|Patrick Walters, National security editor | July 19, 2008
WHEN Jim Molan came home in April 2005 after a year helping the US-led coalition run the war in Iraq, he was asked by his Canberra debriefers what was the most significant thing Australia could do to influence the way the war was being fought. Molan had just finished serving a hectic eight months as chief of operations to the US commander of the multinational force in Iraq, George Casey, which included planning the second battle for Fallujah in November 2004 and the successful general election the following January.
"You should have replaced me with another Australian general," was the major-general's one-line answer to his Canberra interlocutor. Impressed with Molan's performance, Casey had made a specific request for another Australian to take over the chief of operations role but, as events in Iraq took a turn for the worse, Canberra politely declined the US commander's request.
Molan has written a remarkable account of a turbulent year in Baghdad helping the Americans run the war. Working deep inside a command structure controlling 175,000 coalition troops, he had little to do with the 400-strong Australian military presence in Iraq. But Molan's book, Running the War in Iraq, poses some fundamental questions about the way our defence forces are being used in Iraq and Afghanistan and how prepared Australia's military will be for the wars of the 21st century.
Compared with the complex counterinsurgency war Molan helped run in Baghdad, the Australian Defence Force, with the exception of its special forces, has not been involved in long-running, close-combat operations in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Molan worries about how the ADF will effectively manage the "operational art" in the years ahead, conflicts that may demand Australia take the lead in planning, commanding and deploying joint forces on the battlefield.
His experience in Iraq has caused him to doubt Australia's capacity to prosecute an effective counterinsurgency campaign in theatres that demand a complex mix of war-fighting, peacekeeping and humanitarian skills: the "three-block war".
At the command level, he worries that the standard set by the ADF is skewed too far away from fighting towards humanitarian operations, peacekeeping and peace-making.
Australia's war-fighting tradition has retained strengths at the lowest tactical level, but in Molan's view we have failed to keep abreast of conceptual debates and developments about how commanders use forces on a battlefield at the level above tactics.
He notes that the ADF has not been involved in serious, joint sustained combat since Vietnam and has not practised "operational generalship" in a war since that time.
"We in Australia luxuriate in what I describe as wars of choice within wars; we choose the wars we will fight in, we choose the timing of our participation, we choose the geographical areas of our participation (and so control the level of likely combat), we choose the kind of operations we will conduct and we choose when we come home," he says. As Molan tells Inquirer, Americans do not have that luxury in Iraq or Afghanistan. Australia may not have that luxury in the years ahead.
"The Government is spending $50 billion buying excellent war-fighting equipment between now and 2018," he says. "But I don't think we are matching that with an attitude and an ethos of combat. We say it, but I don't see it being manifest in training at a higher level, and that concerns me."
Iraq and Afghanistan should teach us the counterinsurgency struggle or "war among the people" is getting harder to win. If the extreme violence in Baghdad has taught Molan one thing, it is that militaries must be able to fight to win a long counterinsurgency campaign in addition to the provision of a range of non-military skills and assets.
When Molan was in Baghdad, Americans would refer to "swimmers and non-swimmers": those nations willing to fight and die in Iraq and those just there to show the flag. "If you can't fight, then you will never get to the clever parts of counterinsurgency, which is the hearts and minds. Because it is the strategy of the enemy to get between you and the people.
"If you are not strong enough and tough enough, you can't touch the hearts and minds of the people."
When it comes to Afghanistan, Molan warns there is a gap "a mile wide" in terms of the Rudd Government's rhetoric about the importance of the Australia's military commitment and our presence on the ground in Oruzgan.
"To be generous, we (NATO and its allies) have a quarter to half the number of troops that we need to make a fist of it. Not having enough troops means that it's going to be a long, long fight and that exposes your national resolve."
Molan says the question of more Australian troops in Oruzgan is a matter for the Government but observes that a 52,000-strong ADF, now costing the taxpayer $22 billion a year, s