sraeli soldiers cover their ears as an artillery unit fires shells towards southern Lebanon. Image: AP

Israeli soldiers cover their ears as an artillery unit fires shells towards southern Lebanon. Image: AP

Today’s Washington Post reports on the effect the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah having generated a heated debate within the Pentagon on how the United States should fight its future wars.

An excerpt from the article:

A big reason that the 34-day war is drawing such fevered attention is that it highlights a rift among military leaders: Some want to change the U.S. military so that it is better prepared for wars like the ones it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others worry that such a shift would leave the United States vulnerable to a more conventional foe.

“The Lebanon war has become a bellwether,” said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command. “If you are opposed to transforming the military to fight low-intensity wars, it is your bloody sheet. It’s discussed in almost coded communication to indicate which side of the argument you are on.”

U.S. military experts were stunned by the destruction that Hezbollah forces, using sophisticated antitank guided missiles, were able to wreak on Israeli armor columns. Unlike the guerrilla forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, who employed mostly hit-and-run tactics, the Hezbollah fighters held their ground against Israeli forces in battles that stretched as long as 12 hours. They were able to eavesdrop on Israeli communications and even struck an Israeli ship with a cruise missile.

The article cites a study on the war published by the Combat Studies Institute of the United States Combined Arms Center.

That 2007 study is titled  We Were Caught Unprepared: The 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War which was written by CSI historian Matt Matthews.

Matthews’s historical analysis of the war includes an examination of IDF [Israeli Defense Force] and Hezbollah doctrine prior to the war, as well as an overview of the operational and tactical problems encountered by the IDF during the war.

The study found “after years of counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank territories, IDF ground forces were tactically unprepared and untrained to fight against a determined Hezbollah force that conducted what was, in many ways, a conventional, fixed-position defense.”

On the relevance of conventional warfare, Matthews states:

For six years, the IDF conducted a counterinsurgency campaign against the Palestinians and developed a doctrine rooted in EBO and high-tech wizardry. However, in the summer of 2006, when confronted by a conventional war with Hezbollah, the Israeli military proved incapable of defeating a minor adversary. Although research and analysis of this recent conflict are still ongoing, the emerging details of ill-conceived doctrine and an army marred by long years of counterinsurgency operations still yield valid and important lessons for today’s US Army officers.

This debate will surely intensify as combat operations shift to the Afghanistan campaign and how that war will develop with inevitable future conflicts on the horizon.

The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College is hosting an online debate on the future strategic role for the U.S. Army.

An overall debate has developed within the strategic community amongst one camp advocating counterinsurgency operations while the other for conventional warfighting.

SSI’s own Dr. Steven Metz begins the discussion with:

But there are signs that the future U.S. Army may not be committed to either large scale, protracted counterinsurgency/stabilization operations or large scale conventional warfighting. It may instead drop to a subsidiary role American strategy.

Nathan Freier, also from SSI, follows-up:

I do believe that strong U.S. land forces remain centerpiece capabilities in a world increasingly defined by complex, unconventional threats that are land- and people-centric.

The current debate within the community is taking place at the precise moment as future missions for the U.S. Army will eventually continue to expand and strain force capabilities.

David Kilcullen, an Australian army reservist who is an influential expert on counterinsurgency and modern warfare, and top adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus during the troop surge in Iraq, has recently written a book titled The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. He presents in his book a fresh perspective on the War on Terror and uncovers the face of modern warfare.  The Economist and Wall Street Journal have reviews of the book.

Kilcullen was interviewed by the Washington Post wherein he talks about the biggest problem during the surge was a hostile American Congress; lessons learned in Iraq that apply to Afghanistan and within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state.  Click here to read the interview.

H/T: Small Wars Journal