America’s Imperial Army

I re read Wesley Clark’s Winning Modern Wars last night.  Although written in 2003, General Clark had a very clear understanding of what was going wrong with the Bush administration’s policies in Afghanistan. 

The US Army/Marines and the effective use of the ground forces face two significant problems.

First, is the size of commitment. At it’s peak, KFOR had 50,000 troops in Kosovo.  That was an international force, not just US.  Compare that to a projected 40,000 to 60,000 troops destined for Afghanistan.  Not significantly more will come from outside the US.  NATO still maintains about 15,000 troops in Kosovo.

It doesn’t take Eric Shinseki to see that Afghanistan will need far more troops for effective security and internal defense. 

Clark’s second point was more abstract but probably more important.  The US military, especially the Army and Marines, is designed and trained to succeed as a force on force military.  The operational theory and tactics that underpin most of the force is designed for maneuver warfare against an organized enemy.

And while tactics can change, the historic mentality of US soldiers is to get in, locate, close with and destroy the enemy — and then get out and go home.  The all volunteer force and its critical reserve components rely heavily on soldiers who are also family members and parents.  Many who aren’t parents were recruited into a military that bills itself as a stepping stone to college or a career outside the military.

These are soldiers who don’t mind the sacrifice, but do so as a means to an end.  Part of a larger whole. 

What happens is that this force, trained and willing to fight, now goes into an environment which doesn’t always have an organized enemy and there may be few fights and some of those with ambiguous goals.  The enemy often seems more like the rest of the population than that host population resembles the American soldiers. 

This means that, overall, the US military makes a poor army of occupation or even a poor counterinsurgency force in a foreign and ambiguous region. 

Not only can the soldiers be confused, but often, the populations we are there to help can become confused.  The US forces can become a symbol of Western influence and interference.  The presence of US and European troops becomes center stage in a propaganda war.  Remember, the host population and the enemy insurgents have more in common with each other than with the foreign soldiers.

These considerations mean that it is possible that a big US troop presence in Afghanistan could be a square peg in a round hole.

US troops in Afghanistan are similar to British troops in Northern Ireland in that their PRESENCE is part of the problem.  But, without a strong security presence, Afghanistan cannot succeed. 

Certainly a short term presence of US forces may be the only solution.  But the long range goal should rely more closely on security forces that look less like a US presence and a more multinational force evolving eventually into Afghan security and police forces.

This is only looking at the security issues and not the far more difficult problems of building a viable Afghan nation recognized as a sovereign country by all parties.

But it is just one more reason why a large enough US presence may ultimately backfire from within.

And we’ve seen THAT movie already.

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