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Irregular Warfare Presents Challenge For U.S. Military, General Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va., June 19, 2008 – The U.S. military will be engaged in irregular warfare operations for some time to come, a senior U.S. military officer said here today.

“Irregular warfare, from my perspective, is the key problem that we face today,” Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation and commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, told attendees at the 2008 Joint Warfighting Conference.

The U.S. military is now locked in battle with transnational terrorists like al-Qaida, but it also must be prepared to fight conventional conflicts, Mattis said.

Meanwhile, American sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines will be fighting terrorists during the next decade or so, Mattis predicted.

“The enemy won’t fight us conventionally,” Mattis pointed out, noting the terrorists realize they’re outmatched on traditional battlefields.

He cited his belief that technology, although welcome and helpful, isn’t a panacea for all of the unknowns inherent in warfighting, where the human dimension of conflict reigns supreme.

Terrorists embrace irregular warfare as a countermeasure to U.S. military supremacy, Mattis explained, noting they are intelligent, persistent and patient.

“This enemy is not going away any time soon,” the general observed.

Anyone who believes the terrorists can be reasoned with are wrong, Mattis said, noting their worldview is totally at odds with that of civilized societies.

The United States, the Soviet Union and China did not want to use their nuclear weapons during the Cold War, Mattis said. However, he said, it’d be different if al Qaida terrorists acquired nuclear or chemical weapons. “I firmly believe that if they got chemical or nuclear weapons they would use them,” he emphasized.

To achieve victory over terrorism the U.S. military must become intellectually focused on understanding the enemy and how he operates, Mattis said. Winning this battle depends on U.S. servicemembers being adaptive and capable of improvisation, he added.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and his troops have severely disrupted al-Qaida in Iraq operations by adapting counterinsurgency doctrine to separate terrorists from the Iraqi populace, Mattis said.

The U.S. military does a good job of destroying or finishing the enemy once he has been “fixed,” or cornered, Mattis said. However, he said, more work needs to be done in areas related to finding the foe.

Mattis told military contractors in the audience that the U.S. military needs to devise a way to blow up improvised explosive devices while they’re still in terrorists’ hands.

“We have to take the IED and turn it against the enemy by pre-detonation,” Mattis said.

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Marine Gen. James N. Mattis

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U.S. Joint Forces Command

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