Thursday, April 4, 2024

Just War Analysis of the 2003 American Invasion of Iraq


The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the 2003 American Invasion of Iraq according to jus ad bellum criteria – were we in the right to start that war? We begin with the historical context including the faulty information about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. That history is then used to determine whether the invasion passes the jus ad bellum standards of Just War Theory.

Historical Background1

Official build-up for the invasion began with the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002”, also known as the “Iraq Resolution”, which was passed in October 2002 by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. It authorized the use of American forces against Iraq in what would be called “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” The factors used to justify the war included:

  1. Iraq’s development and possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) as well as operation of mobile weapons labs
  2. Their possession of unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver said WMDs
  3. Their support for terrorism, including harboring members of al-Qaeda and paying bounties to the families of suicide bombers
  4. Saddam Hussein’s repression of the Iraqi people and the Kurds

This was followed by the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 of November 2002 which demanded that Iraq allow weapons inspectors back into the country. Iraq appeared to comply with the resolution.

In early 2003, President George Bush and British PM Tony Blair stated that Iraq was hindering the UN weapons inspectors. Leaders of Germany and France sought extended inspections and wanted to give Iraq more time to comply with the inspectors.

On 5 February 2003 Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a presentation to the UN Security Council claiming that Iraq had maintained its stockpile of WMDs, that it was hiding evidence of its WMDs from UN weapons inspectors, that it silenced its weapons scientists, and that it continued to harbor al-Qaeda terrorists. These were the reasons used to start the war.

On 17 March, President Bush gave Saddam an ultimatum: leave Iraq in 48 hours. He didn’t.

On 20 March 2003 kinetic operations began with precision-guided missile attacks against the suspected location of Saddam Hussain, followed by bombings of government and military buildings. Major operations were completed six weeks later, and the occasion was marked by President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech on 1 May 2003.

On 30 September 2004 the Iraq Survey Group, a multinational group organized by the CIA and the Pentagon, released a report (the Duelfer Report) stating that Iraq had no significant amount of chemical WMDs3. It was believed that the WMDs did exist – and were used against the Kurds – but the weapons were sent to Syria. The idea that Iraq was a state sponsor of terrorism remains unclear.

The justification for the war changed at this point to the plight of the Iraqi and Kurdish people under Saddam, and the goal became removing him and the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party from power.

The war did not end by this time, for once we defeated the Ba’ath Party, the insurgency started. Politics abhors a vacuum, and we began fighting a new enemy.

Just Cause

St. Augustine lists2 three jus ad bellum conditions: defending against attack, recapturing things taken, and punishing a nation that has done wrong. According to (faulty) intelligence, Iraq’s people and its neighbors were in immediate danger from WMDs, and according to (accurate) intelligence, Saddam’s regime was actively violating the individual rights of its citizens. Thus, our invasion of was justified because we were defending others against imminent danger and punishing Iraq for doing wrong by the Kurds and other Iraqi people.


Proportionality is a slippery concept in action. The broad idea is that when an enemy destroys one of our ships, we destroy one of theirs, when the enemy downs one of our airplanes, we do the same to one of his airplanes, and so on. The enemy is supposed to remain stationary while we pursue a proportionate response. Nice theory, but in practice things don’t work that way.

The reality is more like this: the enemy destroys one of our vessels, and in our act of responding proportionally, the enemy sends fighters to stop our response, we then use surface-to-air missiles, and so on. Each combatant is starring in his own “Saving Private Ryan” movie, and once the situation escalates it becomes extremely difficult to stop.

An alternative to proportionality is this: does our response not only stop the immediate harm but also removes the capability of performing similar harm in the future? The American forces disabled Iraq’s air defense system, which allowed the ground invasion to go forward unencumbered. We targeted only government and military installations, and the government and military were the ones harming people. We not only stopped them doing harm and we also prevented them from repeating this harm in the future. This theory has plenty of edge cases, and it may not be possible to justify this approach within Just War Theory.

Reasonable Chance of Success

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was a well-designed and well-implemented plan that involved combined use of air and ground forces. Our Air Force, Marines, and Army were far superior to the corresponding Iraqi forces, so we had a very reasonable chance of success.

Legitimate Authority and Public Declaration

Congress has the power to declare war, and while the Iraq Resolution was approved by Congress, it did not declare war. The Resolution only authorized President Bush to use military force against Iraq. However, the Iraq Resolution can be seen as a public declaration announcing America’s intention to initiate military action against that country.

Right Intentions

If Iraq possessed WMDs and weapons labs, and if Iraq possessed the capability to deliver the WMDs, and if Saddam had plans of using these weapons on the Iraqis or other people, then we had the right intentions for invading Iraq with the goal of removing those weapons and delivery capabilities.

As it goes, Iraq didn’t have WMDs, but the treatment of the Iraqis and Kurds under Saddam and the Ba’ath Party was still an issue. Our intentions to drive Saddam from power and to De-Ba’athify the government were good intentions, and our actions were in support of those intentions.

Does this mean America must topple oppressive governments all over the world? It does not, for doing so does not further any pressing national interest. National interest does not play a direct role in Just War Theory, however.

Last Resort

At the time of the 2003 invasion, economic sanctions against Iraq were still in place. These sanctions were in response to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Further economic pressure could not be applied.

Multiple diplomatic solutions (the Iraq Resolution, Resolution 1441, Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN Security Council, and finally the 48 hour demand of Saddam to leave the country) were attempted but each proved unsuccessful. All non-violent options were exhausted, and so the war was indeed one of last resort.


Based on all the usual criteria of jus ad bellum - principles of just cause, proportionality, reasonable chance of success, legitimate authority and public declaration, right intention, and last resort – it can be concluded that we were justified in this military action according to Just War Tradition. This conclusion holds regardless of the existence of WMDs.

From a “realist war theory” perspective, the invasion cannot be justified. If anything, the invasion violates the realpolitik “Pottery Barn rule” – you break it, you buy it. By eliminating Saddam Hussein’s regime, we metaphorically broke Iraq, dysfunctional that it was, and we ended up buying it over the next 8 years.


1. Draper, R. (2020). To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq. Penguin Books.

2. Holmes, A. F. (2005). War and Christian Ethics. Baker Academic.

3. Ricks, T. E. (2006). Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. Penguin Press.

Friday, March 29, 2024

The Most Dangerous Form of Warfare


Both symmetric and asymmetric warfare are dangerous, but to answer the question “what is the most dangerous form of warfare?” it is necessary to examine asymmetric warfare and its tactics. Once this is complete, a comprehensive and valid comparison can be made between symmetric and asymmetric warfare.


Asymmetric warfare is one where the two opponents have incomparable military strengths. Freedman1 lists several qualities of the weaker party (guerrillas, insurgents, etc.): they are involved in a defensive war, fighting on home territory; they depend on popular support and use local knowledge of the terrain and other geographic factors; the insurgents employ a strategy of exhaustion, “gaining time on the hope that the enemy would tire or that something else would turn up.”

To all this it must be added that insurgents replace a traditional logistic system with popular support as well as “living off the enemy.”

Relation with Conventional Forces

None of the writers on asymmetric warfare – from theoreticians such as Clausewitz and Jomini, to practitioners such as von Lettow-Vorbeck, T.E. Lawrence, and Mao Tse-Tung – view an insurgency as effective by itself.

Tse-Tung saw6 guerrilla warfare as a “stop gap” until conventional forces could be stood-up: “during the progress of hostilities, guerrillas gradually develop into orthodox forces that operate in conjunction with other units of the regular army.”

T.E. Lawrence described3 guerrilla warfare as “…a war that might be won without fighting battles” and that the role of the Arab Revolt in WWI was a “side-show of a side-show”. He summarized the lack of conventional support by noting that “we had no base machinery, no formal staff, no clerks, no government, no telegraphs, no public opinion, no troops of British nationality, no honour, no conventions.”

Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, in using guerrilla warfare in German East Africa during WWI, asked4 whether “it was possible for us in our subsidiary theatre of war to exercise any influence on the great decision at home.” His plan was to draw Allied forces away from Europe, and to do that “it was necessary, not to split up our small available forces in local defense, but, on the contrary, to keep them together, to grip the enemy by the throat and force him to employ his forces for self-defense.” He was able to do this for the duration of that war.

Asymmetrical Warfare Tactics

The tactics used by insurgents follow from their relative weakness: they do not have comparable weapon systems, nor do they have a stable base of operations. The general tactic used has been described5 by William S. Lind as the "DOCA loop” - disperse, orient, concentrate, act. Being dispersed except when executing an operation gives the guerrilla force survivability, whereas concentration gives the force the ability to focus its power on a target which a single insurgent cannot alone bring to bear.

