It’s no secret that peacetime, while greatly desired, leads to an atrophied and often complacent military force. The endless garrison duties and training exercises are important but can lead to the ever present foe of monotony. Prior to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, many Western militaries had been on a low operational tempo, only occasionally broken up by low-tempo deployments such as the KFOR mission in Kosovo.
With the severe reduction of NATO security forces on their missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, these armies will once again return to their barracks and firing ranges. Georgia, with its last contingent having returned to the homeland, will have to begin ensuring that the next inevitable conflict will not catch them unprepared, this being something easier said than done.
However, this does not simply mean more time spent marching and camping in the field. Rather, it will necessitate a deep examination of what their next conflict will look like, and what they will need to do to win. Broadly, these most likely can be separated into two categories: defense against Russia and the next foreign NATO operation.
With increased aggression and internal military movements, as well as new brigades being raised, it’s clear the bear is not sleeping. Given Putin’s lust for expansionism, it’s only a matter of time until they return to not just seize their Black Sea mistress, but also end the growing NATO presence in the Caucasus. Strategically, they have the positioning to allow a rapid influx of forces to arrive behind the existing troops in the occupied territories. From as close as Vladikavkaz, Grozny, and Stavropol, a multitude of divisions can be in the deployment zone in hours, not days.
Since 2008, the Russian military has seen a series of reforms and nearly uncountable equipment upgrades. Should they come, they will not be the same force Georgia faced before, and far more prepared to finish what they started 13 years ago. From individual and vehicle weapon systems to advanced Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) technologies, Georgia will see fighting in streets, the sky, and most importantly in cyberspace. Electronic Warfare (EW) systems have been added to even Russian company and battalion level units, adding to the complexity commanders will face in the field.
To face this new advanced threat, Georgia has to revise its entire battle plan. Conducting force-on-force training exercises with a near-enemy force will not suffice. The recent NATO-led events have been designed to fit this Cold War model of fighting. Georgia will have to take pages from their former enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq to fight the enemy in a way they may never have done so before.
Light, asymmetric, and irregular combat training will need to become essential for Georgian servicemembers, particularly to defeat ISR and EW operations. Sabotage, raid, ambush, and information warfare will become the watchwords for the Georgians operating in this environment. Warfighters will need to be prepared for fighting a very different style, emulating their Taliban counterparts and less their traditional NATO allies. Barbarous as it may be, it will most assuredly be the only strategy to ensure a future for a free Georgia.
One particular book, The Other Side of the Mountain; Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War, written by Mujahideen commander Ali Ahmad Jalali and retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel Lester Grau and published in 1995, is a resource providing exceptionally valuable insight for Georgian commanders to explore these tactics.
Georgia’s commitment to NATO and its future ascension is imperative not only for its own sovereignty, but also essential as a partner for global security. As a part of this force for good, Georgia will need to anticipate the next NATO operation, its environment, and its technical and tactical requirements. Planning for this can be difficult, but examining the global threat elements show a need for Counter-Insurgency (COIN) and aggressive peacekeeping operations that draw the need for both regular and irregular tactics.
Having units that are ready to operate perpendicular to standard battle drills and use a combination of civil affairs and Unconventional Warfare (UW) tactics will be much more valuable in future operations. This flexibility will pay dividends in future conflicts, as the majority of the adversaries will be non-state actors and insurgent groups led by a fluid leadership element. The traditional strategy of cutting the head off the proverbial snake does not work anymore when that head regenerates somewhere else.
The old symptoms of victory and defeat no longer apply. There is no grand parade in the capital city of the enemy, with pomp and flair, and crowds of jubilant liberated civilians. Long-term hybrid conflicts with the aim of stability, peacekeeping and peacemaking, as well as ensuring negative foreign actors (Russia and China) are blocked out from their influence. Infrastructure projects and humanitarian assistance packages will take the place of large-scale waves of soldiers and tanks. Georgia, in its NATO involvement, will need to become more sensitive to these subjects.
Georgia’s military has undoubtedly advanced leaps and bounds in the past decade. However, their lessons learned and experiences on the ground in NATO missions should not be left to the wayside. Days and nights spent in the field are valuable, but should not outweigh classroom time spent on the nuances of UW, EF, COIN, and counter-ISR strategy. Whether NATO knows it or not, they need nations like Georgia and Ukraine in their campaign against not only the Russian threat, but for the future of Central Asian diplomacy.
The Georgian Army should advance its education of UW and these other tactics, as this is rapidly becoming the norm. Not just for its special operations elements, but for its regular officer and non-commissioned officer corps as well. Whether fighting an insurgent group in Africa, or against a hybrid Russian force in their homeland, learning to fight like the Mujahideen did in Afghanistan in the 1980s will be essential to undermining their enemies’ ability to operate effectively and keep any hold on the battle space. As the old military adage says, “the regular forces have the watches, but the irregular forces have all the time.”
Op-Ed by Michael Godwin