Another Counterinsurgency Advance
Chalk up another win for the counterinsurgents. The Washington Post reports today that one of the final acts of the Bush-era Gates Pentagon (as opposed to the Obama-era Gates Pentagon) is to elevate irregular warfare — stability operations, counterinsurgency, all that asymmetrical stuff that isn’t two mechanized armies clobbering one another — to the same policy standing as the old stuff. Deputy secretary Gordon England, who’s on his way out, signed some paper:
The directive, signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England on Monday, requires the Pentagon to step up its capabilities across the board to fight unconventionally, such as by working with foreign security forces, surrogates and indigenous resistance movements to shore up fragile states, extend the reach of U.S. forces into denied areas or battle hostile regimes.
Does this sound familiar? It should. The directive takes a very similar approach to the Army’s new stability operations field manual, the one that places what used to be called post-conflict operations in the same military pantheon as offensive and defensive operations. It’s a recognition that the current security environment is one in which the U.S. is challenged less by armies and navies than by failures of governance and fanatics with cell phone -activated bombs and destabilizing economic imbalances.
The policy change is largely the result of the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, low intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities — one of the positions I said in a recent piece to keep an eye on when looking at the shape of the Obama administration. Michael Vickers — who you may remember as the killer geek from “Charlie Wilson’s War” — explains what it’s all about:
Vickers said he envisions that the Pentagon’s primary vehicle for carrying out irregular warfare operations will be a global network — already underway — made up of the U.S. and foreign militaries and other government personnel in scores of countries with which the United States is not at war. The network is designed to wage “steady state” counterterrorism operations. The directive also requires the Pentagon to develop capabilities to conduct larger-scale irregular campaigns, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The goal of the network, Vickers said in a recent speech, is ambitious: “to create a persistent, ubiquitous presence against our adversaries . . . and essentially to smother them over time.”
The directive “should have a big impact on resources” as well as military planning, Vickers said.
We’ll see whether that cashes out to mean civilian resources located in the Pentagon actually go back to the civilian agencies that really ought to be able to supplement stability operations and irregular warfare. State, USAID, Agriculture, I’m looking at you.