【M.C. Lam｜Insight】The Necessity of a Regular NATO Paramilitary Force and How Should it Look Like
The rush to pull out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014 despite the stagnant progress in counterinsurgency and public security has raised the big question of why NATO is taking so long to foster peace in Afghanistan despite the near-light speed collapse of the Taliban regime back in 2001. Even though there is the undeniable fact that the poor performance of the Afghan government is part of the cause, NATO was also ill-prepared for the post-conflict phase of Operation Enduring Freedom. Being the leader of NATO, the United States did not plan to reconstruct Afghanistan at today’s level and therefore troops were soon mobilized to Iraq shortly after the military victory. The decline in troop number, together with the soldiers’ lack of skills to cultivate peace at the community level, unfortunately left behind enough room for insurgents to recuperate. As a result, the security situation in Afghanistan later deteriorated and U.S. President Obama was forced to send in additional forces in 2009. Nonetheless, the traces of insurgents are still everywhere in Afghanistan as of today.
In hindsight, NATO was primarily, and still is today, using combat soldiers in Afghanistan to enforce law and order and suppress insurgency. But the effectiveness of this tactic is in doubt since it does not drive good results in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq: insurgents are defeated but then regenerate, the Taliban shadow government is still influential in many parts of the country, fractionalism, limited police anti-crime capacity and so on. Lacking the willingness to rebuild Afghanistan in the beginning, the U.S. and other NATO allies used combat soldiers, who are trained to neutralize enemies rather than bring peace back to community, to mimic the function of Afghan police. But the enemies are no longer the identifiable soldiers who were deployed along a defense line against the incoming NATO troops, instead they employ the guerillas tactics and blend well with civilians. U.S. combat soldiers are rarely trained to fight this kind of enemy, though the military should have learned their lesson from the Viet Cong. As a result, heavy-handed law enforcement and gross misconducts by U.S. soldiers were incessantly reported while public insecurity was still out of kilter, spreading mistrust or even hatred among Afghans against foreign soldiers. To better address this problem, a paramilitary force who is specialized in community policing and restoring public security in adverse conditions should be established.
In this regard, the Europeans are way ahead of the United States. A number of European countries own their national police units which are trained along with regular military and possess light infantry capabilities, though there are some nuances in the functions of the units among different countries. There are a few names for the national police units, such as Gendarmerie (France) and Carabinieri (Italy) which have experience in domestic law enforcement in varying degrees as well as in overseas peacekeeping missions. These police forces would be a better choice than the combat soldiers in places where insurgents have been swept out at an earlier time but local police does not exist or has very limited capacity. Specifically trained to hunt down insurgents and criminals in a dangerous environment, these paramilitary forces provide a more effective and affordable means to keep secure areas from falling back into the hands of the insurgents. As one scholar has put it, while military is a “blunt instrument” that is “capable only imposing a most basic, rigid form of order” , a paramilitary force familiar with police operations can strike at the heart of insurgents and criminals with surgical precision.
However, due to the constraints on resources the European paramilitary forces do not have the enough number of personnel to manage a country of the size of Afghanistan, while the United States too does not have a large force dedicated to run Stabilization and Reconstruction (S&R) operations. Currently existing structures like the European Gendarmerie Force (EGF) formed by France, Netherlands, Italy, Romania and Portugal only have around 3,000 personnel including standby forces. When compared to the number of troops deployed to Afghanistan, the 3,000 maximum strength is miniscule to the ISAF troop number of 97,813 as of June 1, 2013. Therefore, there is a need for a regular NATO paramilitary force of an effective size to be established which can be deployed along combat forces to handle post-conflict situation. Particularly, the U.S. military should learn from the Europeans and invest in the development of a paramilitary force in order to strengthen its capability to restore public security in an occupied zone.
The Raison D’etre for the Force
The military operations in Afghanistan have been protracted to the extent of prohibitively costly due to persistent insurgency and poor public security, therefore there has to be a change in the way NATO forces cultivate peace in an occupied zone in the future. The necessity of a paramilitary force specialized in S&R operations has become more and more urgent nowadays because the speed of war has been accelerated tremendously by the advancement in military technology: the shortening of major combat phase is making the alignment of combat progress and S&R operations a much more difficult task than before. The following figures will illustrate the trend.