What should these targets be? “The enemy’s rear, flanks, and other vulnerable spots are his vital points,” Tse-Tung writes6, “and there he must be harassed, attacked, dispersed, exhausted, and annihilated.” The insurgency must thus compensate for his lack of firepower with ingenuity in attacking the enemy’s communication and supply lines, as well as other weaknesses.

What is the Most Dangerous Form of Warfare?

Several metrics can be used to determine how dangerous a particular form warfare is:

  • Number of combatant casualties
  • Number of civilian casualties
  • Infrastructure damage
  • Economic cost
  • Loss of freedoms
  • Loss of political will or even destabilization of political system
  • Prolongation of the war
  • Reputation of the country doing the conventional fighting
  • Destructiveness of the weapons used

In conventional warfare, civilian and combatant casualties are always present. Indiscriminate civilian deaths have decreased considerably with the recent availability of precision-guided weapons. Still there are non-combatant casualties. With asymmetric warfare, the primary targets of the insurgents are enemy soldiers and collaborators. The number of deaths is far fewer, to the point where the taking of a life by an insurgent is closer to targeted assassination than to indiscriminate killing.

Infrastructure has been a target in both symmetric and asymmetric warfare. In asymmetric warfare, when an attack on infrastructure fails, the insurgents either try again or move to the next target. Compare this with how failed infrastructure attacks evolve in conventional war. The “Bomber Mafia”2 (a group of USAAF commanders who advocated using long-range heavy bombers to defeat Nazi Germany) wanted to use precision bombing against German industries and military targets; when this plan proved unworkable, they switched to using area incendiary weapons against cities in Japan.

The loss of freedom through conscription, taxation, inward-pointing intelligence services, propaganda, and media manipulation have always been higher in conventional warfare. This damages the reputation of the country doing conventional fighting, weakening its presence on the international stage as well as damaging the political will (the consent) of the populace. Propaganda is also part of asymmetrical warfare, but it is aimed only against the conventional opponent.

While the longest wars in American history were asymmetric wars - the War in Afghanistan and the Vietnam War (lasting just under 20 years each) - there have been conventional wars that lasted far longer, such as the Roman-Germanic Wars (708 years). The most prolonged conventional war was the Reconquista, which lasted for 781 years.

Finally, the destructive power of the weapons used must be compared. Nuclear weapons have been used in conventional wars, as has mustard gas and other chemical agents. There are no analogs in asymmetric warfare.

For these reasons, conventional wars are the most dangerous. They are the costliest in terms of life, treasury, and political freedoms.


1. Freedman, L. (2013). Strategy: A History. Oxford University Press.

2. Gladwell, M. (2021). The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War. Little, Brown, and Company.

3. Lawrence, T.E., (1920) The Evolution of a Revolt. Praetorian Press.

4. Lettow-Vorbeck, P. v. (2022). My Reminiscences of East Africa. Good Press.

5. Lind, W. S. & Thiele, G. A. (2015). 4th Generation Warfare Handbook. Castalia House. Retrieved 28 March 2024 from

6. Tse-Tung, M. (2015). Mao Tse-Tung on Guerrilla Warfare, Samuel B. Griffith, trans. Hauraki Publishing.

Thomas Aquinas’ Just War Theory


This post recites Thomas Aquinas’ just war theory as described in Summa Theologica I-II Q. 91 and 94, and II-II Q. 40-42. His jus ad bellum is explained as well as his tentative steps in developing jus in bello criteria. A psychological interpretation of the “good intentions” criteria is given, and finally a comparison with Aristotle’s “bottom up” approach to the ethics of warfare is made. All quotations from the Summa Theologica are taken from Holmes (2005).

Grounding JWT in Terms of Divine, Natural, and Human Laws

Thomas Aquinas sets up a “hierarchy of laws” as the foundation for the ethical evaluation of warfare. This hierarchy moves from the divine (Eternal Law), through natural laws, finally ending with concrete human laws.

The Eternal Law, also called Divine Reason or Divine Law, is the operation of Divine providence. Everything is subject to such law, and it is unchangeable and eternal. (ST I-II, Q. 91, Art 1)

Natural laws are the way rational creatures participate in the Eternal Law (ST I-II, Q. 91, Art 2). Natural laws are specifically applicable to rational animals, unlike Eternal Law which has universal applicability.

Human laws are needed because we do not fully participate in the dictates of Divine Reason (ST I-II, Q. 91, Art 3). Further, human laws do not have the inerrancy possessed by the demonstrated conclusions of the natural sciences.

Why then do we even need an Eternal Law? The Eternal law directs man towards his last end, eternal happiness, but this end is inproportionate to man’s rational faculty (ST I-II, Q. 91, Art 4). Further, conflicts in human law can and do occur, because of errors in judgement. Such conflicts cannot occur within Eternal Law. Finally, human law can neither forbid or punish all evil deeds; Divine Law fills this gap and is thus needed to forbid all sins.

Statement of Just Reasons to Go to War

It is not always sinful to initiate or wage war, according to Aquinas, and he posits three conditions that must be met to initiate a just war. (ST II-II, Q. 40, Art 1)

First, war must be called for by sovereign authority. “It is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior.”

Second, just cause is required – “those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault.” Aquinas uses specific examples given by Augustine – to avenge wrongs, to punish a nation for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore that which has been seized unjustly.

Third, belligerents must have good intentions. They must seek to advance the good, or to avoid evil at least. Examples of ill intentions include aggrandizement or cruelty.

Interlude: the “Dispassionate Warrior”

This third jus ad bellum criterion is a claim about the psychology of a justly acting warfighter: his goal is to “uplift the good,” perhaps in a dispassionate manner. Aquinas quotes Augustine who notes that “passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war” (ST II-II, Q. 40, Art 1). Aquinas continues, removing agency from the warfighter, stating that “to have recourse to the sword… by the authority, so to speak, of God, is not to take the sword, but to use it as commissioned by another, wherefore it does not deserve punishment.”

Compare this (Kaurin, 2017) with the stance taken by one of the soldiers in Shakespeare’s Henry V: “If his cause be wrong, our obedience to the King wipes the crime of it out of us.” Aquinas goes further, replacing relief of moral responsibility with a form of technocratic detachment.

Does the concept of a dispassionate warrior make sense? To successfully prosecute a war, a certain joie de guerre is required, a passion needed for accomplishing what must be done - and a source of distress for the warfighter when he realizes he has trouble turning it off. This is the very opposite of dispassion.

Just Conduct in War

Compared to his jus ad bellum, Aquinas’s jus in bello is considerably less developed. He addresses only a few aspects of what constitutes just conduct in war: the role of religious personnel, the use of ambushes, and the ethics of strife and sedition.

Is it lawful for priests and clerics to fight in a war? Aquinas answers (ST II-II, Q. 40, Art 2) in the negative, but in defense of this position, he quotes Gregory who uses a shepherd/wolf/sheepdog analogy: “The wolf comes upon the sheep, when any unjust and rapacious man oppresses those who are faithful and humble. But he who was thought to be the shepherd, and was not, leaveth the sheep, and flieth, for he fears lest the wolf hurt him, and dares not stand up against his injustice.”

Aquinas rejects this analogy, stating that participation in warfare is incompatible with the duties of priests and clerics, because warlike pursuits are tumultuous, hindering the mind from the contemplation of divine things, prayers for the people, etc. It is unbecoming for religious personnel to slay or shed blood, says Aquinas, and “it is more fitting that they should be ready to shed their own blood for Christ, so as to imitate in deed what they portray in their ministry.” The proper way to resist an enemy of the flock is through “spiritual weapons”.

The only military tactic Aquinas mentions specifically is that of ambushes, which he states are not a form of deception but rather one of concealment. Thus, laying ambushes is a lawful activity when done in times of war. (ST II-II, Q. 40, Art 3)

Strife is described by Aquinas (ST II-II, Q. 41, Art 1) is a form of private war that is not declared by a sovereign. Because of this, it is unjust. Resistance against strife may however be without sin when it is done in self defense and with due moderation.

Sedition, the act of sewing dissent, is viewed by Aquinas (ST II-II, Q. 42, Art 1) as a sin as it is contrary to the unity of the multitude – the people of a city or kingdom, and it undermines the common good. Taken by itself, this stance would preclude both civil wars and wars of independence.


