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by Colonel David S. Maxwell
In his article, Should AF/PAK Hands be South Asia Hands?, Lieutenant Munson makes some very good points. I offer a few observations and comments to build his discussion.
First, it has taken us this long to develop the AF-PAK Hands program after we have been at war for 8 plus years. We are clearly learning and adapting but what about anticipating (as Cohen and Gooch remind us in Military Misfortune)? Clearly we have to win the war we are in and I think AF-PAK Hands can make an important long term contribution (long term because it takes years to develop the language and cultural expertise to have the kind of understanding of the politics and culture necessary to be able to effectively advise military leaders and policy makers). I think we should also adapt the SOF truth for a broader understanding -- "Competent SOF cannot be created after emergencies occur." The same holds true for area expertise -- you cannot wait for the crisis to occur to begin developing the area expertise necessary to deal with the emergency or the war. One of the important lessons that has been learned since 9-11 is how important cultural, political, and economic understanding and expertise is to political-military operations in the Era of Persistent Conflict.
Given the above, while we applaud and support the AF-PAK hands program (I agree it is the right thing to do -- but better late than never), we should be asking ourselves what other "hands" program should there be? Should we have a "Korea Hands" as the outcome to the "Korea Problem" is going to bring challenges as complex as we have ever seen and understanding North Korean culture is going to be critical to dealing with the challenges there. Should we have a "China Hands" program (though perhaps a little different than the China Hands we had in the pre-WWII Marines and in the State Department) anticipating China's rise to a near peer competitor and at least a regional hegemon? Should we have an "Africa Hands" program as we anticipate the future challenges on that continent? Of course we could go on and call for "Hands" programs around the world.
Colonel David S. Maxwell, U.S. Army, is a Special Forces officer with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and the Continental U.S., and is a graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College of the National Defense University. The opinions he expresses in this paper are his own and do not represent any U.S. Government, Department of Defense, or U.S. Army Special Operations Command positions.