More on Combat Tours
This is a great question. The short answer is no, not by a long shot.
Counterinsurgency requires detailed knowledge of the human, geographic, political and social terrain, and it takes time to acquire that knowledge. I'd say it became effective around the fifth or sixth month of my tour as a police adviser in Iraq. Arguably, advisers, commanders and troops operating outside the wire should serve longer tours in order to develop and cement their relationships, and capitalize on them.
But they can't -- there's a finite limit to the amount of combat that men and women can endure. So we must balance combat effectiveness, and the needs of an all-volunteer force (and its families), against the steep learning curve of counterinsurgency, which demands longer deployments.
There are other ideas worth considering, though. For starters, the Army could emulate the Marine Corps by deploying units back to the same ground they worked before. The Marines rotate units through Iraq's Anbar province and, consequently, have a deep base of institutional knowledge about that terrain. The Army, by contrast, appears to deliberately rotate units to a different part of Iraq almost every single time. Although most personnel in a given unit rotate between deployments, those who don't will provide a core of hard-earned knowledge that will help the unit if it deploys a second time to a place it's been before.
I also think the military should look at who really needs a longer tour for counterinsurgency purposes. Staff, logistics and support personnel who never go outside the wire probably can be just as effective if they serve six-month tours -- without all the strain. By contrast, those who serve on adviser teams, provincial reconstruction teams, combat units and key command positions probably do need longer tours to build the relationships and knowledge they need to suceeed. The rub is that these latter troops have much tougher tours -- so you'd be extending the very personnel who need rest the most.
It's a real dilemma, and I'm not sure how to solve it without drastically increasing the size of the military or sharply curtailing the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
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