What's the proper way to wage a modern war?

The US has the top military force, but lately, the results sure don’t reflect it. It was mentioned in another thread that the military is “being used in a way they were never designed to be used.” So, what’s the right way to wage a modern war?

I suppose the military is supposed to win battles, but aren’t designed to root out insurgents or win “hearts and minds”. So, let’s look at two cases, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In Afghanistan, say the objective is to find Osama. How would you use the US military to better achieve this objective?

In Iraq, the objective was to find WMD and disarm Saddam. Those are largely irrelevant now, so the objective now is to eliminate the threat from al Qaeda and form a stable democracy. How does a military achieve that objective?

Or is the real objective to use up old ammo so we can justify the expenditures to purchase new weapons?

The proper way to engage in any war is to set your objectives, crush all opposition as rapidly and thoroughly as possible, then take what you want (be it property, land, slaves, or concession treaties), and then to take your booty and leave.

Winning “hearts and minds” isn’t war, it’s confusion. Unless you’re literally collecting their organs.

Exactly. Armies defeat other armies, we did this quite well in Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem is the “war” should have ended when we captured Saddam, making sure the country we just beat the crap out of is ok is not what an army does.

To only go to war when absolutely necessary…and when you do to be fully committed to that war for the duration.

The military can fight insurgents if the people back home are committed to paying the costs, both in terms of money and in terms of casualties and the bad propaganda such fights are bound to generate. Otherwise stay home.

As for ‘hearts and minds’…well, this is never an easy thing for the military to do, but it’s necessary if you want to ‘win’ such a struggle.

That is a political objective not a military one. It’s also a STUPID objective. Finding one man in such a place is pretty much impossible. Luck plays a large factor in that.

I would have given the US the military objective of taking and securing Afghanistan, defeating the Taliban in the field and rendering their ability to fight in the future to nil…and then let the military figure out the best way to achieve those goals. On the political side I would have had an interim format in place for governing between when the Taliban were defeated and when the Afghani’s could hold their own elections, including what military force would be necessary to secure the country during that interval.

Our mistake was that we attempted to fight this war on a budget, did not have clear military OR political objectives and didn’t follow through after the Taliban were initially removed from power.

Again, these are political objectives, not military one’s. The military objective should have been to depose Saddam and secure the country in a similar way to what I described for Afghanistan. We made essentially the same mistakes…we attempted to fight a war on a budget, didn’t use enough initial force, didn’t follow through and left a power vacuum in the interim. We didn’t plan for what we would do AFTER the invasion and it took us years to re-orient ourselves…giving the insurgent types plenty of opportunities to organize and spin up to fight us on their own terms.

Did you want to have a serious discussion?


It’s time to bring back nukes. Probably have fewer civilian casualties and it’d be easier to rebuild the defeated country’s infrastructure if we start with a clean slate.

Wouldn’t work so well finding Osama, but you can’t have everything.

I pretty much agree with begbert, except the part about taking your booty. We didn’t take any booty in WWII.

Wrong tense. That was our objective, but he doesn’t appear to be in Afghanistan any longer. And Pakistan will not let us operate freely inside their territory (and we have decided not to take unilateral action there).

We needed the big guns to go into Afghanistan, as we did, but taking out Osama was proabably more of a Special Ops type of action. However, I actually think we’re better off with a weakend Osama, on the run, than a captured or killed Osama. The latter two options (especially if he were captured) would create a more dangerous situation for the US, I believe, as dozens, hundreds or even thousands of “martyrs” crawled out of the woodwork to avenge that action.

We are failing in Afghanistan, because we are fighting on the Taliban’s terms. As long as we do this, we are playing into their hands. And, as long as Pakistan cannot control Baluchistan, Waziristan, etc., we will lose. As the British-they tried. To win, we have to be ruthless, and we are not prepared to be ruthless.
So, we will lose.

Well, at this point the modern way is to completely destroy the enemy’s economy and communications systems through directed, massive computer attacks.

Wait, isn’t nuking it from orbit the truly modern way?

It’s the only way to be sure…


The objective in Afghanistan was to take down the Taliban government because they were harbouring terrorists and get Osama. the first was achieved in short order with minimal loss of troops. Global threat averted When it was apparent that Osama had escaped, the mission in Afghanistan should have been declared finished and the country left to the Northern Alliance. The modern military should abandon any idea that it can successfully rebuild nations.

Mission complete and in short order. It soon became apparent that there were no WMDs and troops should have been pulled out immediately. Global threat averted.

They can’t so shouldn’t even try. They should have left al Qaida to Muqtada to handle. He probably would have been more effective. Once again, we can’t expect the US military to rebuild a nation.

With overwhelming force, which we have failed to do. If “might makes right” then we are the epitomization of the Roman Empire in collapse…
We should have gone into each conflict with a force-appropriate number of boots and a clear mission.
Sadly, in Iraq, neither has proven to be true.

I’d have to disagree. From what I’ve read about post-war Germany, the occupying powers did loot the country. The Russians were the most blatant about it. We benefited from the seizure of German intellectual property, and large numbers of German scientists and engineers.

Intelligence and special forces. You can’t use an army to capture a guy that you don’t know where he is, no matter how big and powerful that army is. If your intelligence isn’t good enough to find said person, said person isn’t going to be found, and throwing a hundred thousand troops at the problem doesn’t solve it.

