View Poll Results: Is the era of the big footprint over?

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  • Yes, we won't be seeing more Fallujahs any time soon.

    3 11.11%
  • No, you defeat insurgencies with boots on the ground.

    6 22.22%
  • The enemy gets a vote too.

    18 66.67%
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Thread: "The era of the big footprint is over."

  1. #1
    Council Member
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    Default "The era of the big footprint is over."

    Heard Professor Bruce Hoffman say that, almost in passing, during a talk on Al Qaeda (on the march, 2008 will be "al Qaeda's year" he thinks) on Friday. He's certainly not the first, I have an old paper Steve Metz co-wrote somewhere on my hard drive arguing that we shouldn't be basing ground forces expansion on the expectation of more OIFs.

    But have Iraq and Afghanistan, and the modern media climate, soured the West on large-scale, boots on the ground COIN? Are small, interagency advisory teams scattered around the globe the way of the future in fighting insurgency? Or did the failure to catch Bin Laden in 2001 prove the need for Western commitment of substantial amounts of ground troops in key circumstances?
    Last edited by Granite_State; 01-27-2008 at 04:43 PM. Reason: Elaboration

  2. #2
    Council Member max161's Avatar
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    Default US does not win COIN, the threatened country must

    Quote Originally Posted by Granite_State View Post
    But have Iraq and Afghanistan, and the modern media climate, soured the West on large-scale, boots on the ground COIN? Are small, interagency advisory teams scattered around the globe the way of the future in fighting insurgency? Or did the failure to catch Bin Laden in 2001 prove the need for Western commitment of substantial amounts of ground troops in key circumstances?
    Bin Laden is a threat and must be captured or killed (though how and when it happens will have important IO implications- we have to be ready to exploit the success) We have to conduct intelligence and when feasible military operations to stop him and his network.

    Conducting COIN around the world is a different problem set. I would ask in which other country to we expect to conduct operations on the scale of Iraq and Afghanistan? Kenyan, Sudan, north Korea, Colombia, Pakistan??

    What we have to understand is that the US cannot win a COIN fight unless the US is the nation directly threatened. Only the indigenous people can win their COIN fight. The US can only provide external support to the government and its security forces. The US cannot win the COIN fight in any country other than our own.

    We handily achieved military victories in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We deposed totalitarian regimes and and both nations were left with no functioning security forces (a political decision that can and will be long debated in Iraq). This made the aftermath more difficult and complex. But I would ask where are we going to commit forces on this scale again to conduct operations such as we are in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would submit that the better examples (and they are each different and unique in their right) are our commitments in Colombia, the trans Sahel, the Philippines, and even Indonesia (with virtually no military presence, less some small CA and PSYOP there but a strong assist from our intelligence organizations). In all of these situations the local forces are in the lead with our support. A deployment of large scale US forces would be counter-productive because it would undermine the legitimacy of the host nation government and we would not be capable of achieving long term success. Just my 2 cents.
    Last edited by max161; 01-27-2008 at 05:05 PM. Reason: spelling
    David S. Maxwell
    "Irregular warfare is far more intellectual than a bayonet charge." T.E. Lawrence

  3. #3
    Council Member bismark17's Avatar
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    Default re:

    One of the big problems with our initial operations in Afghanistan appears to the lack of a strong QRF like a Ranger Batt that could have rapidly reacted to intel as it was being developed. Of course this comes from someone has only read about it and wasn't there.

  4. #4
    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Default The enemy will surprise you

    Allot of the poll can be attributed to context - but as a rule I'd hate to have the enemy bite me - particularly when you don't expect it, and cannot adapt to the change in conditions. If the poll is in regards to Iraq, I'd say its unlikely, but not inconceivable - we've missed the boat on big things before and paid for it in our military history - others have as well - politics/policy also plays a role, and there are more interests then just AQ at work in the ME (and for that matter the wo. It comes down to asking "so what does this mean" within the conditions I'm operating or expect to operate in, and at the level of war your looking at?

