The ancient contest between the professional soldier and the amateur warrior is running stronger than ever, with the usual flavor being that of Western troops against Jihadist insurgents and terrorists in and around the Middle East. The results have been mixed, often because Western militaries remain fixated on conventional warfare (a traditional area of excellence) and so often neglect the hard-won lessons of historic encounters with Muslim combatants.
John H. Poole had spent 28 years in the United States Marine Corps, starting in 1965, and has spent his retirement years writing studies of the particulars of small unit combat. His recent study Tactics of the Crescent Moon: Militant Muslim Combat Methods (Posterity Press, North Carolina, 2004) reviews a history of Islamic guerrilla tactics with frequent references to the experiences of the last few years. Poole points out Islamic societies have traditionally been good at raiding/guerrilla style warfare; and usually are best at informal small unit tactics that swarm all around their opponents. Large-scale unit cohesion and individual discipline are not their strengths. In guerrilla warfare, Islamic insurgents make use of their whole community, particularly to provide constant surveillance of hostile soldiers; and they frequently rehearse extensively before delivering an attack. On the other hand, as guerrillas they tend to be sloppy about their security and defences. Poole points out that, with the aid of trainers from North Korea and Iran, a number of the deficiencies in their battle skills are improving. All in all, a useful if disturbing book.