Esta página no está disponible en español.
Lessons From Afghanistan
December 22, 2001
The military campaign in Afghanistan has pointed up steps the armed forces can take to bolster their capabilities. Some examples:
Protection of satellites and computer networks. Satellite assistance proved invaluable in setting target coordinates for U.S. bombs and transmitting reconnaissance data. Hostile governments and terrorist groups will no doubt be exploring ways in which to erode this U.S. technological advantage. The Pentagon needs to explore its own countermeasures aggressively.
Long-range bombers. The key Air Force aircraft in the Afghanistan campaign haven't been short-range fighters but, rather, land-based bombers including B-1s, B-2s and that ancient but impressive war horse, the B-52. That fact has given critics new ammunition for their argument that the Air Force should show more enthusiasm for buying more long-range bombers than for pushing for two short-range fighters, the F-22 and the Joint Strike Fighter.
Tactical flexibility by land forces. The Afghanistan campaign has left the Marines outwardly exuberant and the Army disappointed. The Army, despite a current push toward new thinking by its chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, remains excessively tied to armored units and heavy infantry. (Even the Army's plans for production of a lightweight combat vehicle demonstrate the service's reluctance to change: Production of the vehicle isn't scheduled to begin until 2012.) The Marines' greater flexibility led the Pentagon to make them, not the Army, the primary ground force in southern Afghanistan. The Army had to settle for what praise it earned by virtue of the impressive skill and verve shown by various Special Forces units.
Smaller bombs. For all the media focus on the bunker-busting 15,000-pound Daisy Cutter bombs, the Afghan campaign has demonstrated that the military can often get along with lighter-weight bombs, because their effectiveness is greatly magnified by their pinpoint accuracy.
The importance of training. One reason U.S. forces have performed so well in Afghanistan is because of training - training in Special Forces-style operations as well as in the coordination of land-sea attacks. That is something to be pondered by protesters against Navy training at Vieques , Puerto Rico . (The Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center took the lives of more than 400 Puerto Rican New Yorkers.)
These considerations don't mean the U.S. military should abandon all use of heavy infantry or short-range fighters. But it would be a mistake to regard the Afghan campaign as largely irrelevant to military strategy. On the contrary, America's military can draw on the experience of the past three months to make an already formidable force an even more powerful one.