Among the hard lessons the U.S. Army is learning in Iraq is that the line between
“major combat” and “stability operations” is blurred,
at best, and that the enemy gets to decide when the war is finally over.
The turn of events in Iraq during the past year heavily influenced an Army
war game conducted last month, which started with a series of regional conflicts
that were supposed to transition to post-combat stability operations. The transition,
however, did not happen as planned, because the “red” fictitious
enemy force, like the Iraqi insurgents, decided to extend the fight, and drive
the “blue” U.S. force to exhaustion and frustration.
The war game, called Unified Quest 2004, was staged during two weeks in early
May at the U.S. Army War College, in Carlisle, Pa., where hundreds of players—active-duty,
retired officers and civilians—fought two major regional wars set in 2015.
The U.S. Joint Forces Command and the Army co-sponsored the game.
Whereas previous war games had been criticized for being unrealistic and far-fetched,
Unified Quest in many ways mirrored current events, and could lead to major
revisions in Army doctrine and weapon procurement plans.
The scenario devised for Unified Quest has the blue force engaged in a major
conflict against a Middle-Eastern country called Nair. Another contingency also
erupts in the Pacific area, where Islamic fundamentalist rebels are trying to
topple the secular and corrupt U.S.-friendly government of Sumesia.
In both conflicts, the red commanders pinpointed the greatest weakness of their
blue enemy: being unprepared for a protracted guerilla war and misjudging the
enemy’s will to fight.
Blue’s difficulties in many ways stemmed from the U.S. Army’s long-held
notions that major combat and stability operations are cut-and-dried terms,
noted Army Maj. Gen. James M. Dubik, director of joint experimentation at U.S.
Joint Forces Command.
When blue wants to go into stability operations, but red decides to engage
in “irregular combat,” it instantly creates an “asymmetric”
advantage for red, Dubik told reporters. The implication for today’s Army
is that it needs to “redefine combat” and make sure forces are trained
for all phases of conflict. The force-development concepts and doctrine for
major combat and stability operations originally were written under separate
cover, to help “get our intellectual arms around them,” Dubik said.
This custom of labeling operations either as major combat or stability had
practical and unintended consequences that are seen in Iraq now, where, for
example, U.S. forces trained at home base for humanitarian and rebuilding missions
deployed to Iraq with light unarmored vehicles, and ended up engaged in guerilla-style
As Unified Quest unfolded, it was clear that “major combat and stability
occur simultaneously,” said David Ozolek, deputy for joint experimentation
at JFCOM. The commanders of the red forces, all retired U.S. military officers,
said they were given latitude under the rules of the game to think like the
enemy and not to be constrained by the ethical dilemmas and the values with
which they grew up.
The head of the red Nair force, retired Army Col. Gary Phillips, said the events
in Iraq heavily shaped his decisions on how to fight blue. He said he spent
a considerable amount of time trying to forget everything he had learned at
the Command and General Staff College and the Army War College, so he could
be more disruptive in his tactics to counter blue’s immense technological
and manpower advantage.