The essential elements of Operational Art, according to Shimon Naveh’s In Pursuit of Military Excellence, consist of two concepts: udar and obkhod. Both terms are Russian and originate in the theoretical innovations of the Red Army leading up the purges of 1937-38. Naveh argues that the Russians were the first to understand that the complexity and increasing depth of modern warfare required thinking systemically about military competition. Operational thus thus exposed the limitations and weaknesses in traditional Clausewitzian military theory, with its emphasis on linear attrition and single battles of annihilation.
Udar embodies the concept of operational shock, an action that disrupts the goal-oriented function of an opposing military system. In terms of conventional war, udar is performed through the use of columnar strikes into the physical depth of the adversary’s rear positions. Doing so permits the fragmentation and isolation of the individual components of adversary’s military system, thereby preventing the system from achieving its operational aim.
Closely related is the concept of obkhod, meaning inversion, or a turning maneuver. Obkhod is the highest form of udar, and exists as an operational pattern that effects the aim of udar (fragmentation, disruption, isolation).
Mechanically, it represented the leverage effect, created by the sudden accumulation of a strike mass on the deep end of the penetration axis. Cognitively, it represented the reverse in the defending commander’s consciousness, that derived from recognizing his inability to control the situation. (212)
As created by the Russians and later put into practice by the United States military (see AirLand Battle), operational theory was conceptually developed for conventional warfare between state military forces. However, Kilcullen’s Accidental Guerrilla is replete with terminology and concepts entirely congruent with Operational Theory. In his case study of US counterinsurgency efforts in Kunar province from 2006 to 2008, Kilcullen repeatedly makes use of the term ‘maneuver’ in describing the political actions that must be taken by counterinsurgents to separate insurgents from the population. If we conceive of the insurgent military system as including both regular Taliban fighters and subversive elements within individual villages, then executing such a maneuver has the effect of disrupting and isolating that system.
In particular, Kilcullen explains how the US military used the process of road construction in Kunar to create political ties to local tribes. These are tactical actions that go well beyond simply the military application of force, but instead consist of a ‘full-spectrum’ of political and development actions that alter the configuration of loyalties and allegiances among Afghans.
[P]rojects like the road provided a source of patronage, employment, and income to the tribes, which traditional leaders, in conjunction with representatives of the Afghan state, were able to disburse to the people, thus cementing their positions of influence, reestablishing tribal cohesion and social norms, and undermining radicals in the tribal power structure and their external extremist sponsors. The road – not the road itself, but the process of constructing it – became for some the means of restoring and reintegrating the tribe’s honor and cohesion, regaining their status, and redressing the erosion of social structure caused by war and extremism.” (82)
The process of road construction thus reconstructs the social and political dynamics of local Afghan politics to the detriment of the Taliban. The emphasis here is not so much on engaging the enemy directly, as per a Clausewitzian approach. Instead, such tactics only inflame the insurgency and create more accidental guerrillas. This is trying to engage in attrition prior to attaining operational shock. Instead, the process of road construction and persistent presence among the people creates the conditions whereby contact with the enemy always put it a disadvantage: the Taliban’s own attacks against counterinsurgents embedded among the people always lead to their attrition. One colonel’s precise explanation:
It may seem on the surface to be less offensively oriented than repetitive raiding, but if you establish persistent presence in the correct places, the enemy has to come fight you…So, persistent presence, correctly done, can force the enemy to come to you on your terms – this is the true initiative.” (96-97)
Thus, embedding with the people – the organizational depth of the insurgency – constitutes the operational maneuver that creates attritional conditions leading to the destruction of the Taliban. Separated from the people, the insurgency cannot attain its organizational goal. Thus, persistent presence is the operational pattern, or obkhod, that inverts the insurgent military system. By stealing the initiative by protecting the people, counterinsurgents attack the cognitive foundations of the insurgent organization by denying it the ability to control the situation. The people are thus literally separated from insurgent consciousness. Political maneuvers in counterinsurgency, as described by Kilcullen, demonstrate the application of operational art in non-state warfare.