Some times my various interests collide in interesting and unusual ways. Recently I was discussing IRA bombing tactics as an example of the militant wing of an insurgent group dominating its political wing. Nothing probably demonstrates this better than the July, 1982 bombing by the IRA of the British Household Cavalry guards. The below is the report from the BBC as to what happened.
Sefton, Lifeguard Cavalry Horse
One of the survivors was the Household Cavalry horse Sefton. See his story here.
The interesting aspect of this bombing is that it is really a major tactical mistake by the IRA. Not in the sense that it didn’t achieve their objective of bring publicity to their campaign. That was a tactical success. But it was a mistake in the strategic sense. Killing horses and bandsmen had a huge public backlash against the IRA. Even among the Catholic community of Northern Ireland, a bastion of IRA support, few could have sanctioned killing horses and bandsmen. Especially when many of the horses were Irish breed.
This attack makes the point that terrorism is really about information operations. The side that manages the message the best wins. Attacking bandsmen and horses is a terrible message. In the years after 1982 the British army and government became expert at turning such IRA attacks against the terrorists. The British were able to make such actions a net loss to the terrorists among their own supporters by carefully exploiting the negative images of the attack while avoiding an overt response to the bombing which would have increased support for the terrorists.
See this discussion to see how the British strategy against the IRA changed over time.
Many Americans were too young or have forgotten how savage the battle between the British and IRA was. This might be a reminder.
For additional reading on the time of troubles see:
For more informaton on the Sefton story see: