News / Middle East

US Becoming More Leery of Long Wars

US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates walks with a group of service members at Forward Operating Base Waltman, Kandahar, Afghanistan, June 5, 2011
US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates walks with a group of service members at Forward Operating Base Waltman, Kandahar, Afghanistan, June 5, 2011
Al Pessin

The counterinsurgency approach the United States and its allies have used to fight their enemies and help build democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to be fading in its popularity.  Some U.S. officials and many members of Congress and the public have grown weary of that type of long-term and costly campaign.  Our correspondent reports on what could be a significant change in the way the United States uses its power to pursue its interests.

When the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began in 2001 and 2003, U.S. officials hoped to remove the countries’ rulers, install representative governments, make the countries inhospitable to terrorist groups and get out quickly.  It did not work out that way.

Instead, U.S. troops and diplomats became embroiled in long, bloody conflicts, struggling to help develop credible new leadership and capable security forces.  The Afghan war is approaching its 10th anniversary, with at least three more years of allied involvement planned.  The U.S. military presence in Iraq is scheduled to end in December, after more than eight years, but the conflict smolders on.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed the growing concerns of many during a speech in February to future Army officers at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

“[I]n my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined," said Gates.

Secretary Gates’ remarks reflected the pain of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, even if, in the end, some of the strategic goals are achieved.

In those wars, the United States and its allies ran into what for some experts is a familiar problem - the difficulty of fighting insurgents who have popular support based on ideology and long-festering grievances, with the ability to hide among the people, refill their ranks and, in the case of Afghanistan, receive a measure of safe haven in a neighboring country.

After several years of struggling to relearn forgotten lessons from Vietnam and other past conflicts, the U.S. military wrote a new counterinsurgency doctrine in 2006.  It is designed to provide a “How To” guide for troops in the field, who had to earn the support of the local people, develop local leaders and train security forces while fighting the insurgents at the same time.  Military historian and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Conrad Crane was brought in to lead the effort.

“If the political decision makers decide we need to conduct a counterinsurgency to achieve national objectives, then the doctrine is designed to show how we do it," said Crane.

The concepts of counterinsurgency and the doctrine Crane helped write became a sort of mantra for many members of the military and outside experts, and they say the improved approach led to more successes.  But it did not result in a quick end to the conflicts.  Now, particularly after the death of Osama bin Laden, more and more members of Congress, Obama administration officials and others are being more open with their concerns about the high cost - in lives and money - of the NATO plan to continue significant military involvement in Afghanistan for several more years.  Crane finds some irony in that.

“We warned when we wrote the doctrine that counterinsurgency is always long and expensive and bloody," he said. "And now people are complaining because they are finding that counterinsurgency takes a long time and it is expensive and bloody.”

Another retired Army officer welcomes the decline in the popularity of counterinsurgency.

“If the counterinsurgency fad has run its course, then that is a good thing for our country," said Andrew Bacevich.

Professor Andrew Bacevich of Boston University is a retired colonel who has written several books and many articles criticizing what he sees as the excessive willingness of American leaders to commit troops, prestige and economic capacity to lengthy conflicts.

“The whole notion that war is the only response to violent anti-Western Jihadism is preposterous, and backs us into a corner where all choices are bad choices," he said. "I think the United States needs to be more selective in its willingness to use power.  Being more selective would very much serve our interests.”

Bacevich says terrorists should be treated like criminals, not military opponents.  And while he acknowledges that U.S. adversaries have a role in determining when the United States goes to war, he says U.S. officials need to consider a broader range of options than invasions and counterinsurgency campaigns.

In a speech on the future of warfare Wednesday, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn indicated that the department is moving to do that - to balance how much it invests in counterinsurgency versus more traditional military capabilities.

"I think you can decide which of those two you want to emphasize," said William Lynn. "I don't think you can eliminate either. I don't think that's possible."

Lynn says the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been more difficult than had been expected, but the U.S. military must have enough troops and the right kind of training, equipment and family support for future long conflicts, which he said are still "plausible."

The counterinsurgency doctrine author, Conrad Crane, says the 240-page document is a good guide if political leaders decide such an effort is necessary in the future.  But he also acknowledges there are other types of military campaign, like the air and naval effort in Libya today, that the United States and its allies can use in many situations, as well as economic sanctions, diplomatic efforts and other means.  And he agrees with Secretary Gates, saying that no American leader is going to be eager to commit the country to a long, expensive, bloody counterinsurgency campaign for some time to come.

You May Like

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More