While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on March 15, 2010.
To my surprise, Roe in his book on Waziristan notes that the British in the 1930s had their own debate, similar to the one inside our military now, about whether they were too focused on small wars. As one officer wrote in 1932,
Surely no one wants an army trained on North-West Frontier lines only... Any tendency towards specialization for mountain warfare operations on the North-West Frontier must be resisted. These are a very small part of the Army's possible commitments, and specialization means a waste of part of our already very small army.
That officer was right, of course. On the other hand, in support of those who say that counterinsurgency is more difficult than conventional warfare is the testimony of an officer who fought in Gallipoli and France during World War I and then against Pashtuns in Waziristan: "I soon came to the conclusion that commanding a Company in Waziristan was far more difficult than commanding a Battalion in France."
As for the need for adaptive forces, emphasized so often lately, how pertinent is this observation? "How good or bad these regiments were on the frontier depended on one thing, and that was how ready they were to learn."
Roe also concludes that the best policy is a hands-off one, with military forces held in reserve, and the tribes essentially left to themselves, as long as they don't cause trouble. "The majority of tribal territory was left largely untouched."
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.