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by Michael R. Gordon
Friday, Oct. 06, 2006 at 2:22 PM
Looks like the U.S. military has finally figured out that Iraq is just like Vietnam.
New military strategy on insurgents honed
WASHINGTON - The Army and Marines are finishing work on a new counterinsurgency doctrine that draws on hard-learned lessons from Iraq and makes the welfare and protection of the civilian population a bedrock element of military strategy.
The doctrine warns against some of the practices used early in the war, when the military operated without an effective counterinsurgency playbook. It cautions against overly aggressive raids and mistreatment of detainees. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of safeguarding civilians and restoring essential services and the rapid development of indigenous security forces.
The current military leadership in Iraq has already embraced many of the ideas in the doctrine. But some military experts question whether the Army and Marines have sufficient troops to carry out the doctrine effectively while preparing for other potential threats.
The doctrine is part of a broader effort to change the culture of a military that has long touted the virtues of using firepower and battlefield maneuvers in swift decisive operations against a conventional foe.
"The Army will use this manual to change its entire culture as it transitions to irregular warfare," said Jack Keane, a retired four-star general who served in 2003 as the acting chief of staff of the Army. "But the Army does not have nearly enough resources, particularly in terms of people to meet its global responsibilities while making such a significant commitment to irregular warfare."
The doctrine is outlined in a new field manual on counterinsurgency that is to be published next month. But recent drafts of the unclassified documents have been made available to the New York Times, and military officials said that the major elements of the final version remain unchanged.
The spirit of the document is captured in a series of nine paradoxes it cites that reflect the nimbleness required to wage counterinsurgency operations that aim to win the support of the population and isolate insurgents from their potential base of support, a task so complex that military officers refer to it as the graduate level of war.
Instead of focusing on firepower to destroy Republican Guard troops and other enemy forces as was required in the opening weeks of the invasion of Iraq, the draft manual emphasizes the importance of minimizing civilian casualties. "The more force used, the less effective it is," it says.
Stressing the need to build up local institutions and encourage economic development, the manual cautions against putting too much weight on purely military solutions. "Tactical success guarantees nothing," it says.
Noting the need to interact with the population to gather intelligence and understand civilian needs, the doctrine cautions against hunkering at large bases. "The more you protect your force, the less secure you are," it asserts.
The military generally turned its back on counterinsurgency operations after the Vietnam War. The Army concentrated on defending Europe against a Soviet attack. The Marines were focused on expeditionary operations in the Third World.
"Basically, after Vietnam, the general attitude of the American military was that we don't want to fight that kind of war again," said Conrad Crane, director of the military history institute at the Army War College, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and one of the principal drafters of the new doctrine. "The Army's idea was to fight the big war against the Russians and ignore these other things."
A common assumption was that if the military trained for major combat operations, it would be able to easily handle less-violent operations like peacekeeping and counterinsurgency. But that assumption proved to be wrong in Iraq. In effect, the military entered Iraq without an up-to-date playbook. Different units improvised different approaches. The failure by civilian policymakers to prepare for the reconstruction of Iraq compounded the problem.
The limited number of forces was also a constraint. To mass enough troops to storm Fallujah, an insurgent stronghold, in 2004, U.S. commanders drew troops from Haditha, another town in western Iraq. Insurgents took advantage of the Americans' limited numbers to attack the police there.
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