WASHINGTON: The White House’s newly-minted national security strategy is full of big ideas. But among all these big ideas is a much smaller one that could draw the Pentagon much deeper into the small wars that have defined America’s global counterterrorism campaign.
U.S. special operations forces and counterinsurgency specialists returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are poised to ramp up operations across the globe, focusing on Africa and South America, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said today. These small bands of special forces and COIN experts will lean upon “innovative methods” learned in Southwest Asia to support local counterterrorism forces and expand American influence in those two continents, Panetta said. The plan is part of the new strategy unveiled by President Obama today.
These “innovative methods” include increasing rotations of small special operations units into those regions for longer periods, bolstering military-to-military training with indigenous forces and supporting those troops with more U.S. weapons and equipment, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld said during the same press conference. The American military units heading to Africa and South America were the same ones that spearheaded the “high end [counterinsurgency] fight” in Iraq and Afghanistan, Winnefeld said. With the U.S. withdrawal from Southwest Asia already in motion, Pentagon leaders now have the flexibility to move more troops into places like Africa and South America, the four-star Admiral explained.
U.S. special forces were sent to Uganda last October to help those forces in their war against the Lord’s Resistance Army. The Army is also in the midst of creating a number of “regionally aligned brigades” whose sole mission will be to train and advise foreign militaries. The first of these brigades is set to deploy to Africa Command next year.
Small U.S. units schooling foreign troops on the finer points of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations is much different from the intensive, “long-term” COIN missions American troops carried out in Southwest Asia, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter pointed out today. The Pentagon’s new strategy moves the military away from building up security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan in favor of the smaller, less-intesive training missions envisioned for Africa and South America, Carter said. “Its all about the force we need,” he added. That said, DoD isn’t abandoning that kind of COIN mission entirely.
Completely walking away from the nation building-style of counterinsurgency would be a clear example of “departmental hubris,” Winnefeld pointed out. To avoid that DoD planners have built in “reversability” clauses into its new COIN strategy, Carter added.When enacted, these clauses will allow the Pentagon to build its counterinsurgency operations back up to Iraq and Afghanistan levels. To make sure DoD retains that COIN know-how, the department will continue to invest in “specialized capabilities” and “keep the tradecraft” in house.