Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster talks to a panelist participant at the Brookings Institution. McMaster stressed the importance of ground forces in the wake of recent military budget cuts.  Stephanie Haines/Medill

Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster talks to a member of the audience at the Brookings Institution panel. McMaster stressed the importance of ground forces in the wake of recent military budget cuts. Stephanie Haines/Medill

WASHINGTON – The military is focusing on using troops more strategically in future ground operations, the head of the Army Special Forces Command said Monday.

During a panel discussion on the need for humans in land operations following recent defense budget cuts, military and other experts said the military plans to revamp its forces by focusing more on strategic power instead of large invasion operations and encouraging more cooperation among different military branches. Discussion surrounding this issue came on the same day Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reinforced the focus on special forces and a leaner Army.

“We are returning to humans as the centrality of operations,” said Maj. Gen. Christopher Haas, who served on the military task force to create new plans for land operations and heads Army Special Operations Command at Ft. Bragg. “The big idea is figuring out why our tactical strategies are not always producing success, and to think about how land forces operate so we can articulate new, innovative options to our policy leaders.”

Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who is commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., stressed the necessity of land forces to combat nonstate actors such as al-Qaida. McMaster said these enemy organizations take advantage of weak communities and governments, and human forces on the ground can better understand the nature of that conflict.

“It’s important to understand what distinguishes war on land,” McMaster said. “For us to have a deterrent capability, land force is essential.”

But Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and director of the Center for 21st Century and Intelligence, asked why the military officials related ground forces only to land power instead of maritime, air and cyber fronts.

“How do we avoid repeating past strategic mistakes?” Singer said. “The issue isn’t human, it’s domain. My worry is putting ‘human domain’ in the bucket of land power and capping it off instead of seeing where it can go.”

William Galston, a senior fellow at Brookings, suggested Americans are leery of the use of ground troops, fearing it may be a precursor to  war.

“The worst phrase in American politics is ‘boots on the ground,’” Galston said. “Reluctance of Americans is a lot higher, and they are likely to rebut unless there is a clear response to aggression.”