“In operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, a failure to recognise, acknowledge and accurately define the operational environment led to a mismatch between forces, capabilities, missions and goals,” reads a new draft report by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.
In Decade of War: Enduring Lessons from the Past Decade of Operations, the authors admit to failures in Iraq and Afghanistan and lay out a series of lessons for the future, including more effective efforts aimed at winning hearts and minds, integrating regular troops and special operations forces, coordination with other government agencies, coalition operations, partnering with the forces of host-nations and paying greater attention to the use of proxy forces.
The report has created a buzz in military circles and has been hailed as offering new insights, but the move away from ruinous large-scale land wars to a new hybrid method of war-fighting, call it “the Obama formula”, has been evident for some time. For the past several years, the US has increasingly turned to special operations forces working not only on their own but also training or fighting beside allied militaries (if not outright proxy armies) in hot spots around the world.
That’s so Reagan. Continuing:
And along with those special ops advisers, trainers and commandos, ever more resources are flowing into the militarisation of spying and intelligence, the use of drone aircraft is proliferating, cyber-warfare is on the rise, as are joint operations between the military and increasingly militarised “civilian” government agencies.
The Obama administration has, in fact, doubled down again and again on this new way of war - from Africa to the Greater Middle East to South America - but what looks today like a recipe for easy power projection that will further US interests on the cheap could soon prove to be an unmitigated disaster - one that likely won’t be apparent until it’s too late.
The US war in Pakistan is a veritable poster-child for the Obama formula. Beginning as a limited drone assassination campaign backed by limited cross-border commando raids under the Bush administration, US operations in Pakistan have expanded into something close to a full-scale robotic air war, complemented by cross-border helicopter attacks, CIA-funded “kill teams” of Afghan proxy forces, as well as boots-on-the-ground missions by elite special operations forces, including the SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden.