Morlocks: Adversaries Go Underground
Captain Roger Crossland, U.S. Naval Reserve
The enemy we have engaged hides from the light, in caves, crowds, or cultures. U.S. forces must perfect their night vision—adapting intelligence, special operations, and equipment to hunt them down wherever they hide.
I n H. G. Wells's The Time Machine , the Morlocks are carnivorous ape-like industrialized creatures of the night who live underground and control the future world. Descended from humans, they prey on surface dwellers, the Eloi, who live an Eden-like existence.
The world today is similarly divided between surface dwellers and subterranean predators. During Operation Desert Storm, U.S. forces identified and destroyed targets from above, using air superiority and satellite imagery, with devastating effect. Observing and adapting, our enemies evolved. As recent experience with the Taliban and Saddam Hussein have shown, when they want to challenge the West, our enemies—figuratively and sometimes literally—now go underground. This subterranean orientation will be the warfare style of our most dangerous adversaries for the near future.
The Morlockean Assymetry
The term "asymmetric warfare" is recent, but the concept has been around a long time.
Sappers became famous in the Napoleonic wars, tunneling unseen below fortifications, planting charges, causing walls to crumble and breach. In World War II, the Japanese built significant underground defensive fortifications. The Koreans, who frequently were used as labor on these fortifications, returned home and added that experience to their colonial mining experience.
The Korean War was one of the first conflicts in which U.S. air superiority was a "given," and the North Koreans adapted. After the war, North Korea evolved as arguably the most tunneled nation in the world—underground airfield and tunnel entries with hairpin bends that confound missiles; military facilities and defense plants buried deep within the earth; submarine pens carved out of rock; hardened artillery sites tunneled into mountainsides. Artillery pieces, on rails, can come out, fire, and retire into the mountain like cuckoos in Swiss clocks. North Korea's skills were well-known, and during the Vietnam War, it lent tunnel engineers to North Vietnam.
In Vietnam, again the United States held air superiority, and the North Vietnamese Army elected to go underground. The warren of tunnels of Cu Chi, now preserved as a national treasure, is an example of North Vietnamese ingenuity. 1
During the 1980s, in Afghanistan, the Mujihadeen enlarged irrigation cuts known as karez and employed commercial tunnel-building equipment to foil another air power, the Soviets, and in recent years the Taliban has used the same techniques against the United States.
Below the Radar
Our enemies, terrorists and others, know they must remain unseen, if they are to survive. U.S. superiority in dogfighting and delivering ordnance from above is only part of the picture. Our enemies know they also must elude our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems.
DOD (GUL A. ALISAN) We think first in terms of caves—the most primitive form of concealment—when we think of underground enemies. In January 2002, a SEAL platoon "illuminated" the caves of Zhawar Kili in Afghanistan. The complex included 50 natural caves, some "improved" caves and tunnels, and a few aboveground structures, and was used by al Qaeda and the Taliban to concentrate and conceal significant resources. At the cost of 450,000 pounds of naval air ordnance and no American lives, U.S. forces destroyed an army's worth of enemy ordnance and the enemy's elaborate rock honeycomb. The key to success at Zhawar Kili was using forces intensely familiar with the tactics of concealment to ferret out key lairs and caches.
But we must not confine our thinking here to small bands of terrorists. North Korea has a vast tunnel system. Iraq clearly devoted much effort to placing key military facilities underground after Operation Desert Storm. Nor should we confine our thinking to natural underground formations. Every major city is a warren of man-made, reinforced concrete caves. Consider this from an Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs report:
The smugglers in Rafah are now experts in digging tunnels and smuggling weapons. The smugglers transport weapons for terrorist organizations, or for other elements that order firearms in exchange for money, and transfer money to Palestinians and Egyptians who own the house or land while the tunnel is dug.
They are adept at how to avoid detection of the tunnels, thus they build them in residential areas and use small children to construct the tunnels and smuggle the weapons. 2
Neither should we think in terms of land warfare exclusively. Caves and concrete buildings are not the only places to avoid the light of day.
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