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THE NATION

New manual at odds with key Iraq tactics

The counterinsurgency doctrine warns about practices still in use, such as big bases that may signal occupation.

December 16, 2006|Julian E. Barnes | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military's new counterinsurgency doctrine takes issue with some key strategies that American commanders in Iraq continue to use, most notably the practice of concentrating combat forces in massive bases rather than dispersing them among the population.

The 282-page counterinsurgency field manual, unveiled Friday, seeks to bring together the best practices in fighting sustained insurgencies that the United States has learned during the Iraq war. It also lists tactics that have tripped up American forces, such as trying to make local security forces act like the U.S. military and overemphasizing killing or capturing enemies rather than providing for the safety of the population.

Although the military has moved away from some of these tactics, others are widely used in Iraq.

Most special operations forces in Iraq spend the bulk of their time and resources trying to kill or capture Al Qaeda members and insurgents. But the manual says the best use of those troops is not hunting enemies but training Iraqi security forces or police.

Perhaps the most controversial section may be the manual's warning about large, sprawling bases, the very kind the Army has erected in Baghdad. The manual warns that such military bases could suggest "a long-term foreign occupation."

A cornerstone of the Iraq plans of Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, and Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has been to concentrate Baghdad's U.S. Army forces in a few large forward operating bases, or FOBs. Counterinsurgency experts have questioned the practice, arguing that to protect the populace from insurgents, military forces must have a constant presence in the area.

The authors of the manual say the new doctrine is not meant as a critique of the Iraq strategy. Retired Army Col. Conrad Crane, who helped oversee the manual's development, said they were not criticizing the practice of putting soldiers on large bases but rather were saying they simply did not want people to hole up and become "fobbits."

"You have to get out and mingle among the people," Crane said. "You can't cede control of the night and the street to the enemy."

Retired Gen. John Keane, former acting chief of staff of the Army, said the military needed to move off the big bases in Baghdad and establish small bases peppered throughout key neighborhoods, as had been done in the Iraqi cities of Tall Afar and Ramadi.

"You put a protect force in that lives in the neighborhood. They stay 24/7 to protect the people," Keane said at a briefing this week. "That piece is what we have never been able to execute in Baghdad."

Although the manual is meant to apply generally to all fights against insurgency, it was clearly written with Iraq in mind. And at some points the introduction and first chapter of the new manual read like a plea for more time for the military to succeed in Iraq.

The new doctrine, which was begun in January and released in draft form in June, cautions that campaigns against insurgents are "often long and difficult" and that progress is hard to measure. Conventional militaries often stumble in the beginning of an insurgency but can succeed if they learn, adapt and push ahead against it, according to the manual.

"The military forces that successfully defeat insurgencies are usually those able to overcome their institutional inclination to wage conventional war against insurgents," the doctrine says.

If there is a theme for the manual, Crane said, it is that the military can adapt and correct its missteps. "That is the historical record: You learn as you go," he said.

Overall, the doctrine says, a counterinsurgency operation is "a struggle for the population's support." To win that confidence, militaries must learn about the culture and people they are trying to protect as well as fight the insurgents who are attempting to destabilize the country, it says.

Lt. Col. Lance A. McDaniel, one of the Marines who helped write the new doctrine, said he expected the manual to influence new strategies in Iraq, although he was not sure exactly what lessons would be embraced.

"I do not know how they will translate this to the field," he said. "But I do think this will be No. 1 on the reading list."

The manual, a public document, can be read at http://usacac.army.mil/cac/repository/materials/coin-fm3-24.pdf.

julian.barnes@latimes.com

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