It is interesting to note how far Aquinas diverges from “the Philosopher” (Aristotle) on the issue of just war. Aristotle holds that it is proper for a man to engage in military training so as not to become the slave of other men, and for the same reason it is proper for the state to defend itself (Aristotle, Politics, Book 7). This is a bottom-up approach similar to what Frowe (2015) calls the “domestic analogy,” and is the opposite of Aquinas who grounds just war on Eternal, natural and human laws, and in which self defense is seen as political resistance against strife.


Aristotle (2020). Politics. William Ellis, trans. Independently published

Frowe, H. (2015). The Ethics of War and Peace: An Introduction. 2nd Edition. Routledge.

Holmes, A. F. (2005). War and Christian Ethics. 2nd Edition. Baker Academic.

Kaurin, P. S. (2017). “Beyond the Band of Brothers: Henry V, Moral Agency, and Obedience”. Last retrieved on 28 March 2024 from

Starburst Analysis of the PRC’s Treatment of the Uyghurs

Introduction to Starburst Analysis

Starburst analysis is a structured analytic technique (SAT) used to combat “the premature closing of minds,” which Marvin (2013) described as a common pitfall for intelligence analysts. To avoid this, starburst analysis seeks to ensure that analysists have a grasp of the situation they’re investigating. It allows them to enumerate the actors, to handle information overload, and to differentiate and isolate root causes from symptoms. It allows analysts to identify gaps in their intelligence. Using starburst analysis and other SATs, intelligence analysts hope to achieve objectivity, putting aside personal objectives and ethics. This objectivity is attained rapidly.

Starburst analysis requires the analyst to identify essential facts about an operational environment, doing so entails the analyst to answer the following questions:

  • Who – who are the key actors?
  • What – what are the key activities and operations?
  • When – when did they occur? What changes are happening to the participants over time?
  • Where – what locations did those activities happen?
  • Why – why are the key activities occurring? What are the causes?
  • How – details about the activities – how are these activities conducted?

In this post, starburst analysis is applied to the treatment of Uyghurs in China.

Who are the Primary Actors?

The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group living in China. They practice a moderate form of Sunni Islam, speak a Turkic language, and are culturally and historically affiliated with Central Asia.

Within the Chinese Communist Party, the primary actors are Chen Quanguo and Ma Xingrui. Chen was the CCP Secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region from 2016 to 2021, and was also the Political Commissa of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. He oversaw the construction of internment camps used to imprison Uyghurs and established a surveillance system used to monitor Uyghurs and to track escapees from the camps. (Maizland, 2022)

Chin was replaced in 2021 by Ma Zingrui. While he has loosened restrictions on the population, Ma stated in March 2024 that the sinofication of mosques will continue as it is “inevitable”. (Chen, 2024)

Where do the Uyghurs Live?

Uyghurs mostly live in the XUAR (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) located in the northeast of China. This province borders eight countries including several Muslim countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan). The province is mineral rich, produces most of China’s cotton, has the largest coal and natural gas reserves in China, and 20% of its oil reserves.

China thus has a vested economic interest in the XUAR, and officials refer to it as a “core hub” for the Belt and Road Initiative. To this end, the PRC has taken steps to eliminate Uyghur culture, or at least replace the Uyghur population in the XUAR with Han Chinese.

What is CCP Policy towards the Uyghurs, and How is it Implemented?

As part of this program, mosques have been demolished or altered to remove motifs and Arabic writings.

There has been internment of 1 to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslims in the re-education camps built by Chen Quanguo. The internees like in barbaric conditions and are made to renounce their Islamic faith. There are also forced labor programs requiring Uyghurs to work in labor-intensive industries including textile and apparel industries, and employment there involves political indoctrination. Refusal to work in such factories may result in detention.

There has also been programs of population replacement, substituting the Uyghurs in the XUAR with Han Chinese. (Lum & Weber, 2023)

One CCP religious affairs official has written (HRW, 2021) that their goal with the Uyghurs is to “break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins. Completely shovel up the roots of ‘two-faced people,’ dig them out, and vow to fight these two-faced people until the end,” where the phrase “two-faced people” refers to party members who are ideologically disloyal to the party.

When Did Key Activities Take Place

Between 1990 and 2001, over 200 acts of terrorism were attributed by the CCP to different Uyghur groups. These groups were primarily acting out of neighboring Turkestan, however, and the main terrorist organization within the XUAR is no longer in existence.

As mentioned above, internment camps were built by Chen Quanguo starting in 2017, and they continue to be in operation. Further, XUAR officials have instituted programs to eliminate the culture and language of the Uyghur. They enacted laws that “prohibits ‘expressions of extremification’ and placed restrictions upon dress and grooming, traditional Uyghur customs, and adherence to Islamic dietary laws (halal).” (Lum & Weber, 2023)

Why is it Being Done?

Past deadly incidents in the XUAR have been attributed by the CCP to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The ETIM, even at its height, was poorly financed and lacked the capacity to carry-out any attacks. The ETIM was declared a terrorist organization in 2002 and added to the Terrorist Exclusion List in 2004. It was removed from the Terrorist Exclusion List in 2020 since there has been no credible evidence that the group continues to exist.

Thus, while the Uyghurs may have had terrorist connections in the past, this was no longer the case by the time the internment camps were created in the XUAR. The CCP’s ultimate goal remains the same: to destroy the Uyghurs, their language, their culture.

As terrorist sympathies is no longer a motivation for their destruction, one is left with two possible explanations for the CCP’s animosity towards the Uyghurs:

  • Enforcement of ideological purity
  • Economic reasons – to make the XUAR into a hub of the Belt and Road Initiative.

What Actions did the United States Take?

The United States took several steps in response to CCP treatment of the Uyghurs (Lum & Weber, 2023), including:

  • The imposition of economic sanctions on specific PRC officials and Chinese companies involved in forced labor
  • Protection of Uyghur-Americans from harassment or intimidation by CCP agents
  • Import restrictions that block the import of goods (including tomatoes and cotton originating in the XUAR


Starburst analysis allows intelligence analysts to quickly understand their operating environment. It allows them to identify key players and actions and allows the analyst to distinguish the essential from the irrelevant. All this was demonstrated here for the Chinese Uyghurs.


Chen, L. (2024). “Top official from China's Xinjiang says 'Sinicisation' of Islam 'inevitable'”. Reuters. Retrieved 28 March 2024 from

Human Rights Watch. (2021). “Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots: China’s Crimes Against Humanity Targeting Uyghurs and Other Turkic Muslims”. Retrieved 28 March 2024 from

Lum, T. & Weber, M. A. (2023). “China Primer: Uyghurs”. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved on 26 March 2024 from

Maizland, L. (2022). “China’s Repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang”. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved on 28 March 2024 from

Marvin, A. (2013). “Dangers of Ethnicity in Analysis”. Small Wars Journal. Retrieved on 27 March 2024 from

Friday, March 22, 2024

Introduction to Symmetrical Warfare

To understand asymmetrical warfare, it is necessary to understand symmetrical warfare. Taken at face value, the phrase “symmetrical warfare” is warfare where the opponents have comparable military power and use similar tactics. But this is not what it really means!

Symmetrical warfare is where both sides use conventional tactics and strategies – they follow the “standard way of doing business.” Symmetric warfare is:

  • Instigated and directed by sovereign powers (state actors)
  • Seen as a “continuation of policy by other means.” (Clausewitz, Book 1 Ch. 1)
  • Both sides have some sort of military force already in existence, with sufficient provisions (Tzu, Ch. 2)
  • These military forces are hierarchically organized.
  • For modern symmetric wars, both sides use supply chain logistic systems.
  • Object is to destroy the enemy’s military capability (to win as opposed to “not lose”) at minimal cost. (Clausewitz, Book 3 Ch. 14)
  • Lack of serious domestic opposition
  • Both have the capability of attacking, invading, and occupying the other’s territory.
  • There are clearly defined battle fields (“fronts”)
  • There is a (more or less) clear separation between civilians and combatants.
  • Targets are the enemy’s combatants, territory, and infrastructure (as opposed to political or psychological “targets,” e.g. “will to fight”)
  • Both sides wish to avoid enemy escalation

There are a wide variety of tactics used in symmetrical warfare, broadly:

  • Multi-modal attacks (land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace)
  • Reliance on technological advancements
  • Optimized logistic networks.
  • Use of frontal offenses (not engaging in “hit and run” attacks)
  • Close physical proximity for extended periods of time
  • Discretize actions into battles and campaigns.

The United States has participated in both symmetric and asymmetric wars, using either conventional or irregular fighting styles. The paragon of symmetric warfare would for the US be World War II. The Korean War is an example of asymmetric warfare where the US used conventional fighting styles against an enemy who used unconventional means. Against the North Vietnamese, the US used both conventional and irregular fighting styles through the Special Forces. Examples where the US used unconventional tactics were the Revolutionary War and parts of the War of 1812.

