March 21, 2005
Warfare group seeks ways to outsmart terrorists
By Vince Crawley
Times staff writer
The Army is spearheading a new Pentagon enterprise known as the Asymmetric Warfare Group in which creative people in and out of the military will combine to try and outsmart insurgents and terrorists.
The group is modeled after the IED Task Force, which tackles the threat of roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since its launch in October 2003, the IED Task Force has reduced the average casualty rate of each roadside bomb attack by 30 percent, said Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel, task force director.
The Asymmetric Warfare Group is an effort to transform the task force into a permanent brain trust in which a crack team of military experts is constantly on call, ready to tackle the latest real-world problems faced by commanders on the ground.
“We’re looking for somebody who’s open-minded, can be innovative, is a problem-solver, has demonstrated or can demonstrate the ability to look at a problem and think about unusual methods to solve it,” Votel said in a Feb. 22 interview. “Adaptability is a pretty key piece,” as is the ability to communicate with a wide assortment of people, ranging from civilian and military leaders to foreign allies.
“One of our key focus points will be on those units operating in the theater,” Votel said. “Our whole process is really driven by what we see and what’s happening on the ground.
Asymmetric warfare is the phrase used to describe clashes in which militarily weaker forces seek to undermine stronger foes through hit-and-run missions or guerrilla-style insurgencies. Communist forces used such tactics in the Vietnam War, as did American colonists fighting against the British in the Revolutionary War. Partisan and resistance fighters also used asymmetric tactics in World War II.
But for much of the Cold War and up to the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, the U.S. military focused its organization and tactics on waging conventional combat.
The Asymmetric Warfare Group, spearheaded by an Army colonel and based at Fort Meade, Md., is an effort to more flexibly adapt to the emerging threats of the 21st century.
The group is initially recruiting from among Army commissioned and noncommissioned officers with plenty of field experience. The group would deploy teams to joint, multiservice headquarters worldwide and, if it proves successful, eventually would expand into a multiservice outfit.
The IED Task Force also began as an Army initiative in October 2003, when roadside bombs clearly ascended to become one of the most pressing dangers faced by U.S. troops.
The operation was successful enough that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz last summer expanded the task force into a multiservice joint IED team. The organization linked up with soon-to-deploy units to make sure their training and preparations took into account the growing IED threat and the tough lessons being learned by troops on the ground.
The task force also studied the work flow of creating and fielding roadside bombs, discovering that one of the weak points in the process is the relatively small number of experts who build those weapons.
The Asymmetric Warfare Group initially will consist of about 200 people, about evenly divided between uniformed Army members and civilian contractors.
Tasks for three squadrons
The group was formed in January, and Votel said he expects to reach initial capability this summer and full strength next year.
The group will be divided into three squadrons:
• An Operations Squadron will include teams that deploy to the field and work with joint headquarters to identify problems and devise solutions. If the Asymmetric Warfare Group is deemed a success, a second operations squadron would be fielded to allow the teams to support long-term deployments and multiyear missions.
• A Training Advisory and Assessment Squadron will focus on visiting soon-to-deploy units to update them on current enemy tactics within combat zones.
• A Concepts Integration Squadron would do much of the group’s think-tank work, as well as research, development and rapid fielding of promising technologies.
The group likely will focus first on IEDs, along with expanding the task force’s scope to study such problems as suicide bombers.
“The AWG will become a lead organization in providing the conventional force with global perspective and expertise in full-spectrum training, planning and execution of countermeasures to asymmetric warfare,” Votel said in a February study paper co-authored with Army Lt. Gen. James Lovelace, the Army’s director of operations.
The paper stressed that the group “must ultimately achieve a joint structure to provide a true, complete and time-sensitive picture of the battle space that includes all aspects of asymmetric warfare.”
Votel said the group’s work will cross service boundaries because “all services, not just land forces,” are subject to unconventional attack.
He pointed out that roadside bombs have claimed casualties from all services. “Nobody’s safe from these things,” he said. “Every unit’s affected. So you can’t just focus on infantry or armor. You’ve got to look at combat support, combat service support, the guys that run mail, the guys that run supplies, the MPs that police routes. Everybody is vulnerable to these things. That’s why it’s so important that we do take a focused effort.”