April 16, 2007
By John T. Bennett
The Bush administration’s plan to add 92,000 soldiers and Marines to the U.S. armed forces is aimed primarily at preparing to fight another lengthy irregular war, with units rotating into theater and training indigenous militaries to carry out missions on their own turf, the Pentagon’s top policy deputy said.
“The need to move from a force that is garrisoned forward for highly kinetic, major combat operations to one that has more of its mass back in the United States — but rotates forward — is something that we see in the future,” said Ryan Henry, the Defense Department’s principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy.
Henry’s comments offer a rare look into Pentagon thinking about how those new troops will be used, and how lessons from rolling rotations of units into the Iraq theater are making their way into the Defense Department’s force-planning strategy.
The concept “of prolonged, irregular campaigns — whatever the level of combat intensity or security cooperation it might be — does appear to be out there in the future,” Henry said.
U.S. defense leaders also believe forces will be called more often to train indigenous militaries in strategic hot spots.
“The need for the United States, on a cooperative level, to work with a larger number of partners and to work with them in their countries, we see as something that will be out there in the future,” Henry said April 6. “[An expanded] ground force supports that capability.”
The White House announced the expansion in mid-January, amid political pressure to swell the force as the longer-than-anticipated post-combat phase of the Iraq war stressed the Army and Marine Corps.
Some former defense officials and military experts have questioned the wisdom of swelling the force, and say the White House has failed to adequately explain how it foresees using the additional troops.
Until last year, the Department of Defense built its force structure around the “1-4-2-1 concept,” named for its major tenets:
*Defend U.S. soil.
*Fight aggression through forward deployments to places like Europe, Northeast Asia, the East Asian littoral and Middle East/Southwest Asia.
*Fight two major conventional combat operations at nearly the same time.
*Rapidly win in one of those conventional fights.
But the Pentagon scrapped the concept when officials crafted the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).
“Under the new construct, the U.S. military is sized and shaped for three main types of missions: homeland defense, the war on terrorism/irregular warfare and conventional campaigns,” Michèle Flournoy, a senior adviser in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, wrote in a spring 2006 assessment of the QDR strategy.
“In each case, U.S. forces must be able to meet the peacetime or steady-state requirements associated with a given set of operations, to surge for crisis operations and to maintain a rotation base adequate to sustain longer operations over time,” she wrote.
Flournoy helped craft the 1997 QDR when she was deputy assistant defense secretary for strategy. She also led the National Defense University’s 2001 QDR working group.
Said Henry, “We moved from the concept of being able to engage in two, nearly simultaneous large conventional campaigns to saying one of those campaigns could be irregular and could be prolonged. And that’s obviously what we’re experiencing right now in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“When one looks at that, you realize the sizing part of the force is not driven by the major combat operations, where you tend to have them all there for the period and duration of the conflict, but it is driven more by the prolonged, irregular campaign where you’re rotating forces in,” he said. “And so, you have to size the force not just for those that are engaged, but for those that are in the rotational base.” Unlikely Scenario?
But some observers say it is unlikely that the U.S. military might find itself in another — to use Henry’s description — “prolonged, irregular” fight.
“I just don’t see a country out there where we’d try this again,” said Gordon Adams, a former Clinton administration official in the Office of Management and Budget, referring to the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.
None of the nations on the current list of potential trouble spots are candidates for sending in a massive American ground force, or keeping it there for a half-decade, Adams said.
U.S. military action against Iran likely would consist of air and naval strikes; using force in Pakistan to keep its nuclear capabilities out of the hands of Sunni Muslim extremists would more likely be the work of special operations forces; and invading China would mean taking on its massive population, Adams said.
“If it’s going to be irregular warfare — or even counterterrorism — in the future, you’re not talking about a larger force,” Adams said. For those missions, a smaller force trained for nonconventional missions would be needed.
Even Henry’s own read of the world as the Iraq conflict drags on seems to suggest the prospects for another “irregular, prolonged” encounter in the near term are fading.
“As we prepare for the ‘long war,’ do we see ourselves engaging in another evolution that looks exactly like Iraq or Afghanistan? In all, probably not,” Henry said. “I mean, history does not repeat itself that closely.”
Yet that appears to be what the Pentagon is planning for, Adams said: “They are already fighting the last war — and that is to say Iraq — all over again.”
But another former military official called the focus on being ready for more lengthy, asymmetric conflicts a “very prudent planning scenario.” He said the planning framework laid out by Henry is wiser in the emerging global security environment than preparing for a pair of simultaneous conventional fights.