10 years ago
Ever since the publication of Unrestricted Warfare by two Chinese military strategists, the Chinese have been interested in the utilization of all assets – military, financial, communication, technological – to wage war. It has been said that the Chinese admired, and were even jealous of, the the U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan. Ostensibly, the use of proxy fighters (i.e, the Northern Alliance), technology (bombs guided to their targets by Air Force special forces operators), and political pressure were key ingredients to successful military operations in the twenty first century.
But if the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq haven’t taught us anything else, we have learned that “force transformation” with a few more special forces operators carrying gizmos and gadgets and electronic toys simply cannot replace a military. In an insightful critique of Rumsfelf’s bold new vision, Opfor has this to say:
To some, his leadership was inspirational. To others, he was the guy who was single handedly dismantling a force that had barely survived eight years of Clinton-era defense cuts. The name for the pain was Transformation, Rumsfeld’s baby. The Pentagon’s “bridge to the 21st century.” And before September 11, it sounded and felt pretty slick. A lighter force, with emphasis on flexibility, technology, and force multiplication. Maximum effect, minimum loss cheered supporters.
In Afghanistan, Transformation was looking pretty good. A couple of hundred SPECOP warriors exploited our new, network-centric approach to warfighting and accomplished what the much-feared Soviet juggernaut could not. Who needs tanks? Who needs divisions? One foward air controller with a horse, a laptop, and a MILSTAR uplink to a B-52 could now do the heavy-lifting of an entire mechanized brigade.
And that’s when Transformation blasted off. The Air Force started delivering Raptors and Global Hawks while BRAC cut our fighter force by 20%. Money poured into the Army’s Future Combat Systems, the Marine led V-22 procurement, and the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships. New tankers for the Air Force, new EELV heavy lift rockets to facilitate our budding space weapons program, a new class of aircraft carrier and a new class attack sub. All very useful weapon systems, but all very expensive weapon systems.
Operation Iraqi Freedom was supposed to get the Transformation concept over that final, sizable high-cost hurdle. Afghanistan was mostly asymmetric, fought almost exclusively at the platoon and company level. OIF was Transformation’s real test. State v. State conflict, a real army -albeit ill-equipped and poorly trained- to prove the mettle of the new force. And again, Transformation worked. Less troops, higher tech did the job. Mission accomplished.
And like a Shakespearean tragedy, Rumsfeld’s bold new vision for a brave new military collasped at the height of its success. The insurgency dug-in, and with each IED blast another hole was punched in the Transformation concept. Billion-dollar B2s flew helpless overhead as suicide bombers and roadside bombs took the lives of troops who lacked armor on their Humvess and on their bodies. 100 dollar bombs killed 100,000 dollar weapon systems. The highly touted, highly financed UAV force could only watch as car bombers exploded Iraqi marketplaces. What we needed was more troops. What we got was more gizmos.
Rumsfeld’s bold new vision for the military created a cultural milieu in which it was possible to envision remarkable military successes with what we now know to be inadequate force projection. Like sycophants, the strategists around him wrote doctrine that created the theoretical framework to support this culture, and so the stage was set – as if a tragic theatrical production – for the situation we now face in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
We cannot shirk our responsibilities and hide the ugly truth. The top military brass were complicit in this affair, at least some of them, but it all starts at the top. And Rumsfeld was at the top. Things now public began in secret some time ago in war gaming conducted by Marine General Anthony Zinni called “Desert Crossing.” Zinni’s group came back with remarkably different recommendations than what ended up being put into place for the Iraq campaign:
The former CENTCOM commander noted that his plan had called for a force of 400,000 for the invasion — 240,000 more than what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved. “We were concerned about the ability to get in there right away, to flood the towns and villages,” USA Today quoted Zinni as saying in July 2003. “We knew the initial problem would be security.”
Army General Thomas “Tommy” Franks adjusted the concept when he assumed command of CENTCOM upon Zinni’s retirement. Yet even his initial version of OPLAN 1003-98 envisioned a need for 385,000 troops, according to the book, COBRA II, — before Rumsfeld insisted that the number be sharply reduced.
The plan called for 400,000 troops, Rumsfeld approved a fraction of 0.4 of that, for a total of 160,000 troops. So in spite of all of the bluster about giving the generals all the troops that had been requested, we now know that this was a subterfuge. It was all smoke and mirrors.
With its strict deference to rank, the military is “hard wired” to be impervious to peer review. Yet this is exactly what is called for by war planners. The civilian world does this every day. Lawyers review the work of other lawyers, engineers review other engineers, and so forth. In the very best reviews, rank and seniority mean nothing. The good, bad and the ugly get heard, and the dissenting voices are encouraged and given a stage on which to speak.
But it all starts at the top, and Rumsfeld was unwilling to listen to his subordinates. This obstinance, this unwillingness to bend and adapt and adjust and modify, limited the successfulness of an otherwise brilliant man. But it did much more than that. It placed our boys in harm’s way without what they needed to effect the mission and win the victory.
And thus has America’s experiment with “unrestricted warfare” ended. I don’t really care whether China learns from this example. But the U.S. must.