You can’t use a powerful invading and occupying army to build a nation. The more the army stays out of foreign politics, and the less the army is seen as an “occupying” force, the more conditions are met for a strong democratic government to emerge. You can protect democracies with an army, but you can’t build them with an army.

The whole point of “modern” war is that the objectives are so much different from what our grandfathers knew. Hardly anyone wants to conquer, anymore. They want to exploit, or liberate, or intimidate, or even completely annihilate, but wars aren’t fought for lebensraum anymore. You have to have a clearly defined objective to even have a chance at “winning” a war.

Isreal didn’t have the stomach to go for Hezbolah’s throat (thank goodness), so they dropped a few bombs, shot a few guerillas, and then went back home because there wasn’t anything else they could think of to do. That war was lost before it even began, because Israel didn’t know what it wanted, and didn’t have a plan for doing it.

It’s why we’re losing in Iraq. If you got a dozen politicians to tell you truthfully what they think the objective in Iraq is, you’ll get a dozen different answers. Some people think we’ve already completed our objectives there. The truth is that nobody really knows just what’s going on, and they’re all nervously hoping to keep the status quo long enough to wash their hands and pass the problem on to someone else.

What does this even mean?

Surely the Soviets were ruthless when they invaded Afghanistan, and they did not win. So perhaps ruthlessness isn’t a useful measure of military success.

In contrast to xtisme who seems to be able to neatly split things between military and political objectives, with the implication that military objectives are easier to achieve and bring victory, I gotta go back to Clauswitz: war is the continuation of politics by other means. Military objectives that do not serve a political objective are useless. Victory is a function of achieving political objectives in order to compel a decision to submit to the will of another power.

I’m tempted to say Nerf bats, but that always leaves open the possibility of escalation to water balloons.

Just wanted to jump in and state that, as the originator of the OP’s quote bout the mlitary beign misused, the subject seems to have been well covered.

Our policies and tactics are largely based on WWII and Korea, and to a lesser extent Vietnam. This works, to a point.

In WWII and Korea, we had a foe, that would fight us militarily. While I’m sure there was insurgent behavior, it was the exception rather than the rule. A military force would fight until defeated, and then surrender or be forced to surrender.

In Vietnam that started to slip. While the NVA would fight, they lost everytime then did so. What caused problems for US forces was the VC insurgent forces and guerilla fighters. We could fight them, and did so, but the very nature of their force makeup made it difficult to defeat them as we know it.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, (moreso in Iraq) we defeated their standing militaries. Sort of… evidence indicated that the Iraqi military largely ceased to exist by the time the ground war really got rolling.

The fighting has not switched to VC style insurgency, with an enemy that is doctrinally trained and ready to die in order to kill us (the coalition). In a ware of atrition, you cannot win if you don’t have the willingness or ability to trade the enemy 1:1 kills. We don’t have the ability nor the will, therefor we cannot win in a straight fight with the insurgency.

Hence the efforts to win hearts and minds. Which is a modern idea, and one that hasn’t really caught on in the upper echelons of the military.

The US Military is not a police force. It is not a regional stabilizing machine, it is designed to smash the enemy.

We smashed the enemy, and have been thrust into the role of a police force (and construction company, and security company, and health services, and… and…). This is straining our abilities.

It’s an interesting time, and I’m eager to see what comes out of it in the long run.


This is absolutely true, and seems to be something our political leaders have forgotten.

Leave, and let the Iraqi people do it, if they want. Al Qaeda is there, and tolerated to the extent that it is, solely because we are there. We let it in, and sustain it by being there. As for a stable democracy, there cannot be one as long as we are there. Any government that takes power while we are there is tainted as collaborationist.

Modern wars are a little different from previous wars because they are not wars between major powers over land, gold, power or influence. They are essentially socioeconomic and religeous conflicts between the have and have nots. “Modern wars” are essentially the same old localized tribal conflicts based on religeon, economic class and ethnicity, but with the benefit of AK-47s, RPGs and other modern weapons.

The first thing that you need to understand is that these wars are not being fought by professional soldiers on 18 month tours. They are being fought by idealists, fanatics, violent bored people with nothing better to do and angry people with nothing to lose. And there is a constantly replenishing supply of them.

We don’t have to. Our technology allows us to kill insurgents wholesale.

People talk about “ruthlessness”, “willingness to kill the enemy”, “commitment”, “staying the course”, “not having the stomach” and other bullshit as if one more sortie of bombs would have been all it took. We were in Vietnam for 12 years. We lost 58,000 KIA and inflicted around five million casualties (4 million civilian and a million military). We dropped more bombs on Vietnam than we we dropped in all of World War II, both theaters. Clearly the effort was there.

A modern army can’t win in todays modern conflicts because the conflicts are fueled by economic disparity which drives the poor, angry, and disaffected in to adopting extreme political and religeous idologies. The very act of occupying those regions simply serves to worsen the conditions of those people and exacerbate the problems.

And not to mention that modern technology makes it possible for some untrained uneducated insurgent to take out a multimillion dollar tank with a cheap rocket or IED.

So the very nature of modern war is such that a rapid, decisive victory by an advanced mechanized army is impossible. Unfortunately those are the knd that politicians and generals tend to like.

Time to learn a lesson. When you attack on some elses turf, they fight much harder. They know how to hide and blend in. Protecting the homeland against foreign invaders is a great motivation. We have to fight them in Florida.