Maginot Line or Fort Apache? Using forts
to Shape the Counterinsurgency Battlefield
It is an incontestable fact that no kind
of fortress, wheresoever placed, however strongly manned, however
expensively constructed, and however numerous its garrison, has
ever given permanent security to a State-has seldom indeed given
it even temporary protection. Moreover, a fortress once invested
is certain to fall, unless a relieving
field-army can beat the besiegers away. We read in the history
of one generation of the "virgin" fortress of Ingoldstadt
or of Metz, but when we open the records of another generation,
we find that its pride has bitten the dust. In some cases a very
small fort in a well-chosen position may puzzle a general of genius.
As the 19th century
waned and the 20th century dawned, T. Miller-Maguire, a noted, prolific
military writer, disparaged the fortification mentality of the French,
citing the futility of their northern fortifications during the
1800s. In 1899, he scorned French efforts in the Ardennes well before
the failures of those fortifications during World Wars I and II.
Maguire was not alone. Fortifications and fortified
field works have a bad reputation among casual military historians
and experienced generals. The generations after Maguire saw the
Maginot Line bypassed and the vaunted Eban Emael taken easily by
German paratroops and concluded fortifications are expensive, become
obsolete rapidly, and are bypassed easily if not taken. Moreover,
troops garrisoning fortifications are prone to defensive-mindedness
and timidity. Offensive-mindedness and maneuver are preferred to
indecisive, protracted fortification warfare.
Even so, fortifications have served well in
certain strategic contexts and should not be discarded as a contributing
element in strategic military planning, either in the defense or
the offense. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the forts of continental
Europe were deployed in such a way as to promise an invader that,
if he did not take them, the forts' garrisons would play havoc on
his line of communication (LOC) and retreat.2
The forts were located not so much for protection of the area where
they were built but as part of a greater strategy of defense in
depth. They also served expansionist aims by extending and protecting
friendly lines during strategic advances. Even Maguire, while generally
chiming in with the maneuver generals' more recent contempt for
fortifications, included a clear exception when it came to the "works
devised by ourselves to meet the exigencies of irregular warfare.
. . ."3
Fortifications can be an effective part of
an offensive strategy in counterinsurgency and can increase the
probability of success in friendly offensive operations especially
when placed across enemy LOCs. Correctly placed, they contribute
to success in the offense by closing enemy lines of retreat, shortening
the distance in time and space to enemy culminating points, and
lengthening time and distance to friendly culminating points by
improving friendly resupply. Carefully sited fortifications can
shape the battlefield for victory in irregular warfare. Permanent
fortifications were built to strengthen frontiers, serve as forward
bases for offensive operations, control LOCs, secure key passes
and major population centers, and provide an economy of force measure
to free troops to become part of a mobile reserve or an assault
force. As such, fortifications have occupied key geographic sites
that controlled the transportation, political, and economic life
of nations. In spite of the standard criticisms, forts have often
served their purpose admirably. An early American example is Fort
McHenry's contribution to the defense of Baltimore during the War
of 1812. Now such massive old defensive works are military curiosities
and cultural patrimony, but their quaintness should not blind today's
military planners to the viable, vital role fortifications can still
play. Another quote from Maguire helps make the point: "Once
the reader understands that soldiering and fighting are far from
synonymous-that in a campaign combats are occasional while marching
is constant-that before entering into battle a general must be most
careful to secure his line or lines of retreat; he understands the
leading principles of strategy, whether he can define the phrase
to his satisfaction or not. He sees that a general whose road homeward
or to his base is threatened or cut by a superior force must, if
he loses a decisive battle, be ruined as well as defeated; while
a general who has secured his lines of communication will not be
ruined even if defeated, but can fall back, procure recruits, replenish
his wagons, and begin to fight again with a fair prospect of success."4
To the 21st-century practitioner, Maguire's
definition might sound more like operational art than strategy,
but the point is clear and applies to all commanders-guerrilla commanders
included. Whatever the special nature of guerrilla or irregular
warfare, classic military principles still hold some sway. The guerrilla
leader must not allow his LOC, especially his lines of retreat,
to be cut. The commander fighting a counterinsurgency should determine
whether the positioning and architecture of his fortifications and
fortified compounds consider the enemy (or only the friendly) LOCs.
Are his fortifications sited to shape the battlefield to increase
the likelihood of insurgent defeat? Or, are they placed only to
protect friendly LOCs? Worse, are they placed only to protect high-value
targets? If the fortifications are designed only to protect vulnerable
economic targets such as oil pipelines, history suggests they will
ultimately fail, even though such target-hardening might be indispensable
in the near term. If the fortification plan revolves around force
protection and securing fixed lines of friendly communication, the
posts might be immediately useful but fail to contribute to a larger
The venerable 1940 U.S. Marine Corps Small
Wars Manual (based in good part on the U.S. experience in the Philippines
and Central America) recommends establishing fortified advance bases
for logistics support to columns moving inland from the coast.5
After larger groups of hostile forces have been pushed out of an
area, the next step is to establish friendly advance bases and fortified
posts inland for execution of the next phase-the operation of "flying
columns" into the interior.6 "The
particular functions of a fortified post are as follows:
(1) To cover productive areas and their lines
of communication with their markets.
