Idlib Province and the Culminating Point of an operation.


Long ago and 200 miles away I was a student at the US Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.  This arguably is the oldest post in the Army.  It was a British Army post created on the Pennsylvania frontier during the Seven Years War.  Just before I arrived there the War College had been so lucky as to have a Commandant who was actually a military intellectual.  He fostered the study of operational theory at the strategic level and in the course of doing that, hired Michael Handel the great Israeli/American Clausewitz scholar. Handel was my faculty adviser and once we got past the usual teacher/student crap we had many grand discussions to which IMO I contributed something, anything will do in memory.

Under his guidance I undertook with a couple of others a study on "culminating points" in operations, whether tactical, operational or strategic.  They are all the same thing really.  The paper is linked below.

As is implied above in the blurb from operations theory, the culminating point of an offensive operation is reached when the attacking force's resources of  guns, ammunition, food, fatigue and sheer spirit are outweighed by resources of the enemy that just simply are greater than yours.  This is quite different from a tipping point, evidently a point at which your position begins to collapse.

If you are on "offense," you should calibrate  your plan so that you reach your objective just as you reach the culminating point.   If it happens that you must continue past the culminating point in order to reach your objective than you must remember that the farther out in from of your culminating point you go, the more vulnerable you are and the more subject you are to a sudden and catastrophic reversal of fortune though an attack when you are in a weakened state.

In Syria, just now,  the R+6 and specifically the government aligned ground forces are spread from the Euphrates Valley to the Golan Heights Front with a lot of small commitments in between.  The forces in action in the East Idlib pocket fight are finite in number.  As the fight progresses they will inevitably grow weaker until there is a chance for reinforcement, rest and refit/resupply.

If they charge impetuously forward toward Idlib City a great risk will occur.  

Take your time.  Take your time.  pl

This entry was posted in Syria, The Military Art. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Idlib Province and the Culminating Point of an operation.

  1. The SAA seemed to be aware of this idea since before the Russians moved in. I remember seeing videos and reading reports of operations against the jihadists in which the SAA went to great pains to preserve their combat forces during limited offensives. Their objectives were limited and in line with their assets. This was at a time when the SAA was truly sucking bilge water.

  2. Peter AU says:

    Russia seems to be putting its experience of defeating CIA/Saudi backed freedom fighters of Chechnya and Dagestan to good use in Syria. The ‘freedom/democracy’ fighters of Syria seem to be relatively easily defeated in battle if their backing is removed.
    After the latest US mis-spoken announcements, I see Russia have moved their forces out of Afrin thus letting Erdogan off the leash.

  3. turcopolier says:

    Peter AU
    As I recall the times I don’t think the US/CIA helped the Caucasians in their revolts against the Russians. The political zeitgeist in Washington was very much against the dissolution of states. As I remember hearing one retired CoS of the US Army say of the idea,”how would you like to have them encourage secession in OUR Georgia?” pl

  4. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I thought Turkey was involved.

  5. Peter AU says:

    In the US, military seems to be very separate from CIA. CIA appear to have their own agenda which some in the establishment either support or simply go along with.
    My comment was based partially on reading US embassy cables released by Wikileaks.

  6. turcopolier says:

    Peter AU
    Completely separate to the point that Army people who leave to work for CIA are scorned as having sold out. They got some really good people by recruiting army folks but also some really sad types. pl

  7. Grazhdanochka says:

    Not really Important but I thought I would add – At the Times (From early 90s and beyond the first War particularly) there was from the Russian Side at least many hushed Voices and Insinuations about external Actors in the Chechen Wars, this was spoken of from both Members in Military and Intelligence and in Government…
    From the Arab Volunteers and their Leadership Cohort (Khattab & Co), the Relationships with Azeri Oil, the duplicitous Involvement in Chechnya of Berezovskiy (And his Atoll ‘Security Agency’) certain technical and Equipment that the Chechens found their hands on among others being part of the Portrait… Coupled with some Events (The abduction of British Telecommunication Workers in Chechnya as another example) – There was a lot of ‘Fuel’ to this…
    Nor have some Time later the apparent Statements on Graham Fuller helped the Impression
    The exact Extents to all of this can be left open to Interpretation – there is number of possible Actors, scales of Involvement and potentially different Intents – I do not say this to Question your insight or understanding of the Situation but when looking at those variables (Scale, Potential Actors, Goals) above I do not feel that it ‘excludes’ some activities either…
    (And I am not pointing at one specific Actor)
    For what it is worth also, as example of Berezovskiy but also quite a few others there was Actors in Russia who had a hand in creating something of the Problem we faced there, whether lowest level Corruption to Highest Echelons…
    Some of these Actors above could easily point to others as cause for things that went wrong in this War, but many of those I have heard State these Concerns of ‘Outside Influences’ are from a different Cloth and unafraid to speak critically of own Performance so I have always taken what they said more seriously

  8. JohnB says:

    I suspect that most of the Jihadist’s in Idlib are Syrian rather than foreign fighters from outside.
    As much as i dislike the “moderate” head-choppers there has always been a sizable minority of Syrians who want a Sunni dominated Sharia State in Syria.
    When I was in Syria back in 2009 i was told that between 20% to 25% of the population supported it.

