Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, commander of the Defense Department's largest warfighting organization, said current doctrine falls short in addressing the circumstances in which U.S. troops operate in Southwest Asia.
"We are so far beyond where the doctrine is in terms of how we operate that the doctrine can only be a broad guide," Vines said. "Doctrine was not designed with Afghanistan in mind. So consequently, what was written at (the Army's Training and Doctrine Command at) Fort Monroe or the Special Warfare Center (at Fort Bragg) or some other place didn't envision the complexity of what we are doing there."
This complex, non-linear battlefield has little resemblance to the Cold War model on which much of today's doctrine is based. Vines said it frequently provides no clear-cut distinctions between phases of warfare under way or the types of troops conducting operations. Also, U.S. military forces interact regularly with a wide range of noncombatants, including various U.S. government elements, nongovernmental organization representatives and groups representing the host country's central government.
"Our doctrine does not adequately address the control of this," said Vines, who commanded Coalition Joint Task Force 82 and Combined Joint Task Force 180 in Afghanistan from September 2002 to October 2003.
Vines said doctrine assumes what he calls "the old paradigm" that warfare is conducted one phase at a time - with stability operations that include building schools and digging wells kicking off only after combat operations have ceased. "The reality is that in a single piece of battle space, we might have three or four phases going on simultaneously," he said.
Military doctrine also fails to address adequately the heavy use of different special operations forces or the integral association between conventional and special operations forces on the ground, he said. Over the years, an "artificial barrier" developed between the two forces, Vines said, but that in reality, they work side by side, complementing each other's capabilities.
He said this mix of conventional and special operations forces as well as militia have proven to be "extraordinarily effective" in Afghanistan.
Vines said doctrine needs to address another battlefield complexity better than it does: the presence of a wide range of parties, most of them noncombatants. These include not just local civilians, but also representatives of nongovernmental organizations and interagency teams that are part of the U.S. government. In Afghanistan, Vines said, coalition forces also work with the Afghan National Army as well as militia members who received favored status by the Afghan government because they supported President Hamid Kharzai in fighting the Taliban.
"So occasionally, figuring out who you are dealing with becomes the challenge," said Vines. "You have to determine, does this militia have the support and authorization of the government? It isn't always easy to do."
Vines said he expects the way operations are being carried out in Afghanistan and Iraq to have a big influence on future operations. Ultimately, they too, could be incorporated into future doctrine. These include a wide mix of aviation units flying in the same battle space, the integration of Reserve and National Guard units into missions, and the use of special operations forces to do things he said "I'm not even sure their founders 60 years ago could have visualized."
One shortcoming Vines said needs to be addressed better is information operations - the ability of U.S. forces to use information to win the hearts and minds of the local population.
"If their only information comes from a mullah who is preaching hate against Westerners, Christians, Americans, the coalition, and that is their only source of information, then they will accept it at face value," Vines said. "So we have to put the facts out in a way that they say, 'Listen, the neighboring village was rebuilt, there has never been a road here before, and now there's a road.' Then they see the value of working together to rebuild their country."
Vines said mastering information operations will go a long way toward influencing people "to lay down their weapons and quit fighting and rebuild their country." But for now, he said, "We don't do that nearly as well as we could."