Friday, December 30, 2011

First Things First

Lacey doubts that we need to turn our Army into a counter-insurgency force at the expense of conventional fighting:

Last week, former Army chief of staff Gen. Gordon Sullivan editorialized that the Army is repeating the mistakes of the post-Vietnam era, when it turned away from a decade’s experience fighting a counterinsurgency war, in favor of building a more capable conventional force. This, according to General Sullivan, forced the Army to improvise its way through conflicts in Panama, Somalia, and the Balkans. General Sullivan went on to say that, despite these three experiences, we still possessed the wrong Army when we invaded Iraq in 2003.

One wonders how an Army optimized to fight insurgents would have dealt with the six armored Republican Guard divisions that ringed Baghdad. General Sullivan does not address this question. What he does say is that the Army was well on its way to defeat in Iraq until, after three years of muddling through, it adopted a new counterinsurgency doctrine. Now General Sullivan fears that the Army, in its rush to put Iraq and Afghanistan behind it, will once again put its counterinsurgency skills on the shelf, as it once again turns its attention to preparing for conventional warfare.

Sullivan is pretty good, but I agree with Lacey. Ever since the Persian Gulf War of 1991, some analysts have complained our Army is too heavy and needs to lighten up for faster deployment. And now, after the Iraq War, we should lighten up for counter-insurgency. Actually defeating the enemy army seems to be a given in the equation. But beating the enemy army once you are in the theater and before you can stabilize the post-war environment is not a constant in the equation--it is the heart of the war.

The fact is, for ordinary troops, many skills of soldiering--like killing the enemy--are appropriate for conventional combat or counter-insurgency. And many types of equipment vital for conventional warfare are useful in counter-insurgency (in more restrained dosages of course, to avoid collateral damage). We don't need to start out with an Army geared for counter-insurgency at the expense of conventional combat. As long as we have an officer corps that knows the difference, the troops will do just fine, as I wrote:

If directed by officers who understand counter-insurgency, supported by special forces, and bolstered by some specially trained troops to train indigenous forces, any well trained troop will do well for the bulk COIN work of patrols, hunting insurgents, and interacting with the people.

And if done right, we will have trained allies to fight instead of having to use our forces. At worst, if we must fight a counterinsurgency, we'd retain institutional knowledge of fighting insurgencies that will outlast this generation of officers and senior NCOs.

So instead of thinking we need troops specially trained for COIN, we should really look to making counter-insurgency a separate career path in the officer corps like armor, infantry, and artillery (among many others) are now. If those who lead regular troops (and who require far more time to train) are ready from day one of a war, we can adapt our campaigns quickly.

Well trained troops can fight any enemy they face, if well led. Our modern ground forces are in general of the quality that in the past distinguished good COIN fighters from average rabble infantry that did more harm than good "interacting" with the population.

As I noted, the need for specially trained counter-insurgency forces probably only applies to an army of draftees who would be more likely to muck up the mission. We have an excellent army. It can adapt to fight any foe.

An Army trained for conventional fighting will have the time to adapt to a counter-insurgency without losing. We did that in Iraq and won.

But an Army trained for counter-insurgency when faced with a conventional enemy won't get the time it needs to adapt before it is crushed in battle by an enemy army trained for conventional warfare. Conventional warfare can be much faster and far less forgiving.

We don't need a counter-insurgency Army. We need a well trained and well equipped Army prepared to fight high end enemies but with leaders who understand both conventional and counter-insurgency warfare. Getting to the field of battle fast means nothing if you can't win once there. And being better prepared for the counter-insurgency means nothing if you can't defeat the enemy army in the first place. We need a full spectrum Army and the major part of that spectrum is conventional warfare.