Saturday, January 03, 2009

Let the Army Be an Army

I've long been dismissive of the idea that we need to train and organize units specifically for counter-insurgency or peacekeeping operation. Sometimes this has been called a "constabulary" force.

As our Iraq Surge began to hammer the enemy in Iraq, the Brookings Institution bolsered my belief, and I asserted:

I admit that conscript armies are more difficult to focus on COIN, so the observation that you need troops specially focused on COIN is only obsolete in regard to the United States rather than generally wrong. We have volunteers of high quality who receive excellent training.

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.

Strategypage has my six on this:

Earlier this year, the army went one step further, and came out with a top line field manual (FM 3-07) "stability operations" (the kind of "small wars" being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan.) The army has always had an FM-7 for "full spectrum operations" (total war, against troops in uniform, armed with a full spectrum of weapons and tactics). Now it is committed to training for both types of combat. The key to this is training the commanders. One discovery in the last decade is that the troops can switch from conventional combat, to irregular type operations, more quickly and efficiently than their bosses.

Combine this with our success in building the structure of an Army capable of defeating other conventional forces even as we win the COIN fights in Iraq and Afghanistan, and given some time to train for conventional war, our military will be a well-rounded force capable of taking on any enemy on any battlefield.

I will say that upon reflection, the idea of separate career paths should mean that even officers on a career path for COIN would need a minor in conventional warfare just as infantry officers and armor officers would need minors in COIN.

But don't try to make our Army a police force by design. That type of "army" is all too common in the world and will just get smashed by real soldiers in a real battle.