An example of a war that transitioned from symmetric to asymmetric would be the second Iraq War – it was symmetric for a few months following the invasion in 2003 then became asymmetrical as the insurgency began. There are signs that the Russia-Ukraine War is undergoing a similar transition (Aslan, 2023).


Aslan, Murat. (2023). “Symmetric and Asymmetric Warfare in the Russia-Ukraine War”. Politics Today. Retrieved 20 March 2024 from

Clausewitz, Carl von, (1989). On War. Michael Howard and Peter Paret, trans. Princeton University Press.

Tzu, Sun. (2020). The Art of War: A New Translation by Michael Nylan. W. W. Norton & Company.

Qualities of Military Intelligence Officers

A military intelligence officer must be able to collect and analyze quality information and convert it into a timely and relevant product that can provide guidance to a commander’s decisions. To do this, the officer must possess (beyond technical skills) certain virtues or characteristics.

Allen Dulles, in his “Craft of Intelligence,” lists the following qualities of good intelligence officers (Dulles, Ch. 12):

“Be perceptive about people
Be able to work well with others under difficult conditions
Learn to discern between fact and fiction
Be able to distinguish between essentials and nonessentials
Possess inquisitiveness
Have a large amount of ingenuity
Pay appropriate attention to detail
Be able to express ideas clearly, briefly and, very important, interestingly
Learn when to keep your mouth shut”

He goes on to add a few other qualities to this list, including “an understanding of other points of view, other ways of thinking.” Dulles also posits that the officer must be motivated while not being overambitious.

The ability to differentiate fact from fiction and to distinguish between essentials and inessentials are necessary to sort-through and resolve conflicts in circumstances when vast amounts of information is available. When information is scarce, inquisitiveness, ingenuity, and the ability to pay appropriate attention to detail are needed to “fill in the gaps.” Collaboration is essential here to verify assumptions as well as to utilize additional information that may have been missed. This all falls under the rubric of critical thinking, which is essential for eliminating preconceived notions and biases, allowing objectivity to shine through. Objectivity is best attained when the intelligence officer is motivated to do all this while not being overzealous which could put self above mission.

Once the relevant information is assembled, it has to be communicated, and that requires holding an audience’s attention. This is achieved through clearly expressed ideas as well as the silence to allow feedback and interactivity. To do this, the intelligence officer must be perceptive to others (especially commanders and fellow intelligence officers) and understand their perspectives. He must be able to communicate the information in a concise and interesting manner, even under difficult circumstances.

Another quality an intelligence officer must possess is an impeccable character – he must be above reproach…

Suppose an intelligence officer has a “skeleton in his closet” – some characteristic or past event that would be embarrassing should it be made public. This would count against the officer for two reasons: this could be a character flaw that can lead to future failings, and it could make the officer vulnerable to extortion. One example of a “skeleton” was that an officer candidate who was gay would be denied security clearances, the idea being that his same-sex attraction could be used by foreign agents to manipulate him into revealing important state secrets.

Another “skeleton” is marital infidelity. General David Petraeus resigned as director of the Central Intelligence Agency 9 November 2012 following the discovery by the FBI that he had an affair with his biographer. This came after a 37-year career in the US Army in which he was commander of American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. He wasn’t coerced by a foreign agent, and it’s not clear if there was any coercion at all from Paula Broadwell, his mistress/biographer, who was a US Army Intelligence Officer.

What counts as a “skeleton” is highly complicated – it requires an officer to have a sense of guilt and that society views the characteristic or past event as a stigma. There is more than a sliding Overton Window at play, however: during the years J. Edgar Hoover was director of the FBI (1935 – 1972), cross-dressing was not socially acceptable, but he maintained his position while simultaneously earning the nickname “J. Edna Hoover.”


Dulles, Allen. (2006). The Craft of Intelligence, Globe Pequot Press.

Just War Tradition as Compared to Realism


This paper outlines at an extremely high level the Just War Theory and the rival realist theory. Both theories broadly describe the conduct of warfare but differ in their details as well as their aims. These differences are enumerated, and finally a cursory analysis of both is presented.

Just War Tradition

The Just War Theory is fundamentally a list of rules for restraining war - it is a set of criteria that must be satisfied in order for a war to be considered "just." It is founded on the belief that war can be a moral undertaking. JWT is thus a framework or guide for when to resort to force and how use that force. The Just War Tradition is the doctrine tracing the evolution of JWT by Christian thinkers.

The criteria in the JWT are divided into three stages: before (jus ad bellum), during (jus in bello), and after (jus post bellum). Jus ad bellum are the criteria for when a nation-state should resort to war or use military force in general. These criteria include that the leader declaring war have legitimate authority, that is to be waged for just causes and good intentions, and (maybe) that there is a high probability of success. Once war has broken out, conduct should be governed by jus in bello criteria: there should be discrimination between military and civilian targets (principle of non-combatant immunity), attacks should be performed only out of military necessity, and that force be limited by some doctrine of proportionality. Just post bellum is apparently a recent addition to JWT, and it concerns justice once the guns have fallen silent. There doesn't seem to be a short and stable list of criteria. This will be addressed in the conclusion.


This presentation of realism follows Frowe Ch 5. The core idea of realism is embodied by Cicero's phrase "laws are silent in times of war" (silent enim leges inter arma). This means that war lies outside of both moral and legal boundaries, so the only proper constraints on warfare are that actions should advance national interests.

Realism can be divided into two camps: prescriptive realism and descriptive realism. The former claims that war should not be regulated, the latter that war cannot be regulated. Frowe criticizes descriptive realism by noting that individual combatants do follow strict moral codes - they fight honorably. Prescriptive realism falls short because both sides of a war share common interests in protecting their citizens, their infrastructure, and their heritage, or so Frowe claims.


JWT and realism have distinct aims: JWT seeks to reduce the frequency and severity of warfare, whereas realism focuses attention on the successful completion of warfare, with the possible consequence that wars would be shorter in duration but more brutal.

JWT and realism, at this level of abstraction, both accept the reality of violence and that, under certain circumstances, its usage is permissible. Also, both seem isolated from the "domestic analogy" - individual self-defense and national self-defense are treated as independent issues, which they have been historically for most nations. So, on the issues of violence, admissibility of violence, and the "domestic analogy" they are similar.

Neither theory directly address the relation between warfare and the military virtue of courage alluded to by Hegel (Holmes, pp. 286-287). JWT would seem to be more compatible as both justice and courage are moral virtues.

While both theories address conduct during war, neither address the conditions under which war should be ended. What counts as peace, and whether the conditions for peace should set at the beginning or near the end of a war, is left unspecified.

Frowe Ch 5 doesn't mention whether realism has its own jus ad bellum - the inapplicability of rules during warfare does not imply that rules cannot function before a war begins. If there are realist rules governing the initiation of conflict, they would certainly include likelihood of success as well as something to the effect that the war must be in the nation's self-interest. Other than this, we would expect both JWT and realism to have similar criteria for initiating warfare.

Frowe also doesn't mention whether there is a realist jus post bellum.

The primary difference between JWT and realism is in the conduct of war, the jus in bello. JWT posits that rules are needed to restrain the scope of warfare - protect non-combatants, force should be applied according to some scale of proportional response, and actions must serve some military necessity. With realism, the gloves are off - rules are legitimate to the extent that they further successful completion of the war.

Analysis and Conclusions

At this level of abstraction, both JWT and realism come off as "straw man" theories, particularly realism. This is understandable given the source material used. The details of JWT will certainly be fleshed-out, and it would be interesting to see a final form of the doctrine of proportionality. Something sorely missing in JWT at this level is the relation of national interest to the initiation and pursuance of war. Also missing is the targeting of military actions - it is just assumed that that military actions should be aimed at the enemy.

It is also curious that jus post bellum - justice following the conclusion of war - is seen as an afterthought. Even a cursory study of history shows that wars recur frequently, and the reason they repeat is either laid-out in print, such as in Mein Kampf, or can be directly experienced when travelling, like when visiting south of the Mason-Dixon Line. As such, any theory that attempts to limit the scope and severity of warfare cannot afford to ignore jus post bellum.


Frowe, H. (2015). The Ethics of War and Peace: An Introduction. 2nd Edition. Routledge.

