Why stability operations matter to Gen. Caldwell
Greetings from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas! I am visiting here for the first time, and I must say this base feels very different than other military installations. Instead of rows and rows of Humvees and Bradleys, Fort Leavenworth has a series of learning and training centers. It is in the military’s academic hub, home to the Counterinsurgency Center, United States Army Command and General Staff College, and the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center. And throughout, soldiers here talk about Iraq, Afghanistan and the future of the military in academic terms.
At its helm is Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who I first met in Baghdad. Through this base, Caldwell sets the tone for how the military trains and talks about its future. It’s a freedom few base commanders enjoy. Caldwell’s focus is stability operations, or how the military trains to stabilize nations. He picks who writes doctrine, what kind of classes are taught and on and on.
I assumed that his drive was shaped by Iraq or his colleagues’ experiences in Afghanistan. But as it turns out, it is based on his tours in Panama and Haiti and the first Gulf War, examples where he says the military figured out how to win the war, but not the peace.
In Panama, he was part of the U.S. effort to remove Manual Noriega, who surrendered. But then what? “All we ever planned for the initial assault takedown and transition of authority within the government. Nobody ever talked about picking up trash, reestablishing the police force, figuring out what do with their military. …So we go in, take down the government, then somebody turns around and said ‘How are we going to get the police back out on the street?’”
After the first Gulf War, he was at the Euphrates River when Saddam Hussein’s government began slaughtering the Shiites in the south. Caldwell watched the violence unleashed across the river, night after night. His unit was ordered to stay out, but was allowed to move a hospital nearby. They treated “lots and lots of causalities” until one day they were ordered to leave.
“We did a great military operation but didn’t think through the end state again.”
And in Haiti, the U.S. military helped put Jean-Bertrand Aristide in power. Afterward, “it was all the same stuff.”
With Iraq and Afghanistan, Caldwell fretted that if the military didn't talk about stability operations during those conflicts, it would not learn the importance of stability operations. Through Fort Leavenworth, he can lead the discussion, by deciding who writes the doctrine and leads the training. “We’ve been learning the same lessons because we never codified it in writing. We never wrote the doctrine that said stability operations were critical to winning the peace.
“We have to get it right this time. …We can’t afford to lose the lessons.”