Restructuring the armed forces —Shaukat Qadir

Even in the aftermath of 9/11 and the experience gained since, the US politico-military establishment has not understood how to restructure itself against the new challenges that have emerged

All nations would like to structure their armed forces in accordance with the role(s) envisaged for them. There are, however, two provisos; firstly, that the political powers possess the wisdom, perception, and foresight to envisage the right role(s) for them and, secondly, that the nation has the means to structure them accordingly.

Let me clarify that this debate does not include Weapons of Mass Destruction; which have been debated separately by many an analyst, including this author.

I will cite the examples of only three countries to illustrate my point, though there are innumerable others available: the UK, the USA, and Israel. The first two are a product of a process of evolution, while Israeli armed forces were an immediate product of the perceived threat. Each example is singular in its own way.

Being an island and subjected to innumerable invasions in its early history, the UK adopted a defensive strategy, building castles to defend its shores and then a layered defence, with numerous castles, until London and beyond. It was during the times of Elizabeth I that it became a seafaring nation and, having defeated the mighty Spanish Armada, it then set forth to colonise the world.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, when the US assumed leadership of the ‘Free World’ and colonies began to claim independence, the UK realised the need to restructure its armed forces to the more modest international role that it now had.

Initially, during the Cold War era, the restructuring was governed by the requirements of NATO, but then, while conscious of its diminishing international role, the UK found itself in the throes of terrorist attacks by the IRA, which even penetrated London. This, coupled with the Falkland War, led to the assignment of new role(s) for UK’s armed forces and the manner of their restructuring.

If I were to attempt to state the current role of UK’s armed forces, it would be, ‘while retaining the minimal necessary seafaring capability, to structure all three services into a compact, mobile force, capable of swift reaction to meet any internal and/or external threat’.

While many movies have extolled the role of the American Special Forces, they are not a patch to the British Special Air Service, SAS; it may not be known to many readers that the British SAS is arguably the best organised and trained outfit for unconventional warfare, including terrorism. A battalion trained to deal specifically with the threat of hijacking, two battalions dedicated to dealing with the Irish problem, when it was at its zenith, and the remaining units for multiple roles, including terrorism. It was the SAS that played a crucial role in delaying the Argentinean forces during the Falkland war, so that it culminated in a British victory.

The US began its wars with the war for its independence. Thereafter it fought wars against the Spanish-Mexican forces and also fought a civil war. The advent of the First World War provided it the first opportunity to extend its military power overseas; in which it was successful. However, it was the Second World War that finally drove home to the US establishment that it no longer faced a threat to its own mainland, and that it was destined to play the role of the senior partner for the so-called ‘Free World’ during the Cold War and beyond.

Consequently, since it only envisaged extending its power overseas, it is most appropriately configured to that end. The service chiefs have only peacetime roles of training and administration; during operations, they are sidelined to insignificant positions. While the C-in-C, the US President, orders the operation, the military functions through the CJCSC to each of its three commands. Each command is configured with a combination of forces, including elements of all services, including marines. These commands, under the orders of the CJCSC then conduct the military operations in specified areas.

However, even in the aftermath of 9/11 and the experience gained since, the US politico-military establishment has not understood how to restructure itself against the new challenges that have emerged in the form of terrorism and continues to rely on the numerical and fire power superiority against an elusive enemy. They, like Pakistan, would do well to learn from the UK.

At its very inception, Israel was surrounded by enemies from all sides. Like Pakistan it suffered from a lack of depth. Fortunately, however, none of its enemies were well trained, organised, or imaginative; what is more, they were divided among themselves. The Israeli political leadership realised that it would be in its best interest if it were to pre-empt the enemy(ies) and not allow them to penetrate Israeli soil.

Consequently, Israeli forces were configured into compact, mobile, brigade sized groups that could respond swiftly in any direction, disengage and respond to a threat from another direction. The great advantage of its small size was that Israeli forces could never be overstretched logistically; and, of course, it relied heavily on its air support as well as a fairly strong naval arm.

Divided into such combat groups that might frequently be further subdivided, their initial training relied heavily on individual initiative. The only time they attempted a defensive role with the supposedly impenetrable ‘Bar Lev Line’, the Egyptians managed to penetrate it. It was this individual initiative and other imaginative tactics that made the Israeli armed forces such a formidable fighting force.

That it has deteriorated to a shadow of its original self as proven by its recent unsuccessful and aborted invasion of Lebanon, is again due to the fact that instead of encouraging initiative and imaginativeness, it has taken a leaf out of the American forces strategy, and has begun to increasingly rely on fire power to win its wars.

The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). This is the first part of a two-part series. The second and final part will appear next Saturday

Source: Daily Times, 19/7/2008

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