Army’s Post-Afghanistan Plan: Keep on Fighting
By Sandra I. Erwin
The end of combat in Afghanistan is within sight, but the United States still will need a powerful army to tackle a new wave of security challenges, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno.
Even as the U.S. military shifts its focus to naval and air warfare in the Middle East and Asia, ground forces will be no less relevant, Odierno said Oct. 23 in a keynote speech at the Association of the U.S. Army annual convention in Washington, D.C.
With 60,000 soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, the war there remains the Army’s number-one priority, Odierno said. But the 2014 withdrawal deadline is approaching, and Army leaders worry that, without a big war to fight, ground forces will become expendable budget items.
Odierno cautioned that this is no time for the nation to seek a large peace dividend.
The world is in such chaos that even superpowers can’t stop the violence, he lamented. In this uncertain environment, the Army can help deter enemies from attacking the United States, Odierno said.
“Loosely affiliated groups operate in ungoverned spaces and in cyberspace,” he said. These “non-state actors” combine advanced weapons with criminal tactics, he said. “That will require the military to maintain a much broader range of capabilities to respond.”
Globalization was supposed to lead to world peace, he said. But greater access to technology, and especially to the Internet, instead has fueled violence and instability, Odierno contended. In this context, he insisted, the United States will need trained and ready forces to quickly react if a bigger crisis erupted. “Some of the forces that we deal with today, like transnational criminal groups and social movements, have always existed but have become vastly more influential as the norms of the international system have changed,” he said.
Odierno noted that the Army today provides 75 percent of the nation’s cadre of special operations forces, which are the linchpin of most counterterrorism campaigns.
The Army already is on a path to reduce its 570,000 active-duty force by 80,000 by 2018. The smaller contingent would still be larger than the Army was on 9/11.
Odierno said he supports the cutbacks, as the Army would not have to provide troops for two major wars. But he is concerned about how this force would stay trained and ready in the absence of real-world deployments.
The Army, which has sent 1.5 million soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, has forgotten how to live in peacetime.
Compared to the uncertain future ahead, the past decade of war has been “kind of simple,” said Lt. Gen. Keith C. Walker, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, Army Training and Doctrine Command. “If you were a soldier, you and your brigade were going to go to one of the combat training centers because you were going to Iraq or you were going to Afghanistan,” Walker said Oct. 22 at the AUSA conference.
Walker said the Army plans to boost spending on education and training of junior officers who have valuable combat experience and will be expected to become the foundation of the future Army. “We want an Army that can adapt to the unknown,” he said.
Army Secretary John McHugh said future active-duty troop cutbacks will be balanced by increasing the training and readiness of National Guard and Reserve forces.
And although the ultimate size of U.S. ground forces is still very much up for debate next year when Congress must pass a fiscal year 2013 budget, experts agree that it will be difficult to justify a half-million strong Army in a post-war era.
Even Army supporters believe that the future calls for a more balanced mix of hard and soft power tools to tackle the nation's foreign policy challenges.
“We have to prepare for a spectrum of operations [but] we can reduce land forces,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former U.S. Army Ranger.
“We need a smaller force with a much broader array of skills [and we must] amplify power with technology,” he said during a conference hosted by the National Security Network.
NSN senior adviser Paul D. Eaton, retired Army major general and former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said world events prove that the United States must find a way to rely less on military force, and more on a mix of diplomatic and economic approaches.
Post-war drawdowns are “gut wrenching,” said Eaton, who was on active duty when the Army downsized after the Vietnam War and the Cold War. The cutbacks that the Obama administration recommended are modest by comparison, he said.
“The Army exists to fight and win the nation's wars,” Eaton said. Its size, however, needs to match the nation’s foreign policy appetite for military force. When the Iraq War started, for instance, the Army was not sized or equipped adequately for such a large operation. That is why so many soldiers, including Eaton’s sons, had to serve 18-month long tours, instead of the standard 12 months. “We didn’t have enough forces to meet the ambitions.”
Photo Credit: Army