May 06, 2008

The Counterinsurgency Debate on NPR

NPR ran an excellent and fair report on the ongoing debate about COIN and conventional preparedness on Morning Edition this morning. John Nagl is called the disciple of COIN's Jesus, GEN David Petraeus.

Update: Charlie, here. Couple of thoughts.

1) Great report. One quibble: the Army report Guy Raz refers to highlights diminished capabilities in the field artillery branch (vice, the whole army). This is undoubtedly true, as almost all of these guys have been functioning as MPs for most of the war (same is largely true in the Marine Corps). But this is a consequence of several factors, not just the irregular environment in Iraq. The ability to (precisely) deliver indirect fire via air strikes Charlie as an important factor that diminishes the demand for field artillery (though she certainly acknowledges the preference for having that capability organic to ground units and not wanting to deal with blue-suiters and their bizarre CAS guidelines). The reduced demand for artillery fires can be seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, but those campaigns aren't the sole (or proximate) cause. (If Kip had ever set up our AM betting pool, Charlie would venture to guess you wouldn't see a lot of ground-based indirect fires in future conventional conflicts either.)

2) But let's say Charlie's wrong (gasp!) and we would need those fires in such a fight. What then? Should we preserve FA units and capabilities? Or invest more in IW/COIN/advising efforts? This is obviously part of a much larger question (one that needn't--and shouldn't--center on the fate of field artillery). And the answer depends on how likely you think each future scenario is, how costly losing each such scenarios is, and how easy you think it is to switch from one to another. This is called strategic planning. (If anyone has seen someone doing it, would you please let Charlie know? Thx.) You can have genuine disagreement along each of these axes, and those fault-lines can highlight where there is uncertainty and how you might hedge plans and force structure as a result. But these fights can be petty and facile as well, which, turns out, is rather less helpful. As we've said before, we don't have all the answers and we need all the help we can get.