    If we are talking outside of Iraq, the ungoverned spaces where the enemy dominates and can build resources and defences, then I think we have to be preapred to do the big operations - consider what it would take to go into the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan - particularly on the Pakistan side and challenge the stauts quo to extend governence - even past the beginning, maintaining influence in such a remote and immature infrastructure will require building the sustainment mechanisms to make that possible - it would be more along the lines of the "inventing" level (or building vs. rebuilding).

    If your foot print is lessened because you are working a long term SFA (Security Force Assistance) type campaign as part of SSR (Security Sector Reform) efforts - you may be able to "lessen" your physical footprint, but you may increase your timelines, commitments, as well as the risk associated with not achieving your political objective - both with a degree of finality (enough to justify the original or continued commitment of military force to solve the problem) and in time to make a difference - one ex. we do not want AQ ever becoming strong enough to effect a coup and gain control of nuclear weapons.

    As many have said before here, we have to use great caution when using the current conditions (and even the starting conditons, or the ones of recent past) to determine DOTLMPF requirements that might leave us unprepared to meet the missions we are asked to perform. We must be full spectrum to meet uncertainty.

    Best, Rob

  5. #5
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    Default Why?

    Why do we assume this:

    What we have to understand is that the US cannot win a COIN fight unless the US is the nation directly threatened. Only the indigenous people can win their COIN fight. The US can only provide external support to the government and its security forces. The US cannot win the COIN fight in any country other than our own.
    Look back on US history of COIN, at least in countries where the government had either collapsed or been overthrown: so, Philippines 1899, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Haiti, all in the 1910s/1920s/1930s, and even cases of just general violence (1990s Haiti and Somalia)etc., in nearly every case but one we operated under this assumption: go in, set up a government for "legitimacy," create some kind of indigenous force with the intention of turning over the COIN operation to them. As such, more attention was placed on training than on actual COIN operations. The result of this was the US started taking heavy casualties, political will disappeared in the US and the president was eventually pressured to remove troops. Then, the indigenous forces were usually not able to defeat the insurgency, and the government usually fell within a period of years: either to the insurgents or to its own security forces. In only one of those cases did the indigenous force defeat the insurgents: Nicaragua. But that was only because Somoza, head of the police, had Sandino captured and killed when he was in the capital at the invitation of the government, who had guaranteed safe passage. While the insurgency was defeated, it was hardly the kind of uccess story for US training of a professional security force that we were looking for. Somoza went on to overthrow the government two years later.

    It is no surprise that the clearest COIN victory in US history (where no legitimate government existed - so I'm not talking El Salvador, Colombia, etc here) was in the Philippines in 1899 - our first real experience in full-scale COIN. The US didn't set up a government or spend its time creating and training security forces. It established a joint military/civilian government (the civ side led by future Pres. Taft), while most of the military focused on fighting the insurgency. We had support of some local forces, such as the Macabebe Scouts, and obviously that was very helpful - particularly in capturing Aguinaldo, the insurgent leader. But we didn't have to spend our time training them, as they came from a deep-rooted military culture and were already formidable fighters - and had been fighting against Spanish colonial rule for years.

    Obviously it's not as easy today to just set up a military government that lasts for years, but I don't understand this rigid commitment to training and assisting indigenous forces as the only way to fight COIN. It's worked for us to varying degrees in COIN operations where a legitimate government and established army/national police force already existed, such as El Salvador and Colombia. But operations like Iraq/Afghanistan are (and potential future operations will be) quite different. Our experience in the first four decades of the twentieth century provide better historical examples.

  6. #6
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    Default The Crystal Ball

    A quick response.

    Regardless of the poll results and our opinions the fact remains that none of us have a crystal ball that can accurately predict the future will bring and what our future national interests will be at time. Unfortunately for us the ďthrough, by and withĒ strategy, while always the desired option is not always a feasible option since large parts of the world remain poorly governed or non-governed, and a minimalist approach will not work.

