Benefits from the Mq-9 Reaper

Strike operations and the loss of maneuver in the global war on terror

Walking up to the second floor of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines command post, it is right there on the wall, a photo of a Marine staring you in the face seemingly ready to bowl you over, sprinting at you through the drywall. In the background lies another Marine in the grass behind an M249 squad automatic weapon, laying down a base of fire, thus permitting the oncoming Marine to move. If the message in the picture alone is not enough, just below the image it reads, “Fire without movement is a waste of ammunition. Movement without fire is suicide.” It’s a philosophy in how we, as Marines, live or die, and yet it is the subject of much debate. The purpose of this article, however, is not to continue this debate. Instead, I wish to discuss the failure of intelligence to capitalize, through maneuver, on strike operations, particularly as it relates to counterterrorism operations.

Gen Joseph Dunford, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, recently stated at the first Marine Corps Association Intelligence Awards dinner, “You can’t think about maneuver warfare without thinking about intelligence.”1 Presumably Gen Dunford is referencing the use of intelligence in identifying gaps (or critical vulnerabilities) to exploit a center of gravity within the enemy. The implication, then, is that once a critical vulnerability has been identified and forces “maneuver” toward the objective, the task of intelligence and its role in maneuver warfare is complete – the essence of intelligencedriven operations. Put in this way, any scholar of conflict, particularly Gen Dunford himself, would argue otherwise. And yet it seems to be the case in regard to intelligence-driven strike operations, particularly as it relates to drone strikes in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere.

For those who have participated in some capacity in the global war on terror, the importance of intelligence is well understood, both throughout the operation and, in particular, postOperation. John Schmitt writes in Understanding Maneuver as the Basis for a Doctrine, “The conceptual starting point for Maneuver is the desire to gain and exploit advantage.”2 This latter tenet is not lost on the Marine Corps as it relates to intelligence. During predeployment training, Marines throughout infantry units are taught how to tactically debrief one another to gather possible intelligence gained from patrols or firefights. In fact, Capt Adolf Von Schell in Battle Leadership argues that the attack may be “the only device which can reveal the strength, dispositions, and intentions of the enemy.”3 In regard to postOperation practices, the Marine Corps in particular has invested millions in the law enforcement professional program and tactical site exploitation courses and tools and has developed tactical questioning practices for the most junior Marine in order to exploit or collect potential intelligence during postOperation after-action reviews. Yet all of this is for naught in the conduct of strike operations.

The 8 October 2011 edition of The Economist states that unmanned aircraft systems have become “the counter-terrorism weapon of choice.” According to the article, under President Barack Obama, drone strikes in Pakistan alone have increased to one in every 4 days from one in every 40 under former President George W. Bush.4 This still does not account for strikes in Somalia or Yemen, such as the one that killed American citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki on 30 September 2011. John Schmitt states, “Skillful Maneuver uses firepower to create or exploit advantage, not simply to grind the enemy down cumulatively.”5 However effective these strikes may be in dismantling insurgent leadership or “grinding down the enemy,” the full value of these strikes, particularly the intelligence value, is lost without maneuver. Infantry in Battle further adds that there must be effective fire combined with skillful movement.6 While the context may be emphasizing effective fire in support of movement, it is not lost that it is to be combined with movement. In the realm of intelligence and the fight against a faceless enemy, this is ever more important. The ability to collect documents, cell phones, computers, or even stunned enemy personnel on the ground would undoubtedly lead to greater intelligence on contacts as well as future operational planning and targets, thereby enhancing the speed with which to capture or kill further targets before they go underground. Further, it may permit an early warning for enemy targeted people and sites. The old adage, “dead men don’t talk,” no longer holds true if combined with effective maneuver specifically tasked to gather such intelligence. Those who doubt this only need to look at the operation that ultimately killed Osama bin Laden and the reported “treasure trove” of intelligence gained at the site.7

