7 Lessons from 13 Years of War


Oct 16, 2014

Scouts pull overwatch at the Chowkay Valley in Kunar Province, Afghanistan in 2006

Scouts pull overwatch at the Chowkay Valley in Kunar Province, Afghanistan in 2006

Photo by Sgt. Brandon Aird/U.S. Army

Addressing an overflow crowd at the annual Army USA Conference in Washington, on Oct. 14, RAND senior international policy analyst Linda Robinson outlined new research that distills lessons learned from the U.S. experience in the last 13 years of war.

Joined on the panel by Gen. David Perkins, Commanding General of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, as well as defense policy researchers, Robinson explained to several hundred Army service members the seven key lessons detailed in the just-published study, “Improving Strategic Competence: Lessons from 13 Years of War.”

The seven lessons are:

  1. U.S. national security strategy has suffered from a lack of understanding and application of strategic art.
  2. An integrated civilian-military process is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of effective national security strategy.
  3. Because military operations take place in the political environment of the state in which the intervention takes place, military campaigns must be based on a political strategy.
  4. Because of the inherently human and uncertain nature of war, technology cannot substitute for sociocultural, political, and historical knowledge and understanding.
  5. Interventions should not be conducted without a plan to conduct stability operations, capacity-building, transition, and, if necessary, counterinsurgency.
  6. Shaping, influence, and unconventional operations may be cost-effective ways of addressing conflict that obviate the need for larger, costlier interventions.
  7. The joint force requires nonmilitary and multinational partners, as well as structures for coordinated implementation among agencies, allies, and international organizations.

The authors offer several recommendations, including:

  • U.S. strategic competence should be enhanced by educating civilian policymakers and revising how policy and strategy are taught to the U.S. military.
  • The military should examine ways to build effective, tailored organizations that are smaller than brigades and equipped with all the needed enablers to respond to a range of contingencies.
  • Special operations forces (SOF) and conventional forces should expand their ability to operate together seamlessly in an environment of irregular and hybrid threats. In particular, new operational-level command structures could facilitate both SOF-centric and SOF-conventional operations.

— Joseph Dougherty