June 1, 2008  

Good advice

Hybrid warfare demands an indirect approach

ROBERT KILLEBREW served more than 30 years in the Army |and is a former Army War College instructor.

Recent discussions about military advisers and advising allied security forces would benefit from some context. It would be useful to put the larger subject of military assistance into a discussion of future military strategy.

First, no matter how we deal with future military strategies, the reality is that we must deal first with the 50-meter target of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without descending into the Strategy 101 morass of defining victory, the wars there have got to be won, and the U.S. and its armed forces must do whatever it takes to do so. Title 10 concerns about rebuilding the Army and strategizing beyond the current wars will all be useless if we lose and the U.S. becomes a defeated nation. I speak from bitter experience: Losing cuts into a nation’s soul, cuts its willingness to lead in foreign affairs, and cuts as well into our nation’s willingness to fund its armed forces. Have we forgotten the wilderness years after Vietnam? If history is any guide, the willingness of the government to fund reset of our land forces will be questionable if we are driven out of Iraq, particularly. So even if the wheels fall off vehicles at Fort Hood, Texas, our overseas commanders have got to get the troops and materiel they need to fight both wars to a successful conclusion.

Secondly, until spring 2009, when a new administration is firmly seated, the security community is going to operate in a strategic void, coasting forward on the momentum of the fading Bush administration, but without guidance from an incoming presidential team.

In the interim, the armed services will continue fighting the war and trying to predict how the new team will construe its national strategy. Three trends emerging now in the world’s military balances are going to influence their decisions: nuclear proliferation, security threats from other nations and stateless but powerful competitors such as Hezbollah, and continued instability in the developing world and beyond. These security challenges are driving defense planning and will continue to do so.

Broadly speaking, warfare in the future has the potential to range from tactical and theater nuclear conflict to non-nuclear warfare (previously called conventional war) and irregular warfare. The proliferation of nuclear weapons, occurring slowly but steadily, makes it all but certain that within 20 years or so U.S. forces will be fighting, or planning to fight, under threat of nuclear attack. Likewise, the conduct of non-nuclear warfare is changing slowly but steadily as a result of new technologies that demonstrate every day that conventional warfare is no longer conventional. The term is as obsolete as the Fulda Gap. As an example, consider how radically Israeli security — already precarious — will be affected when Hezbollah obtains Iranian rockets that can reach any point in Israel. Finally, irregular warfare, the subject of intense scrutiny for the past few years, will continue to be an active threat to ourselves and our allies.


The scholar Frank Hoffman and others have captured the likely result of these changes in the concept of “hybrid warfare,” a form of conflict in which high- and low-intensity warfare may occur simultaneously. It should be the military policy of the U.S. to prevent such conflicts from happening, and to deter nuclear warfare and the highest-end non-nuclear warfare, by diplomatic means to limit the spread of destructive arms. This means negotiating appropriate alliances and bases, and by fielding balanced, modern weapons and highly trained general-purpose air, land and sea forces that can beat any competitor. The need to deter highly destructive, high-end nuclear and non-nuclear war, probably within a decade or less, gives force to the service leadership’s urgency concerning the reset of our general-purpose forces worn down by repeated deployments.

Conversely, irregular warfare is not easily deterred. So while the U.S. must maintain high-end forces to deter infrequent high-intensity war (and to win, if deterrence fails), members of its armed forces are far more likely to be employed in low-end skirmishes and counterinsurgencies as the 21st century advances. In a strategic sense, supporting friends and allies in struggling and threatened new states against insurgency is a sort of global defensive posture as intelligence agencies, police and security forces go after insurgent leaderships.

Bob Work of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has suggested that a certain three-part symmetry is liable to emerge — the military strategy of the next several decades — of deterrence of high-end war, defensive American military assistance to allied states threatened by insurgencies, and offensive activities by the U.S. and its allies using American and local police and armies supported by American and allied special operations forces. This defensive-offensive balance may well become our and our allies’ military strategy for global counterinsurgency, to be part of a multinational effort to contain and defuse radical Islam.

