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US Shift Tactics Against Insurgents.

The US Army and Marines are finishing work on a new counter-insurgency doctrine which 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 counter-insurgency playbook. It cautions against overly aggressive raids and mistreatment of detainees. Instead it emphasises the importance of safeguarding civilians and restoring essential services and the rapid development of indigenous security forces. (The current US military leadership in Iraq has already embraced many of the ideas in the doctrine. But some US military experts question whether the Army and Marines have sufficient troops to carry out the doctrine effectively while also preparing for other potential threats).

The doctrine is part of an effort to change the culture of a military which has long touted using firepower and battlefield tactics in swift decisive operations against a conventional foe. The New York Times on Oct. 6 quoted Jack Keane, a retired four-star general who in 2003 was acting chief of staff of the [US] Army, as saying: "The Army will use this manual to change its entire culture as it transitions to irregular warfare. 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 field manual on counter-insurgency to be published in November. The New York Times said the major elements of the final version remained unchanged. The spirit of the document is captured in a series of nine paradoxes it cites which reflect the nimbleness required to wage counter-insurgency 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 enemy forces as was required in the opening weeks of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the draft manual emphasises the importance of minimising civilian casualties. It notes: "The more force used, the less effective it is". Stressing the need to build up local institutions and encourage economic development, the manual cautions against putting too much weight on purely military solutions. It says: "Tactical success guarantees nothing".

Noting the need to interact with the population to gather intelligence and understand the civilians' needs, the doctrine cautions against hunkering down at large bases, asserting: "The more you protect your force, the less secure you are".

The US military generally turned its back on counter-insurgency 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. The NYT quoted Conrad Crane, the director of the military history institute at the Army War College, one of the main drafters of the new doctrine, as saying: "Basically after Vietnam, the general attitude of the American military was that we don't want to fight that kind of war again". 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 counter-insurgency. 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 policy makers 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 Falluja, an insurgent stronghold for the Neo-Salafi Sunnis, in November 2004, US commanders drew troops from Haditha, another town in the predominantly Sunni province of Anbar west of Baghdad. Neo-Salafi insurgents took advantage of the Americans' limited numbers to attack the police there. Iraqi policemen were executed, dealing a severe setback to efforts to build a local force.

While the counter-insurgency doctrine attempts to look beyond Iraq, it cites as a positive example the experience in 2005 of the US 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment, which worked with Iraqi security forces to clear the north-western Iraqi town of Tal A'far of Neo-Salafi insurgents, to hold it with Iraqi troops and then to encourage reconstruction there, an approach dubbed "clear, hold, build".

The NYT quoted a US officer who served in Iraq as saying US units there generally carried out the tenets of the emerging counter-insurgency doctrine when they had sufficient forces. But he noted that there were areas in which there were not enough troops to adequately protect the Iraqi public against intimidation, a central element of the counter-insurgency strategy.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Redrawing the Islamic Map
Date:Oct 9, 2006
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