Friday, August 29, 2003

The U.S. military commitments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other battlefields in the global war on terrorism are likely to be long-lasting. Before resolving the issue of whether to expand the U.S. military force structure to meet the commitments of the war, there is an immediate need for the types of forces most suited to the new kind of warfare. In addition to investing in high-value force options, there is also a need to spend money on different types of capabilities to integrate these forces into the new warfare. For a generation, the U.S. military has prepared forces able to defeat any opponent on the battlefield. What we now have to improvise is a capability to build upon this battlefield success in order to win a lasting victory in the war on terror.

There are some areas where additional forces and capabilities appear to be an urgent need. These have relatively few personnel, compared with the forces of conventional war-fighting ?- armored divisions, fighting wings or carrier battle groups -? and so, expansion does not present a politically painful zero-sum resource allocation decision. There is only one U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Group — specialists in Middle East and South Asia operations. Even with their National Guard backup from the 19th Special Forces Group, stretching them too thin is only going to lead to the skilled personnel that were instrumental to the successes of U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan and Iraq leaving the service. The Air Force’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft and their associated ground elements are likely to remain committed to a high operational tempo despite the end of their 1990s-era mission to contain Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The other services have comparable high-value assets that cannot be improvised. If you are going to need more tomorrow, invest in them today. These are the areas where the investment of defense dollars will likely yield the best short-term return. Before deciding whether the military needs to be made larger and accepting the costs that entails, we should see how it can be made more effective to meet the unique demands of the war on terrorism.

This war is unlike any other we have had to fight. The U.S. needs to be open to new ways of achieving the capabilities needed to win it. This includes deploying leaders, staffs and headquarters that are capable of performing the complex operations required to turn battlefield success into long-lasting victory. An ability to work with U.S. government, civil sector, host nation and coalition and contractor assets is more valuable in Iraq today than finely-planned fire and maneuvers. This involves dealing with missions the military had sought to avoid since the commitment to South Vietnam started to wind down in 1970. Investments in developing effective doctrine and capabilities for such contingencies while maintaining the combat edge are likely to present a better return than additional force structure.

After every war, the natural tendency is for the American electorate to want to “bring the troops home” regardless of the international situation. The U.S. military is, and will likely remain, a war-fighting force. But war-fighting by itself can only yield a meaningful victory when it can mesh with political, diplomatic, developmental and other components of an effective national policy. Investing in the forces we need to help make the transition from U.S. anti-terrorist operations to supporting new, friendly, host-nation governments will demonstrate that Washington has the will and the capability to remain committed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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