(2) To afford protection to the local population
in that area.
(3) To form a base of supply, rest, replacement,
and information for flying columns. Often . . . it will be found
that conditions will warrant the construction of an entirely new
fortified post. . . ."7
The Marine manual stresses the use of fortifications
for logistic support to the offensive force with less emphasis on
using them to interdict enemy LOCs because identifying the enemy
line of retreat or the insurgent lines of resupply had been difficult.
British and U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine
has long recognized a need to separate insurgents from their sources
of supply and recruits.8 Achieving this
goal has often been more a question of social, legal, and psychological
preparation than of physical geography. Establishing precise physical
insurgent LOCs is a challenge. Nevertheless, it is possible. The
first task is to divide the battlespace into manageable compartments.
The next task has always been to conduct a thorough census and do
the tedious work of identifying and carding the entire population.
Next is developing cadastres (property registries) and creating
family, business, and other association-link diagrams.
Link-pattern analyses, geographic profiling,
association matrices, and the like, especially in complex urban
environments, will disclose bases, routes, territorial boundaries,
and the physical routes of individual insurgent groups.9
On the basis of this intelligence, key geography will emerge where
insurgents could establish new communities, change property relationships,
or regroup in friendly installations.
An El Tiempo article titled "Blocking
FARC Corridors" illuminates a significant aspect of the Colombian
Government's increasingly successful counterinsurgent strategy against
one guerrilla organization.10 In Colombia,
many new, fortified police stations are being placed along known
guerrilla LOCs. The police presence serves to counter the isolation
and marginalization of rural communities affected by the internal
conflict as well as to increase the operational range of friendly
military forces by maintaining supplies. The driving idea behind
the location of the new stations is to change the shape of the Colombian
battlefield by confounding guerrilla resupply and making guerrilla
escape routes less tenable in the face of Colombian military pursuit.
In other words, while police stations will help protect and service
remote communities, the strategic logic for geographic placement
is part of a military offensive plan, not the simple defense of
towns or infrastructure.
The military logic follows an offense-minded
appreciation of Colombia's compartmentalized geography as well as
a mutually supportive relationship between police and military.
The police, anticipating being magnets of attack by the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have suitably fortified the stations.
Correspondingly, the government high command knows any station is
subject to being overrun eventually unless a relief force can be
dispatched on time-"on time" being a concept that depends
on the physical characteristics of the fort as well as the amount
of firepower the guerrilla force can bring to bear.
The war of fortifications in Colombia spans
many types of terrain, including triple-canopy jungle. As government
forces have followed the FARC into jungle terrain, they have encountered
many small, well-camouflaged fortifications protecting drug labs
and LOCs. The government now overruns these positions because the
FARC is no longer able to mount timely relief efforts in sufficient
strength. Once government troops take a FARC fortification, they
often occupy it-unless it is too dangerous to do so because of illicit
drug-related chemicals-in order to sever the FARC's LOC. As each
jungle outpost changes hands, the strategic balance shifts further
toward the government.
In Pakistan, the government established a dozen
new small forts and approximately 60 associated outposts to help
control the Chaman border area across from Afghanistan. As in Colombia,
these Pakistani outposts serve to secure friendly LOCs and provide
bases for extending government control measures to remote areas.
They were conceived to play a role in offensive military operations
to rid the area of Taliban and other guerrilla forces by lying across
enemy LOCs. While the Colombian and Pakistani military situations
are quite distinct, they both effectively incorporate small, semipermanent
fortifications into proactive military strategies.
Fortifications can be permanent or temporary.
They can be large, super-modern government or commercial buildings
or a knocked-together site consisting of barbed wire, an observation
post, and a communications center. They can serve as economy of
force, traffic control, or garrison security measures. But they
can also be used in a network fashion to shape the battlefield by
disrupting enemy movement, fragmenting enemy neighborhoods and safe
havens, and forcing the enemy to abandon key areas. The key is location,
The map shows former Iraqi regime and U.S.
fortifications in relation to oil pipelines and power lines and
in relation to the pri- mary road network. Note that the pattern
of U.S. fortified facilities is linear, while the distribution of
former Iraqi regime fortifications is a network. It appears the
location of fortified U.S. facilities correlates to the existence
of economically vulnerable targets (pipelines, in particular) and
available real estate (airfields and palaces). While this is logical
and normal, the maps also suggest that the placement of former Iraqi
regime fortifications was more suited to internal control; that
is, to combating potential internal challenges as well as providing
defense in depth from external attack. The U.S. fortified positions
do not immediately appear to be an integral part of a comprehensive
offensive strategic plan based on the geography of insurgent logistics
and escape, and in the long run, that might represent a missed opportunity.