Holmes, A. F. (2005). War and Christian Ethics. 2nd Edition. Baker Academic.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Battle of Tanga, November 1914 - Part 2


At the start of the First World War, Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck was in command of the German colonial forces in German East Africa, far from the battlefields of Europe where the fate of the colony would be decided. He wanted to use his small forces, inadequate to protect the colony using purely defensive tactics, to divert British forces away from the European theater. To do this, “it was necessary not to split up our small available forces in local defense, but, on the contrary, to keep them together, to grip the enemy by the throat and force him to employ his forces for self-defense.” (Lettow-Vorbeck, pp. 3-4). Thus the German strategy used in the East African Campaign was devised. The first battle of this guerrilla war campaign would take place in the GEA port town of Tanga on 2-5 November 1914.

This post is the second and final part of a series describing the Battle of Tanga; the first part described the physical and cultural geography of Tanga.

Description of the Battle

2 November

The convoy of 16 ships carrying IEF B arrives at station 15 miles east of Tanga. The HMS Fox, commanded by Captain Francis Wade Caulfeild, enters the harbor (Caulfeild, 1914). District Commissioner Auracher who worked under Governor Schnee and was also a lieutenant in the local Ascari police force, meets Captain Caulfeild aboard the HMS Fox with the captain calling for surrender. Auracher states he didn’t have the authority to do this, and he returned to Tanga to get instructions. He sends telegrams to Lettow-Vorbeck and to Schnee alerting them of the situation, and he warned the townsfolk (German and native) who fled inland. Auracher then resigned his position as District Commissioner and joined the Schutztruppe.

Lettow-Vorbeck was at the town of Moshi near Mount Kilimanjaro when the telegram arrived. He ordered a portion of the Schutztruppe to converge at Tanga using the Usambara Railway.

The HMS Fox, after not getting a reply from Auracher, left the bay and rejoined the squadron. Mine sweeping began in preparation for the landing of IEF B troops.

Direct landing at the harbor was rejected due to the possibility of mines as well as fear that the houses of Tanga were filled with German troops (Hordern & Stacke, p. 77). Major General Aitken, commander of IEF B, and Caulfeild thus considered three alternative landing sites along the Ras Kasone peninsula:

  • Beach A: East side of Ras Kasone, close to the Red House
  • Beach B: North side of the peninsula, close to the Signal Tower
  • Beach C: Within the bay, somewhat close to the hospital.

Three possible landing sites. (Harvey, 2014)

Beach A was chosen for the initial landing as it was least likely to be defended (Harvey, 2014) and (Royal Navy Research Archive, N/D). The other two beaches would be later used once the British had established a presence. Of the three landing sites, Beach A was the least geographically favorable to the British troops: the coral reef was 500 yards from the shore, and the men had to wade ashore, frequently falling between the roots of the mangroves. The sandy beach was less than 10 feet wide at high tide. The first British troops landed with the goals of occupying the town, laying communication cable between the Red House and the town, and covering subsequent landings. They swarmed up the cliff to the Red House, set up a base there, and sent patrols 1/2 miles inward, encountering no Germans. Disembarkment continued for the rest of the night.

3 November

Troops commanded by Brigadier General Michael Tighe leave the Red House, arrive at the town at 0530 and set up a defensive line near the railway track. Meanwhile, Lettow-Vorbeck along with the first German troops from Moshi were arriving. Thick vegetation prevented the British from observing German movement. Tighe set about extending his line south while the German troops attempt to envelop the British left flank. Short range fighting ensued. The British tried to rush German positions twice, but were met with machine gun fire. HMS Fox, now off Beach C, opened fire on the town but to no avail. The enveloping maneuver continued, and Tighe retreated with Germans in pursuit.

First Attack of the Town, 3 November at 0830. (Anderson, 2002)

Fresh British troops arrived at 0830 and beat back the Germans, but falling tide slowed the landing (Astronomical Applications Department, N/D). Additional forces began landing on Beach B, but further British attacks were halted until a larger force could be concentrated. During an afternoon downpour, landings continued on all three beaches. (Hordern & Stacker, p. 83) Aitken finally came ashore at 1700. The town was deserted except for German scouts, but Aitken did not reconnoiter. At sunset, all three beaches were so congested that the remainder of the force would have to land the following morning.

4 November

The landing was completed by 0930. Dense vegetation continued to obscure German movements from the British at all three landing locations. The communication cable laid by the British on the previous day was cut, so the British had to rely on runners to send messages. (Hordern & Stacke, p. 83)

The British ordered an advance starting at 1230, and by 1400 the troops encountered somewhat clearer ground. At 1430 they engaged German patrols who drove them back, until additional troops arrived, and hot engagement ensued.

One of the infantry battalions present at the fighting along the railway, the 63rd Palamcottah Light Infantry, collapsed and dispersed, and this shook another infantry battalion, the 98th. According to one survivor, the Germans “employed fire tactics certainly never taught in India… controlled bursts of fire, directed by observers in trees.” (Hordern & Stacke, p. 86)

The 98th Infantry were then stung by a swarm of bees, with one British troop receiving 300 stings to his head. This was the breaking point for the 98th Infantry, and they scattered. This event led to the battle being called “The Battle of the Bees.”

Collapse of the 63rd in progress, 98th about to be swarmed by bees, and Germans enveloping remaining British forces. 4 November at 1640 hours. (Anderson, 2002)

Apiary warfare had been employed since the time of the Romans, and it is natural to believe that Lettow-Vorbeck was responsible for this swarming. He lays this belief to rest in his Reminiscences: “years afterwards I was asked by English officers whether we had used trained bees at Tanga but I may now perhaps betray the fact that at the decisive moment all the machine-guns of one of our companies were put out of action by these same "trained bees," so that we suffered from this new "training" quite as much as the English” (Lettow-Vorbeck, p. 44).

Other British troops stayed in the fight and fighting continued along the line established earlier. The right flank managed to cross the railway and entered the town, and street fighting ensued. The left flank attempted to advance but met a German counterattack.

The HMS Fox opened fire at 1545 but targeting was obscured by high vegetation and the hospital, and she only succeeded in hitting the hospital and British troops. The German medical personnel suffered no losses and continued tending to both German and British patients.

More Germans arrived. The 2nd Loyal North Lancashires withdrew, encountering machine gun fire as they crossed the roads. By 1600 all British had withdrawn from the town a second time.

Aitken recalled all troops, and one British officer referred to the troops on the beaches as “demoralized rabble”. (Hordern & Stacke, p. 91). The Germans reestablished a minor presence in the town. Aitken decided against a night attack and moved his forces to the tip of the peninsula.

Aitken then had two options: remain behind the defensive line they established at Ras Kasone or re-embark and leave. Potable water was becoming scarce, and no British reinforcements were coming, so at 2300 Aitken decided to re-embark. When a junior officer brought geographic information for another attack to a Brigade-Major, the Brigade-Major told him “The only information of any value now is that which will help us get out of this… place as soon as possible.” (Hordern & Stacke, p. 91)

5 November

The final phase of the withdrawal was described by Hordern & Stacke (p. 95) as follows: “Throughout, by almost the only piece of good fortune to be recorded anywhere in the melancholy story of the expedition, the withdrawal of the troops was effected without interference by the enemy. How tragically it might have ended, had the Germans shown even a little of the enterprise that might have been expected of them, will be sufficiently apparent.”

The British had to leave considerable equipment behind - they attempted to destroy it but had insufficient time to do so. German forces captured 455 rifles, 8 machine guns, and 600,000 rounds of ammunition. They also picked up medical supplies, telephone gear, plus clothing, warm coats, and blankets. (Lettow-Vorbeck, p. 45)

The British evacuation was completed by 1520, and the final matter requiring attention was the wounded troops in the hospital. The Germans allowed them to be evacuated only if they promised not to serve again in the war. Seventy-four British troops were returned and 49 had to stay at the hospital as they were unfit to be moved (Hordern & Stacke, p. 95). The convoy departed for Mombasa.

Instances like these, as well as the Christmas Truces of 1914, are what made the Great War to be perhaps the last “gentleman’s war.” Even in a gentleman’s war there are casualties, however: 64 German and Askaris were killed, 80 were wounded and 1 was missing. 360 British were killed, 487 wounded, and 148 missing. (Anderson, p. 120)

After the Battle

Aitken cabled the news of his defeat to London on 5 November. It arrived at a bad time for the British: The First Battle of Ypres was still ongoing, the Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of the Germans, and the British lost the Battle of Coronel – their first naval defeat since the 1812 Battle of Lake Champlain. For these reasons, the British government kept news of the defeat secret for several months.

Upon returning to Mombasa, Major-General Aitken began to reorganize his forces in preparation for the defense of the East Africa Protectorate. He was stricken by malaria and was still in the hospital when on 4 December he was ordered to hand over his command and return to England. After review by the Lord Kitchener and the War Office, Aitken was reduced in rank to colonel and put on half-pay for the remainder of the war.

