The transferability of lessons learned

The men of the 3rd Batallion, 8th Marine Regiment, based at Camp Lejeune, are discovering in their first two months in Afghanistan that the tactics they learned in nearly six years of combat in Iraq are of little value here — and may even inhibit their ability to fight their Taliban foes.
"U.S. Marines find Iraq tactics don't work in Afghanistan" Sure, every conflict is different - but imagine; if two COIN wars at the same time against Sunni insurgents have so much difference - what's the value of recent lessons learned for very different conflicts like more conventional warfare? Many systems and tactics that seem to be 'modern' and combat-proven may be ( or are with certainty useless for modern conventional warfare, but become coining lessons for a generation of officers and career NCOs. The availability of plenty air and indirect fire support for units and sub-units - even single squads - is unrealistic in conventional warfare. The much-cheered Predator/Reaper UAVs would be toast. I saw an official requirement for a Predator successor that didn't even ask for relevance/survivability in major conventional war. Fragmentation protection (possibly for the whole body, not just the torso and head) might be more important and life-saving in conventional war than hard body armor. There's a historical precedent that should help to illuminate the problem; the Boer wars. The European forces drew more conclusions from the Boer Wars than from the remote Russian-Japanese War of 1904/1905 before 1914. 'Boer tactics' (dispersion, dragoons, long-range rifle fire) were appreciated - but an extremely misleading preparation for the First World War. Dragoons were no better than regular infantry on the Western Front and at Gallipolli, long-range rifle fire was almost extinct during the war and loose dispersed formations weren't enough to counter the firepower of modern artillery and machine guns. The Boer Wars were no good preparation for the really important (First World) war that was really about state sovereignty. The mildly relevant Iraq and Afghanistan War might ruin our ground forces for a generation. Some people claim that ground forces can prepare for major conventional war and wage/win counter-insurgency wars at the same time (and receive fierce criticism). I don't believe that this is possible - unless we keep much of our ground forces out of the COIN business and focused on the most noble and justifiable military mission; defense of the national sovereignty and collective security. Extremely realistic exercises/experiments and a more thorough education of officers and career NCOs in military history and modern art of war than ever might help, too.


  1. Until they started paying off the local Sheiks no Marine tactic worked. As always in war, will to fight counts for a lot. The Iraqis were never the NVA. You recently made the point that the IDF may not be that good. The same could be said for the Marines. It would seem from the article that Marine rarely left vehicles in Iraq and the flat terrain insured a fairly easy go. Because they're Marines it wouldn't be possible for them to learn from the US Army, Brits and others. These outfits have been doing this successfully for five years now and have accumulated a large bit of institutional knowledge on how it's done. Alas, for Marines it's always about reinventing the wheel and writing about it as if it's all new.

    Old WW II joke:

    Q: Why are their thirteen men in a Marine squad and only 12 in the army?

    A: Army squads don't need their own photographer/public affairs officer.

  2. The MC is a difficult matter.

    I don't recall any noteworthy Marine excellence in action, but many people seem to be impressed by their physical fitness, esprit de corps, uniforms, deployability and PR work.

    It's safe to say that their procurement sucks more often than not and they're not indispensable (noting that even the Army did many opposed amphibious ops in WW2 and seems to always have been equal in heliborne assaults).

    Actual reports about MC combat often seem to boil down to an over-reliance on firepower.

  3. The Army sucks. I've worked with them.