    The through, by and with approach worked in Greece and numerous other locations, but there is a big difference between the approach and resources required for a Greece or El Salvador scenario where our strategy was to prop up a struggling government versus the strategy of overthrowing a regime and standing up a government from scratch, or simply trying to stand up a government from scratch as we sort of attempted in Somalia. The first scenario is probably a legitimate small war, while the second scenario is a major effort when it comes to national resources and national will, and should not be approached as a small war.

    Will there be another Iraq or Afghanistan? I would guess that almost certainly there will be, and it is imperative we continue to address the short falls in our doctrine and interagency approach so we are better prepared to deal with the situation when it is thrust upon us.

    I am beginning to think we are all missing the boat when it comes to COIN, or irregular warfare, with our two approaches: attrition and hearts and minds (by fixing local government). After recently reading the declassified version of Ambassador Lodgeís letter to the President regarding the Vietnam conflict posted elsewhere on the SWJ, I was moved by his comments that we need to focus our efforts more on organizing the Vietnamese society to resist the insurgency. Assuming that as an Ambassador he chose his words very carefully, I find it insightful that he focused on the society instead of the government. Letís face it, there are some governments we canít fix, they simply donít have the desire to change, and we donít have the carrots and sticks to make them change, so can we more effectively focus on empowering the society instead of a corrupt and / or ineffective government?

  7. #7
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    A quick response.

    I am beginning to think we are all missing the boat when it comes to COIN, or irregular warfare, with our two approaches: attrition and hearts and minds (by fixing local government). After recently reading the declassified version of Ambassador Lodgeís letter to the President regarding the Vietnam conflict posted elsewhere on the SWJ, I was moved by his comments that we need to focus our efforts more on organizing the Vietnamese society to resist the insurgency. Assuming that as an Ambassador he chose his words very carefully, I find it insightful that he focused on the society instead of the government. Letís face it, there are some governments we canít fix, they simply donít have the desire to change, and we donít have the carrots and sticks to make them change, so can we more effectively focus on empowering the society instead of a corrupt and / or ineffective government?
    I had the opportunity to look at an article that Marc T is working and one section really struck me as pivotal. The paper dealt with framing a mission and extraoplated the key issues that had to be addressed by offering the critical questions that surface those issues. The section that really got me was on the relationship between needed social institutions and extant cultural institutions. Hopefully Marc will wrap it up soon and he will post some of it here.

    Best

    Tom

  8. #8
    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Default

    There may also be a lingering, anti-imperialist distaste for announcing things like remaking or changing a society as a whole. Remember, that was one of the guiding ideas behind a fair amount of official Indian policy, and also came up in the Philippines and (to a much more limited degree) in Central America. It's easier to focus on a government instead of a people (although that focus may not in fact be correct). Empowering society can be taken by some (spun, as the case may be) as an attack on existing traditions and/or cultural points of reference. At this point I'm not sure we have the ability to counter such spin, let alone plan and conduct a campaign to enhance a society in this way (at least not at the governmental level...our business community is another story).
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

  9. #9
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    Default The spin machine

    The spin machine will remain a credible threat, but assuming we ever get to the point where can effectively implement a grass roots information campaign I think focusing on "empowering" society might be feasible in some cases.

    I'm not looking at remaking their society like the communists did, but rather empowering them to protect their culture and families. For example the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Communists in all parts of world took over societies through coercion and perverted them. Our interests were at one time was to stop the spread of communism, and now to contain the spread of radical Islam. As long as we focused on defending the current society and not transforming it into a mini-America, I would hope we could manage the spin machine attacks. Anyway these are just some loose, poorly constructed ideas at the moment I wanted to run by the SWJ brain trust. I'm looking forward to seeing Marc's article.

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