Small Wars Journal

Missing From Our Two Wars: Clear Goals, Joint Forces

Missing From Our Two Wars: Clear Goals, Joint Forces by Lieutenant General David Deptula (USAF Ret.) at AOL Defense.

... After the early employment of force in both Iraq and Afghanistan to achieve critical national security objectives, mission-creep -- and the "group think" of counter-insurgency (COIN) doctrine -- captured Pentagon leadership (and the Joint Staff "Decade of War" report). This led to committing resources to what had then become contingencies of choice rather than of necessity. Our nation's leadership would be much better served in the future if the Pentagon created a culture and environment that encourages innovative thinking instead of rewarding conformity and support toward the warfighting paradigm of the day...



Tue, 10/02/2012 - 2:29pm

I keep saying one of the most serious mistakes we are making in this Long War or what ever we are calling now is to think that the Air Force does not understand or cannot do COIN/UW. They can and they can do it better in many cases but that just dosen't jibe with the Guerrilla Warfare Ph.D's so it tends to be overlooked....much to our Nations peril.

Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 10/02/2012 - 10:37am

Really good article but I dunno about that title. Peace is the problem because we in the West can't accept leaving just like that....I think.

The institutional and intellectual and cultural bias among planners in various institutions and among intellectuals and journalists that write about this sort of thing tends to be for a kind of Marshall Plan for everything.

I would say the entire National Security Apparatus--of which the American military is simply one part and reflects the larger "internationalist" culture--needs an intellectual shake-up. Of first principles too.

As to why we stayed, well, I think about that a lot and have lots of different potential "answers", but I don't really know. I tend to make things up. I choose to think of that as being creative....

On Iraq, well, I still can't put my mind around what happened. On Afghanistan:

1. In order to have a coalition like NATO (we needed the troops, too) and to stop criticism of the military, it was best to view events in Afghanistan as a peacekeeping operation which would benefit the country and so "demilitarize" the situation?

2. Bosnia and 90s era capacity building as residua within institutions including the military?

3. The canard--repeated to this day--that we in the US abandoned Afghanistan and thus if we stayed and replayed history, all would be well.

4. Understanding the world using terms like non-state actor when we are dealing with a complicated nexus of state and non-state. Unfortunately, the West developed a water carrying attitude toward militaries and intelligence agencies that proved useful in the past and with whom higher-ups had personal relationships (plus, it doesn't help that diaspora from some states have had an activist role in their adopted countries - and those countries members of our infamous, sorry, famous coalitions.)

I could go on and on and have around here before.

Bill C.

Wed, 10/03/2012 - 12:07pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

When the goal and objective of the United States, and/or our partner nation, IS NOT to attempt -- against the will of a substantial portion of the population -- to very quickly and very radically transform the partner nation's political, economic and social systems; then these would seem to be instances in which the application of SOF in a COIN/FID setting would apply? (Example: Operation Enduring Freedom - Philippines).

Can the same thing be said, however, in those cases where the goal and objective of the United States, and/or our partner nation, IS to attempt -- against the will of a substantial portion of the population -- to very rapidly and very radically transform the partner nation's political, economic and social systems. Or, in these such very different circumstances, must different types of warfare and, accordingly, much different types and numbers of forces, and different applications of SOF be brought to bear? (Example: Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan).

Given these vast differences, should we simply discard the seemingly erroneous notion that what we are doing in Afghanistan is "counterinsurgency?"


Fri, 10/05/2012 - 10:03pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Our subsequent intervention is often less about transforming societies than it is about domestic politics: there's a perceived need to justify intervention by displaying the intent to m"install" something Americans will recognize as "democracy". Needless to say, this often doesn't work out very well.

Bill C.

Tue, 10/02/2012 - 8:55pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

Same or similar problems in those cases when our subsequent/follow-on intervention is designed to radically transform -- more to our liking -- not only the state but also the society?


Tue, 10/02/2012 - 12:30am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

It's my understanding that our established FID practices are built on the assumption that we're assisting a pre-existing government at the request of that government. I'm not sure how applicable those practices would be in a case where our initial intervention was designed to remove a pre-existing government and replace it with a government more to our liking, as was the case in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The extent to which the US could provide assistance in "growing legitimacy" for a government that is widely (and quite reasonably) perceived as an extension of our presence is debatable.

It seems to me that the post-regime change efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are not fully COIN or FID, rather an attempt to back out of COIN and into FID. Given the progress of those efforts we might be well advised to come up with a whole new set of practices for such cases. We might be better advised to avoid those situations completely, as they clearly present a range of complications and a time frame for resolution that we are poorly equipped to manage.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 10/01/2012 - 10:04pm

Among the many criticisms from LtGen (Ret) Deptula here is an important one from my parochial perspective:

We know how to do COIN: it's called foreign internal defense. Long a core mission for Special Operations Forces, FID provides partner nation training and advisory assistance in combating insurgent challenges and growing popular legitimacy. It's not our job to win hearts and minds; it's the partner nation's.