The newly nominated head of Central Command, Marine Gen. James Mattis, if confirmed by the Senate, may soon get the opportunity to try out in his new area of responsibility some of the innovative initiatives he pushed while heading up Joint Forces Command.
Mattis was a big proponent of decentralization and disaggregation of authority to the lowest echelons. “High performing small units are now a national imperative, capable of operating independently at increasingly lower echelons,” Mattis said in a speech at CSIS last year.
At JFCOM he stood up an Irregular Warfare Center, working with veteran special operators to infuse lessons learned among small commando teams in Iraq and Afghanistan into regular units. He urged a radical reorganization of the Army and Marine Corps into smaller, “high performing” units, along the special forces model.
The effort he envisioned was not designed to turn regular forces into special forces, rather, it recognizes that the individual and the small unit are the key players on a decentralized battlefield. Fundamentally, quality becomes much more important than quantity.
Those small, disaggregated units is exactly what’s needed to combat al-Qaida franchise groups and insurgent networks sprouting up in the CENTCOM region, particularly in Somalia and Yemen. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has set up shop in Yemen, while another al-Qaida affiliated group, al-Shabaab, is operating in Somalia.
As the large footprint counterinsurgency approach is fast falling out of favor, eliminating scattered insurgent networkes will require small, discrete units. “Its going to be more important what individuals brings to the battlefield than their numbers,” Mattis said.
The “advise and assist” capability of ground forces will be key, requiring that regular forces achieve a “seamless” integration with special operations forces. Those small teams, he said, must partner with foreign militaries, live and work among the local people, and operate with a minimal logistics footprint.
“These wars will be fought among the people… we’re going to have to deal on human levels with human beings and not think that technology or tactics by targetry will solve war,” he said.
It will be interesting to watch what tactics and operating concepts Mattis tested and wargamed at JFCOM are brought with him to CENTCOM; if he is confirmed of course.
-- Greg Grant