We have argued on these pages that the War on Terror should be prosecuted using a mixture of drones and Special Forces strikes based on intelligence. It would seem that the military is being pushed to this inevitable conclusion whether they like it or not. The reality of large nation-building forces and the expense of paying for them is sinking in. Military planners at the Pentagon are having the decision to move to a less expensive, more mobile force made for them by simple mathematics.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta explained the new strategy by saying, “In this budget environment, we simply cannot—we simply cannot sustain the infrastructure that is beyond our needs or ability to maintain.” Panetta went on to highlight the role unconventional forces like special operators will play in the future of the military, saying, “This [strategy] requires that we have the capability to defeat the enemy across a broad horizon of different conflicts. And the budget leverages, as a result of that, new concepts of operations and advances in space, cyberspace, special operations, long-range precision strike capabilities and other capabilities as well to ensure that we can still confront and defeat multiple adversaries.”
But there is no cause for alarm. Smaller, more agile ground forces can be just as successful as larger ones. On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operation Michael Sheehan, a former infantryman and Special Forces soldier, and former deputy commissioner for counterterrorism at the NYPD, told a symposium that “[U.S. forces] actually responded very, very effectively to crush al-Qaeda immediately after 9/11 and continually for the last 10 years.” He added that what was vital to that success “was several hundred [special operations forces] operators working side by side with the CIA and supported by the United States Air Force.”
The capabilities necessary for fighting the War on Terror should not be confused with those necessary for nation-building counterinsurgency operations. The War on Terror is not a battle for the hearts and minds of our enemies. It’s a race to kill them before they kill us.