Small Wars Journal

After Years of Fighting Insurgencies, the Army Pivots to Training for a Major War

Wed, 10/31/2018 - 3:46am

After Years of Fighting Insurgencies, the Army Pivots to Training for a Major War by Sean D. Naylor - Yahoo News

In mock battles at the Army’s massive combat training centers in California’s Mojave Desert, Louisiana’s pine forests and Germany’s mud, the service is spending less time preparing troops for meetings with village elders and more time training soldiers how to respond to artillery barrages and attacks from enemy fighter bombers.

After spending the last 17 years fighting grinding counterinsurgencies in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is shifting its gaze. This year’s National Defense Strategy charged the military with preparing for high-intensity conflict against major nation-state threats like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. The Army is falling in line.

The change is popular with the current crop of generals, to judge from their comments at the recent Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting and exposition in Washington, D.C. But if the military’s post-Korean War history is any guide, the Army’s next war is more likely to be another messy insurgency than a conflict with a major power. Army senior leaders say that they can prepare adequately for both. Others are not so sure.

“We have a bad habit of not being able to stop the pendulum in the middle,” said retired Col. Joe Collins, a professor at the National War College. That context has some observers — including the general arguably most associated with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — cautioning that as the Army gears up for war on the European plains, it must not forget the lessons it has paid such a high price in blood to learn.

“It is reasonable to refocus a fair amount on higher-end tasks on which we didn’t focus a great deal during the years of back-to-back deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan,” said retired Gen. David Petraeus, who at different periods was the senior U.S. commander for each of those wars. “But we do need to retain the lessons that we learned too often the hard way in those counterinsurgency campaigns.”

The Army has been here before. After withdrawing from Vietnam in the mid-1970s, the service turned its attention to preparing for war in Europe against the Soviet Union and wanted nothing more to do with the sort of battles it had fought in the jungles of southeast Asia. “We did walk away from it,” said retired Lt. Gen. Guy Swan, vice president of education at the Association of the U.S. Army. The only lesson the Army seemed to learn from Vietnam was that it didn’t want to fight a counterinsurgency again…

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