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Winning Hybrid Wars

What is the future of war? In this report, Frank Hoffman, a retired Marine colonel and one of our most incisive strategic analysts, argues that we are seeing the “rise of hybrid wars” that blur the boundaries between conventional and unconventional conflict. The prototype, he argues, was Hezbollah’s war against Israel in the summer of 2006, in which this terrorist group skillfully fought the Israeli Defense Forces to a standstill by combining missiles and small unit tactics with information operations.

There is good cause to worry that the American armed forces may be as unready as the IDF for this type of foe. To reorient our military for the challenges ahead will require a recognition that conventional combat skills, while hardly obsolete, will no longer suffice. Apparently the new version of the Army’s Field Manual 3.0 (“Operations”), last updated in 2001, reaches precisely that conclusion. According to this New York Times article, the new FM 3.0 states:

Army doctrine now equally weights tasks dealing with the population — stability or civil support — with those related to offensive and defensive operations. Winning battles and engagements is important but alone is not sufficient. Shaping the civil situation is just as important to success.

That’s a huge change in military thinking. If that doctrine had been in place in 2003 we might have avoided some of the mistakes that were made in Iraq during the occupation’s early days.

To make those words a reality will require putting more emphasis in, among other areas, training foreign militaries. That’s a mission that has not won much favor with military bureaucracies in the past; in Iraq, our military commanders tried initially to assign contractors to the training role. Special Operations Command, in particular, has traditionally focused on “direct action” missions—i.e., rappelling out of helicopters and kicking in doors—at the expense of “foreign internal defense”—i.e., working with indigenous allies. Some critics, including yours truly, have criticized this focus as misguided. Now, according to the Washington Times, SOCOM is starting to get the message: It is expanding its focus on advisory work.

That’s good to hear, but obviously much more needs to be done before we have truly reoriented a Cold War military for the challenges of the Long War. Retired Army Colonel Bob Killebrew provides some other valuable ideas for how to empower advisers in this article in the Armed Forces Journal.



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