Lettow-Vorbeck’s victory convinced Governor Schnee to abandon his diplomatic approach to the British, and it was a morale booster for his troops and the civilian population: it brought the natives and German colonists onto Lettow-Vorbeck’s side.

The Battle of Tanga laid the foundation for the rest of the East African Campaign. Lettow-Vorbeck knew that he would be getting no logistic support from Germany, so he did what all guerrilla fighters do: live off the enemy. Using the rifles, ammunition, and other supplies left by the withdrawing British, he was able to supply his men with improved weapons and uniforms. Lettow-Vorbeck hoped that the Battle of Tanga would convince the British to commit considerable forces in pursuit of him – forces that could not be used in the European theater - and in that he succeeded.


The utter defeat handed to the British at the Battle of Tanga was due to multiple errors not only by Major-General Aitken but also by the planners back in London. The overall operation was “planned” with almost no information about the geography of Tanga or about the strengths and positions of German forces, and Aitken made no effort correct these deficiencies. IEF B was far too small to accomplish the mission of capturing GEA. Even if Aitken did capture Tanga and followed the Usambara Railway 200 miles into the interior, a large German force would be waiting for him at Mount Kilimanjaro. IEF B received upgraded rifles prior to departure but were given no opportunity to train with them. Also, the British possessed greater artillery than the Germans, but there was no plan for its organized use. Finally, the IEF B had to complete a 14-day voyage to Tanga which played havoc with the health of the Indian troops.

Lieutenant-Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck had extensive knowledge of GEA – its geography, terrain, weather patterns, the tropical diseases there, and so on. He was fluent in Swahili. Further, he spent considerable time training with his German Askari troops, in many instances converting them from constabulary forces to fighting forces. It is these differences that made him the victor in this battle.


Anderson, R. (2002). Battle of Tanga 1914. Tempus Publishing, Ltd.

Astronomical Applications Department. (N/D). US Naval Observatory. Retrieved 2 March 2024 from

Caulfeild, F. W. (1914). Logs of the HMS Fox. Retrieved 2 March 2024 from

Gaudi, R. (2017). African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918. Dutton Caliber.

Harvey, K. J. (2014). Battle of Tanga, German East Africa, 1914. Pickle Partners Publishing.

Hordern, C. & Stacke, H. (1941). Military Operations East Africa volume 1, August 1914 – September 1916. His Majesty’s Stationary Office.

Lettow-Vorbeck, P. E. v. (2021). My Reminiscences of East Africa. Good Press.

Royal Navy Research Archive. (N/D). RNAS Tanga. Retrieved 2 March 2024 from

Battle of Tanga, November 1914 - Part 1


The Battle of Tanga (2 – 5 November 1914) was the beginning of Germany’s WWI East African Campaign, a long-term plan to draw Allied troops and resources away from the European theater using minimal German forces. British Indian Expeditionary Force B, consisting of 8,000 soldiers possessing artillery and naval support, attempted to capture the port city of Tanga in German East Africa, now Tanzania. The German defending force, made up of approximately 1,100 German and African troops armed with antiquated firearms, soundly defeating IEF B.

This post describes the battle, the commanders involved, and the factors leading to British defeat. The physical and cultural environments are examined, and it is shown that the Germans were very familiar with the environment, whereas the British were willfully ignorant of Tanga. This difference greatly contributed to the outcome of the battle.

Prior to the Battle

Both Germany and Britain founded African colonies at the end of the 19th century, but the relationship between the European powers and the natives took very different courses: Britain used its East Africa Protectorate (later Kenya) primarily for commercial reasons, importing Indian laborers to supplement or replace native Africans. Germany took a more paternalistic approach to German East Africa (later Tanzania), educating the natives, incorporating them into the police force as well as the Schutztruppe (German colonial forces), where they were known as the German Askari. The German officers learned Swahili, and the Askari, seeing that they were becoming Germans, repaid all this with strong loyalty. (Gaudi, 2017)

Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, the new commander of the Schutztruppe, arrived in GEA in January 1914 (Lettow-Vorbeck, p. 4), though he did have prior contact with the colony and its civilian governor, Heinrich Schnee. Both suspected that war was coming to Europe but took different approaches to what should be done: Schnee sought to uphold the Congo Treaty of 1885 and keep GEA neutral whereas Lettow-Vorbeck realized that the colony and its Schutztruppe could be used to divert Allied forces away from the European theater.

Lieutenant Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck

After arriving, Lettow-Vorbeck evaluated the military potential of the colony: he toured the country, evaluated the status and quality of military and quasi-military forces, their armaments, the logistic situation, as well as the terrain and overall environment including the presence of diseases. In addition, he met with some of the individuals that will play a role in the campaign to come (Lettow-Vorbeck, pp. 4-8). He knew that Tanga's strategic importance as the gateway to the interior of Africa would make it a primary target for the British.

Once the war began, the British organized the Indian Expeditionary Force B under command of Major General Arthur Aitken. The British plan was to capture Tanga, then follow a 200-mile-long railway stretch towards Mount Kilimanjaro, the most economically developed portion of GEA and the most immediate threat to the British colony to the north. From there IEF B was to capture the rest of GEA (Hordern & Stacke, pp. 65-67). It is not clear how this was to happen - Aitken was tasked to capture an area larger than France using only 8,000 troops!

Whereas Lettow-Vorbeck familiarized himself with the environment, Aitken performed no reconnaissance prior to the battle. Further, he made no effort to acclimate his Indian troops to the African climate, train with them using the new rifles supplied to them just prior to departure, practice landings, etc. (Hordern & Stacke, p. 70). IEF B assembled in Bombay and was originally to set sail for Tanga on 30 September, but departure was delayed for two weeks, during which the troops had to stay aboard the ships that would become the convoy. The convoy finally departed on 16 October, travelling at 8 knots, the speed of the slowest ship, for their two-week voyage to Tanga.

The Environment: Physical Elements

The terrain, climate, and other physical elements of the battle site certainly favored the "home team," especially when the opponent did no intelligence-gathering. Tanga is a port city in German East Africa, now Tanzania, five degrees south of the equator. It is located on the south side of Tanga Bay, which has a depth ranging from 3 to 5 fathoms. The east side of the bay is bounded by the Ras Kasone peninsula which partially separates the bay and Tanga Harbor from the Indian Ocean. Edging the peninsula’s sandy beaches are 20-30 feet tall cliffs. The east side of the peninsula (where the initial British landing would take place) is bordered by mangroves, and 500 yards to the east of the mangroves is a coral reef. The beaches on the west side were sandy and narrow. (Anderson, 2002)

Physical and Cultural Geography of Tanga. (Harvey, 2014)

The climate of the area is tropical and has two rainy seasons: the “long rains” occurring from January to April, and the “short rains” during October and November. The battle occurred near the middle of the short rains, when the November temperature ranged between 72° and 88° F, the average humidity is 76%, and average monthly rainfall is approximately 5.5 inches. Malaria is mostly transmitted during the long rains, mostly.

The eastern coast was separated from the town by dense bush, mango groves, rubber tree plantations, and cultivated fields. The townsfolk also raised bees for their honey. Connecting the peninsula and the town were a series of roads cutting through the bush and the plantations. At least three of those roads extended past Tanga into the interior. Together with the Usambara Railway, those roads made Tanga very valuable to the British.

The Environment: Cultural Elements

In 1914, Tanga was the second largest port in German East Africa. Its shipping harbor was on the northeast side of the town, and consisted of a jetty and a customs shed, but it did not have any cranes. The harbor and jetty were serviced by rail that curved along the east side of town before turning west. This rail separated the German and African quarters of Tanga. The shipping rail connected to the Usambara Railway, which ran from Tanga to Moshi, a town close to Mount Kilimanjaro. As the battle proceeded, the railway would be used to transport and concentrate German troops into Tanga. If captured, the British could use the railway to transport troops and supplies into northern GEA to control that part of the colony. The town had facilities supporting the Usambara Railway, including a train station and maintenance workshops. Located to the east of the town was the cemetery, and a drainage ditch separated the eastern part of the shipping rail spur from that cemetery. There was also a hospital that served German, African, and British patients.

Ras Kasone, the peninsula separating Tanga Harbor from the Indian Ocean, had three structures that would be used by the British during their occupation: a signal tower, and two buildings called the “Red House” and the “White House.”

