By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2006 – Irregular, unconventional conflicts like those under way in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely to dominate U.S. military operations for the foreseeable future, Army officials agreed this week at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual convention here. "I don't see conventional challenges to be dominant for a long time," said Conrad Crane, director of the U.S. Army Military History, during a panel discussion on irregular warfare and counterinsurgency operations.
"Our enemies are going to make us fight this kind of war until we get it right," Crane said. "This is our future."
The Army is rewriting its doctrine and incorporating lessons learned in the terror war into its operations so it's better postured to confront this new threat, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, during an Oct. 10 luncheon address.
He pointed to the new counterinsurgency manual, Field Manual 3-24, developed jointly with the Marine Corps, as a big step toward preparing the force for the challenges associated with irregular warfare.
In addition, transformational changes taking place within the Army -- in terms of equipment, training, technological advances and new approaches-are also helping ensure its ability to address unconventional threats.
But fighting irregular conflicts and helping new democracies get on their feet isn't something the military can do alone, said Kalev Sepp, assistant professor of defense analysis at the Navy Postgraduate School, in Monterey, Calif.
"This is revolutionary" -- building democracies and helping them establish capitalist economies and open and public police forces and judicial systems, Sepp pointed out. "The mission is too broad to put on the shoulders of the military alone," he said. "It has to be interagency."
"We will not prevail with the force of arms alone," Schoomaker agreed.
Schoomaker warned about the stakes of the current conflict and expressed concern that the American people have lost the focus they demonstrated immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"This is perhaps the most dangerous period in our lifetime," he said. "We are in the midst of a long war and the stakes could not be higher."
Schoomaker noted that al Qaeda and other terror organizations hate all that America stands for and show no signs of wavering in their commitment to spread their hateful ideology. The Sept. 11 terror attacks "were not the war's first salvos," he said, but rather, the continuation of a long string of attacks against the United States and its interests.
Yet five years into the terror war, Schoomaker warned that American response to this threat -- one against which he acknowledged, "victory is not assured" -- has been largely "tepid."
That's a concern, he said, because the conflict is far from over. "We are much closer to the beginning than the end of this long conflict," he said, emphasizing the need for public support and financial backing to ensure the mission succeeds.
"Ultimately, victory requires a national strategic consensus, evident in both words and actions," he said. "While such a common strategic foundation, understood and accepted by the American people, existed during the Cold War, ... it is not yet evident that such common understanding exists today."
Schoomaker said it shouldn't take another attack like the United States experienced on Sept. 11, 2001, "to shake us into action."