Some of the most imperative technical training and knowledge that emerged from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were defense tactics against the improvised explosive device (IED) threat. While IEDs were one of the biggest threats to troops during the conflicts, the biggest threat today is losing the lessons we learned. If we don’t protect institutional counter-IED knowledge, it will be one of the most significant intelligence losses in our nation’s history.
Throughout history, nations have emerged from military conflicts pledging to learn from their mistakes and vowing not to repeat them. Unfortunately, many continue to make a mistake that wastes the vast sources of intelligence and practical knowledge gained during times of conflict.
Far too often, countries suffer from an institutional knowledge drain after the end of war. For example, soldiers returning from combat trained in the operation and maintenance of the very best technologies find themselves unemployed and idle for long periods of time. Those fortunate enough to find work rarely continue in the field in which their nation spent untold amounts of money and resources to train them.
The US military first experienced this loss to a noticeable degree following World War II and paid a huge price in battlefield losses early in the Korean conflict; however, this problem is not unique to the United States. Israel suffered a similar institutional “memory loss” after Arab armies attacked across the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights in the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. These losses most often occur following large, hastily undertaken military operations. And afterward, armies simply forget how they fought the last war.
If this issue of institutional memory loss is not considered after our nation’s recent military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, we will once again lose the hard-won, expensive body of analytical and institutional knowledge associated with many aspects of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Only this time, the impact could be far more costly to our nation. Unlike World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam, we will likely continue to be involved in the Global War on Terrorism for decades to come — in fact, the threat may never completely end. That’s why maintaining and growing our counter-IED efforts has never been more crucial, but they appear to be moving in a dangerous direction.