Nagl and Gentile are Both Right

Nagl and Gentile are Both Right

So What Do We Do Now?

by Robert Haddick, Small Wars Journal Op-Ed

Nagl and Gentile are Both Right (Full PDF Article)

Small Wars Journal readers are no doubt familiar with the debate between John Nagl and Gian Gentile about the kinds of threats the U.S. will face in the period ahead and how U.S. ground forces should prepare for those threats. (See Shawn Brimley's excellent summary of the argument for a refresher.)

I have concluded that both men are right; their arguments are not mutually exclusive. But if both men are right, how should the U.S. organize, train, and employ its ground forces?

The purpose of this paper is to explain how to succeed against irregular adversaries, while restoring a more credible deterrence against conventional high-intensity threats.

Main Points

1. The Long War, characterized by persistent tribal and ethnic conflicts, is a reality. Some of these conflicts will threaten U.S. interests. John Nagl is correct when he argues that the U.S. needs military forces that are specially adapted for success in persistent irregular warfare.

2. But Gian Gentile is also right -- the U.S. has an interest in maintaining its military resource commitment low and its strategic flexibility high. The U.S. should not drain away its limited endurance, prestige, and resources on open-ended medium-intensity engagements in the Islamic world or anywhere else.

3. The answer is to create Nagl's Combat Advisor Corps and use it to for Phase 0 and 1 operations -- prevention, shaping, and deterrence. The more attention the U.S. gives to Phase 0-1 operations, the fewer Phase 2-4 operations America's general purpose forces will have to fight.

4. Making a greater commitment to Phase 0-1 operations will allow the U.S. to seize the initiative in the irregular warfare domain, control US operational tempo, and regulate U.S. military resource usage.

5. Advisor Corps Phase 0-1 operations are an economy-of-force mission. When successful, they will allow the rest of the U.S. military, including the large majority of U.S. ground combat power, to prepare for major combat contingencies, thus enhancing strategic deterrence.

6. A professional and well-trained Advisor Corps will also have the mission of establishing relationships with sub-national ethnic and tribal groupings. These relationships will provide U.S. decision-makers with greater flexibility when dealing with future irregular conflicts.

Nagl and Gentile are Both Right (Full PDF Article)

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Dave is on target again. BZ.

The Advisor Corps is a very bad idea.

He mentioned one item that triggered several recollections:

...to be a credible adviser you must have the bona fides that establishes credibility with the "advisee". If you have no recent and relevant experience in combat units (or combat support or combat service support depending on the skill set required for the advisory mission) then you are at a disadvantage when dealing with counterparts because they want a "proven" adviser - an expert Soldier, Sailor, Airmen or Marine - vice an expert adviser.

I can recall numerous times while advising seeing two separate and quite different host nation's Officers seeking the advice of those with recent experience regardless of rank while merely politely listening to those with strong cultural credibility,strong language skills and equal or greater rank. They quite strongly preferred to socialize with the latter -- but they listened to the former...

Rob Says:

Quote: "You have to consider not only what it takes in term of time and effort to get them to that point, but the experience sets that got them there e.g. if you are going to advise on how to paint, you need to be a pretty good painter yourself. Getting those skills and keeping them current must be considered, or what you get is people who have very basic skills, learned to paint exclusively by watching someone else paint, or stayed a t a Holiday Inn Express."

This is exactly why we should not develop a separate, stand alone adviser corps. First, the combat skills that you need to be advising a friend, partner, or ally on will atrophy and while you might have a great cultural understanding you might not possess the tactical skills needed to be able to advise on. And this applies from the tactical to the so called "enterprise" or ministerial level advisers (those who are helping to establish the government institutions such as the ministry of defense, interior, etc).

Second, to be a credible adviser you must have the bona fides that establishes credibility with the "advisee". If you have no recent and relevant experience in combat units (or combat support or combat service support depending on the skill set required for the advisory mission) then you are at a disadvantage when dealing with counterparts because they want a "proven" adviser - an expert Soldier, Sailor, Airmen or Marine - vice an expert adviser.

With all due repsect to our great FAOs out there one of the drawbacks (to the Army program) is the single tracking of FAOs from Captain onward. While this is great for personnel management, career development, and education, the loss of "operational" FAOs (those who rotate between operational and FAO assignments) means we are going to have future attaches and security assistance officers who know the FAO and Security Assistance business inside and out (read foreign military sales, etc) but who have no real credibility with their military host nation partners because they have not been in an operational assignment (combat or not) since they were Captains. Our "adviser corps" will be the same way.

And of course I have yet to see any critical analysis of requirements for a 20,000 man "adviser corps" for requirements beyond Afghanistan and Iraq. Yes we have have to succeed in those countries (note I say succeed vice win - because we can only help the Iraqis and Afghans win - we cannot win ourselves). We will end up with 4 X BCTs of senior level personnel who are looking for work, whose promotions will be stagnated, and when the decision is finally made to disband the adviser corps" for lack or work, we will have a huge morale problem within our force.

The way expertise is gained for tactical to enterprise level advising is by being a member of units and organizations that actually execute the tasks and missions that an adviser will be advising and assisting on. If we put 20,000 personnel in a separate stand alone "adviser corps" we will have 20,000 personnel with no credibility with host nation forces and no relevant expertise to share with counterparts (but they will wear the coveted "advisor" tab!!!)

What we need to be able to do is properly task organize to meet mission requirements. We need to conduct the proper and thorough mission assessment (which includes most importantly the requirements of the host nation) and then apply the right force (or combination of forces to accomplish the mission) Unfortunately this means being able to find the right people with the right skill sets and that could mean talking people from exist modular organizations.

