TAMPA, FLA. — “Thinking is free,” the leadership of the US Army, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command write in a new Strategic Landpower Task Force white paper released this week.
The three land services have been talking about the task force for months, but the paper, dramatically titled, “Strategic Landpower: Winning The Clash of Wills,” is the first concrete product it has produced in an effort to remind a fickle Congress that land power still matters, even as naval and air assets are receiving most of the attention in the “rebalance” to Asia.
In a meeting with reporters last week, Army chief Gen. Ray Odierno said the group plans to open one office in Washington and one at TRADOC headquarters, Fort Eustis, Va., in the coming months in order to work on further collaboration. (In other words, other than office space and the staff who will inhabit it, thinking will be free…)
The paper comes at a critical time, just as the DoD is completing a Strategic Choices and Management Review looking at ways to manage an era of flattening defense budgets and the almost certain further reduction of end strength in the ground forces. Work on the next Quadrennial Defense Review also is kicking into high gear.
Stating that war is not “merely a contest of technologies,” but instead “fundamentally a human endeavor in which the context of the conflict is determined by both parties,” the leaders of the three branches argue that land power will always matter, and that understanding the human and social elements of conflict that takes place on the ground are critical.
A key component of this push is something that SOCOM’s Adm. William McRaven has pushed time and again in recent months: the importance of what is being called the “human domain.”
The Army, Marines and Special Operations Forces (SOF) “significantly contribute to the activities central to influencing the ‘human domain’ short of war” the paper states. “Such as peacekeeping, comprehensive military engagement, security force assistance, building partner capacity, and stability operations.”
These are all topics that Odierno and McRaven have hammered home recently. McRaven especially has worked to modify the image of his SOF troops as musclebound door kickers and trigger pullers, instead focusing more on the range of capabilities they have traditionally provided, primarily in training and advising foreign forces.
A report released last week by the Center for Strategic Budgetary Analysis (CSBA) went a long way in backing up this new campaign. Commissioned by the Office of Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict to inform the QDR process, the report’s author, Jim Thomas, said during a kickoff event on May 10 that SOF is “going to be operating under much more restrictive rules of engagement” in coming years, which has huge implications for the kind of intelligence that the US will need before undertaking an operation.
The report also provided a critical bullet point: In the 2,000 raids conduced by SOF in the year before the famous killing of Osama bin Laden at his Abbottabad compound, 83 percent resulted in a target captured or killed and 84 percent were conducted with no shots being fired.
It’s a fact of the operational life for SOF forces that the SOCOM wants to trumpet as it transitions into a post-Afghanistan future that will likely focus on the “human domain” as opposed to high-profile kinetic action.