Short '06 Lebanon War Stokes Pentagon Debate

Short '06 Lebanon War Stokes Pentagon Debate - Greg Jaffe, Washington Post

A war that ended three years ago and involved not a single U.S. soldier has become the subject of an increasingly heated debate inside the Pentagon, one that could alter how the U.S. military fights in the future.

When Israel and Hezbollah battled for more than a month in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the result was widely seen as a disaster for the Israeli military. Soon after the fighting ended, some military officers began to warn that the short, bloody and relatively conventional battle foreshadowed how future enemies of the United States might fight.

Since then, the Defense Department has dispatched as many as a dozen teams to interview Israeli officers who fought against Hezbollah. The Army and Marine Corps have sponsored a series of multimillion-dollar war games to test how U.S. forces might fare against a similar foe. "I've organized five major games in the last two years, and all of them have focused on Hezbollah," said Frank Hoffman, a research fellow at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico...

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More from the WaPo piece, on the debate over shifting the U.S. military more toward conventional war or COIN:

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army's top officer in the Pentagon, has said it is essential that the military be able to do both simultaneously. New Army doctrine, meanwhile, calls for a "full spectrum" service that is as good at rebuilding countries as it is at destroying opposing armies.

But other experts remain skeptical. "The idea that you can do it all is just wrong," said Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations. Soldiers, who are home for as little as 12 months between deployments, do not have enough time to prepare adequately for both types of wars, he said.

Biddle and other counterinsurgency advocates argue that the military should focus on winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and only then worry about what the next war will look like.

Biddle seems to be using some short-term thinking here. How long does he expect us to have substantial forces tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan? Because Gates and Casey are talking about a shift for the next 20-30 years. I'm as big a proponent of COIN tactics as anyone, but it's a fact that North Korea just launched a missile with a range that could put it within 300 miles of Alaska. So it is essential that the Army and Marine Corps be able to conduct both. Whether we like it or not, modern warfare is complex enough to necessitate that. And if we can't adapt--and we take Biddle's one-or-the-other approach--then we'll end up paying for it on the battlefield at some point (yet again).

To say that we're only capable of focusing on either force-on-force or COIN, I think is defeatist. I don't think we have much of a choice but to somehow become proficient at both. Because the enemy--not to be too cliched here--gets a vote. And they'll be bringing both.