Thursday, December 16, 2004

Total War

An interesting article from the Christian Science Monitor highlights some of the challenges of putting 'more boots on the ground' in Iraq. It turns to be a little more complicated than ordering more men into the theater.  It means creating more units in the first place and structuring them differently.

The armored force that led the thrust into Baghdad in 2003 will in January become the first division to return to Iraq for a second, year-long tour. ... For decades, the Army has sized, arrayed, and trained its forces to sprint to victory in a conventional war against opposing states. Thursday, for the first time since Vietnam, it faces a marathon of protracted deployments against dogged insurgents - with no end in sight. Many of the strains are already showing as the 3rd Infantry trains in the Louisiana backcountry for another Iraq tour, grappling with an abrupt reorganization, an influx of new troops and equipment, and veterans with combat stress.

Army leaders admit that at current levels they must rotate troops into war zones at a rate that is unsustainable in the long run. Warning of a force not yet "broken" but "bent," they are rushing to add 30,000 soldiers to the 482,000-strong active-duty force and increase the number of active brigades - from 33 when the Iraq war began to 43 by 2006, with another five possible by 2007. Only then might the Army hope to shorten tours to about six months every two years, which soldiers say is more bearable for them and their families.

This apparently simple task conceals a multitude of difficulties, including changing the arrangements between reserve and active components; breaking up the old divisional structure into a larger number of brigades; creating the appropriate tables of equipment and tactics for the newly resized units; altering the role of support troops to reflect a "war without fronts". To it must be added the tasks of disseminating combat lessons learned, delivering training in new robotic and networked weapons systems. These are certainly in addition to addressing the more publicized shortfalls in body armor and hardened vehicles.

From the window of his C-12 jet, Maj. Gen. William Webster traces the contours of the Red River as it winds through the woods of his native Louisiana.  ... On this November morning, General Webster is heading back to Polk as commander of the 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) to appraise the Army's newest brigade. Cobbled together in just eight months, with scores of recruits arriving to fill out its ranks this summer, the 4th Brigade is undergoing final training before shipping out to Iraq early next month.

"In the midst of a war, we knew we had to change in eight to 10 months versus eight to 10 years," he says, drinking black coffee from a Thermos. "The chief [Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker] said, 'I think we can create 15 new brigades. You guys figure out how to do it.' We just had to run through this thing on the fly."

As Secretary Rumsfeld was on his way to Kuwait, during which he would be asked the famous question about "hillbilly armor", an interviewer asked him what he regarded as the task ahead. Whereas General Webster was concerned with solving operational problems, Rumsfeld was facing the same difficulties that Webster had been grappling with, but at a higher level of abstraction.

Well, the election’s over and the President asked me if I would be willing to stay on and I told him I would be delighted to do that. We’ve got a lot of work that’s well along, but some of it’s not finished. The task of moving an institution as large as the U.S. Department of Defense is a sizable task. And it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t happen instantaneously. Great bureaucracies don’t spin on a dime.

The services are in the process of rebalancing the active component with the reserve component so that we get on to active duty the forces we need on a continuing basis and put into reserves some of those skill sets that we need less frequently. The effect will be to not have to put such demands on the Guard and Reserve. ... We are doing something that needed to be done for decades and that is to adjust our force posture in the world globally. We’ll be bringing home some troops, we’ll be bringing home some dependents, we’ll be shifting our weight in various parts of the globe. And the emphasis will be not on numbers of things, but on capabilities. And we’ll be looking less to how many troops or how many tanks or how many planes are located in a certain spot and we’ll be focused more on precision, equipment, speed, agility, as opposed to mass and sheer numbers. And that’s going to be a hard thing for people to understand.

The hardest thing to understand was that the old world -- and the old military metrics had departed forever. During the First World War large horse cavalry masses were held in reserve for years in the expectation of a role which had already disappeared into history. Each transformational task that Rumsfeld faced had its analogue in the field. General Webster described his efforts to "reinvent the 3ID" against the "warstoppers".

"It's like guerrilla warfare," he says, describing tactics he's used to skirt the constraints of budgets and regulations to secure vital weaponry, personnel, and equipment. Several times in the past year, Webster has confronted obstacles so severe he called them "war stoppers." "At one point, I didn't have enough rifles to give to all the soldiers, or radios to give to the leaders, or armored vehicles. That's a war stopper," he says. "So by hook or by crook we got what we need." That meant, for example, using artful accounting to spend $11 million on add-on armor for 885 Humvees.

In a very real sense the dominance of the US armed forces over the enemy is a function of its superiority of organization. War is combat between armies not duels between individuals. In still wider terms it is a confrontation between societies and the power they can bring to bear on the battlefield. When Clausewitz referred to war as 'politics by other means', he was speaking the literal truth. The scheduled January 30 elections in Iraq are just as much part of the war plan as the redeployment of the 3ID, a component in a larger plan that is beyond a SecDef to control. Whatever his defects and mistakes, Rumsfeld at least recognizes the need to transform the purely military aspect of American strength. The challenge, without which any military transformation will be negated, is to improve foreign policy and intelligence in the same way.