5 years ago
We have previously argued for properly resourcing the long war. This argument was primarily based on multiple deployments and the affect that they have on warrior morale. Said a different way, consider Ernie Pyle. For a generation that has been raised on video games, World of Warcraft and rap, Ernie Pyle is unknown. Yet his prose serves as some of the best philosophical analysis of war that has ever been published, and should be required reading in professional military programs. Pyle had previously described the belief of World War II veterans that the only way home was through Germany. Winning the war meant going home, and permanently so. Going home for modern day warriors means being deployed again in a year with all of the stress and strain on troops and their families.
There is currently a debate within professional military circles regarding a somewhat different concern, that being that prosecution of counterinsurgency taking the focus off of more conventional operations, one of which is artillery (h/t Small Wars Journal Blog). Three active duty Army Colonels weigh in with a white paper entitled The Impending Crisis in Field Artillery’s Ability to Provide Fire Support to Maneuver Commanders. In it they argue that the practice of field artillery has languished with the exclusive practice of counterinsurgency.
Professor Lt. Col. Gian Gentile argues the same in “Breaking the American Army.”
Six years of counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has atrophied the Army’s ability to fight conventional battles like the kind fought in the first Gulf War against Iraq.
Recent analyses of the Israeli army’s performance in southern Lebanon in summer 2006 show that its skill at conventional fighting atrophied because of many years of conducting counterinsurgency operations in the Palestinian territories. In southern Lebanon the Israeli army suffered a significant battlefield defeat at the hands of Hezbollah militants who fought them tenaciously and ferociously using tactics reminiscent of the way the World War II German army fought the Americans in the hedgerows of Normandy in the summer of 1944. When Hezbollah fighters attacked Israeli armored and infantry columns in 2006, the Israeli army had severe difficulties at simple command and control and coordination between tanks and infantry.
The American army is in a similar condition today and the American people and their political leaders should be worried. For example, when combat brigades return from Iraq or Afghanistan and are looking at only a year or so back home before heading back the short amount of training time almost guarantees that the brigades will train almost exclusively on counterinsurgency operations.
Last summer a group of combat soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division wrote critically in a New York Times opinion article about Iraq and the long-term effects that continued American military presence would produce. Although these soldiers were doubtful of American military power solving Iraq’s deep-rooted problems, they acknowledged that as soldiers they would carry on despite their doubts about the mission. They said: “we need not talk of morale, as committed soldiers we will see this mission through.”
Those words by battle-hardened, combat soldiers from the 82nd Airborne reflect the ethic and commitment of the American army to accomplishing the assigned mission, even if it means breaking the Army in the process. Just as our political leaders can employ the American army as they see fit, so, too, can they keep it from breaking.
The Captain’s Journal will not weigh in on a solution to this dilemma. However, properly resourcing the long war, as we have argued for multiple times (basing this argument on the mental health of our warriors) would go a long way towards solving this problem as well. Morality must undepin our prosecution of the long war, this morality being applicable to our very own warriors and how we treat them, whether concern for their hearts or concern for their skills.