Its occurred to me that since Twitter is a shitty imageboard complete with random bans, tripcode users (the notorious blue tick), and unaccountable admins, I should probably backup whatever Twitter content I produce that shows a flash of insight. So here’s two recent threads people seemed to like. They are unmodified from the originals.
— Urban warfare: rhizomes and rubble
Seeing those pictures of Mosul devastated, and seeing the same thing happening, on a smaller scale, in Raqqa has me thinking. Before the Great War we saw microcosms of the mass destruction and suffering that was to come in various colonies and other small wars. Concentration camps in South Africa against the Boers. Machine guns slaughtering massed infantry and cavalry, as witnessed by Churchill. Bombs being dropped for the first (and not the last) time in Libya. Many other such examples, point being it was all laid out before us, ready to be combined into a phenomenally brutal and traumatic event.
As people are saying, urban combat is now the norm not the exception as it was a century ago. Mosul does more than echo Stalingrad. It points the way towards average level of destruction that can be expected from any large scale war, in any city fought over. Daesh was resilient, well-organized, and fanatical. But they weren’t the best trained, equipped, or even experienced combatants. (In Mosul). All the same, the destruction required to root them out was excessive, the entire process costing 40% of Iraq’s spec ops. Never mind the civilian trauma. What we see in Mosul, soon enough Raqqa, is the future devastation of any European, American, etc. city. That is, if there’s another large-scale war. Not necessarily a World War, though it must be said all wars are essentially global now. Jihadis from the world over fought for Daesh, same as self-styled revolutionaries flocked to serve in Rojava’s international brigades. The US, from well over the Atlantic and Mediterranean horizon, intervened, as did Russia, Qatar, SA, Iran, Turkey, and many others. Few, if any, significant conflicts are fought in isolation from global capitalism and thus away from the eyes of its major states.
Urban combat is not new; what is unsettling is how ferocious it has become. Precision weapons are no small influence on this. Hypothetically, if the US and Russia were to marshal their forces on a flat plain and fight, the result would be Pyrrhic for any victor. The Soviets recognized this in the 1980s, IIRC, as a new military revolution in progress; one potentially more destructive than nukes. How so? Because there would be no restriction on the use of these precision weapons. Their mass deployment would result in mass destruction. Not the kind that churned the fields of Europe into a bloody pulp, but the kind that would render openly deployed armies mere targets. Aside from the usual stuff, like contesting air superiority, the only option was to enter an environment where you were less of a target.
Enter the city. Daesh learned the lessons of the Viet Cong very well in this regard (their love of tunnels), and many other conflicts. Walking through walls, “inverse geometry“, is a way of evading the sight of precision weapons. If the enemy uses buildings as, essentially, rhizomes, then it often becomes impossible to destroy the enemy without destroying their cover. “Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and positions, the rhizome is made only of lines”—Deleuze and Guattari. “[T]he rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detatchable, connectable, reversable, modifiable and has multiple entranceways and exits and its own lines of flight.” In this way, any city can become a rhizome in urban combat. Add tunnels in, and the result is a truly byzantine complex of death awaiting those who do not utilize mass destruction to compromise it.
The Israeli army was probably the first to assign post-structuralist texts like D&G in response to their experiences in places like Lebanon. Thousands of soldiers/guerrillas can maneuver through the urban rhizome but very few are simultaneously visible from the air. This is a marked change from traditional urban combat, which took place the streets, alleyways, lanes, and roads. What Daesh has demonstrated that even a relatively small number of soldiers crammed into around 250m2 can be tenacious. Provided they are 1) networked, and 2) operate in a rhizome, perhaps with tunnels to boot. Add their IEDs, drones and it’s a slaughter. This kind of combat simply impracticable outside of a city. Plausible in a jungle, as demonstrated in the Vietnam war, but not at its best. Daesh has been unable to hold vast swathes of desert and scattered villages with anything like the iron grip they’ve kept on many cities.
A December 2016 document highlights the increasing recognition by the US that combat in “megacities” will be a feature of future warfare. “[C]ities are in some ways a great leveler in warfare, negating many of the advantages of high technology”. The need for an “urban warfare” school is also on the agenda (as of April 2017). “The Army is fighting in cities today,” Spencer wrote. “It will find itself fighting in cities in the future.” What we are seeing, in Mosul, in Aleppo, in Raqqa, is not the future of urban warfare but its current reality. The mass destruction, the horrific toll on civilians, the increased ferocity, the perilous and ingenious traps, all in the urban rhizome.
The war in Syria, the “civil” war, the small war, which has displaced millions and killed thousands upon thousands, is the current model. All you need to do is scale it up. Just as what could have been done a century ago. The evidence is right there in front of us. Instead of tens of thousands of soldiers, think hundreds of thousands, even millions. Think megacities like Tokyo becoming like Mosul. In a situation like this, where a megacity becomes an urban rhizome, where even precision weapons are blunted, what could be the outcome? What’s the easiest way to destroy the rhizome without engaging in what could potentially be the most protracted warfare since the trenches?
Do I need to say it?
That specter is still very much with us. It hangs over this small war in Syria, as the US and Russia jostle for position. I haven’t covered everything here, but I think the main thrust has achieved its purpose. We see an embryo of warfare here. Just as Engels saw the embryo of the Great War shortly before his death. Warfare that seems difficult to imagine. But Syria has shown us.