- It Takes More than a Network: The Iraqi Insurgency and Organizational Adaptation by Chad Serena
At the end of World War II, the United States decided that it needed to try and determine the effectiveness of its strategic bombing campaign over Germany. In the resulting Strategic Bombing Survey, the Pentagon research team that included future secretary of defense Robert McNamara employed a methodology called operations research.
The essential objective of operations research was (and remains) to apply hard-scientific and engineering methodologies to, in this case, the impact of the Allied bomber offensive. The research team was surprised by what they found: the accuracy of the bombing campaign was far less than had been believed and German war production continued to increase throughout the bomber offensive. The actual strategic impact of the bombing [End Page 149] campaign that set the stage for the Allied occupation of Germany and the reconstitution of the country as a democratic republic and Cold War ally lay outside the scope of the survey. Indeed these wider lessons remained lost on McNamara and his colleagues amid the subsequent decisions that led to the creation of the US Air Force and adoption of its strike warfare doctrinal theories.
America’s subsequent fascination with targeting adversaries established a kind of genealogy that is important to understand and provides context for books such as Chad Serena’s It Takes More than a Network that seeks to digest, deconstruct, and (hopefully) understand what happened to America’s land forces during its decade-plus of irregular war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this case, Serena takes on the challenge of applying network theory as an analytical tool to understand the insurgency in Iraq that appeared following the US invasion in 2003.
Any reader of this review might justifiably wonder what the Strategic Bombing Survey has to do with a book on the Iraq insurgency. The answer is that the conundrums of confronting the insurgency essentially returned America’s armed forces once more to an operations research–based approach that found its expression in network theory and analysis as targeting tools to destroy the enemy.
As the insurgency unfolded inside Iraq, intelligence cells employed social network analysis on a massive scale as they sought to build an understanding of their enemy. Tactical operations centers around Iraq and Afghanistan soon saw walls of their compounds taken up with pictures of bad guys with lines connecting them to their other insurgent associates. The link nodal analysis, constructed with intelligence provided by intercepted phone calls and the array of surveillance sensors deployed to the field were used to provide commanders with that which they sought most: a target list with which to pursue and destroy the enemy.
Over America’s more than 14 years of irregular war in Iraq and Afghanistan, its armies perfected the art of insurgent network construction and network destruction. These methodologies, which had been extensively developed used by the Special Forces, gradually migrated their way to the conventionally structured units in both of America’s wars. In short, America’s armed forces got very good at identifying and killing their insurgent enemies — a fact not lost on those being targeted.
Serena’s book must be seen as a product of this era and linked at least epistemologically to the theories of strike warfare and target destruction that began to take shape after World War II. In the 1990s, with the advent of the so-called revolution in military affairs, warfare was again conceived of as exercise in target destruction that could be enabled and abetted by engineering technologies and methodologies that led to a new vocabulary of war under the rubric of network centric warfare. In Iraq and Afghanistan, network centric war became married to the methods of counterinsurgency that were championed by David Petraues, Stanley McChrystal (among others) and a host of experts, such as David Kilcullen, that fanned out in the military to advise US troops on how to win.
Serena sets about the task of applying network...