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Are We Losing Our Ability to Fight Conventional War Because of The Long War?


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"The dogmas of war" by Lt.Col. Gian P. Gentile (Armed Forces Journal):


I very much agree with Col. Gentile's analysis of the Iraq War. However, it is in the last few paragraphs of his article that his real concern emerges; that the US Army is losing its ability to wage Conventional Warfare by shifting from the pre-2003 extreme of concentrating on Conventional War almost exclusively to the opposite extreme of now concentrating on Unconventional Warfare to the general detriment of the former. In short, we may be able to afford the loss of a Small, Unconventional War, but by losing too much of our capacity to wage Large, Conventional War, we may lose a future War whose consequences we cannot just shrug off.

I am not advocating the abandonment or marginalization of Unconventional/Low-Intensity/COIN/Small War Warfare; but given the Strategic imperatives mentioned above, would it not make sense for Unit and Formation training to consist of say, a mix of 25% Unconventional/Low-Intensity/COIN/Small War Warfare and 75% Conventional/High-Intensity/Intervention/Big Wars Warfare?

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I found the article very interesting but I disagree with some of it's basic tenants. He discredits the assumption that GEN P was able to influence how his Company Commanders and Platoon Leaders fought in the COIN environment. Then turns around and claims that under his leadership as the MNF-I he's created a COIN "dogma" in all of Iraq.

The bottom line in the COIN environment the key is agile, adaptive leaders at the company/platoon level. You can have all the patrol bases in the world but if you have inflexible leaders who can't make good decisions you will do more damage than good. Units with an agile, adaptive mindset will do well in any fight.

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That's an excellent article, Norfolk.

I agree with your comments regarding the need of a balanced training.


The bottom line in the COIN environment the key is agile, adaptive leaders at the company/platoon level. You can have all the patrol bases in the world but if you have inflexible leaders who can't make good decisions you will do more damage than good. Units with an agile, adaptive mindset will do well in any fight.

(bold is mine). Bingo! Kudos for that comment.

This portion of the article I don't understand:

How as an Army did we come to forsake the brilliance and immediate relevance of Clausewitz for the simplistic principles of David Galula and the pop-anthropology of “armed social scientists?”

As if they were mutually exclusive?

No military strategic theory can be removed from the intellectual/cultural environment in which they were conceived. Ignoring the intellectual environment of theories written in the past, or ignoring the present day environment for new theories are both dangerous things.

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Good article.

I share the author's frustrations over the inability to see things as they actually are, yet you must do this on a force-wide level if you are to succeed at COIN. I have shared the author's thought that what happens on the ground and what is being reported are almost entirely disconnected, yet decisions are being made on what is reported.

When on the ground and discounting political situations and propoganda (which are also required in COIN and no less important), COIN is a sergeant's and LT's war that demands utmost flexibility and trust. The author seems to be worried that flexibility is lost in the higher levels of decision making, which is a valid concern when a situation is entirely fluid on the ground and higher-ups want to gain control over the situation by taking control themselves.

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Junk 99, El Chaco, LtGeorge:

What do you find then has been the main problem(s) overall; a lack of good sense and judgement on the part of many higher-echelon leaders, or perhaps an unwillingness of or inability on the part of said higher-echelon leaders to speak truth to power, where the truth may not be received well by the political leadership? Both perhaps? And how much of the problem may be the lack of the same in lower-echelon leaders?

If so, how might we weed out those who lack good sense and sound judgement so that they are not problems when they are junior leaders, and problems waiting to happen when they become senior leaders? The Germans in the 1930's and 1940's were renowned for their emphasis upon developing and relying upon the initiative and judgement of their soldiers in general, and their leaders in particular. How could we - can we - accomplish the same here and now? We need that sort of "thinking soldier" in whatever kind of warfare we engage in, whether it be COIN or Conventional War.

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My vantage point may be unique - I'm a LT and married to an elected politician (I manage her campaigns too). I always see a huge disconnect between four primary worlds:

- The guy-on-the-street world,

- The press world,

- The military world,

- And the political world.

Trust me when I say that no one world understands or really trusts the other, yet each world feels qualified enough to tell the other three how to do their business.

When I'm on my Guard weekend, I wear my military face. At my regular work, my average civilian guy face. When I coodinate interviews and columns with the press, it's yet another face, and when I watch my wife take grief during public meetings, yet another face. No one face works in any of the other worlds or I'd be seen as a git.

But COIN must put all these faces together into a single and cohesive strategy!!! All 4 must form a single and purpose-driven team!!!

And how often do you see that kind of dream team form? Today, the politicians tell the military how to do COIN because they crave control over uncertainties. Most militaries, deep in their hearts, hate COIN. The guy on the street where COIN is in progress doesn't trust the occupier's (or their own) politicians to stick to their word or accomplish what they say and therefore always try to avoid offending the group that can apply the most violence against them. And the military usually speaks meaningless gibberish to the press, who decipher their own meaning of it and print it with the intent of bending the politicians.


Military gibberish, by the way, is when the military enters a battlespace environment to employ a range of joint tactical capabilities networked into knowledge-based operations to achieve kinetic strategic effects across the global tactical and cyber spectrum.

The press translation: someone who was important got shot, must be a scandalous headline in there somewhere.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"JFCOM chief says training too focused on coin, irregular warfare", by Carl Munoz, Inside the Air Force,19 Octber, 2007:

The outgoing head of U.S. Joint Forces Command this week joined a chorus of other high-ranking military officials who claim the Pentagon has become too enamored with counterinsurgency and irregular warfare as opposed to conventional military campaigns.

“I think the lesson is partly learned, but not completely learned, that we really have to look at all the forms of warfare and not get so focused on one that we are not able to do the others,” JFCOM chief Air Force Gen. Lance Smith said during an Oct. 16 teleconference with reporters.

Smith is preparing to step down as JFCOM commander effective Nov. 9, upon which time Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis will assume command.

During the Cold War era, much of the Pentagon’s operational and tactical doctrine was based on tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) driven by the threat of a conventional conflict with the former Soviet Union, he said.

That narrow view, Smith added, left military strategists somewhat unprepared for the irregular warfare-based conflicts in which the United States is currently engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, in trying to address the strategic shortfalls that became painfully apparent during the U.S. offensive in Iraq and Afghanistan, Defense Department leaders have possibly overcompensated in their focus on counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare TTPs, Smith said.

“And the danger now, of course, is we get so focused on counterinsurgency and irregular warfare that we are not prepared for a different kind of war,” Smith said. “Whether that is major conventional war or . . . a hybrid of large conventional war and irregular war.”

The four-star general noted that the more likely scenario facing U.S. military leaders, in his opinion, would be the hybrid scenario mimicking the July 2006 offensive launched by Hezbollah guerrillas against Israeli forces.

Smith is the latest in a series of current and former high-ranking military leaders to voice concern that U.S. forces may be at a disadvantage if faced with a conventional conflict.

That list included Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey and former Army chief Gen. Peter Schoomaker, as well as Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen.

Casey said the Army was “out of balance” and not well postured to deal with the slate of potential future threats that U.S. military forces could face.

“We’re consumed with meeting the current demands and we’re unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as we would like for other contingencies,” Casey said during an Aug. 14 speech at the National Press Club in Washington.

Mullen called for a renewed dedication to “regain full-spectrum capabilities across all our forces” in an Oct. 1 guidance issued across DOD.

More at the link.

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