After saying the US should not forget the difficult lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, US defence secretary (photo, from guardian.co.uk) has warned that his country should avoid future land wars.
Former US president George W. Bush chose Robert Gates as defence secretary and current president Barack Obama then named him to rescue the military from what many saw as an unwinnable war in Iraq.
“In my opinion, any future defence secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined,” Gates said on Friday, in a speech to cadets at the US Military Academy at West Point, in New York state.
The US has been at war for the past 10 years. According to Mr Gates a consequence of that is that West Point cadets are joining a force that is “resilient but also stressed and tired”.
“The army must prepare itself for the complex threats it will face in the future, including terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction, outlier nations capable of nuclear warfare and the modern militaries being assembled in Russia and China,” he said.
Today’s army is filled with soldiers who have had “little opportunity to do more than catch their breath and then get ready for the next deployment“, Mr Gates said.
Although he hasn’t announced when, Mr Gates said he will leave office this year and this speech is expected to be his last address at the training ground for future army officers.
He also laid out his vision for the future of the US army while regrouping after a decade of long and repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The army has made a painful war-driven transition from a force designed to face off against other large militaries to a more nimble service that trains other armies and takes on nation-building even as it hunts insurgents,” Gates said.
“It must better prepare itself to continue to face such unconventional threats and unorthodox duties in the future.”
Since December 2006, when he took over the senior Pentagon role, Mr Gates has made many decisions about the nation’s 1.1 million-stron ground force.
When he came in he faced an escalating war in Iraq that was requiring more forces, therefore over time he sent thousands more troops into Iraq to a peak of nearly 180,000. He also extended soldiers’ deployment tours from 12 months to 15 months.
And when the Iraq war started to slow down, another surge was ordered by Mr Gates and the Obama administration, into Afghanistan, in order to battle entrenched uprisings in the south and east.
Mr Gates also said that in the future conflicts will be very different. According to him the US military are more likely to use air and sea power in future high-end conflicts, instead of large ground forces like the one that invaded Iraq in 2003 and the one in Afghanistan.