On the United States’ part, the success of such a total military strategy hinges on whether the U.S. military can look in two directions simultaneously, Janus-like, fielding effective deterrence forces for direct engagements while fighting insurgents and insurgencies. The key to successful counterinsurgency strategies is effective military assistance to allies, which demands an entirely different approach to operations. Rather than the strong and direct leadership required by high-intensity, take-charge combat, assisting allies takes a fair amount of patience and indirect leadership. A recent statement by Col. David Maxwell, deputy chief of staff, G-3, Army Special Operations Command, and former commander of U.S. Special Forces in the Philippines, best sums up the mechanics of an indirect, strategy of military assistance:

“I cannot state strongly enough that there is only one [counterinsurgency] fight the U.S. can win, and that is an insurgency against the U.S. We cannot win in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, Trans-Sahel, the Philippines, etc. We can only be the external support to governments that are threatened with insurgency. We can only help them to be successful as the essence of an insurgency is the fight for who will be the legitimate governing power of the indigenous population. As long as we try to employ our forces to ‘win’ the insurgency vice help our friends, partners and allies win their insurgency, we will focus on the wrong tasks.”

Although the indirect strategy of training and leading local forces is very different from the kinds of leadership and doctrines required for high-intensity deterrent forces, in the past, U.S. military people generally have gotten it right fairly quickly, given some pre-training or schooling. There is little doubt that the indirect approach of military assistance, advisers and advisory missions is an important direction that U.S. military strategy is going to take over the next several years, perhaps decades. So this time, considering the wealth of experience in the Army and Marine Corps, we can get it “righter” than before. The armed forces of the U.S. have a double challenge — to be prepared to fight high-end nuclear and non-nuclear war, which requires direct combat, but also to indirectly assist the security forces of emerging partners in their own fight against irregular enemies — if not al-Qaida, then whoever will be the al-Qaidas of the 2030s and 2050s.

The good news is that the services, and particularly the Army and Marine Corps, already are trying to get ahead of the curve and to anticipate a strategy of increased military assistance efforts in the coming administration. This is not new. Even with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, military assistance missions to other nations and regions have never ceased. This year, for example, the Army National Guard will participate in 43 bilateral or multinational exercises in 34 countries. Last year, the Army deployed 65 security assistance teams to 39 countries to support military assistance efforts. Army military-to-military programs continue during wartime and may even expand. A major effort is underway in the Army Staff to get the service’s arms around the many military assistance programs that are now increasingly recognized as important building blocks of future strategy.


So how should the services meet these new challenges? First, the Army and Marine Corps must simultaneously fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and reset forces to deter future military threats. In terms of priorities, deterring nuclear warfare and deterring high-end non-nuclear warfare ultimately must take a higher priority than irregular warfare, because of the simple fact that high-end failure can be catastrophic while irregular warfare failure is not — or at least it allows more time to fend off catastrophe. The exceptions are the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, hybrid wars with decisive outcomes for all sides.

The outlines of the strategy that will ultimately be successful in Iraq and Afghanistan are already set. In the case of Iraq, and more slowly in Afghanistan, Iraqi and Afghan security forces, heavily reinforced by U.S. logistics, intelligence and airpower eventually will constitute the major fighting forces in their countries. As U.S. general-purpose forces thin out on the ground, more U.S. advisers will be required to offer advice, direct U.S. support and manage U.S. military assistance. This may be the 20,000-plus advisory mission foreseen by Army Lt. Col. John Nagl and 1st Lt. Brian Drohan ( “New answers to hard questions,” AFJ, April.)

It is important to add, though, that their proposals apply to the particular conditions of the Iraqi and Afghan wars; through our own blunders, we have learned that dismantling entirely the local governmental and security structure is not generally sound strategy. Building up the armies of major countries from scratch is a worst-case scenario that we should try not to repeat. The silver lining is that as requirements for advisers increase, military officers assigned to those missions — which may well be a majority of assignments within three to four years — will return to their units with invaluable experiences and skills that will prepare the Army for the emerging advise-and-assist strategy to support our allies. The outlines of such a strategy, regardless of the outcome of the 2008 elections, already are obvious. It consists of these general areas:

1. The U.S. must prevail in Iraq and Afghanistan and, as quickly as can be done while fighting two wars, the nation’s general-purpose air, land and sea forces must be reconstituted to be strong enough to deter outright aggression by potential enemies. Additionally, resetting begins to reconstitute critical hybrid war skills that, once lost, may take years to rebuild.

