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Irregular Warfare Capabilities Remain Priority for DoD

By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2008 – Diminishing the threat from violent extremism is the U.S. military’s top priority, but not its only priority, a top Defense Department policy official said Aug. 15.

The 2008 National Defense Strategy outlines a balanced set of policy objectives for the military, but does place a clear emphasis on keeping up the fight against extremism, Dr. Thomas Mahnken, deputy assistant secretary of defense for policy planning, said during a call with military bloggers.

The strategy document, released publicly by the Department of Defense on July 31, outlines how DoD supports the president’s National Security Strategy and informs the National Military Strategy and other subordinate strategy documents. It builds on lessons learned and insights from previous operations and strategic reviews. This is the first update since March 2005.

“Secretary Gates has said on any number of occasions that [the war against extremism] is the war that we are fighting now, and that whatever else we plan for and whatever else we do, we need to succeed in the war that we're fighting now,” Mahnken said.

Supporting that fight requires developing irregular-warfare capabilities, overseeing a cultural change within the military, expanding use of joint operations, and partnering more successfully with other U.S. government agencies, Mahnken explained.

“We are still in the process of building up that capacity, that institutional capacity within the department. It's a process that began with the 2006 [Quadrennial Defense Review]. We've clearly made progress, but we're not there,” Mahnken said.

“One of the things that the strategy talks about is the need for an expanded conception of what ‘jointness’ is all about,” Mahnken said. “What we need to face many of the challenges that we see now and are likely to see in the future is a jointness that encompasses not only the armed services, but civilian capabilities within the Defense Department, other departments and agencies, and our friends and allies.”

Success in that regard, Mahnken said, is defined as “integration of all the elements of national power and being able to bring them to bear on the security challenges we face.”

Mahnken pointed to Iraq and Afghanistan as obvious examples of the need for “whole-of-government approaches for counterinsurgency,” but he called the challenge equally applicable to future conflicts.

“It's one of the reasons why Secretary Gates has been such a vocal proponent of greater funding for, you know, the non-military instruments of national security, if you will, particularly the State Department, [U.S. Agency for International Development], and others,” Mahnken said.

Developing the necessary skills and maturing the appropriate relationships for success in the irregular warfare field will take years, Mahnken said. The “long war” itself will unfold over decades, he noted.

Meanwhile, Mahnken explained, the military will continue to build its traditional warfare capabilities.

“What Secretary Gates said in releasing the strategy is really important, which is, it's all about balance,” Mahnken said. “If you look at what the services fund in terms of programs, in terms of training and education, and when it comes to traditional warfare, it's substantial.”

(Tim Kilbride is assigned to New Media, Defense Media Activity.)

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