Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Belmont Club: Do You Hear the People Sing?

The Belmont Club: Do You Hear the People Sing?

Belmont Club commenter Red River makes the interesting conjecture that rioting "youths" in Paris have confined their primary mode of attack to car burning as part of a deliberate brinkmanship. Car burning is spectacular, serious enough to get attention yet -- and this is the vital point -- not serious enough to provoke lethal force. By staying just shy of the threshold, the rioters can maximize their rate of propagation at minimum danger to themselves. Other commenters have noted how small groups of "youths", coordinated by cell phone, can gather to attack and disperse before a response can be mounted. A BBC article describes some of the cut and thrust.

Police reported 1,295 vehicle burnings and made 312 arrests as unrest in African and Arab communities spread to Strasbourg, Toulouse and Nantes. On the 10th consecutive night of riots, four cars were torched on Place de la Republique in central Paris along with others in the central 17th District. ... Police helicopters patrolled the skies over the capital, attempting to pursue and identify those responsible for the attacks.

Using expensive rotary wing assets to chase car arsonists isn't an economical proposition, especially when you can't fire on the arsonists. The ability to torch cars in the Place de la Republique is a good gauge of the limits of police response time. All in all, the tactic of car burning provides definite advantages to the attacker and many disadvantages for the defender. The tactics of the "youths" may have evolved spontaneously, and probably did. Nevertheless, because form follows function, they bear an eerie resemblance to tactics employed by the Chechens against the Russian Army in Grozny, and may have been fertilized by ideas from that source. A Parameters article describes how the Chechens gave the Russians the run-around.

The principal Chechen city defense was ... to remain totally mobile and hard to find. ... Hit-and-run tactics made it difficult for the Russian force to locate pockets of resistance and impossible to bring their overwhelming firepower to bear against an enemy force. Russian firepower was diluted as a result and could be used only piecemeal. Chechen mobile detachments composed of one to several vehicles (usually civilian cars or jeeps) transported supplies, weapons, and personnel easily throughout the city. Chechens deployed in the vicinity of a school or hospital, fired a few rounds, and quickly left. ... they moved in groups as large as 200 at times, showing up in cars with guns blazing. The more typical Chechen combat group was a three- or four-man cell. Five of these cells were usually linked into a 15- to 20-man unit that fought together.

Hit and run tactics against relatively slow responding forces are a good choice. Against faster responding forces they are less effective. (As an aside, insurgents in Iraq believed Grozny-stle tactics could defeat US forces in cities such as Fallujah, but suffered huge casualties due to the overhead surveillance capability of US forces, largely provided by UAVs, and its networked battle force.)

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