The colonial administration under Governor Heinrich Schnee wanted the colony to stay neutral during World War I and was willing to leave Tanga and other ports defenseless. Meanwhile Lt. Col. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, commander of the German Colonial Army (Schutztruppe), wanted to use conflict in East Africa to divert British troops away from the European theater. The colonists were trapped in the middle: native Askaris formed the bulk of the Schutztruppe, but the Germans wanted to maintain neutrality.

In part 2, a daily breakdown of the battle will be discussed.


Anderson, R. (2002). Battle of Tanga 1914. Tempus Publishing, Ltd.

Astronomical Applications Department. (N/D). US Naval Observatory. Retrieved 2 March 2024 from

Caulfeild, F. W. (1914). Logs of the HMS Fox. Retrieved 2 March 2024 from

Gaudi, R. (2017). African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918. Dutton Caliber.

Harvey, K. J. (2014). Battle of Tanga, German East Africa, 1914. Pickle Partners Publishing.

Hordern, C. & Stacke, H. (1941). Military Operations East Africa volume 1, August 1914 – September 1916. His Majesty’s Stationary Office.

Lettow-Vorbeck, P. E. v. (2021). My Reminiscences of East Africa. Good Press.

Royal Navy Research Archive. (N/D). RNAS Tanga. Retrieved 2 March 2024 from

The OODA Loop and the DOCA Loop

The OODA Loop

The most fundamental description of military action (as well as all action in general) is that it operates according to the OODA loop:

  • Observe
  • Orient
  • Decide
  • Act

Each step feeds forward to the next step, but the Decide stage can feed back to the Observe stage if no action is taken. Once the Act stage is entered, the feedback is to the Observe stage - that's why its called a loop. It isn't necessary that the Action is complete before returning to the Observe stage, such as when the action is not going as expected. The Observe stage is where intelligence gathering happens and the Orient stage is one of intelligence analysis. The Decide and Act stages are operational.

John Boyd's OODA Loop. Illustration by Patrick Edwin Moran from

The OODA loop was developed by USAF Colonel John Boyd as a model for combat operations, but is applicable to any situation where one's actions are based upon evidence. It is universal, and in the context of combat operations both opponents will be executing their own OODA loops.

Thought of in this way, there are two methods to disrupt an enemy's actions:

  • Block one or more steps of the enemy's OODA loop
  • Execute your OODA loop at a faster rate

For example, using a smoke grenade to conceal your movements prevents the enemy from observing your actions, thus blocking his OODA loop. Or, suppose you observe the enemy moving towards a hill, probably to capture it. You realize that the hill has some value (orient), decide that you can defend that hill, and move your forces to protect it (act), arriving first. That is an example of executing your OODA loop faster than the enemy did his.

The above examples are small in scale. Here's an example on a far larger scale: you observe non-government organizations helping illegal immigrants cross your southern border. This is unacceptable because it allows violent criminals to enter into your country, it harms programs meant for citizens, it is distructive to our infrastructure, it lowers chances for employment, it alters the political landscape, and it dilutes our culture. You decide that the flow of illegal immigrants can be lessened by countering the NGOs, and take legal action against them. Regardless of the success of the court proceedings (even if proceedings aren't complete), you return to the Observe stage and the loop continues.

The DOCA Loop

The most fundamental description of actions in irregular warfare is that it operates according to the DOCA loop:

  • Disperse
  • Orient
  • Concentrate
  • Act

The DOCA loop was named by William S. Lind in his writings on light infantry and 4th generation warfare, but it is an extremely old concept. For example, in pre-colonial America, the Indians were repeatedly winning battles against the Colonial Militias – the Indians were using irregular warfare (surprise attacks followed by dispersion) while the militias were practicing European-style battle tactics (close order formations, loading muskets using 56 steps, firing in mass unaimed volleys, etc.). Colonel Benjamin Church saw this and began incorporating Indians into his ranks. Soon, it was the militias that were avoiding tight formations, using cover and concealment, attacking at weak spots, targeting and firing at individual enemies, and conducting hit-and-run raids.

The single steps of the DOCA loop are more involved than those of the OODA loop. For example, the "Orient" phase includes actions that set-up the enemy for the "Act" phase, and the "Act" phase targets a single enemy weakness, and is attempted ony after reconnaissance shows that success is highly probable. Another aspect of the DOCA loop is that it is to be executed rapidly and aggressively. In terms of light infantry, Lind and Thiele (2015) state:

Light infantry tactics are offensive in character, even during defensive operations. Light infantrymen do not hold a line. Light infantry tactics follow the principles of maneuver warfare, attacking by infiltration and defending by ambush. It uses ambushes on the offensive as well, by ambushing withdrawing or reinforcing enemy units, sometimes deep in the enemy’s rear. Light infantry applies an ambush mentality to both planning and execution...

...light infantry can exploit its small arms skills while denying the enemy effective employment of his superior firepower. Light infantry hugs the enemy and forces him to fight at short ranges on its terms.

The DOCA loop is applicable not only to sabotage and assassination missions, but also to how freedom fighters would, for example, retrieve supply drops or free prisoners.

As in the OODA loop, a counter-insurgency operation at the tactical level has two options:

  • Block one or more steps of the insurgency's DOCA loop
  • Adapt the style of irregular warfare and execute your DOCA loop at a faster rate.

Here's a historical example of the first option: in late July through early August 1944, the Maquis (rural resistance fighters) converged at the Vercors Massif in southeast France (Lieb & Dennis, 2012) in preparation for the Invasion of Provence (Operation Dragoon) which was originally scheduled to occur simultaneously with the Invasion of Normandy. The invasion was delayed and the order to disperse was never received. The 157th Reserve Division of the Wehrmacht observed evidence of significant Maquis activity in and around the Vercors Massif in south-east France. Besides sabotaging rail traffic and assisinating Germans and collaborators, the Germans realized that they could hinder German retreat. Using a large force that consists of ground, airborne, and mountaineering components, they decide to act on the Maquis, and send in forces to kill or capture (then kill) as many Maquis as possible. The Maquis converged for an extended period without performing a relevant action, and the Germans prevented them from dispersing. In essence, the Germans prevented the Maquis from closing their DOCA loop.

From this one example, it may appear that freedom fighters executing a DOCA loop will always lose to traditional military forces. This is not always the case! The Maquis successfully executed a vast number of sabotage operations both in Occupied and Vichy France and were able to severely degrade German logistics prior to the Invaison of Normandy.


Boyd, J. (1995). The Essence of Winning and Losing. Retrieved 26 February 2024 from

Lieb, P. & Dennis, P. (2012). Vercors 1944: Resistance in the French Alps. Osprey Publishing.

Lind, W. S. & Thiele, G. A. (2015). 4th Generation Warfare Handbook. Castalia House. Retrieved 26 February 2024 from

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Military Geography of the Battle of New Orleans, 8 January 1815


The Battle of New Orleans was the last great battle of the War of 1812. The Treaty of Ghent, the treaty that ended that war, was signed on 24 December 1814, but news did not reach the American and British forces until after the completion of the battle.

This post examines that battle from a historical perspective, taking a regional approach, at a tactical and operational scale, in the context of wartime.

Strategic Importance

Capturing New Orleans would have been a major success for the British – it would cripple the United States economically, for it was the port through which the Midwest’s farm produce got to market. Further, its capture would give British forces access to the interior of the former colonies. Finally, it was feared that the Louisiana Purchase would be nullified upon British victory, precluding westward expansion.

Physical Environment

The battle took place at Chalmette Plantation, a flat one-square mile swampy field located 5 miles downriver from New Orleans. Chalmette was bounded on the north by a cypress swamp and on the south by the Mississippi River. At the time, there were many tree trunks entangled along the banks of the Mississippi. Past the cypress swamp were wet marshlands. The western edge was bounded by Rodriguez Canal which was four feet deep by 10 feet wide. The eastern edge was delimited by drainage ditches running perpendicular to the river. (Greene, n.d., pp. 52-84)

Prior to the battle, in response to an earlier British advance, Andrew Jackson widened the Rodriguez Canal and constructed a 7-foot-tall parapet parallel to the canal, on the opposite side of the canal from the field. These ramparts would later be known as Line Jackson. The Line ran approximately one mile from the Mississippi to the cypress swamps. It then hooked westward, and the left flank was protected by Choctaws and Tennessee militiamen.

In anticipation of the battle, America had placed an artillery battery on the opposite (west) bank of the Mississippi within range of the Chalmette Plantation. The river was approximately 800 yards wide at that point.

Cultural Environment

New Orleans was the largest city in the region, and outside of that the area was rural. A network of canals was dug for transport, irrigation, and drainage in support of the agricultural economy. The dominant languages in New Orleans were English and Louisiana Creole, a variant of French.