Figure 1 describes how a war was conducted in the old days. In the past, usually the major combat phase would last much longer than in today as the speed of war was much slower. Therefore, territory was gained gradually and commanders were given a considerable period of time to plan for S&R operations before taking over all enemy territory. In this scenario, there was time for the occupying side to initiate nation-building efforts step by step before the end of the war. And because the war was taking a longer time to end, enemy casualty would be more severe and therefore there would be less residual force turning underground after the defeat. In this case, the urgency for a specialized force to begin S&R operations during combat is relieved by the long span of war.
NATO forces led by the United States crushed the enemy forces in Afghanistan and Iraq in the way shown in figure 2. By the use of precision strikes, special operations and advanced intelligence gathering that are all made possible by technological superiority, NATO forces were able to decapitate and disintegrate the Taliban military in a sweeping manner. But the speed of war also squeezed the time commanders had to plan for S&R operations during combat. As can be seen from figure 2, since the major combat mission began and ended precipitously commanders would hardly have time to prepare troops for peace restoration. And because the enemy military collapsed rapidly instead of being annihilated one by one, more residual forces were spared which would regroup and begin guerillas operations. Plus the acquisition of IED and WMD technologies, insurgents are more destructive than before. Consequently, when the level of combat forces declined as the war was over but S&R missions were yet to become operational, there would be a security vacuum, or called the S&R gap, in which the occupied territory became vulnerable to the exploitation of criminals and insurgents. This scenario requires part of the combat forces to swing into S&R operations during the course of a fast-paced combat, if the commanders deem possible. If the territory was in fact infiltrated by insurgents and criminals during the S&R gap soldiers later would have to go back to root out the hidden enemies, encumbering the drawdown schedule. The rife insurgency found in Afghanistan is believed to have much to do with the S&R gap as the NATO forces did not enforce law and order in time during combat.
If the proposed NATO paramilitary force was deployed along with the combat forces since the onset of war, the overall trend would be demonstrated by figure 3 in which the S&R operations were tailgating the progress of combat and the transition from combat into nation building was much smoother. In this scenario, paramilitary forces were moving with combat forces and as the hostile military was defeated the responsibility of public security of the region would be handed off to the paramilitary forces from the combat forces. This would give the insurgents little chance to regroup and establish network behind the frontline. The deployment of paramilitary forces also allowed S&R operations to get started at an earlier time.
It can be concluded from the above three scenarios that the pace of modern war has made the availability of paramilitary force in the combat phase more necessary than ever. As the enemy is defeated quickly, large portion of land will be suddenly transferred to the winning side en passant, requiring the rapid deployment of a sizable and professional force to maintain public security. Without the deployment of such forces, though the winning side can take control of the land as long as abundant troops are on the field, they can only maintain a precarious level of peace because the insurgents are just waiting for them to retreat.
Since the proposed large paramilitary force was not available during the War of Afghanistan, S&R gap emerged and NATO forces later were unable to maintain a solid level of peace with a sustainable level of troop number. In response to the deterioration of public security, NATO had no other options but to send out combat soldiers to go from village to village to search for insurgents. S&R operations were also routinely assigned to regular military police units and special forces. However, as of today insurgents are still elusive to the pursuit of NATO troops. It is not to say that the military police units or special forces on the beat are not performing well per se, but it is obviously a tall order for those smallish specialized units to handle a country of the size of Afghanistan. In a study conducted by the Defense Science Board in 2004, it was found that the U.S. military, the largest troop contributor of NATO, has not treated S&R operations and combat operations with equal seriousness. Therefore no matter how effective are the few troops who have some experience in establishing public security and counterinsurgency, they can never have the enough resources to turn the tide at the national level in Afghanistan.
Considering the scale of possible NATO operations in the future, for examples in Iran, North Korea, Syria or in the new terrorist safe havens in Africa, a professional branch of paramilitary force in NATO is indeed necessary to handle the post-conflict situation since there is simply no other sources to borrow sufficient paramilitary forces from. The current level of available paramilitary forces among NATO countries is far from enough, and by looking at the Wars of Iraq and Afghanistan it can be seen that the contribution from non-NATO countries to peacekeeping missions is nowhere large enough to close the capability gap. Any NATO-led mission is also unlikely to garner support from the United Nations due to political resistance. As a result, for the sake of not being bogged down by the domestic insurgency of another country in the future, NATO should establish its own regular paramilitary force. The main objective of the paramilitary force would be to improve the quality of public security in a war-torn community.
