To maintain its relevance in a post-Afghanistan world, the U.S. Army is learning to make new friends.
The Army is embarking on a two-pronged campaign of linking its brigades to third-country allies and to regional U.S. commands that direct combat. These commands - such as Central Command and Pacific Command, led by four-star officers - carry much influence inside the Pentagon when it comes to making strategy and buying weapons.
“It’s one thing to put a 11-, 12-man Special Forces detachment on the ground to train a brigade, but wouldn’t it be better to put a brigade on the ground to train up a division?” said retired ArmyMaj. Gen. Robert Scales. “You’re able then to perform all the functions that need to be performed.”
The shift was announced after a key Army general said the service has made planning mistakes “that left us unprepared for the current strategic environment.”
The Army is adjusting to a new landscape. President Obama’s strategy guidance downplays the chance of a major land war and shifts the military’s focus to the Pacific, where air and sea power are front and center.
Now out of Iraq and scheduled to leave Afghanistan in 2014, the Army views the next challenge as forging close security ties with countries that need to counter extremists. It is better to train local forces, such as those in al Qaeda-infested North Africa, than to risk a terrorist takeover that could lead to another protracted U.S. counterinsurgency.
“Security cooperation is the wave of the Army’s future in a downsized military strapped by fiscal challenges,” said retired Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, now an Army contractor. “The idea is to use minimal U.S. forces and funds to help build up partner militaries so they can defend themselves and won’t need to call on the U.S.
“It is certainly going to play a significant role in the future,” he said. “We will continue to put combat operations at the top, but security cooperation is seen as a critical player today, unlike in the past.”
Mr. Maginnis and Brig. Gen. Edward P. Donnelly sounded a wake-up call last year when they declared that the Army is not prepared for the present, much less the future. Their article appeared in Military Review, the Army’s forum for lessons learned and new ideas.
The two wrote that security cooperation is a disparate effort among Army commands and not taught as a core curriculum inside officer education institutions.
“We must reverse this trend by integrating security cooperation into our training, doctrine, and education, or we risk repeating the mistakes that left us unprepared for the current strategic environment,” Mr. Maginnis and Gen. Donnelly wrote.
At the time, Gen. Donnelly was a key strategist at the Pentagon. He now is stationed in Kabul as deputy commanding general for support in the NATO unit that trains and equips the Afghan National Army.
But the Army is changing. It has engaged the 162nd Infantry Training Brigade at Fort Polk, La., to train soldiers for other types of advisory roles.