Gates warns against wars like Iraq and Afghanistan

It would be unwise for the United States to ever fight another war like Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the chances of carrying out a regime change in that fashion again were slim, Gates said while addressing West Point cadets.

"In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General MacArthur so delicately put it," Gates said bluntly.

That reality, he said, meant that the US Army would have to reshape its budget, since potential conflicts in places like Asia or the Persian Gulf were more likely to be fought with air and sea power, rather than with conventional ground forces.

"As the prospects for another head-on clash of large mechanised land armies seem less likely, the Army will be increasingly challenged to justify the number, size, and cost of its heavy formations," he warned.

"The odds of repeating another Afghanistan or Iraq — invading, pacifying, and administering a large third-world country — may be low," Gates was quoted as saying by The New York Times.

He said the Army and the rest of the government must focus on capabilities that can "prevent festering problems from growing into full-blown crises which require costly — and controversial — large-scale American military intervention."

Gates was brought into the Bush cabinet in late 2006 to repair the war effort in Iraq that was begun under his predecessor Donald H Rumsfeld and then was kept in office by President Barack Obama.

In his speech, Gates did not directly criticise the Bush administration's decisions to go to war. Even so, his never-again formulation was unusually pointed, especially at a time of upheaval across the Arab world and beyond, The Times noted.

Gates has said that he would leave office this year, and the speech at West Point could be heard as his farewell to the Army.

He said Iraq and Afghanistan had become known as "the captains' wars" because "officers of lower and lower rank were put in the position of making decisions of higher and higher degrees of consequence and complexity."

To find inspiring work for its young officers after combat deployments, the Army must encourage unusual career detours, Gates said, endorsing graduate study, teaching, or duty in a policy research institute or Congressional office.

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