Georgia-Hizbullah: Dept. of Delicious Ironies

So today, Wired’s Noah Schachtman draws attention to the fact– as indeed, I suspected might well happen– some strategists in the ‘west’ have started to recommend that, as it rebuilds its military, Georgia should use “a Hizbullah model”, rather than the earlier US-Israeli model.
Hizbullah, the latest model for pro-western militaries!
One article Schachtman quotes from is this one, by Greg Grant of DoD Buzz.
Grant wrote:

    The U.S. military has been advising and equipping the Georgian military for some time. I saw Georgian soldiers over in Iraq and they appeared competent enough. The American officers I talked to who worked alongside them there held them in high regard. So what, if anything, does the Georgian military performance say about the training we provided? Did we train the Georgians for the wrong type of war, too much irregular war focus and not enough big battle emphasis?

    I put that question to Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen last week. His answer: “First of all, we do the training that the Georgian government decides they want, and that’s really what we were doing. And I’m not sure, just based on the preponderance of [the Russian] force that, a different kind of training or, saying we weren’t focused in the right area — it was a significant force and I’m not sure it would have made much difference.”
    … U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Hamilton, a military fellow at CSIS, and former chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation at the American embassy in Tiblisi,… writes, “Past U.S. military assistance to Georgia was not designed to equip it for war with Russia. Instead, it was designed initially to give the Georgian military the capability to rid its territory of Chechen militants Russia claimed were using it to rearm and refit, and later to train it in counter-insurgency operations as Georgian forces began to take on a significant role in Iraq.” He says the U.S. “deliberately” avoided training the Georgians for conventional warfare as it would be seen as too provocative.

Those quotes from Hamilton are really important. The US (and Israeli) training provided to Georgia was specifically to do the most boring and mundane kinds of “counter-insurgency” work: manning checkpoints and using other means to control a subjected population. It was not primarily to fight conventional ground wars. Indeed, one of the main Israeli mercenary trainers in Georgia was Brig. Gen. Gal Hirsh, whose role as head of Israel’s ground forces was roundly criticized after the forces showed in 2006 that they had spent ways too long staffing checkpoints in the West Bank rather than training for actual, “kinetic” ground warfare.
Oh, and the training also prepared the Georgian army for the role they played as proxies for the US in occupying Iraq…
It is also very significant indeed if, as Hamilton said, prior to August 7 the US “‘deliberately’ avoided training the Georgians for conventional warfare as it would be seen as too provocative.” If indeed that was the case, then someone should have told Saak his forces weren’t getting trained to take on the Russian Bear… Or maybe they did, but he thought that by provoking the bear he could jerk NATO into rushing to his aid.
So if the “not provoking Moscow” rule was in force prior to August 7, why would anyone in the US want to see it dropped now? … Anyone?
As it transpired, the very limited set of population-subjugating skills the US and Israelis passed on to the Georgians were not at all the skills needed to confront Russia’s massed armor. What they needed, according to Grant and others, was actually…. Hizbullah’s fighting skills instead!
He writes,

    A defense analyst I spoke with, who advises American ground forces, said to rebuild the Georgian military along conventional lines might be the wrong approach. Instead he suggested a different force model, that of Hezbollah. What Hezbollah did so effectively, as was shown in the 2006 Lebanon war, was combine modern weaponry with a distributed infantry force that fought in guerrilla fashion. Fighting as distributed networks, Hezbollah rarely presented an inviting target for Israeli air and artillery attack, but their well trained tactical units were able to swarm at the point of attack of Israeli armored incursions and hit the Israelis hard with precision anti-tank weaponry.
    Equipped with top-shelf anti-armor systems, such as the U.S. Dragon and Javelin and the Russian-built RPG-29 and AT-14 Kornet, such a force would perhaps better be able to exploit Georgia’s mountainous and urbanized terrain against channelized Russian armored columns than a conventionally organized combat brigade, as Hezbollah did in south Lebanon. The lessons from the initial Russian incursion into Grozny in 1994 are instructive as well. Fighting in small tactical teams organized around close range anti-armor weapons, the Chechens savaged Russian tank columns.
    Many in the U.S. military view such “hybrid” opponents, loosely organized, highly motivated infantry networks equipped with advanced weaponry, as the most challenging threat American troops may face in a future war. As the U.S. military ponders how to increase the combat power of the Georgian military to better defend itself against possible future Russian attacks, the Hezbollah model might be one to emulate. One thing the U.S. military cannot provide the Georgian military, and what Hezbollah had in spades and greatly increased their effectiveness, was very high discipline and motivation. The Georgians will have to come up with that on their own.

This latter point about the role of discipline and motivation is key. I’ve written quite a lot about Hizbullah’s history over the years. Interested readers can find links to some of those writings here.
I have no idea what forces in Georgian society might be capable of mobilizing and maintaining the degree of motivation and disipline that Hizbullah has showed over the past 23 years. Evidently, if the Russians maintain a “security zone” in Georgia beyond the ‘boundaries’ of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, that will certainly increase the motivation of Georgians to resist their presence there– just as Israel’s attempt to maintain its own “security zone” inside Lebanon after it undertook a broad partial withdrawal in 1985 also kept Hizbullah’s motivation high.
Also, Hizbullah’s successes were won at a cost to their supporters and the rest of Lebanese society that was often wrenchingly high… and only at the end of a number of major-scale engagements with significantly sized Israeli forces (1993, 1996, 2006, to identify just a few.)
Does anyone really want to see Georgian society forced to pay such a high and continuing cost? And does anyone really want to see outright confrontations in the Russia-West relationship, such as we saw last month, repeated every few years, at unpredictable levels of escalation?
I think not.
Negotiating a sustainable and sufficiently fair political outcome to the Georgia-Russia crisis is far, far preferable to that. And it is, certainly, quite doable.
I hope that is what the leaders of all the world’s big powers– and both the contenders in the current US elections– place their focus on.
Certainly, that rather than any harebrained and unavoidably inflammatory schemes to “rearm Georgia.”

3 thoughts on “Georgia-Hizbullah: Dept. of Delicious Ironies

  1. Watson

    ‘what Hezbollah had in spades and greatly increased their effectiveness, was very high discipline and motivation.’
    In their grab for the Iran-Iraq oil fields, the neocons seem to have underestimated the impact of the shaheeds.
    They say that a motivated soldier with a rifle is still one of the most effective military assets. How much more so a soldier who wants to die?
    The US troops are not lacking courage, but as far as I know, no suicide bombers have mustered to the chickenhawks’ cause.
    Perhaps if Halliburton was willing to share the booty with the soldiers’ families.

  2. kao_hsien_chih

    Well, it’s not necessarily new. The idea that a weak country, unable to field a large and/or modern army, should invest in guerilla warfare goes back decades, if not century–it is something that German military advisors suggested to Chiang Kai-Shek in 1930s, when the Second Sino-Japanese War was about to break out, for example. It just so happens that, in our time, the best guerilla army happens to be Hizbullah, so its example should be followed–if, that is, the country in question wants an effective defense rather than a shiny toy army to show off.

  3. Jim Terral

    …or an aggressive occupation army not for defense at all.
    “someone should have told Saak his forces weren’t getting trained to take on the Russian Bear… Or maybe they did, but he thought that by provoking the bear he could jerk NATO into rushing to his aid.”
    I thought this was the telling point. Negotiations are a good idea, but first, Saakashvili needs to believe that neither NATO nor the US is going to be dragged into a fight because he initiates a provocative assault against his own people. The Hungarians, the Kurds, and marsh Arabs of Iraq all were “inspired” to rise up because they thought the US was going to help them.

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