Saturday, February 04, 2006
  Ralph Peters On Attrition
There is no power on earth ... that can defeat the United States. But, ... we are wonderfully adept at defeating ourselves. ... The lessons of recent wars, which we willfully misread, are many. Among them are that there is no substitute for shedding the enemy’s blood in adequate quantities ...

The phrase “wars of attrition” calls to mind the slaughter ... in the First World War. We are conditioned to react with repugnance to the very words. ... Attrition is what warfare is about: killing the enemy. War is a knife fight, not a game of chess.

Attrition is the essence of warfare, not something to be avoided—and no rule says that attrition must be fairly distributed. The well-fought war inflicts catastrophic attrition on the enemy, while limiting friendly casualties to numbers that can be readily sustained. ... An enemy must see his ranks reduced until he is helpless—or fears an impending helplessness so profoundly that he bends unconditionally to our will.

We want a war without serious consequences for either side. But that is not war. Our enemies know it, even if we deny it. Our enemies are irrational in their goals, but practical in their techniques. We are idealistic in our goals and impractical in the limits we impose upon our own power.

We hope to make war and, at the same time, to make people happy. It is, perhaps, the most illogical strategic position in history, and we end by waging war insufficiently, while alienating populations anyway.

Warfare was, is, and will be about killing the enemy until his cause is no longer viable. The enemy must be convinced of his defeat ... There is no way to soften the matter.

After the end of our first Gulf war, Saddam Hussein could claim he had not been vanquished. And he was correct. He retained power. ... Incredibly, we talked ourselves into doing all we could to minimize enemy casualties and physical destruction again in Operation Iraqi Freedom. ... A fundamental rule about such conflicts is that, if you are unwilling to pay the butcher’s bill up front, it will be much higher in the end. ... If we lack the strength of will to kill our enemies, they certainly do not lack the will to kill us.

If we are to prevail in the conflicts with which the coming decades will present us, we must overcome the notion that we can force warfare to conform, psychologically and practically, to a comfortable etiquette. We cannot simply persuade our enemies that they have been defeated. We must convince them.

The Global War on Terror is a war of attrition in its essence. If one religious fanatic is left alive, he will continue to try to strike us. ... Even if we can’t “kill our way out of the problem,” we can make the problem a great deal smaller by killing the right people.

From "Virtuous Destruction, Decisive Speed" by Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, U.S. Army (Retired)
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Retired from the US Air Force after more than 20 years of service. Now working as a contractor for various government agencies.

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