast investments that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin poured into the armed forces during his two four-year terms as president did not vanish down a black hole. In terms of training, tactical coordination, boosting morale and overall efficiency, those investments clearly made a significant impact.

None of these factors, however, explains why the Georgian armed forces, which have enjoyed significant U.S. investment over the past year and more, have performed so badly.



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