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GO NAVY BEAT ARMY

'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

An interesting strategic analysis of America's 10 years of war

This is the final book sent by the Society of Military History for my 2nd review essay, and by far the most interesting.

Written by a trio of big thinkers from the National Defense University and the National War College, it fills a real gap that your Grouchy Historian hadn't even considered in my extensive study of the the last 10 years-- How were the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan managed as a whole?

Now this would seem to be the GREAT unanswered question of the last 10 years.  Since both wars were commanded by the same combatant command, US Central Command, and occurred in the same geographic area, there would have to be some coordination between them, right?  Nope, not so much.  The authors make the point that Afghanistan and Iraq were managed as separate wars, and that overall, the fighting in Iraq distracted from the fighting in Afghanistan and made the chances for "victory" there much, much harder.

Now, historically, this is not a new issue--how to manage multi-theater wars.  Historians are still debating the merits of the Italian campaign versus the invasion of France in World War II, and there the arguments still reign over whether the Eastern or Western Theaters were more decisive in the Civil War.  This difference now is that the US no longer has seemingly infinite military resources and patience to see war through, and sometimes resource and attention span trade offs have to be made..either explicitly or implicitly.

The authors are pretty up front with their criticism of the Bush Administration and its military-political team and how they felt attention was needlessly diverted from Afghanistan right when Al Qaeda was on the run and the Taliban nearly defunct.  Their ability to seamlessly bring together the various strategic and operational discussions about waging war in Iraq versus Afghanistan makes this book really come together and the authors spare no one the criticism they feel is deserved.

Building on the previous two books for this review, the authors confirm that both campaigns were equally plagued by convoluted military command structures, a lack of an integrated civil-military COIN strategy, and most of all, in Afghanistan, the utter misplaced US faith in NATO to step up and assume the major role in nation-building and COIN ops.  The discussion of the "win in Iraq and hold in Afghanistan" strategy conducted by the US from 2004-2008 shows how the real limitations of American military resources provided an interesting laboratory experiment in conducting two simultaneous campaigns by a modern Western military...one the authors are clearly not in favor.

Some shortcomings:  given their extensive discussion on issues of resource allocations for troops, SOF units, UAVs and other ISR assets, and all other military resources, I think a more detailed order of battle comparison by year in each country, maybe in an appendix would have REALLY pumped this book up.  The maps provided were, as usual not sufficient for me (but I am very, very picky about maps in military history books), and a book like this would have benefited greatly from some additional comparison charts to show just how much relative combat power was allocated to each country by year.

However, the lessons learned at the end of the book were outstanding.  The authors make the excellent point that the US military tried a little too hard to transfer the "Surge" in Iraq to become the "Surge" in Afghanistan without thinking about the real, distinct, and significant differences between the two cultures and operational environment.  Most of the Iraqi Surge took place within and around Baghdad...with the indigenous Sunnis in Anbar handling a good deal of the heavy lifting to destroy Al Qaeda in Anbar.  There was no corresponding "awakening" in Afghanistan, which will, no matter how much we spend on or bomb them remain stuck in the 9th century.  The Taliban ARE the natives in Afghanistan, unlike Al Qaeda in Iraq, and there is a pretty good chance that once the current Administration beats feet in Afghanistan like they did in Iraq, a decision SOME are now considering may not have been a good idea (DUH), that country will, at best slip into controlled anarchy, or at worst become another Somalia or Mali, with large portions of the country uncontrolled by the "central government" and under the control of either drug smuggling war lords or the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Overall, this is a very valuable book for anyone trying to understand the "grand strategy" or lack thereof of the US during the crucial years of the early 21st century when it was waging two simultaneous campaigns.  Although, like many USNI books, it has a hefty cover price, Amazon will once again come to your rescue and make it affordable.  Which is good, because any serious student of the GWOT, or anyone studying strategy should read this book.

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