Small Wars Journal
Join Date: Sep 2005
Military Transformed -- Better Gear, New Goals
7 September San Francisco Chronicle - Military Transformed -- Better Gear, New Goals
by John Koopman.
... Probably the most significant change is in the mission of the military. For decades, the primary focus of all branches of the military was preparing for a major land war in Europe or Asia.
Now, it's all about little wars. The key phrase is "counterinsurgency on."
But nothing changes quickly in an institution that is older than the nation. It remains to be seen whether changes attributed to the new age will become permanent or will slip into the dustbin of memory.
"We were used to the old doctrine of warfare," said Marine 1st Sgt. Jean-Paul Courville, who has served three tours in Iraq. "The old way was, you seize an objective, usually a terrain feature like a hill or building, and then you defend it. Your opponent was another unit in roughly the same model and type as yours."
In Vietnam, the U.S. military became experienced in counterinsurgency tactics. But it didn't stick. Army Lt. Col. Jim Gavrilis said the bitter taste of that conflict sent mid-level and senior officers back to the Cold War-era model of army-on-army warfare. So when it came time to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, they had to start the learning process all over again.
Like Vietnam more than 30 years ago, the conflicts facing today's military are more complex than "see the hill, take the hill." Insurgents mingle among local residents. They strike and fade. Small unit leaders need to know how to work with the local population to get rid of insurgents and also deny them the use of homes and businesses as their bases of operation.
The phrase "winning hearts and minds" -- used extensively in Vietnam -- has come to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We've gotten extremely good at counterinsurgency tactics," said Gavrilis, who has commanded special operations units in Iraq. "We know how to gather intelligence and go on a raid. But we need to understand and to focus on all those other things that will bring an end to violence in Iraq. You can go on a thousand raids and still not help the situation."
Senior military planners -- generals who led American troops in the invasion of Iraq, such as David Petraeus of the Army and James Mattis of the Marines -- have reworked training programs to focus on counterinsurgency warfare.
In places like the 900-square-mile Marine base at Twentynine Palms (San Bernardino County) and the Army training center at Fort Irwin (San Bernardino County) in the Mojave Desert, Marine and Army units train for today's warfare. They built small towns to resemble Iraqi villages, and they hired Arab Americans and other Arab-speaking people to play the roles of residents. Troops who have been to Iraq, sometimes more than once, bring their experience to the mix and try to teach the new guys how to drive in a convoy, how to avoid getting hit by a roadside bomb or how to clear a house.
Now, it's not enough to see an enemy and kill him. You'll have to deal with his family and the community. Troops have to know better when to shoot or not. Officers must learn how to forge relationships with mayors and police chiefs and religious leaders...
Still, the Pentagon budget doesn't reflect this newfound focus on fighting the small wars. The Defense Department is still seeking big-ticket items for the Navy and Air Force that focus on the big wars, like advanced fighter jets and sophisticated missile ships.
John Pike, director of globalsecurity.org, a military think tank in Washington, said one of the biggest changes in the military is the budget. Ten years ago, he said, the defense budget was holding at about $300 billion a year. Now it's about $500 billion...
The defense budget, Pike said, reflects a duality in the mission of the U.S. military: It has to fight the small wars like Iraq and still handle the nation's overall defense, which is to say, prepare for a major war with another country. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the next possible military competitor is China.
"We want to stay so far ahead of China that they won't even think about trying to compete," Pike said. "They're still 25 years behind us, and Mr. (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld has decided he's going to make damn sure they stay that way."
Gavrilis said the big question is whether the focus on counterinsurgency warfare will continue after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are over. Military analysts say timing is crucial in defeating an insurgency. Much has been written and debated about the U.S. military's role in Iraq, and many of the problems associated with that conflict are thought to be the result of poor planning and little or no thought to counterinsurgency until it was too late.
Kalev Sepp, an assistant professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, said this has resulted in an erosion of the confidence of younger officers in their leaders.
"In my experience, there is a general feeling that most general officers have contributed to the difficulties in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan by trying to conduct unconventional warfare using conventional means," he said.
In the first and second years after the U.S. invasion, critics say, American troops were focused on kicking in doors and looking for bad guys, when they needed to take a softer approach to the local population. The military brought along civil affairs units to help Iraqis build schools and hospitals, but those efforts were often overshadowed by the damage done by air strikes and artillery bombardments.
That's not to say those methods were not necessary at the time, but analysts say the insurgency was strengthened because the soldiers and Marines used too much force too often. And they didn't simultaneously work closely enough with Iraqi leaders to provide security and to get the local population on their side...