- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Remember how last month I was thinking aloud about how I should write an essay on future force structure with the title "More Salvadors, Fewer Vietnams"? Well, it turns out it already has been written, by Army Maj. Fernando Lujan. It was published last week.
Maj. Lujan, a career Special Forces officer who extensively studied the operations of American forces in Afghanistan, and also spent a lot of time hacking his way through the jungles of South America, called it "Light Footprints: The Future of American Military Intervention." And it is a fine article about military human capital. The essay, he said at a seminar I attended last week, "is about how to do more with less." Not only is the light footprint, indirect approach more effective than sending in brigades of conventional ground forces, it also is cheaper, he argues.
There are several characteristics of successful missions, he explains:
- They are led by civilians, which plugs them into the larger political strategy. "Without a robust political plan, military action may only postpone state failure or prolong the conflict."
- They are small. "It’s hard to be arrogant when you’re outnumbered," he quotes an SF officer as saying.
- They are indirect, "working by, with, and through the indigenous forces that can preserve peace in the future."
- They are consciously long-term. "An overly aggressive pace can inadvertently cause advisers to ‘mirror image’ Western methods and organizational structures onto local forces rather than taking the time to understand the unique historical and cultural context of the country first. Unless indigenous forces see the new methods as organic … they are likely to jettison them as soon as foreign advisers withdraw."
- They are preventive. "They are generally intended to prevent and contain security problems, not to resolve them decisively."
Special operations, he reminded us at the seminar, is "not just drone strikes and ninjas." Word up.