Page 355: The officials involved in these new discussions understood the president’s–and the American public’s–reluctance to get embroiled in another Iraq. But they were also keen to preserve what the Chiefs were now calling the “lessons learned from 10 years of war.” Among these lessons: that conflicts of the future are likely to be a mix of offense, defense, and stability operations; that, in such wars, awareness of the local culture would be as important as an assessment of the enemy’s order of battle; and that, therefore, it was essential to retain officers who were skilled in the sort of warfare–and to educate and train the coming generation of officers in its principles and techniques.
Page 358: One space they filled was to transform the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, a school for armor and infantry officers at Fort Benning, Georgia, into a training ground for “full-spectrum operations,” combining tank maneuvers with counterinsurgency and humanitarian assistance, devising scenarios and exercises in which junior officers would have to switch back and forth from one mode of warfare to another, teaching them how to make judgments and decisions in a complex environment.
Page 361: By the time he hung up his uniform, not quite five years after signing his counterinsurgency manual, the American Army had evolved into a different institution. It was more flexible, more adaptive; it was in John Nagl’s phrase, a “learning organization.”
In the aftermath of wars, especially unpopular ones, armies tend to revert to traditional practices. But this was less likely to happen after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There would be no going back to a frame of mind that defined “war” strictly as a titanic clash between uniformed foes of comparable strength–and not just because the prospective foe in that clash, the Soviet Union, had in the meantime imploded. Another factor at play was that an entire generation of American officers had risen through the ranks fighting what were once called small wars, waged among the people in villages and cities, wars in which lieutenants often took as much initiative as commanders, and soldiers of all rank were attentive to the local culture as to the enemy’s order of battle.
It was extremely unlikely that official Army doctrine would ever again refer to these sorts of battles as “low-intensity conflicts,” much less as “military operations other than war.” The colonels and generals of the post-Petraeus era had spent what seemed like a lifetime fighting in these sorts of battle; they were not low intensity, and they certainly felt like wars.
Page 362: But knowing how to fight these wars didn’t necessarily mean winning them. There’s an old military adage: “The enemy has a vote.” You can go into battle with a brilliant plan, but if the enemy adapts and shifts gears, the plan is rendered worthless after the first shots are fired. In counterinsurgency wars, it’s not just the enemy that has a vote; the ally does, too. If you send troops overseas to bolster a regime whose leaders lack legitimacy or the will to reform, the most brilliant strategy–and strategist–will have little chance of prevailing.
-Text: The Insurgents, 2013, Fred Kaplan, 418 pages