Military Brass Say War Lessons Won't Be Forgotten
Public souring on the Afghanistan war has prompted analysts and defense strategists to predict that U.S. forces are not going to engage in counterinsurgencies again, at least for the foreseeable future.
But U.S. military leaders are not so sure. They are working to incorporate the lessons from the wars of the past decade into doctrine, training and weapon systems developments.
General and flag officers in charge of training and operations for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force laid out such plans Nov. 3 for members of the House Armed Services Committee.
Military officials said that one of the biggest takeaways from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the need for language and culture training, which they view as potent tools to fight in any form of conflict that might be required in the future. General-purpose forces also should take a page from special operations units, which have proven particularly nimble in non-traditional forms of combat like counterinsurgency and peacekeeping, officials said at the HASC hearing.
“The force we deploy must be able to adapt,” said Brig. Gen. Daniel O’Donohue, director of the Marine Corps Capabilities Development Directorate.
For the Army, one big lesson is that institutional inertia can be the service's own worst enemy, said Maj. Gen. Peter Bayer, head of Army strategy, plans and policy.
An example of the Army's stubborn resistance to change was initial reluctance to deploy mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles to Afghanistan. Such recalcitrance “is a thing of the past,” Bayer said. “I believe the culture of the Army has changed” toward greater flexibility, he added.
When the nation went to war in 2002, it fielded two armies – one composed of traditional ground forces and one of special operations forces “prepared to excel in an irregular environment,” said Bayer. “Our Army quickly learned that success in Afghanistan, Iraq and the other battlefields of this decade required adaptation in both general-purpose and special operations forces and that they must work together,” he said. “In the past decade, the Army has captured that adaptation by institutionalizing irregular warfare across the entire force.”
As it downsizes, more soldiers will be trained with irregular warfare as “part of the Army’s DNA,” he said. Moving forward, it would be at the “very heart and core of Army expertise.”
Other branches of the military are mirroring that approach.
The Navy in 2008 established an Irregular Warfare Office that is seeking to shape training and doctrine. The Navy Expeditionary Combat Command has also “leveraged the whole fleet to meet irregular challenges," said Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, director of the Navy's IWO.
As for the Marine Corps, “Irregular warfare is deeply interwoven in our past, present and future,” said O’Donohue. While fighting in Afghanistan, the Marine Corps is simultaneously preparing a post-war force designed to respond to any contingency, including counterterrorism, security assistance and humanitarian relief.
Marines have participated in 113 irregular operations since 1990, including in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes that hit Haiti and Japan, anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and as an offshore deterrent presence during the war in Libya, O’Donohue said.
The Air Force has focused on training “agile and adaptable” airmen and continues, “to make adjustments in how we project air power,” said Brig. Gen. Jerry P. Martinez.
Both the Marine Corps and Air Force have launched intensive education programs to teach their personnel language proficiency and about various cultures. The Army has a similar program that isn’t as widely offered, but has begun fielding uniformed foreign nationals to serve as interpreters in theater, Bayer said.
Most of the military training schools and all of the service academies now offer courses in irregular warfare. The Navy’s Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., now offers two majors in the subject, Harris said.