PREPARING FOR WARFARE’S SUBTERRANEAN FUTURE
by Benjamin Runkle
Amidst the myriad mistakes associated with the Iraq War, perhaps none were as costly in terms of lives of U.S. personnel as the failure to anticipate the threat posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and, subsequently, to rapidly develop technologies capable of detecting and defeating the insurgents’ deadly innovation. Despite the extensive use of IEDs in conflicts in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, and Southern Lebanon, and the loss of U.S. personnel to IEDs in Somalia, U.S. policymakers and the military were caught unprepared for these devices that by one estimate were responsible for 64 percent of all U.S. combat deaths through 2007.
The defense community, however, has an opportunity to avoid repeating this error in regards to another potential operational threat if it does a better job drawing lessons from last year’s conflict between Hamas and Israel than it did from the various guerrilla conflicts of the 1980s. Operation Protective Edge demonstrated both the tactical challenges and strategic threat posed by subterranean warfare (i.e. tunnels), which is likely to proliferate in the coming years as weaker combatants seek to evade detection and targeting by air assets.
Hamas’s extensive use of tunnels during last summer’s conflict is only the most recent example of a combatant attempting to gain advantage by going underground. In June 2006, a joint Hamas/Jaish al-Islam unit infiltrated from Gaza into Israel through a tunnel whose opening was about 100 meters from the border in Israeli territory, killing two Israeli soldiers and kidnapping Gilad Shalit, who was eventually traded for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Between the end of Operation Cast Lead (January 2009) and Operation Pillar of Defense (November 2012), Hamas expanded its system of tunnels and underground bunkers throughout the Gaza Strip by one estimate devoting 40 percent of its budget to the project. This extensive tunnel network — which one Israeli general said stretched for “dozens and dozens of kilometers” — offered cover and concealment for infrastructure, command functions and commanders, forces, weapons, and ammunition. As noted in a recent report by five retired generals sponsored by JINSA, this network made it almost impossible for Israeli airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets to detect or prevent movement of fighters, supplies, munitions, and weapons.
The tunnels beneath protected sites, such as the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, are believed to have housed Hamas’s senior operational leadership during the fighting, thereby increasing the terrorist group’s defensive resiliency and prolonging the conflict by making it more difficult for Israel to target a key Hamas center of gravity. The tunnels were also integral to Hamas’s rocket operations, as they opened briefly to launch rockets and then immediately closed to prevent the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) from detecting the launchers’ location. This made it extremely difficult to detect and target them in real time, and allowed Hamas to continuously launch rockets into Israel throughout the conflict.
Read the Rest at: War on the Rocks.
Check out this ARTICLE on how the Taliban use ancient irrigation ditches called “Karez Systems” to move men and arms.
Stay Alert, Stay Armed, Stay Underground and Stay Dangerous!