  9. TomV says:

    “the culminating point of an offensive operation is reached when the attacking force’s resources of guns, ammunition, food, fatigue and sheer spirit are outweighed by resources of the enemy that just simply are greater than yours.” … … I find it hard to believe that the “guns, ammunition, food” of the Syrian, Russian, Iranian, et al “ will come to be “outweighed” by those of the “enemy” who is besieged with virtually no lines of supplies that can outweigh R+6. So it comes down to the unquantifiable “fatigue and spirit”. But those variables cut both ways; not just the offensive.

  10. turcopolier says:

    Well, it could be but it seems unlikely to me that the US intervened in your Caucasian Wars in that period. But, one never knows what one does not know. pl

  11. turcopolier says:

    “those variables cut both ways; not just the offensive.” That is true but the defensive itself is a powerful factor. The defensive is the stronger form although not as decisive as the offensive. That is why you want to get the enemy out of his defensive positions before contact is made. pl

  12. LondonBob says:

    I can imagine that was the attitude of the George HW Bush generation, I seem to remember his administration being concerned about a bloody break up of the Soviet Union, the Chicken Kiev speech. I am no great fan of Bush the elder, but I always view the advent of Clinton as being the end of the US elites interest in realpolitik and statescraft.

  13. Peter AU says:

    First Chechen war seemed more a revolt/fight for independence although I haven’t researched it. I researched Putin after MH17.
    2nd Chechen war was underway when Putin became PM. Putin’s main strategy there was to separate the traditional Chechen Muslims of whom Kadyrov senior appeared to be the leader, from those that had taken up Wahabbism. What Putin promised Kadyrov senior, he delivered on, hence Kadyrov juniors intense loyalty.
    Both Putin and Kadyrov junior have made public comments/statements regarding CIA involvement in the second Chechen war.
    Putin mentions US involvement in Chechnya at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum
    I have run onto other videos where Putin goes into a little more detail on US/CIA involvement in the second Chechen war but cannot dig them up at the moment.

  14. Yeah, Right says:

    If I understand this correctly, the culminating point is a concept that is always a calculation of your strength relative to the strength of your opponent.
    So I assume that the main danger is that the attacker overestimates how much the defender is flagging, and so continues to attack under the delusion that the defender is near “tipping point”.
    After all, nothing stops a commander from visiting his own troops to judge their exhaustion for himself. But the enemy are most unlikely to offer him that same curtesy.

  15. turcopolier says:

    Yeah, Right
    Not exactly. The culminating point of an operation is a real phenomenon that occurs whether or not is is calculated. A commander may miscalculate the culminating point in the heat of the operation, influenced by political ambition or for any number of other reason. There need not be any “tipping point”if by that you mean a point at which the force starts going downhill in terms of absolute capability. pl

  16. Sid Finster says:

    Not only does absolute power corrupt absolutely, but it is to sociopaths what cocaine is to addicts.

  17. Grazhdanochka says:

    In both Chechen Wars there was Chechens loyal to Moscow and those whose interests were Independence or Independence/Islamism… Somewhat this often reflected upon Geography of Chechnya (The Mountainous Regions having more ‘Independent’ Streak than those operating in the Lower Regions)
    By the Second War having won their Independence and operating under their own ‘Roof’ many Chechens subsequently also fell out with one another, the Influence of more Hard Line Islamists, Foreign Fighters and Power Struggles created many Blood Feuds between Chechen “Taypa” – Family/Clans… This further provided incentive for revenge and ‘Defection’ among some once the second War kicked off in earnest following the ejection of Fighters from Dagestan.
    There was Rumors, Voices about both Wars (And the period between and just before the first), Chechens also operated many OPG (Organised Crime) out of Russian Cities for a Period, and enjoyed a certain Relationship with Berezovskiy, Berezovskiy of course it seems enjoyed a certain Patronage of his own by the end of his Life, he also had a Security Agency as I wrote earlier which was not only spying on the President but worked on both Sides in Chechnya and I suspect the Attempted and then subsequent Murder of a Lawyer closely tied to the late Chechen War Hero – General Rokhlin..
    (It gets very murky)
    Putin and others have indeed made suggestions that these Groups were backed to degree by External Actors as has long been rumored, Indeed the Political Support for the Chechen Cause (and supportive Media Light) that came of these Wars has not helped most Russians to cool their Suspicions about the agenda of others..
    This Article can touch upon a little of what I have been suggesting:
    But there is more….

  18. ToivoS says:

    I wasn’t aware of this concept “culminating point” before. But it reminds me of a debate that has raged since the Warsaw uprising in 1944. The Poles who engaged in that uprising have accused the Red Army of just sitting back and letting the Germans crush that uprising. The Soviet argument against that was that the Red Army troops just across the Elbe River were exhausted from the just completed operation Bagration.
    Bagration began as a major offensive about 600 km to the north. The Soviet’s initial plans was to go about 400 km. They realized after the fall of Minsk that the Germans had already lost all of their reserves up to that point. Zhukov then pushed onto the Elbe without any serious opposition but the German armies had reorganized (under Model, if memory is correct) and put up a defensive line on the Elbe. Somehow, this old debate sounds like the Soviets realized that the Red Army had reached a culmination point and they were forced to consolidate gains and stop the offensive for the time being.

  19. DH says:

    Thank you for the paper. It’s neat you studied under a Clausewitz scholar. Having lived in Virginia 30 years and driving 81 through the Valley helped me follow the action.

  20. turcopolier says:

    Much of my trilogy of novels is set in The Valley. pl

  21. DH says:

    I look forward to reading them, thanks!

Comments are closed.