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2008 Spring Board Meeting

Panel Discussion - Lessons Learned from Iraq and Lebanon

The JINSA 2008 Spring Board Meeting held June 1 in Washington, D.C., featured a panel discussion on the "Lessons Learned from Iraq and Lebanon." U.S. Army led off the talk. Dahl, Assistant Director for Politico-Military Affairs (Middle East) of the Joint Staff, discussed emergent defense issues since the 2003 invasion of Saddam's Iraq under three areas: counter-insurgency, indigenous security and interagency coordination.

U.S. Army Colonel Kenneth R. Dahl, Assistant Director for Politico-Military Affairs (Middle East) of the Joint Staff.U.S. Army Colonel Kenneth R. Dahl, Assistant Director for Politico-Military Affairs (Middle East) of the Joint Staff.

Dahl said his first-hand experiences and observations revealed that for each of these issues there could not have been specific pre-event plans and programs. Lessons learned through facing challenges are crucial, however, in rapidly forging responses. For example, in the area of counter-insurgency the U.S. military had not expected to face intensive insurgent activity. Its response to it, therefore, has evolved over time. For example, Dahl said, was the importance of Iraq’s tribal social structure in dealing with the insurgency effectively and efficiently. Dahl warned, however, that defeating the insurgency in one region through means that incorporates the tribal structure does not mean that the same strategy will be successful in another region of Iraq.

Mistakes were made in dealing with the Iraqi insurgency, Dahl admitted. One example was the significant shortage of the specialist military units including Military Police, special operations forces, foreign area officers and engineers. A new force structure, different from the conventional Army structure, is required to defeat the insurgency, Dahl declared.

When it comes to building an indigenous security force that includes army and police, one of the lessons learned is that "you cannot move too fast too early," Dahl said. Another lesson was that while the U.S. military is good at building foreign military forces it is not good at building police forces. At this point, Dahl emphasized the importance of interagency reform to resolve ongoing feuds between the Departments of Defense and State that bedevil Iraq reform, rehabilitation and training projects.

Based on his experience as a member of Israel Defense Force's special operations units, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz's presentation emphasized the military approach to dealing with terrorism and insurgency. Currently Defense and Armed Forces Attaché at the Embassy of Israel, Gantz made the case that a special operations approach supported by the right intelligence is the most crucial aspect of fighting against terrorism. Gantz advocated a major overhaul of the military conception of how terrorism is to be confronted by military forces with a priority given to achieving full control of the target area. The importance of formulating a new defense concept, Gantz said, is crucial because for almost six years, the West has been embroiled in a kind of Third World War against transnational terrorist networks.

By responding aggressively to Hezbollah's 2006 cross-border kidnapping of two IDF soldiers, Israel made it clear to the Hezbollah leadership that any instance of aggression toward Israel would be met with swift military action. Three years earlier, America's military offensive in Iraq and subsequent toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime proved to be incredibly effective and efficient. Director of the Military and Security Studies Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Michael Eisenstadt structured his observations and comments on the similarities between Israel's 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Eisenstadt noted that while both experiences began with great battlefield successes, later problems showed that the most important part of any war is post-war planning. According to Eisenstadt, neither the United States nor Israel had spent sufficient time and resources on post-war planning. That was a clear signal that the U.S. was not ready to perform an effective counter-insurgency campaign. Furthermore, according to Eisenstadt, the events after the Iraq invasion reveal that the U.S. government bureaucracy was at war with itself.

The Department of Defense, the State Department and the Office of the Vice President competed over post-invasion policy. At that time, President Bush should have made coordination of the bureaucracy and ending the rampant factionalism a top priority. Furthermore, Eisenstadt noted that there was not a clear end strategy that would draw a line between military and non-military solutions to issues faced in the post-invasion period. And finally, the now well-known intelligence failures of the pre-war period have undermined the United States' credibility on a global scale. Unfortunately, this has led to the current struggle to achieve multilateral efforts against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

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