The Marine Corps may be able to aid in this critical component to counterterrorism operations. The MEU platform is ideally set up to capitalize on just such operations, particularly in Yemen and Somalia where the Navy and Marines have a continuous presence just off the coast. Already in recent years, they have played a considerable role in strike operations through use of C-1 30 refuelers and the AV-8B. Particularly with the recent integration of the V-22 Osprey on MEUs and a capable force reconnaissance platoon and radio reconnaissance team, trained in special insertion and extraction techniques, the Marine Corps is ideal for use in the gathering of much needed poststrike intelligence. Either prepositioned near a proposed strike site or loitering above a target in either the C- 130 or V- 22, force reconnaissance members are ideally placed to respond immediately following strike operations. There are at least two benefits to having a maneuver force at the ready One is, as discussed, to gather intelligence poststrike. The second reason, particularly if prepositioned, is to ensure the protection of unexpected civilians on the battlefield, as well as to ensure that the target is destroyed as desired. This prevents a target from becoming a legend in unsuccessful attempts to destroy him and further prevents wellplanned retaliatory attacks (assuming the target is a well-skilled operational planner). It also positions them for a potential capture, a position more ideal than the strike itself. Though such operations are perhaps not possible in every situation, such as a strike in or near an urban center, there have been numerous opportunities to execute this type of mission in open terrain.

This, of course, introduces a delicate balance in introducing fresh boots on the “deck” in countries that may not look favorably on such operations. While I am not well suited to discuss diplomatic concerns, it is worth discussing the risks associated with having Marines on the ground in hostile territory. Those who argue what this article proposes may point to the fact that drone strikes are carried out by drones; i.e., American lives are far from the danger and risk associated with such missions. This is one of the key reasons for the use of such vehicles, along with their ability to loiter for hours, awaiting the perfect opportunity to strike. It could be argued, however, that although servicemen may not be in close proximity to such strike operations, these operations do not make Americans invulnerable to retaliatory strikes and counterattacks by those whom we target. It cannot be forgotten that we are in a global war on terror. Clausewitz states that “action in War … is never out of the sphere of danger.”8 Technology does not negate this statement. Victor Davis Hanson sums it up well in The Father of Us All: War and History. He states:

What remains the same (in current and past wars) is the age-old calculation of how to use and protect precious infantry for tasks that even the most sophisticated technology cannot quite absorb. As long as war involves what Thucydides called ‘the human thing/ even in our brave new world of war to come, there will be a need for real live soldiers walking amid the robots to . . . survey and assess the carnage of the battlefield.9

In other words, to gain full advantage of strike missions in counterterrorism operations, we must begin to consider maneuver. After all, “fire without movement is a waste of ammunition.”

. . . to gain full advantage of strike missions in counterterrorism operations, we must begin to consider maneuver.

TAe “M” designates multiple; the “U” means unmanned aircraft system. (Photo found at httptf


1. Dunford, Gen Joseph, speech to the Marine Corps Association’s Intelligence Awards dinner, available at: hqmc/Pages/Marineshonoredforintelligence. aspx, accessed 21 November 2011.

2. Schmitt, Maj(Sel) John F., “Understanding Maneuver as the Basis for a Doctrine,” Marine Corps Gazette, Quantico, August 1990, p. 91.

3. Von Schell, Capt Adolf, “Battle Leadership,” The Benning Herald, Fort Benning, GA, 1933, pp. 66-72, reprinted by the Marine Corps Association Bookstore, Quantico, 1987.

4. “Flight of the Drones: Why the future of air power belongs to unmanned systems,” The Economist^ New York, 8 October 2011, p. 30.

5. Ibid., p. 7.

6. Infantry in Battle, The Infantry Journal, Inc., Washington, DC, 1939, reprinted by the Marine Corps Association Bookstore, Quantico, 1982.

7. Available at news/article-1383351/Osama-Bin-Laden-deadWill-intelligence-lair-lead-US-Al-Qaedas-No2. html, accessed 21 November2011.

8. Von Clausewitz, Carl, On War, translated by Col JJ. Graham, Barnes & Noble, Inc., Lyndhurst, NJ, 2004, p. 115.

9. Hanson, Victor Davis, The Father of Us All: War and History, Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2010, p. 155.