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Pentagon Sets 'Asymmetric' Warfare As High Priority


In Iraq, Afghanistan, and other trouble spots, the U.S. military has been confronted by guerrilla - so-called "asymmetrical" - warfare. Instead of confronting regular armies, American troops now typically face insurgents and terrorists who fight with whatever they have. The Pentagon has responded by putting greater emphasis on preparing U.S. forces to fight the same way.

The Defense Department says the U.S. military has to fight insurgents and terrorists using their tactics. To do that, Secretary Robert Gates is giving training in unconventional warfare the same importance as traditional warfare. And, Gates wants traditional military and special operations units integrated.

Gates says unconventional warfare is now the norm rather than the exception.

"The record of the past quarter century is clear. The Soviets in Afghanistan, the Israelis in Lebanon, the United States in Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Smaller, irregular forces - insurgents, guerrillas, terrorists - will find ways, as they always have, to frustrate and neutralize the advantages of larger, regular militaries," Gates said. "And even nation-states will try to exploit our perceived vulnerabilities in an asymmetric way."

Defense analyst Sam Brannen at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says Gates has ordered the Pentagon to stop fighting the Cold War.

"Despite lessons from Vietnam and elsewhere, our military has been almost singularly obsessed across-the-board with fighting another conventional military that would line up on the battlefield and face us and fight us that way," Brannen said.

Desert Storm in 1991 was the the last conventional war fought by the United States. The US pushed Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.

The integration of special operations with conventional forces has been a long process. Richard Weitz is a defense analyst with the Hudson Institute.

"It started in the [U.S.] Army," Weitz stated. "They adopted a new counterinsurgency doctrine, which stressed the importance of fighting these kinds of irregular warfares. Earlier this year, they [the Pentagon] put out a National Defense Strategy [document], which equated, said that, irregular warfare was just as important as conventional warfare in terms of development."

The U.S. military has traditionally fought wars with massive numbers of ground troops, artillery and tanks, aircraft carrier task forces, and squadrons of heavy bombers. Now, the Pentagon is focused on adapting these systems to unconventional warfare.

For example, several ballistic missile submarines have been taken off the nuclear deterrent role and rebuilt as cruise missile launchers that can carry large numbers of Navy SEAL special forces. The submarines can have mini-subs on deck to carry the SEALS to shore.

Nontraditional strategies also include civil reconstruction in conflict areas as a way of discouraging civilians from supporting insurgents. Recently, President Bush spoke about civil affairs units.

"These teams pair with military personnel - [they are] civilian experts in areas like economics and agriculture and law enforcement and education. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, these teams are helping local communities create jobs and deliver basic services, and keep the terrorists from coming back," Mr. Bush said.

The Pentagon also says it wants to work with other nations in keeping conflicts from starting or raging out of control.

"It goes to building the [warfighting and deterrence] capacity of our [foreign] partners. And, it goes to sending a clear message that the United States is not an occupying force in the world, but it is a force for stability," Brannen stated.

Brannen says the Pentagon knows that working closely with local military units gives it a better understanding of the situation and how best to counter insurgents and a population that might support them.