The Second Lebanon War
which ended three years ago, has become the subject of an increasingly heated debate inside the Pentagon which could alter how the US military fights in the future, the Washington Post
According to the report, the US army has dispatched as many as a dozen teams over the past three years to interview Israeli officers who fought against Hizbullah, with the goal of learning from the war's failures, which was perceived by the Pentagon as "a disaster" for the Israeli military.
Soon after the fighting ended, the report said, some American military officers began to warn that the short, bloody and relatively conventional battle foreshadowed how future enemies of the United States might fight.
Soldiers headed to front, July 2006 (Photo: Abir Sultan, IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
According to the Washington Times, the Army and Marine Corps have sponsored a series of multimillion-dollar war games to test how US forces might fare against a similar foe.
"I've organized five major games in the last two years, and all of them have focused on Hizbullah," said Frank Hoffman, a research fellow at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico.
The reason that the 34-day war is drawing such fevered attention is that it highlights a rift among military leaders: Some want to change the US military so that it is better prepared for wars like the ones it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others worry that such a shift would leave the United States vulnerable to a more conventional foe, like Hizbullah.
According to the report, US military experts were stunned by the destruction that Hizbullah forces, using sophisticated antitank guided missiles, were able to wreak on Israeli armor columns.
Unlike the guerrilla forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, who employed mostly hit-and-run tactics, the Hizbullah fighters held their ground against Israeli forces in battles that stretched as long as 12 hours. They were able to eavesdrop on Israeli communications and even struck an Israeli ship with a cruise missile.
"From 2000 to 2006 Hizbullah embraced a new doctrine, transforming itself from a predominantly guerrilla force into a quasi-conventional fighting force," a study by the Army's Combat Studies Institute concluded last year.
Another Pentagon report warned that the Hizbullah forces were "extremely well trained, especially in the uses of anti-tank weapons and rockets" and added: "They well understood the vulnerabilities of Israeli armor."
Hizbullah had intelligence too. Soldier near Bint Jbeil, August 2006 (Photo: AP)
Many top Army officials, the report said, refer to the short battle almost as a morality play that illustrates the price of focusing too much on counterinsurgency wars at the expense of conventional combat. These officers note that, before the Lebanon war, Israeli forces had been heavily involved in occupation duty in the Palestinian territories.
"The real takeaway is that you have to find the time to train for major combat operations, even if you are fighting counterinsurgency wars," said one senior military analyst who studied the Second Lebanon War for the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Currently, the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have prevented Army units from conducting such training.
The Pentagon polemic is not only related to strategy and policy making, but also to money. According to the report, army generals have also latched on to the Lebanon war to build support for multibillion-dollar weapons programs that are largely irrelevant to low-intensity wars such as those fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A 30-page internal Army briefing, prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior Pentagon civilians, recently sought to highlight how the $159 billion Future Combat Systems, a network of ground vehicles and sensors, could have been used to dispatch Hizbullah's forces quickly and with few American casualties. The report argues that the system could have prevented many casualties among the Israel Defense Forces had it been used in 2006.
"Hizbullah relies on low visibility and prepared defenses," one slide in the briefing reads. "FCS counters with sensors and robotics to maneuver out of contact."
According to the report, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to stake out a firm position in this debate when he announces the 2010 defense budget. That document is expected to cut or sharply curtail weapons systems designed for conventional wars, and to bolster intelligence and surveillance programs designed to help track down shadowy insurgents.
Battles in village of Aita al-Shaab, August 2008 (Photo: AP)
The changes reflect the growing prominence of the military's counterinsurgency camp – the most prominent member of which is Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the US Central Command – in the Pentagon. President Barack Obama, whose strategy in Afghanistan is focused on protecting the local population and denying the Islamist radicals a safe haven, has largely backed this group.
Senior officials like Petraeus say that the threat posed by Hizbullah is being inflated by officers who are determined to return the army to a more familiar past, built around preparing for conventional warfare. The battle between the two camps will eventually be resolved in the budget discussions.