U.S. Army shifts focus to nation-building

By Michael R. Gordon Published: February 8, 2008

WASHINGTON: The U.S. Army has drafted a new operations manual that elevates the mission of stabilizing war-torn nations, making it equal in importance to defeating adversaries on the battlefield.

Military officials described the new document, the first new edition of the army's basic comprehensive doctrine since 2001, as a major development that draws on the hard-learned lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, where initial military successes gave way to long, grueling struggles to establish control.

It is also an illustration of how far the Pentagon has moved beyond George W. Bush's stance, frequently stated in his first presidential campaign eight years ago, against the use of the military to support "nation building" efforts.

Some influential officers are already arguing that the army still needs to put actions behind its new words, and they have raised searching questions about whether the army's structure, personnel policies and weapons programs are consistent with its doctrine. The manual describes the United States as facing an era of "persistent conflict" in which the American military will often operate among civilians in countries where local institutions are fragile and efforts to win over a wary population are vital.

Lieutenant General William Caldwell 4th, the commander of the army's Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, began briefing lawmakers on the document Thursday. In an interview, he called it a "blueprint to operate over the next 10 to 15 years."

Today in Americas
Bush urges unity for Republican PartyU.S. nears charging 6 in Sept. 11 caseU.S. Army shifts focus to nation-buildingThe manual states: "Army doctrine now equally weights tasks dealing with the population - stability or civil support - with those related to offensive and defensive operations. Winning battles and engagements is important but alone is not sufficient. Shaping the civil situation is just as important to success."

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the military is enmeshed in rebuilding local institutions, trying to help restore essential services and safeguarding the population, functions traditionally associated with nonmilitary institutions like the police.

The new manual, a draft of which was provided to a reporter in advance of its expected formal release this month, is an attempt to put these endeavors, along with counterinsurgency warfare, at the core of military training, planning and operations. That would require some important changes.

"There is going to be some resistance," Caldwell said. "There will be people who will hear and understand what we are saying, but it is going to take some time to inculcate that into our culture."

Even as they welcomed its adoption, other army officers said there were inconsistencies between the newly minted doctrine on how to wage war and current practice. Army brigades in Iraq have too few combat engineers to support civil programs, they said. Also, they added, the army does not promote officers who advise the Iraqi and Afghan security forces as readily as battalion staff officers and they added that it must improve the advisers' training.

Some army officers have also questioned whether the development of the army's Future Combat System, a multibillion-dollar program in which air and unmanned ground sensors will be networked with armored vehicles so soldiers can attack targets from a safe distance, is consistent with this new vision of war.

When the United States invaded Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, and many ranking military leaders spoke highly of the value of speed and high-technology military systems, arguing that this could enable relatively small numbers of troops to defeat adversaries rapidly. The mission of stabilizing Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein was generally treated as a secondary concern, one that assumed that Iraq's security forces would both cooperate and be effective.

The U.S. military's difficulty in securing Iraq has led to much soul-searching within the armed forces on how to prepare for future conflicts. Colonel H.R. McMaster of the army, who commanded the successful effort in 2005 to secure the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar, asserts in a new article that an exaggerated faith in military technology and a corresponding undervaluation of political and military measures to secure the peace undermined U.S. efforts in Iraq.

"Self-delusion about the character of future conflict weakened U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq," he wrote in Survival, a magazine published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

McMaster added in the article that the army "is finding it difficult to cut completely loose from years of wrongheaded thinking," noting that assumptions that high-technology systems will provide the U.S. military with "dominant knowledge" of the battlefield has formed much of the justification for the army program to build the Future Combat System.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has cautioned the army not to assume that the counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan are anomalies. Gates said in October that "unconventional wars" are "the ones most likely to be fought in the years ahead." A Pentagon directive in 2005 advised the military to treat "stability operations" as a core mission.

The army's new manual tries to address such concerns. It paints a picture of future wars in which the army needs to be prepared to deal with changing coalitions and complex cultural factors.

"The operational environment will remain a dirty, frightening, physically and emotionally draining one in which death and destruction result from environmental conditions creating humanitarian crisis as well as conflict itself," the manual states. It will be an arena, the manual notes, in which success depends not only on force in defeating an enemy but also "how quickly a state of stability can be established and maintained."

Caldwell said the manual would influence army education and training by stressing the sort of skills that are needed to bring stability to conflict-ridden states with weak governments.

"There will be people who naturally will say if I can do high-end offense and defense I can do any lesser kind of operations," he said. "What we have found through seven years is that is not the case."

Some steps to improve the army's abilities in these areas are already under way, he asserted. By way of example, combat engineers who were assigned to brigades are being consolidated to give commanders more flexibility.

Some of the army's up-and-coming officers, however, say much more needs to be done. Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling, who wrote a widely circulated article criticizing how the generals fought the Iraq war, said, for example, that the army had not done enough to attract the kind of talent into disciplines that the manual says are so necessary, like advising foreign security forces and managing civil affairs.

"The organizational culture of the army has emphasized major combat operations, and the very best officers go into the combat arms branches: armor, infantry and artillery," he said in an interview. "However, the most important tasks we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan are building host-nation institutions, including security forces and governance. We need to attract the very best officers into these specialties to be successful at these tasks."

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