Intelligence Support to Fortification Placement
Counterinsurgency commanders usually focus
tactical intelligence collection on finding enemy guerrilla bombers
or the mortar-gunners who endanger friendly troops, but these guerrilla
foot soldiers are also the easiest for an insurgent enemy to replace.
At the other end of the spectrum are the major international players
and money people sponsoring the insurgency. Intelligence operations
and actions against these targets are also commendable, but they
might have limited effect on the immediate counterinsurgency battle.
Strategic or operational intelligence that identifies the insurgent
logistics infrastructure in the theater is often lacking. To be
geographically and, thus, militarily relevant, intelligence should
locate the best sites for friendly fortifications, even if no forts
are put there.
Operational intelligence can identify guerrilla
territory, organization, logistics structure, LOCs, strongholds,
and sanctuaries, and fortifications can then be placed where they
are effective yet not easily assailable. A valley position surrounded
by mountains is probably not a good choice; nor is a one-story police
station in a highrise neighborhood located at the end of a dead-end
street. Fortifications are best situated to dominate their surroundings
and allow rapid deployments in multiple directions. Obviously, it
is not the building itself, but the forces it protects that must
be enabled by location to disrupt guerrilla ability to move, mass,
and transport. The best fortifications are located and constructed
for ease of defense, ease of relief, and ease of launching raids,
sweeps, and counterattacks. Fortifications are often necessary to
support a system of checkpoints, the positioning of which should
also support offensive operations. Like the forts, checkpoints work
best as a network designed to shape the battlefield.
The purpose of fortifications in a counterinsurgency
• Provide the ability to rapidly seal
off distinct, reasonably sized sectors and prevent sector breakouts
or break-ins while the sector is being searched or isolated.
• Improve the ability of lawful forces
to move rapidly and unhindered throughout the area.
• Provide or withhold at will access
to electricity, fuel, water, and food, as well as services such
as medical care, sewage processing, garbage collection, and firefighting.
• Segregate or isolate suspect parts
of the populace from the general population.
• Protect or aid patrols and convoys.
• Dominate, disrupt, and discredit the
• Serve as a constant reminder of the
lawful government and its allies' strength and presence. •
Protect major movement arteries.
• Support networks of checkpoints, both
fixed and mobile.
In an urban environment, well-placed fortifications,
combined with normal city infrastructure such as freeways, tunnels,
railroad yards, rivers, factory blocks, and walls, can seal off
areas and create funneling and filtration points. The idea is not
to flood a city with strongpoints, but to provide enough strongpoints
for control while freeing a reserve for cordon-and-search and other
sector missions. Fortifications (and in the urban setting most of
these will be police stations) should provide control, information,
and ease of action, and deny these to the enemy. If they do not,
they probably should be shut down and moved.
City governments have historically controlled
their populations through bureaucracy, law, religion, and education
• Controlling commodity access.
• Segregating castes, races, classes,
and trouble-prone businesses into designated neighborhoods.
• Controlling movement to and through
key neighborhoods and centers.
• Controlling services.
• Maintaining a system of rewards and
punishments for their citizenry.11
These aspects of control architecture can help
the military and police mission. Many cities have rebuilt key centers
to incorporate control architecture. While appearing to improve
access to an area, this new architecture actually allows a small
security element to control or deny access. Many of these city centers
are self-contained, with their own water, food, and electrical supplies.12
While placement is the first, most critical,
and classic question for planning fortification in a counterinsurgency
strategy, fort locations in large urban areas should incorporate
larger architectural/urban planning-control design elements. In
addition, there are many cutting-edge technologies that can contribute
to the efficiency of an urban fort. For instance, closed-circuit
television (CCTV) is a fact of life in most European, Japanese,
Canadian, and U.S. cities. CCTV monitors high-traffic areas, high-crime
areas, isolated loading docks, passenger terminals, store displays,
parking lots, and the like. The average urban U.S. citizen might
appear on a CCTV screen seven times in the course of a normal day
of city living. Traffic light and speed zone automatic cameras increase
this coverage. CCTV records activities that are important to military
and police missions and should be installed through- out the urban
area, starting with high-incident areas and key facilities. CCTV
and other sensors, mounted on buildings, vehicles, robots, or even
on tethered blimps, provide semipermanent urban and even outlying
rural coverage. The urban fortress provides a safe place to house
or monitor various electronic sensors.