The people of New Orleans knew that their city was a valuable target for the British, and immediately prior to the Battle there were rumors that the mayor and city council would surrender to the British. The rumors were so persistent that Andrew Jackson locked the town hall to prevent them from voting on the issue.

Composition of the British and American Forces

There were approximately 8000 British troops involved in the battle, all under command of Major General Sir Edward Pakenham. The commanders directly under him, including Pakenham himself, were all veterans of the recently concluded Napoleonic Wars.

The American forces were commanded by Brevet Major General Andrew Jackson of the Tennessee Militia. Under him were approximately 4600 men, 74% of which were from four state militias; the remainder were from the regular Army, Marines, Navy, as well as 52 Choctaw warriors and a number of Jean Lafitte's privateers. (Roosevelt, 1882, p. 341-346)

Prior to the Battle

The Battle of New Orleans was the culmination of the Gulf Campaign, the British plan to capture New Orleans and surrounding parts of Louisiana and Florida. Several earlier events are relevant:

23 Dec 1814 - A British advance was halted by a night attack by Jackson. Both sides fell back, with Jackson moving to the Rodriguez Canal, where he begins construction of Line Jackson.

25 Dec 1814 - Maj. Gen. Pakenham arrives and takes charge of British forces. To flood the ground between the British and the Americans, the Americans breach the Chalmette Levee. The effect is minimal, however. (Roosevelt, 1882, p. 341)

1 Jan 1815 - British and Americans engage in an artillery duel. The British exhaust their ammunition after 3 hours while the Americans continued firing. Pakenham withdraws.

The Battle

Pakenham’s strategy was to attack Line Jackson along two fronts. On the east bank of the Mississippi, he planned to attack the center and both ends of the Line. Meanwhile, British forces under command of Colonel William Thornton would land downriver of Chalmette, advance upriver along the west bank, capture the American artillery placed opposite Chalmette, and use it to shell Line Jackson by firing across the river.

Troop Movement 8 January 1815 (Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, n.d.).

The construction of Line Jackson began near the end of the previous month, and behind which Jackson emplaced artillery - two howitzers and thirteen 8-to-24-pound cannons. The British planned to cross Rodriguez Canal and storm the ramparts using ladders, but the ladders never arrived.

The battle began on the morning of 8 Jan 1815, with the British hoping to use the fog to their advantage. Unfortunately, the fog lifted too early. On the west bank, Thornton ran into problems with the soggy ground almost immediately: his movement was slowed considerably, and he was unable to widen a canal to move equipment needed for the assault.

Pakenham began multiple attacks against Line Jackson. On the right flank, the part closest to the river, Col. Robert Rennie’s force attacked, partially collapsing the Line before being repelled. The largest thrust was by Major Generals Sir John Keane and Samuel Gibbs against the middle of the Line - they also had to retreat. Finally, a third force attacked the left flank by crossing the cypress swamp but was repulsed by West Tennessee militiamen and Choctaws.

As all retreat paths led through the field, the British were under constant fire from Jackson’s troops, both while advancing and retreating - apparently the British were unfamiliar with the concept of open danger areas. This long exposure to fire explains the high number of British fatalities and casualties.

Meanwhile, Thornton's troops overran the American artillery on the west bank. There were two problems, however: the retreating Americans sabotaged the artillery, and by the time Thornton arrived, the battle on the opposite bank was over.

The overall battle took no more than two hours.


Jackson’s forces suffered 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing or captured. Packenham suffered 291 dead, 1262 wounded, and 484 missing or captured. Among the fatalities were three of the British commanders: Gibbs, Rennie, and Pakenham himself. John Keene was wounded. No American commanders were killed.


Greene, J. (n.d.). The New Orleans Campaign of 1814-1815 in relation to the Chalmette Battlefield. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Last retrieved 13 February 2024 from

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. (n.d.) Troop movement map, New Orleans Campaign, 1814-1815: Engagement of January 8, 1815. United States Department of the Interior / National Park Service. Last retrieved 14 February 2024 from

Roosevelt, T. (1882). The Naval War of 1812, or the history of the United States Navy during the last war with Great Britain, to which is appended an account of the Battle of New Orleans. G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

American Mission Command vs German Auftragstaktik

When considering the role that command philorophies played in the Battle of France, one must ask if our current concept of mission command matches Germany’s Auftragstaktik?

Taken at face value (commanders specify objective while leaving means up to individuals), mission command is brilliant for skirmishes as performed by the French Maquis and other insurgency forces. The mission goal and timeframe are set by de Gaulle or other distant allied commanders, the maquisards kill the bad guys and break their stuff, while semi-politicians like Jean Moulin endeavored to hold together the non-rural factions (the French Resistance, not the Maquis who operated primarily in rural areas). Given the perhaps romanticized psychology of the Maquis, as well as the necessity for decentralized organization and the faster OODA looping that comes from local control, mission command is a perfect match for them.

Vandergriff (2018) gives a more comprehensive description of Auftragstaktik – instead of focusing on command and control, he describes it primarily as a form of professionalism and cultural philosophy expected of all members of the German Army: “subordinates could be trusted to take the action he thought appropriate, rather than stopping and waiting until contact could be re-established. This aggressive attitude allowed units to take advantage of fleeting opportunities and local successes.”

Vandergriff (2018) goes on to identify three virtues that German officers required: “knowledge, independence, and the joy of taking responsibility.” These virtues are expressed in Innere Führung, which the German Major General Werner Widder (2002) describes as leadership and civic education and is the foundation of the relationship between the individual soldier and society.

Thus, Vandergriff’s virtues not only describe the character of German officers but makes Auftragstaktik a natural corollary instead of a forced doctrine: German professionalism implies mission command, but not necessarily the reverse.

It is interesting to note that while command and control has been official doctrine in the U.S. Army from 1980 (Kiser 2015), a set of corresponding virtues wasn’t released until 2023 in the Air Force’s doctrine on mission command. These virtues - character, competence, capability, cohesion, and capacity (U.S. Air Force, 2023) - show a maturation of U.S. doctrine to something closer to a complete version of Germany’s Auftragstaktik.


Kiser, A. J. (May 2015) “Mission command: The historical roots of mission command in the US Army.” Defense Technical Information Center. Last retrieved on 28 January 2024 from

U.S. Air Force. (14 August 2023). “Air Force doctrine publication 1-1: Mission Command” Retrieved on 28 January 2024 from

Vandergriff, D. E. (21 June 2018). “How the Germans defined Auftragstaktik: What mission command is – and – is not” Small Wars Journal. Retrieved 28 January 2024 from

Widder, W. (2002). “Auftragstaktik and Innere Führung: Trademarks of German leadership” Military Review, September-October 2002. Retrieved on 28 January 2024 from

Explaining Gamelin's Defeat at the Battle of France

General Maurice Gamelin’s hubris and self-delusion certainly played a role in France's defeat, but were those the only reasons for that defeat?

The willful ignorance of the geography and history surrounding the Ardennes Forest wasn’t limited to just a few military leaders but seemed to be widespread throughout the top levels of the French military. How did this institutional rot become so widespread? Here are two theories that may explain this:

  1. The “blinded by science” theory: the French saw Germany’s use of blitzkrieg in the invasion of Poland in 1939, and they failed to grasp the significance of it. This is akin to when one chess player doesn’t understand his opponent’s strategy mid-game. The world was seeing a revolution in heavy mechanized warfare, and the French didn’t understand the scope of its applicability.
  2. The “historical materialism theory”: during the interwar years, France was a hotbed of Marxist-influenced thought, and Marxists are extremely comfortable with revising history to fit their narrative. The result is that history becomes detached from reality and is instead grounded in wishful thinking and the eternal Year Zero. This may be why Gamelin discounted the results of the 1939 summer exercises – the historical materialist would say that what happened last year has no bearing on the present beyond the repositioning of economic classes, followed by even more word salad.

Both theories may be grasping at straws, and it would be very difficult to either prove or disprove them. A little scrap of information supporting the second theory comes from Pétain, who attributed the French defeat to “the work of 30 years of Marxism,” (Langer, 2013) but this can be his attempt to shift the blame. Another quote of his (Giannelia, 1941) is that “France will become again what she should never have ceased to be, an essentially agricultural nation. Like the giant of mythology, she will recover all her strength by contact with the soil,” thoughts that would be echoed by Pol Pot 30 years later.


Giannelia, P. (1941). “France returns to the soil”. Land and Freedom. Retrieved 28 Jan 2024 from

Langer, H. J. (2013). World War II: An encyclopedia of quotations. Greenwood Publishing Group.