How Should it Look Like
A NATO paramilitary force of constabulary nature should be created by referring to the European models, such as the French Gendarmerie or Italian Carabinieri. As defined by some, the term constabulary means “a force organized along military lines, providing basic law enforcement and safety in a not yet fully stabilized environment.” This definition fits generally well with existing European paramilitary forces. The value of the NATO paramilitary force lies in the fact that they will be the combination of police and light infantry which are trained to use minimal/nonlethal forces against criminals but at the same time possess the skills to work side by side with regular military. They will be able to enforce law and order in a civilian context and to handle long-term security problems such as rioting, criminal network, smuggling, illicit drug trade and so on. By collaborating with civilians tactfully to restore peace rather than “shoot first, ask questions later”, the paramilitary force can cultivate peace and security in a community with a civilian-friendly approach. In addition, they will be familiar with other S&R operations such as prison management, the training of local security forces and facilitation of civilian reconstruction. And since they will require less lethal firepower and vehicles to operate, less logistics support will be needed so the cost to maintain their operations will be lower than that of combat forces. In a nutshell, the proposed paramilitary force will be more proficient in S&R operations than combat soldiers.
The military capacity of the NATO paramilitary force is also very valuable for S&R operations. While civilian police officers are trained and equipped to work in a rather peaceful environment, the paramilitary force can enforce law and order in a more risky environment as they possess the military skills and equipment to suppress violent insurgency if necessary in the immediate aftermath of an armed conflict. Generally, since the paramilitary force will be trained as a light infantry unit, they will stand out among other regular police forces because of their specialties like rapid deployment and self-sustaining logistic capability for a period of time. Such advantages would enable them to counter hostile fire or even raid the hideouts of dangerous insurgents. Moreover, because of their military acquaintance, the paramilitary force can be put under a military chain of command so that they could take an active role in large and complex military operations. More often than not, the paramilitary force will be deployed to a previously secured town to keep insurgents out when the combat forces are ready to move on.
The troop size of the proposed NATO paramilitary force should be compatible with the possible scale of future NATO operations. By referring to past deployments, in May 2003 the United States had around 150,000 military personnel in Iraq while 10,400 of them were military police. Italy also sent 1,400 military personnel to Southern Iraq while 40% of those were Carabinieri. And as of June, the total ISAF troop number in Afghanistan is close to 97,000 where most of the foreign forces are concentrated on S&R operations. Therefore the rough estimate is that the number of paramilitary personnel required to manage a medium-size country should range from 10,000 to 90,000, depending on the level of national development of the receiving country and the availability of combat forces which can significantly reduce the actual number that would be required. But the minimum number of 10,000 would be a fair starting point, since the 10,000 deployment of military police officers to Iraq had resulted in a less than satisfactory peace restoration even though the improvement was much better than that of Afghanistan. Moreover, no matter what the actual number will be, the United States should be the largest contributor to the force while other European countries would have more to contribute in terms of training and expertise.
Through the comparison between old and modern wars, it can be summarized that a portion of the military will have to be trained to address the S&R gap to ensure that the achievement of combat phase can be protected and strengthened. As NATO will likely continue to launch new operations at the global theatre with mighty U.S. military power, the success of operations will be more determined by their capability to effectively stifle insurgents and restore peace timely after combat than the capability to defeat hostile military forces. The lesson of Afghanistan has clearly shown that the more are the S&R operations falling behind the pace of war, the more fiscally and politically costly will it be to conduct counterinsurgency no matter how decisively did NATO troops knock out the enemy earlier during combat. Afghanistan also tells everyone that combat soldiers are not the right choice to perform police duties. Since there is simply not enough available paramilitary forces to handle S&R operations, therefore NATO will need to construct its own regular paramilitary force based on the experience of some European states in order to execute S&R operations timely from the first gunfire of combat. The paramilitary force will be a highly professional dual-use force which is expected to excel in serving civilian and military purposes. The paramilitary force will be better prepared to run S&R operations than the combat soldiers and consequently will deliver a better result in postconflict peace restoration. Last but not least, the United States should lead the effort to contribute to the force since the Europeans alone do not have the level of personnel and budget to form a sizable force. By combining the European experience with American resources in the creation of a NATO paramilitary force, the synergy of the transatlantic alliance will greatly improve the chance of success of upcoming operations.
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