Planning the US 'Long War' on Terror
Printer Friendly Version
E-Mail This Article
|Published on Wednesday, April 12, 2006 by BBC
Planning the US 'Long War' on Terror
by James Westhead
It sounds eerily like the Cold War - and that is no mistake.
The "Long War" is the name Washington is using to rebrand the new world conflict, this time against terrorism.
Now the US military is revealing details of how it is planning to fight this very different type of war.
It is also preparing the public for a global conflict which it believes will dominate the next 20 years.
The nerve centre of this war against terror is the huge MacDill airbase in Tampa, Florida.
Surrounded by white sand beaches, palm trees and two golf courses it looks more like a holiday camp than a military camp.
But inside US Central Command (Centcom) generals are planning what they call "fourth-generational warfare".
Centcom is already responsible for operations in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa - as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - and now it is planning a campaign that will eventually span the globe.
Aiming at al-Qaeda
The man behind what the US military calls its "principles of the Long War" is Brig Gen Mark Kimmitt.
Gen Kimmitt, Centcom's deputy director of plans and strategy, told BBC News: "Even if Iraq stabilised tomorrow the Long War would continue."
So as Centcom tries to control events in Iraq, he is also planning a strategy for "nothing less than the defeat of al-Qaeda across the world and its associated movements strung together by extremist ideology".
To achieve victory the US military will have to change dramatically, he says.
Like the terrorists it will have to build international networks, Gen Kimmitt says, making better use of "soft power" - diplomacy, finance, trade and technology.
"I'm an artillery officer, and I can't fire cannons at the internet," he says, referring to what he sees as one of the key weapons of the modern age.
Instead, he argues that the US military must try to break down "old mind-sets and bureaucracies" and build new relationships with other agencies - like the FBI, the police and the state department - through what in military jargon are called "joint inter-agency task forces".
The theory is that the military cannot fight alone against such a nimble and deadly foe as al-Qaeda, and must build a new kind of worldwide network as flexible and smart as its enemy.
As a result Gen Kimmitt predicts a much lower profile for traditional US forces.
He believes that will help win hearts and minds, by ending the impression that the US is occupying the Middle East.
"Our future posture is still being worked out," he says.
"But I would like to see to the number of troops in the Middle East cut to a fraction of the current 300,000, by at least a half."
The US military is planning a big increase in the role of special forces, the smaller, specially-trained teams able to speak local languages - including Arabic - deploy rapidly and work with the armies of other nations.
Trailer park diplomacy
Outside Centcom sits a symbol of the new approach and its complexity - a large trailer park with fluttering flags atop each trailer representing each of the 63 nations represented at Centcom, from Denmark to El Salvador.
Inside each trailer, a small team of military liaison officers shares information with their American colleagues and co-ordinates action in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the region.
According to an American general working with the coalition, the aim is to maintain this loose-knit arrangement to fight the global war on terror.
"We want to make it a lasting organisation," he said.
"We don't want it to dissolve like it did after Desert Shield and Desert Storm."
However, America's difficult relationship with some allies after 11 September 2001 suggests that this will be a challenge.
France and Germany, for example, opposed the war in Iraq. Rear Adm Jacques Mazars, the French representative at Centcom, says French and American forces co-operate more successfully on the ground than their politicians.
But, he said, running a coalition for a sustained period would be hard.
"On the conceptual level we can agree," he said. "There will be a long war to be won. But on the practical level it will be harder."
One regular cause of tension among the allies is the sharing of sensitive intelligence.
"There are some things you wouldn't share with a neighbour and even an ally," one senior US officer said.
There are signs that despite the difficulties, the new coalition against terror is here to stay.
The Pentagon admits its vision is not yet fully realised, but it has already started work on a new building in the MacDill complex, providing a bricks-and-mortar home for the international occupants of the trailer park.
"I can't see there ever being a completely homogenous coalition dealing with worldwide terror," said
Col Mark Bibbey, the chief of staff of the British mission at Centcom. "The 63 nations are not signed up to the same view on everything."
But he added: "You've got to start somewhere. You have to plan ahead. You have to be driving in a particular direction. If we don't start driving now or soon, we'll be behind the curve."
Copyright 2006 BBC