- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 11, 2006

In her book, “The Guns of August,” Barbara Tuchman calculated that the French Army suffered about 300,000 causalities in the first month of World War I — about 10,000 a day. By comparison, the conflict in Iraq is a prolonged skirmish or a Small War.

The 1940 “Small Wars Manual” by the U.S. Marine Corps states that between 1800 and 1934, the Marine Corps conducted 180 military operations that can be classified as small wars, usually to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. These do not include major conflicts such as the Spanish-American War, or the prolonged conflicts of the Indian Wars. Contrary to popular myth, the U.S. has an established capability of successfully fighting small wars, but since World War II this capability has waned.

The main reason for the decline is that the promotion system of the military, particularly within the officer ranks, focuses on intensive wars at the expense of developing expertise in fighting small wars. Ambitious officers recognize developing the skills to fight small wars limits promotion potential.

For intensive wars, the basic combat unit is the brigade, up to 3,500 soldiers. The units are trained for great coordination, rapid mobility, communication, and focusing intense firepower on the enemy. The number and types of brigades can be tailored to meet the specific needs of the situation. For small wars, the basic unit may be as few as 12 soldiers highly skilled in numerous disciplines. The tactics employed and the training is often vastly different.

As the “Small Wars Manual” states, the psychological approach differs between the two types of war. Intensive wars require a belligerent spirit; small wars demand caution and steadiness. Fire power should be used only when necessary. In small wars, officers and troops need to understand the physiology, cultures, languages, politics and economics of the population in addition to understanding the enemy and the physical characteristics of the country. The required years of training takes qualified officers out of the mainstream promotion system.

Fortunately, Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command that includes the Middle East, grasps the situation. In a report released by the Senate Armed Services Committee (on line at www.centcom.mil/sites/uscentcom1/default.aspx), Gen. Abizaid outlines the difficulties we face, our successes and our failures. He notes the enemy we face is an ideologically driven, borderless network of fanatical groups of which al Qaeda is but one.

These groups seek safe havens where they can train and plan operations against the West. After the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, al Qaeda used Afghanistan as a safe haven to plan the successful attack in 2001.

Analyzing the Iraqi conflict in light of these and other documents is revealing. Iraq is the focal point of terrorists. They use precious resources in operations there that otherwise could be focused in planning and executing operations within the U.S. The situation is complicated by Sunni rejectionists and Saddamists who use criminal elements in their quest for a return of the position of privilege when they received most of the oil revenues at the expense of the Kurds and the Shia. The desire of some Shia to punish the Sunnis for their brutal suppression of the Shia under Saddam further complicates the conflict.

Unfortunately, the American population has been exposed to many myths. This is not surprising because, as the “Small Wars Manual” states, politicians and the press generally will produce antagonistic propaganda against small war operations. For example, there is little mention of the enormous governmental and economic success among Kurds in northern Iraq, or the improving economic condition in the south. All news are focused on the violence in four of the 18 provinces, particularly in Baghdad, with the implication violence is characteristic of the entire nation. This is similar to declaring the violence in certain parts of U.S. cities is characteristic of the entire nation.

It is impossible to discuss the many myths here, but an important question remains. Will the U.S. develop a small war capability to fight terrorists where they live, or will it return to waiting to be attacked and capable of responding only with extreme violence? We will know the answer if midlevel officers trained in small wars are promoted to general ranks — promotions that will be strongly opposed by existing generals of the old school.


Fairfax, Va.

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