Mitchell Prothero, a Western journalist residing in Lebanon, leads a team of fellow reporters (and counterinsurgency guru Andrew Exum) in a friendly game of paintball with five guys from Hezbollah, and writes it up for Vice:
Our collective reasoning for the game was simple: bragging rights. Hezbollah’s military wing is widely considered the most competent group of “nonstate actors”—or, depending where you sit, “terrorists”—in the world. I’d seen pretty much all of their closest competition in action: Al-Qaeda, Hamas, the Taliban, and almost any other militant group you can name in the region. Famed for their combat prowess and careful tactical calibration, Hezbollah’s few thousand professional fighters have repeatedly taken on the toughest armies in the world (Israel, France, the United States, and even, briefly, Syria) and come out on top every time. Over the decades, they’ve grown in skill and competence to the point where, during the 2006 war with Israel, they’d done something few insurgencies have ever accomplished: morph from guerrillas into a semi-conventional force. If I could get them into a paintball game, I could witness their battlefield tactics firsthand. And if our team could beat them, we could walk around calling ourselves “the most dangerous nonstate actors on the planet.”
The piece isn’t exactly packed with new insights into “the Party of God,” but it’s riveting reading. And there is this lesson from “The Boss,” ranking member of the Hezbollah squad, about how insurgencies win:
“We couldn’t beat the Israelis there, not on their land, by their homes.” I’ve never heard an Islamic militant ever admit that Israel is Israeli land. He continues by pointing out that in 1982, 50,000 trained and well-equipped Palestinian troops couldn’t keep the Israelis out of Beirut for a week. But by his count, less than 1,000 Hezbollah fighters did the job alone for 34 days in 2006. “Palestinians can’t fight because they have no homes to defend. There would already be a Palestine if it weren’t for the Palestinians.”
That applies to the America’s wars of the past decade: it’s why neither the U.S. nor al-Qaeda (an internationalist rather than localist force) has been able to “stick” in Iraq, and why the native Taliban is much more resilient in Afghanistan.
Four of the journalist squad can be followed on Twitter — @abumuqawama (Exum), @mitchprothero (Prothero), @benrgilbert (Ben Gilbert), @bdentonphoto (Bryan Denton). I’m not sure about “Coco” and the rest of the Hezbollah squad.