Leadership: March 13, 2003

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One of the major changes to take place between the 1991 Gulf War and 2003 was a greater willingness to aggressively use new weapons and tactics. In 1991, the senior officers, with their Vietnam experience, were reluctant to trust the better training and superior equipment of their ground troops to win a quick victory. Much emphasis was placed on keeping American casualties down. As a result, the air bombardment went on far longer than was needed. After the first week, the Iraqis in Kuwait had figured out how to deceive and bombers and avoid getting hit. But once the ground troops went in, they quickly tore the Iraqis apart, even the determined Republican Guard units that stood and fought. Except for some of the most senior NCOs and officers, most American military leaders never experienced Vietnam. The current generation have only known a volunteer military and a spirit of rapidly accepting and implementing new technologies. This included a new acceptance of Special Forces and commandos. Up until the 1991 war, most generals were reluctant to use Special Forces. This aversion was an ancient one, and was reinforced in World War II and Vietnam, where the commandos and Special Forces seemed a little too independent minded and, well, "unsoldierly." But these guys usually got the job done when no one else could. Through the 1990s, the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that now controlled all Special Forces and commandos, made a major effort to convince the generals that their "operators" could be useful in a wide variety of situations. Afghanistan confirmed that. Now there is general enthusiasm for using all the new stuff (JDAM, better communications gear and Special Forces) aggressively to defeat Iraq as quickly as possible. Afghanistan, fortunately, delivered some reality checks on the dangers of being too aggressive. Several operations in Afghanistan turned out poorly (although none disastrously), mainly because of poor intelligence and inadequate training for some of the troops involved. For better or worse, the aggressiveness and bold use of technology will also be seen in Iraq. In the past, this combination has usually won spectacular victories. But sometimes there have been spectacular failures. Ultimately it's up to being able to combine competence and boldness in just the right proportions. As the British commandos (the SAS) motto puts it, "Who Dares, Wins."

 


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