Small Wars

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 12, 2006 | Go to article overview

Small Wars


Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In her book, "The Guns of August," Barbara Tuchman calculated that the French Army suffered about 300,000 causalities in the first month of World War I about 10,000 a day. By comparison, the conflict in Iraq is a prolonged skirmish or a Small War.

The 1940 "Small Wars Manual" by the U.S. Marine Corps states that between 1800 and 1934, the Marine Corps conducted 180 military operations that can be classified as small wars, usually to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. These do not include major conflicts such as the Spanish-American War, or the prolonged conflicts of the Indian Wars. Contrary to popular myth, the U.S. has an established capability of successfully fighting small wars, but since World War II this capability has waned.

The main reason for the decline is that the promotion system of the military, particularly within the officer ranks, focuses on intensive wars at the expense of developing expertise in fighting small wars. Ambitious officers recognize developing the skills to fight small wars limits promotion potential.

For intensive wars, the basic combat unit is the brigade, up to 3,500 soldiers. The units are trained for great coordination, rapid mobility, communication, and focusing intense firepower on the enemy. The number and types of brigades can be tailored to meet the specific needs of the situation. For small wars, the basic unit may be as few as 12 soldiers highly skilled in numerous disciplines. The tactics employed and the training is often vastly different.

As the "Small Wars Manual" states, the psychological approach differs between the two types of war. Intensive wars require a belligerent spirit; small wars demand caution and steadiness. Fire power should be used only when necessary. In small wars, officers and troops need to understand the physiology, cultures, languages, politics and economics of the population in addition to understanding the enemy and the physical characteristics of the country. The required years of training takes qualified officers out of the mainstream promotion system.

Fortunately, Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command that includes the Middle East, grasps the situation. In a report released by the Senate Armed Services Committee (on line at www. …

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