What should be considered when determining the force is the right combination of GPF and SOF. If we could break the rice bowls and understand what is required for the mission then we could properly task organize to accomplish the mission. We need a combination a great GPF and SOF and not one or the other. And as we look to the future I think we need to strongly consider that we will face the Hybrid Threats that Frank Hoffman has articulated so well. And to defend against those threats we will need a highly capable, agile and flexible combat force combined with the ability drawn from that force to advise and assist friends, partners, and allies against, subversion, terrorism, insurgency, lawlessness as well as external threats to a nation's sovereignty.
V/R
Dave

I disagree with Haddick's logic in his summary.

Point 1 - specialization is not necessarily a panacea for success. In fact it has in the past created overspecialization that was too rigid to adapt. Sub-cultures resistant to changes in conditions often grow from such specialization. Better in my opinion to focus on leadership, and all that goes into making it better. This is not a case for "adapted" as much as it is "adaptable" - which I consider a function of leadership (both on the ground and as driver of institutional adaptation and change) at all levels.

I do not draw the same conclusion from agreeing with COL Gentile in point 2 that Haddick arrives with in point 3. The answer is to make good choices about the when and the where we use military force in support of or to achieve a political objective based on a better perception of the stakes, and then to remain flexible as new conditions occur. It is not always good to do something because you think you can, the result of your action may change the nature of the stakes for others, and as such further draw you in on emotions, sunk costs and new stakes. Again, it the logic of the inference I take issue with.

I think in point 4 while it may help better anticipate OPTEMPO requirements, absolutes like "seize" and "control" and even in this usage, "regulate" are something of platitudes - they sound really nice, but are in fact subject to policy appetite and emotion. Better to acknowledge that while we have a deficit in some areas there are limits to what we can achieve by fixing them. I do agree we need to better understand them, and develop capabilities to address them, but these have to be in the role of support to USG policy objectives, not in the lead. Any language which promises something at the expense of reality needs to be placed in the proper context of how and why we do business the way that we do.

I think the idea of an "economy of force" has to be relative to a comparative idea. That is a Corps (or for that matter a division, a BDE, even a BN has requirements that extend its footprint. Theses requirements are driven by the conditions. The conditions could be permissive and relatively benign, or they could non-permissive and require significant support. While on the on the surface it may appear to lower institutional, operational and strategic risk, I'd also offer that it raises them in other areas.

Having helped a few folks consider campaign design where we would use advisors to build security capacity on a large scale in a relatively short period of time, that is across the breadth of a partner's security sector (police, paramilitary, military services, border patrol, etc.) and depth (from the soldier to their institutions and ministries, I can tell you that the advisor stock we are talking about are people not only with the skills and attributes that make a good advisor, but have the education, training and experience sets to be credible in their roles - nobody wants someone whose sole skill is being able to advise. This makes for a high end, well developed sort of person -think good SNCOs and BQ'd Captains and FG officers in anything above the BN level, and the higher you go, the more rank associated with that experience set - so by the time you get to the DIV through ministerial levels you are talking some senior folks. You have to consider not only what it takes in term of time and effort to get them to that point, but the experience sets that got them there e.g. if you are going to advise on how to paint, you need to be a pretty good painter yourself. Getting those skills and keeping them current must be considered, or what you get is people who have very basic skills, learned to paint exclusively by watching someone else paint, or stayed a t a Holiday Inn Express. You have to be careful about assuming that just because you have an organizational structure that the people who make it valid will just spring into existence and be self perpetuating. You also have to consider that if you are talking about high end folks, your ability to fill those slots may be in competition with somebody elses requirements and priorities.

Even in OIF and OEF, the support structures which we've spent years developing are often overlooked as if you cold just put down seed and water and grow contracts. There is a great deal of overhead costs to operate in austere environments on any real scale assuming you are in a hurry and really want to show progress.

This is not to say that Army Special Forces ODAs or BCTs are the only answer. On the contrary, its about understanding the environment and the conditions at hand in the context of what you are trying to do and being able to generate capabilities to meet those requirements. To assume that a way to an one size fits all solution set creates risk on a number of levels. Better I think to recognize that some requirements may be filled with collective, unit solutions, and some will require individual skills that no matter how hard you try and account for them in an organizational setting will resist you being able to. Better in this case to understand the range of requirements and address them across DOTMLPF vs. trying to break out the "O" and wish the others away. This requires us looking across the our entire human capital, identifying the gaps and adjusting ourselves to address them. If we do a better job of this, then as conditions change we can make use of all of our assets and not just those we've confined to one area.

To get the most of this, I'd leave out the term "Advisor Corps" in point 6 and substitute advisor, and I'd leave out the categories which follow it all together.

I do agree with some of what John Nagl and COL Gentile wrote, and I share their concerns on the issues they raise. I recognize that we have to be able to do both in a full spectrum manner, my concern is that we do it in a way that identifies and reduces risk at all levels, is the most effective given our resources and constraints and as such stands the best chance of accomplishing the mission. I think writ large we are developing a better understanding on how to do so, and that without them raising important issues we might never have challenged ourselves in a fashion that produces feasible and sustainable ideas.

Best, Rob

I read the Nagl and Gentile essays yeasterday, and I thought "they are both right". Then, today, I see this effort to reconcile the two views. The only point I would add is that Mr. Haddick is even more correct than his essay shows. He is right that the Advisory Corps would be a preemptive, economy of force element, which would perhaps reduce the likelihood of a major conflict. However, it would also provide the nucleus of the follow-on force that will inevitably be needed any time the fighting army that Gentile describes has taken down a country somewhere. Any time that happens, some type of occupation is likely to ensue. Better to have someone assigned to take the lead on those functions, so the the people who are primarily warfighters can stay focused.