WASHINGTON – It would take the Army time to "shift gears" if it needed to fight against North Korea, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said Thursday.
Right now, the Army is focused on the counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but North Korea’s recent saber rattling has raised the prospect that the Army might be called upon to fight a conventional war.
"I have said publicly for some time that if we had to shift gears, it would probably take us about 90 days or so to shift our gears and to train the folks up that were preparing to go to Iraq and Afghanistan to go someplace else," Casey said after a speech at a Washington think tank.
That doesn’t mean that it would take at least 90 days to send reinforcements to U.S. troops in South Korea, Casey said.
"We would move forces as rapidly as we could get them prepared," he said.
Casey declined to say how fast the Army could mobilize to meet a threat from North Korea, but he stressed the Army is "combat seasoned" and can move quickly.
"The mechanical skills of artillery gunnery and tank gunnery come back very, very quickly," he said. "The harder part is the integration — that really brigade level and above of massing fires and effects in a very constricted period of time as opposed to what you do in a counterinsurgency over a much longer extended period of time."
Looking to the future, Casey said he expects conflicts this century to look a lot like the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the Israeli war with Hezbollah in 2006.
Regarding the latter, Casey noted that the key lesson the Israelis learned was that they were too focused on irregular warfare.
"They were working so much in the West Bank and conducting counterinsurgency-like operations that they lost their combined arms skills, the ability to integrate fires in air and tanks and artillery," he said.
The U.S. Army needs to be prepared for the "full spectrum" operations ranging from offensive, defensive and stability operations, he said.
Casey expressed confidence that the U.S. Army can fight and win a conventional war against North Korea given its experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I’m not afraid of putting this force in the field against anybody," he said.