2. Concurrently, the U.S. should begin rebuilding its ability to provide improved and more flexible military assistance to allies as part of a larger, whole-of-government approach. The initial step of that strategy should only indirectly be military, to strengthen or reinforce existing U.S. missions and the role of the U.S. ambassador in threatened countries. Where appropriate, in-country U.S. military groups (milgroups) should be organized to support U.S. military assistance programs tailored to the host country’s requirements. The milgroup arrangement, which flourished in the pre-Vietnam years and remains today in tattered form, provides tailored military support to host countries, providing experts in U.S. military skills desired by the host and agreed to by the ambassador. Members of milgroups are selected primarily for their military skills, sent to a polishing school to learn a smattering of the local language and customs, and then are deployed as rapidly as possible, so their skills stay fresh. This would be a permanent change of station — if conditions permit, families should accompany the soldiers detailed as advisers. As assignments to milgroups increase, and advisory tours become more common, most soldiers on completion of their tour should return to career mainstreams, less a few who might choose to stay on as Foreign Area Officers and as milgroup commanders. Expanding milgroups will take time and patience, and will be paced according to the needs and desires of allies that request assistance. Army planners are trying to sort out future milgroup requirements; most probably, they will be lower than many expect, as adviser efforts tend to be small affairs.

No subject is as widely misunderstood in recent debates as the definition and role of an adviser. In the milgroup context, he is a service member assigned for whatever the prevailing assignment period is to live in the host country, to serve as part of the country team, and to work side by side with local forces to increase their capacity. The primary qualification for an advisory assignment is military expertise above all else; foreign officers often have commented that they need an expert above all else; cultural transgressions can be forgiven, translators can be found. But military bona fides are priceless.

3. The Army and Marines must ensure that their general-purpose forces are versatile enough to deploy military training teams (MTTs) as often as required to help train local forces when required and at the request of the appropriate ambassador. MTTs differ from milgroup-based advisers in that MTTs deploy to the target country, conduct training or construction missions for typically less than a month, and then depart, while milgroups and advisers are permanently assigned to manage military assistance overall and, as part of their mission, build professional relationships with host country security forces. MTTs have great potential to help host country soldiers learn by doing, by teaming up with local forces of comparable type. MTTs are often excellent training opportunities for small-unit leaders, as well, by giving them a chance to get away from the flagpole for a month or so.

4. The armed forces must establish a serious and academically credible schoolhouse to provide training and orientation for officers and senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) who are detailed for advisory missions, and to be the proponent for theory and doctrine related to the use of military assistance as an arm of national strategy. Heretofore, military assistance has been a back-burner issue for the armed forces, bound up as it has been in red tape and logistics. That must be addressed by the Army, by the Defense and State departments, and by Congress. But without a proponent for doctrine, the military assistance mission — and with it the essential training required for advisers and other military and civilian officers associated with this growing arm of national strategy — will be sub-optimized.

Within the Army and Marine Corps, adviser duty should become a normal, mainstream assignment for first-rank military professionals and not be ghettoized into a small, specialist field. The officers and senior NCOs sent out to milgroups should be top-notch professionals from tactical units or from schoolhouse assignments. As an emerging major tenet of U.S. strategy, providing military assistance — manning milgroups, providing advisers — is going to be around for a long time. While language and cultural instruction would be in the schoolhouse course of studies, the main point of instruction should be to teach line officers and NCOs to train and advise patiently and indirectly or, as Maxwell says, to “help our friends, partners and allies win their [own] insurgencies.”

5. The number of students from foreign military forces attending U.S. military schools — about 7,500 — is far too small and should be increased. The departments of Defense and State should make serious cooperative efforts to recruit as many allied officers as possible, and to work with Congress to reduce the cost to host countries to send their promising officers to U.S. schools. The wisest course would be to eliminate entirely the cost to host countries and shift the expense to the defense budget; although the cost may be significant to a small, struggling country, it is peanuts to us. No program is so likely to return investment over the long term as having allied officers with U.S. experience and U.S. friends in our armed forces. Adding more foreign officers to U.S. military schools likewise will bring U.S. officers into contact with allied officers, leading in some cases to lasting friendships that can pay strategic dividends at crucial times.

The decades ahead will continue to be challenging for our armed forces, and for the Army and Marine Corps in particular. Nuclear proliferation, hybrid warfare and the challenge of global terrorism will pull the services in a number of contradictory directions. But we’ve done most of this before — the foundations are already there or are being developed. Winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan must remain the first focus of the services’ rebuilding efforts — a loss in either theater would send defense planning off in directions that can’t be anticipated. But as those theaters become less of a drain on U.S. strategy in the coming decade, refocusing on hybrid warfare and the more indirect and longer-term military assistance missions — looking in two directions at once — is the challenge ahead. AFJ