Prepare for peacekeeping


UNTIL NOW, the broad concept of U.S. military transformation was most easily thought of as developing and integrating hardware that could detect, communicate information about and strike conventional battlefield targets more easily, accurately and rapidly.

But the occupation of Iraq shows that transformation needs to become something else. Transformation -- and all the institutional focus, thinking and resources that has gone with it -- now needs to be redefined as preparation for complex, unconventional, political conflicts such as are often found in occupation and peacekeeping missions.

The successful Iraq campaign confirmed the maturity of hardware transformation in the U.S. military, even though the performance of the Iraqi army was crippled by abysmal morale. In three weeks, U.S. forces (with British participation) overthrew a dictatorship, while suffering less than 100 combat deaths.

In contrast, U.S. forces have not proved as ready to handle postwar duties. While Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's decision to use a smaller ground force may have worked for the job of winning the war, the widespread looting and breakdown in security immediately following the war showed there were far too few troops on hand for the job of occupation.

The shortages led to the failure to protect not only museums but also crucial hospitals, key government ministries and, most unfathomably, the very sites of weapons of mass destruction that the war was ostensibly fought over, such as the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center near Baghdad. A future military that is more trained and prepared to handle the challenges of security-building as well as war-fighting should be able to respond to such situations more rapidly and effectively -- and even to anticipate them.

Since the end of the war, U.S. troops have suffered more than 30 deaths from attacks by opposition forces. They have also killed numerous Iraqi civilians in demonstrations or other circumstances that were not clearly combat.

The point is not whether the U.S. troops were "trigger happy" in the questionable incidents. It is that occupation and peacekeeping can be extremely complex and difficult jobs, requiring a very different approach than combat and calling for a degree of restraint in the use of force that is quite antithetical to normal combat training.

Many of the Army forces in Iraq have found themselves not well prepared, trained or equipped to conduct the tasks being asked of them. Units that are more prepared for these missions, such as civil affairs units and military police, are gravely overtasked -- leading to bizarre situations such as sending heavy combat engineers out in their tracked armored vehicles on policing patrols in Baghdad.

Part of the problem has been that the Bush administration, with its early disdain for "nation-building," sent the wrong message to the military about the need to prepare for these missions. The most important step to take in a new military transformation is to reverse that message. Recently, Mr. Rumsfeld has reportedly reconsidered the ill-advised elimination of the Army's Peacekeeping Institute.

The Iraq occupation has reminded everyone of the need for lots of troops; expensive bomber jets are next to useless in the current effort to secure Iraq.

Specific steps the military can take to transform its effectiveness in security-building operations include:

Tailoring more of its troops to those missions, including improving training, doctrine and equipment (while still preserving a heavy combat capability).

Planning to quickly rotate in peacekeeping troops at the close of major operations.

Learning peacekeeping tactics from allies, such as the British, with their long experience in internal security operations.

Increasing the numbers of military police, civil affairs units, local force trainers, relief supply units and other relevant units.

Expanding working relationships with other U.S. government agencies, allies, international agencies and nongovernmental organizations.

The final, and perhaps most important, step to take is to recognize that even excellent peacekeeping and security-building troops will not be enough to rescue misconceived missions. In Iraq, for example, if a successful plan is not put in place soon that convinces Iraqis that they should put up with a foreign occupation, the situation may quickly become unsalvageable, regardless of how good the performance of the occupying forces.

Marcus Corbin is a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information and the author of a recent book on military transformation, Honing the Sword: Strategies and Forces After 9/11. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

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