- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

The Soviet army broke itself on the rocks of Afghanistan in the 1980s, in part because its leaders refused to adapt their operational doctrine to the new kind of war. What worked for them in Czechoslovakia in 1968 didn't work in Afghanistan. The U.S. Army's futile attempt to deploy its Apache helicopter gunships to fight the Serbs in Kosovo three years ago should have caused it to change the way it organizes and trains before deploying for battle. But, according to my sources, the Army's organization and training are the same now as they were in 1999. The Army is stuck in a peacetime mindset that may severely reduce its effectiveness in the coming war on Iraq. Though our troops are highly capable, their leadership seems intent on reliving the failures of Task Force Hawk.

When Task Force Hawk deployed to the muddy airfield at Tirana, Albania, it found itself competing for resources with the massive humanitarian aid program passing food and supplies through the same airspace and roads. Much has been written about the Army trying to push heavy forces into places they won't go, and the politics of using other nations' territory to aid in a deployment. But the Army has already forgotten the two most important lessons of Task Force Hawk.

When Task Force Hawk deployed, it looked great on paper but was incapable of performing its mission. As the weeks passed without the attack helicopters going into action, commanders belatedly recognized the need for other assets to make the force complete. Week after week, they had to add artillery to suppress enemy air defenses, force protection troops, and then expanded communications capabilities to link them together. Intelligence analysts were added and then short-range air defenses came to protect against a perceived threat from Montenegro. Eventually, most of the Army's V Corps staff and thousands of soldiers were in the Tirana mud, but the Apaches were still on the ground.

The Apache gunship is an enormously capable weapon, but it's not very effective just sitting on a runway. After one Task Force Hawk helicopter crashed in a training flight, a quick assessment of the crew's experience revealed a paucity of night mission training. The Army's replacement system promptly made things worse because it replaces individual crews rather than small units and thus disrupts the fighting unit's ability to work as a team. It adds new crews who need training time to get used to working with the other people, and that training time can be hard to get once a unit is deployed. Many of the most experienced crews were transferred back to the United States, and other crews were brought in. Then a second Apache crashed and, as time passed, it became pretty clear that troops as unfamiliar with each other as they were with the terrain were not prepared to fight together. Unit cohesion essential to combat readiness was almost entirely absent.

Task Force Hawk should have taught the Army that wartime deployment demands both organization and training specifically dedicated to the war at hand. The Army's special forces, mostly attached to U.S. Special Forces Command, distinguished themselves in Afghanistan and will again in Iraq. But the regular Army appears stuck in its peacetime mindset, organization and training. Mr. Rumsfeld's transformation has not caught on where it counts in the regular Army.

In 1939, when George C. Marshall became chief of staff of the Army, he found it organized to maintain itself in garrison, not to move and fight. Marshall had two years to direct a thorough reorganization into fighting units. Today's Army looks much like the army of 1939, and it doesn't have two years to reorganize before the Iraq campaign. Before it deploys in large numbers, it needs to be reorganized into cohesive units that include all the various components that must work together to be effective in combat. Once those units are organized they need to train together, not try to become cohesive only after they are deployed.

Unfortunately, this is not happening. From quite a few Army officers those captains, majors and lieutenant colonels who will be trigger-pullers, not rear-echelon types come reports that in the places where you would expect to see it, there is no reorganization of units by task, no specific gunnery or maneuvers that would increase readiness. In fact, one source told me that there is no serious training in progress or any discernible sense of urgency in preparing for war.

Whether the Army reorganizes will not affect the ultimate outcome of the campaign. Saddam will fall one way or another. But the campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime will not be a cakewalk, and reorganizing will reduce the cost of victory. In the weeks or months before the Iraq campaign begins, Mr. Rumsfeld needs to demand that the reorganization take place, and that the new cohesive units train together long and hard. The Army leadership has been the most resistant to Mr. Rumsfeld's transformation of the armed services. At this point, those who wish to follow the example of Marshall should lead, and those who still resist should be retired. Saddam delendus est.


Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration.


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