Small Wars Journal

Searching for a Baker’s Dozen: Consolidating the Post 9-11 Strategic Lessons Learned

Mon, 09/17/2012 - 7:32pm

As the U.S., NATO, and the UN move forward toward the 2014 ISAF responsible troop withdrawal from Afghanistan; strategists, policy makers, and warfighters should ponder the past twelve years.  What critical lessons have we learned since the attacks of 9-11?   Often in warfare and business, the team that can adapt to the new reality fastest wins the next battle.  This piece seeks to better grasp the new reality.

In an attempt to spark discussion and gain insights from a broader audience, we have provided twelve lessons learned while seeking thirteen, a baker’s dozen.  As you read below, consider what lessons have been left off, which should be consolidated, and which should be dropped as an incorrect lesson.  The lessons proposed below are meant to be contentious, worthy of critical thinking and debate. 

After teaching Afghanistan-Pakistan Fellows for two years at the National Defense University, this is an attempt to bring the seminar discussions from senior military and civilian officers sent to Fort McNair to reflect on their multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is their product, and it has been a privilege to engage “Socratically” on a conflict that has dominated our generation.  We look forward to reading proposals for Number 13 rounding out the Baker’s Dozen..

The Proposed Post 9-11 Strategic Lessons Learned.

  1.  The U.S. invasion of Iraq enabled the Taliban to regroup in Pakistan and avoid defeat.
  2. The U.S. government as a whole failed to adequately plan for Phase 3-5 of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq resulting in policy-operations-infrastructure-resourcing mismatches that stalled momentum and drained public confidence.
  3. The U.S. failed to adequately predict actions of other states acting in their own interest resulting in failed policies.  Examples include:  Pakistan, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
  4. Improvised Explosive Devices are the weapon of choice of the modern guerilla.
  5. DoD assumed greater capability from the State Department and USAID than should have been expected in a combat environment, exposing the Achilles heel of the Clear, Hold, Build and Transfer counterinsurgency model.  Similarly, State is shackled by too restrictive security regulations.
  6. Other nations funded just enough support to allow the U.S. to over extend and slowly bleed down their lone super power lead.
  7. U.S. Policy planners failed to adequately plan and mitigate for the reality that you cannot defeat an insurgency if the insurgents have a safe haven in a short duration conflict.
  8. CERP funds helped reduce military casualties, but often resulted in a strategic loss of legitimacy for the host nation and the overall U.S. Whole of Government effort.
  9. The U.S.  Policy planners used large military footprint operations that delegitimized the local leaders strengthening the insurgents’ position.
  10. Focusing large numbers of U.S. forces in a few countries to fight the war on terror is a poor strategy because of the large number of ungoverned areas that will harbor terrorists.  The ends do not justify the means, nor the costs of the means.
  11. By taking rapid action, the U.S. forced al Qaeda to fight on their own soil, preventing further attacks on the U.S. that would have had extreme economic global consequences.
  12. The toll of multiple repeat deployments will have long-term impacts on the Armed Forces, particularly in DoD and the Veterans Administration as the departments struggle to get ahead of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder impacts on our service members. 


Note:  The statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.