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". . .But the fact remains that the most likely real thing that they will see... is Low Intensity Conflict. And while the strokes and rewards. . will be there for them to focus on these other things. . .the combat training center. . .that if they are called to respond to one of these damn things, that they cannot afford to fail. They could have been the greatest battalion commander that ever went thru NTC or JRTC.. .but the minute that there is one kid lying on the ground bleeding unnecessarily or. . . that their nation and their Army is embarrassed because of something they did--They will know that they made the wrong choices in terms of where they put their time, efforts, and energies.

"When I was a student at Leavenworth, I said that is too complicated, there are no rules in it, ... it's too much an art and not much of a science. It's too unpredictable and uncontrollable, it's too tough. And, by the way, the chances are so low that I'm going to have to do any of that.

"And then there I was . . . What, now, Regimental Commander??

"We put LIC in the too hard box."

COL David Hale 1
TF Commander
Operation Nimrod Dancer
November 1989

Several military and political elements combine to ensure LIC is the most likely form of confrontation the U.S. Army will face in the near future.

  • The capabilities of the superpowers, both nuclear and non-nuclear, and the ability to project them around the world, have made high-intensity conflict too costly.
  • The deep social, economic, and political problems of Third World nations create fertile ground for developing insurgencies and other conflicts which impact adversely on U.S. interests.
  • Finally, the huge economic and social impact of the international drug business all point to an expanding U.S. involvement in the LIC arena.

Soldiers at all levels have had difficulty in deciphering their particular role in LIC.

  • Some commanders and civilian leaders have stated LIC is strictly a Special Forces or Light Infantry problem.
  • In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Although some geographic areas are more likely hot spots than others, LIC could involve every branch of the Army in any one of the theaters.

Ongoing operations in Panama indicate the need for a mix of forces (Heavy/Light/SOF) and dramatically reinforced combat support and combat service support elements. Operation Nimrod Dancer deployed an infantry brigade task force from 7th INF DIV with a mech infantry battalion from 5th INF DIV to protect U.S. citizens and possessions, and perform a show of force in Panama for 6 months in 1989.

  • An Armor, Mech Infantry, Military Police, or Transportation officer who was firmly convinced that LIC was the province of some light force could find himself knee-deep in a deployment he knows little about.

Further complicating matters is the reversal in LIC of the long accepted predominant role of maneuver units. To illustrate this point and the radical departure from earlier doctrine:

  • The truism from WW II that every engineer and civil affairs soldier may be pressed into service as a rifleman is modified for LIC operations to read every rifleman may be pressed into service as an engineer or civil affairs soldier.

To better understand this, one should examine the nature of LIC in relation to the entire operational continuum.

Table of Contents
The Operational Continuum

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias