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Opinion

Is the U.S. Army ready for conventional war?

Focusing only on counterinsurgency and nation-building is unwise. It must prepare to fight other armies.

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Israeli scholar Avi Kober and US Army historian Matt Matthews have shown that the result was at least partly due to Israel's hyperfocus on counterinsurgency. The Israeli army's conventional fighting skills had atrophied due to many years of focus on counterinsurgency operations in the Palestinian territories.

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The British Army after World War I chose to mostly forget about fighting conventional wars and instead concentrated their efforts on building an imperial constabulary army to police their empire. In 1940, however, as the German Army raced across France to the English Channel, the British Army alongside the French were defeated by the Germans who had spent their interwar years preparing for large-scale battles.

If the US Army is not careful, a similar fate may await. Already, there is proof that the American Army's conventional fighting skills have atrophied. Three former combat brigade commanders in Iraq recently submitted a paper to Army Chief of Staff General George Casey, outlining how the Army's field artillery branch has lost the conventional fighting skills of firing guns at an enemy in open combat due to many years of counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. They refer to the artillery branch as a "dead branch walking."

Artillery firing was a critical asset in Russia's crushing defeat of the Georgian Army.

There are a range of scenarios that might include the US having to engage in heavy fighting. One of them involves a possible failed North Korean state. Focusing on counterinsurgency and nation-building operations will not prepare the Army for such a possibility.

The American Army must do what it takes to win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But good counterinsurgency tactics practiced by proficient combat outfits cannot compensate for flawed strategies and policies.

Considering events today in Georgia and the recent past of Israel in south Lebanon, the Army must soon refocus itself toward conventional warfighting skills, with the knowledge that if called on to do so, it can easily shift to nation-building and counterinsurgency as it has done in Iraq.

If it doesn't, it courts strategic peril.

Gian P. Gentile is an active duty Army colonel. He served in Iraq in 2003 and 2006. The views expressed here are his own.

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