Military must adjust to battle modern enemies

By Freedom New Mexico

Several developments during recent days add to the impression, voiced by former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, among others, that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the U.S. military to the breaking point.

Fixing it will require a period of surcease from active combat — time to absorb lessons learned from recent conflicts.

Whether world conditions or our political leadership will make this possible is an open question.

Early this month, the Pentagon announced it is paying cash bonuses of up to $35,000 to younger officers who re-enlist, an expense made necessary by the alarming number who are deciding to leave the service after Iraq.

The Marines are lobbying to leave Iraq and assume primary responsibility for Afghanistan. And Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivered a speech that called for a radical restructuring of the Army, from training and personnel policies to its basic mission.

All this comes on the heels of the announcement that Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is recommending that the number of troops in Iraq be reduced modestly by next summer, to pre-“surge” levels.

This was hardly surprising because, regardless of success or lack of it on the ground in Iraq, there are simply not enough troops available to keep as many as are there now in Iraq for a sustained period of time.

The mission in Iraq has required reserves and National Guard members to be called up to an unexpected degree, weakening them for their more normal missions.

Service members have been issued “stop-loss” orders, requiring them to stay in uniform a while longer, just before their enlistment was due to expire.

Equipment is taking a terrible beating in Iraq’s harsh weather and combat environment.

And some domestic police forces are coping with shortages of firing-range bullets due to demand from the Iraq war.

Secretary Gates’ speech to the Association of the Army on Oct. 10 presaged further changes. He predicted future wars are likely to be what military jargonists call “asymmetric” — fought against highly mobile and adaptable guerrilla, irregular and terrorist adversaries.

The army traditionally has been trained for and is highly proficient at large-scale, army-on-army conventional battles, but Secretary Gates believes that will have to change.

“Arguably the most important military component in the War on Terror is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we enable and empower our partners to defend and govern their own countries,” Gates said. “The standing up and mentoring of indigenous armies and police — once the province of Special Forces — is now a key mission for the military as a whole.”

Insofar as the U.S. is determined to remain militarily engaged around the world rather than opting for a more modest and less interventionist foreign policy, Gates is probably right. But he may not have time even to get a good start on such reforms — which will meet with plenty of bureaucratic inertia and resistance — during the short time in office remaining to him.

If the Iraq war winds down reasonably, as we hope, soon there may be time to reconfigure the military to meet the challenges of a world with all too many jihadists and terrorists seeking to damage the United States.

Otherwise a great deal of improvisation will be required — and Americans have seen how well that worked during the early stages of the occupation of Iraq.