Monday, December 08, 2008

Irregular Warfare

Last Monday, December 1, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England made it official: irregular warfare is on equal footing with “traditional” warfare – almost.

About a year ago – after six years in Afghanistan and still fighting a virulent insurgency (from the perspective of the United States) – the Pentagon decided to increase the amount of time devoted to developing and analyzing war plans and determining budgetary requirements to support training and, when necessary, irregular operations or counter-operations.

At that time, however, Secretary England decided to appoint as the main proponent for IW not Joint Forces Command but U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Apparently, the thought at the time was that USSOCOM was the Pentagon’s operational arm for irregular warfare and, as such, they ought to be the ones to pull together theory, doctrine, training, and equipment based on the “lessons learned” from field encounters.

The change to JFCOM as the lead agent for IW reflects two realities not fully appreciated last year. USSOCOM had always been a supporting command – that is to say, if a geographical command such as Southern Command or Pacific Command had a mission that fell within USSOCOM’s responsibilities, a request for support for the geographical command would be generated and, once approved, would go to USSOCOM to be executed. Clearly, the command’s focus lay in the short to mid-term

When USSOCOM was assigned the lead role for IW development and doctrine they were already engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan in hot wars and in Africa in trying to prevent them. The addition of another major covert operation – this time in Iran – may well have stretched special operations resources to the edge.

Joint Forces Command has the requirement, inter alia, to develop and write doctrine for “traditional” multi-service and combined operations. Its focus is long term and cuts cross all the forms of warfare. But it is also concerned with integrating the other elements of power – economic, social, governance, environmental – that are more conducive to stability and reconstitution than military power.

Some will object that the Pentagon is pushing IW forward as another arena where the U.S. military will insist on devoting big money for forces and weapons. Like it or not, IW as irregular warfare – like that other kind of IW, Information Warfare – is not going to disappear any time soon.

What JFCOM might accomplish, with its longer view and its fiscal resources, is the integration of non-military assets and individuals with “force protection” units to respond – if asked by a post-conflict regime – for calls for assistance in reconstituting the rule of law and good governance.

It’s worth a try.


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