Initial reports made it seem as though today’s blasts in London were the result of technical problems, were unrelated, or had not caused serious casualties. It has since become clear that they were terrorist attacks, and the reported casualties have begun to rise within the last two hours, from an initial report of 2 dead and 150 wounded to around 45 dead and 300 wounded as I write.
This attack demonstrates the characteristics of postmodern, information-age warfare that I have written about before. There are several general characteristics:
1) Multiplicity. Postmodern, information-age war often involves attacking multiple targets, or advancing on multiple fronts, or in multiple domains. The U.S. military also operates in a similar fashion. During the major combat phase of operations in Iraq, the U.S. attacked from the air, the ground, the sea, and in the media (the "infosphere"). Recent al-Qa’ida attacks have taken a similar approach. Multiple, dispersed targets have been hit.
2) Simultaneity. Not only are multiple, dispersed tagets hit, but they are hit simultaneously, or near-simultaneously. The combination of multiplicity and simultaneity is used to create panic and confusion in an adversay. Military historian Williamson Murry and retired Major General Robert Scales have called the combination "overmatching power," as opposed to overwhelming power. They identify overmatching power as what the U.S. employed in Iraq. Of course, on 9-11, al-Qa’ida also carried out multiple attacks nearly simultaneously in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.
3) Ubiquity. Attackers seek to appear as though they are everywhere and nowhere, as though they can strike in any place at any time, unseen. Part of the way that terrorists achieve this is by attacking "mundane targets" such as trains, public buildings, shopping centers, night clubs, etc. They are unseen because they blend in to the civilian population and use items like cars, shoes, or civilian airliners as weapons. The U.S. has increasingly used intelligence, surveillance, and reconaissance (ISR) driven, stand-off or stealth weapons to carry out attacks on multiple, geographically dispersed targets, all at once.
4) Nonlinearity. In postmodern, information-age conflict there are often no front lines or rear areas. While there may be more intense areas of conflict, as terrorist strikes, as well as the U.S. attack in Iraq, demonstrate, attacks can come from any direction at any location at any time. U.S. ground forces advancing towards Baghdad, for example, did not necessarily constitute the "front lines" of the battle. Through airpower, Naval fire, and special forces, the attack was simultaneously being carried deep into the heart of Iraq.
5) Blurred boundaries. This characteristic emerges and can be seen in the combination of the previous characteristics. The boundary between front and rear, before and after, here and there becomes blurred. Of course, in terrorism, the boundary between civilian and combatant becomes blurred as well. It is intentionally blurred by terrorists, used as an advantage against Western militaries which try to abide by the Geneva Conventions.
Of course, none of this is to say that the U.S. and the terrorists are equivalent, either morally or in terms of effectiveness. But it is to say that the current conflict has certain general characteristics which can be observed on both sides and which have intensified over the last two decades.