Lessons learned from the Iraq War
The Iraq War has had a great influence on U.S. military policy.
By necessity, the military has been forced to deemphasize and cut programs associated with fighting major military engagements in the Cold War, to the kind of conflicts American troops have faced in Afghanistan and Iraq. The new conflict has been characterized by opponents applying force mostly with grenade launchers, small arms, mortars, improved road bombs and suicide bombings (in short, by "heavy infantry" and "terrorist tactics"). Unlike "conventional war" there are no state actors and there is no front line. The Iraqi Air Force, Navy, and the Artillery and Armor components of the Iraqi military (which turned out to have no Weapons of Mass Destruction, as alleged) was wiped out by U.S. forces in a matter of weeks with minimal casualties.
The F-22 fighter air superiority jet program has been cut back. Major ship buys for the Navy, including the Virginia class submarine, next generation DD(X) destroyer and work on a national missile defense have been cut or put on hold. Investment in body armor, armor for the Humvee, and the A-10 Warthog close air support aircraft, which have often been ignored in the past, have now taken center stage. The Iraq War has become a major testing ground for the Stryker class of lightly armored wheeled personnel carriers designed to provide mobile responses to modern low intensity conflicts.
Serious casualties and operational difficulties have cast doubt on the future of the Apache AH-64 helicopter. Pressure to find defensible ways of protecting supply conveys, for example with "gun trucks", armored cars like the M1117, and pressure to armor supply trucks has arisen as the Army proved itself unprepared to fight in a conflict where there is no front line, despite the fact that this was the case in the Vietnam War and almost every subsequent conflict in which the United States has been involved. Cooks, truck drivers, and military officers have been just as much at risk as the riflemen and paratroooper grunts normally seen as the "high risk" forces in a conflict. The average age of soldiers injured and killed in this conflict has been older than in conflicts like Vietnam, where conscripts made up an important part of the force.
The Army, Army Reserves, National Guard and Marines have all experienced recruiting dificulties as a result of the conflict, and both massive callups of reserve and national guard forces and "stop loss orders" prohibiting soldiers from leaving military service at the end of their terms of enlistment are all that stand between the military and a massive personnel shortage. Tank drivers are being handed rifles and told to act like infantry. Air Force airmen with base security specialties and truck driving skills are being utilized to provide combat support to Army troops on the ground. Sailors may be next. And, if all of these efforts fail, a draft may be necessary.
The United States has also grappled with how to gather intelligence from prisoners, and under the guidance of the Republican administration and figures like Alberto Gonzales, the new Attorney General of the United States, has erred on the side of aggresive torture methods.
Critics point to a failure to devote sufficient troops to immediately impose law and order in Baghdad when it fell to American and allied troops as an important turning point against the American occupation as it showed that lawlessness would be tolerated.