The Operational View
The viability of LOCs and logistics sites is
always a key interest of operational art. Lines of communication
need to be maintained for resupply and the eventuality of retreat.
Guerrilla war might be fought primarily at the tactical level, but
logistics and movement remain operational concerns-for all contestants.
Guerrilla forces must maintain access to their logistics, redoubts,
arms caches, hospitals, and sanctuary areas, both internally and
in neighboring countries. When guerrilla LOCs are disrupted, their
tactical constraints mount, and the probability of tactical advantage
in any given encounter diminishes. A counterinsurgency fortification
system that focuses exclusively on force protection or the protection
of economic targets might be missing an opportunity. The best system
of fortifications is one designed to create operational advantages,
to disrupt guerrilla operational and logistics movements, to shape
the battlefield, to be part of the offense, and to wrong- foot the
Forts are not new, and, perhaps for this reason,
are overlooked in recent military considerations of technological
change. The books Low-Intensity Conflict and Modern Technology,
by David J. Dean, and LIC in 2010, by Rob Paschall, are representative
of recent U.S. approaches to modern counterinsurgency warfare.13
Dean and Paschall discuss light aircraft, nuclear weapons (in low-
intensity war, no less), lasers, simulators, and training methods,
but they do not mention improvised explosives, antipersonnel land
mines, or the organizational technologies associated with kidnapping.
These books reflect an American desire to use technology to help
solve military problems. However, just as the authors misread the
central aspects of the threat environment, they also overlook an
important technological response. Insurgencies end in various ways,
often including political and economic agreements and rarely on
the basis of military actions alone, and certainly not on the application
of a single technology. Fortifications can be one part of a military
and police counterinsurgency effort, but other parts include efficient
bureaucracy, effective intelligence, relevant military and police
training, stable civil-military relations, legitimate governance,
and political will.14
A good fortification plan can contribute to
success in counterinsurgency, but fortification might also present
advantages beyond the confines of military operations. The decisive
and timely display of force is easily understood and can help minimize
the danger of having to exercise that force.15
Some intimidation, therefore, is at times considered a useful part
of gaining respect and conducting a successful counterinsurgency.
Forts can provide the necessary show of force. Also, fixed fortifications
allow foreign contingents to participate in a coalition strategy
without the political exposure of direct offensive action. Finally,
fortified buildings can be constructed for multiple uses so the
eventual success of the strategy does not lead to scrapping the
Because fortification networks can contribute
to offensive counterinsurgency, military engineers might revisit
fortification and control architecture, doctrine writers should
go back and see where forts are missing in the doctrinal literature,
intelligence officers should practice geographic analysis for the
proper placement of fortifications and support to engineers, and
police organizations should con- sider the manning and provisioning
requirements implied by a fortification strategy. Most of all, the
counterinsurgent strategist, on reviewing the locations of his fortified
positions must at least ask the question, If we are not interdicting
enemy LOCs, what are we doing?
1. T. Miller-Maguire, Military
Geography (London: C.J. Clay & Sons, 1899), 184, 186.
2. See Christopher Duffy,
Siege Warfare: The Fortress in the Early Modern World 1494-1660
(New York: Routledge, 1979).
3. Ibid., 216.
4. Ibid., 21.
5. U.S. Marine Corps,
Small Wars Manual, United States Marine Corps 1940 (Washington,
DC: U.S. Government Printing Office [GPO], 1940, reprinted at Manhattan,
KS: Sunflower University Press, no date), 3-3, 3.
6. Ibid., 5-8, 6.
7. Ibid., 5-11, 9.
8. See, for instance,
John A. Nagl, Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam
(Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002), 71, citing the wisdom of LTG Sir
Har- old Briggs in his counterinsurgency campaign during the Malayan
9. Lester W. Grau, "Something
Old, Something New: Guerrillas, Terrorists, and Intelligence Analysis,"
Military Review (July-August 2004): 42-49.
10. Jorge Luis Dura_n
Pastrana, "Bloque a corredores de FARC" [Blocking FARC
corridors], El Tiempo, 4 March 2004, 2-4.
11. Grau and Geoffrey
Demarest, "Diehard Buildings: Control Architecture-A Challenge
for the Urban Warrior," Military Review (September-October
12. Grau and Jacob
W. Kipp, "Urban Combat: Confronting the Specter," Military
Review (July-August 1999): 16.
13. David J. Dean,
Low Intensity Conflict and Modern Technology (Maxwell Air Force
Base, AL: Air University Press, 1986); Rob Paschall, LIC 2010: Special
Operations and Unconventional Warfare in the Next Century (Washington,
DC: Brassey's, 1990).
14. Charles W. Gwynn,
Imperial Policing, 2d ed. (London: MacMillan, 1939), 381.
15. Ibid., 181.
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