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Rethinking the U.S. Army

Some officials call for many specialized units to train foreign forces; others say the generalist approach works best.

October 10, 2007|Peter Spiegel and Julian E. Barnes | Times Staff Writers

A senior Pentagon official said Gates in his address today would stop short of directly advocating an advisor corps. But Gates reportedly will emphasize that shoring up allies will be central to the Army's mission, even after Iraq.

The leading advocate of establishing a stand-alone advisor corps within the Army is Lt. Col. John Nagl, a co-author of the Army's new counterinsurgency field manual who is considered a rising star within the service.

In an article published in a policy journal in June, Nagl, who served as an operations officer in a battalion in Iraq three years ago, proposed a permanent force of 20,000 advisors.

"It requires a different focus in training. It requires a different mind-set," Nagl said in an interview. "Forces practicing advisory skills also need a particular way of looking at the world."

As the number of combat troops in Iraq goes down, the demand for advisors will increase, Nagl expects. Under current plans, the Army's strategy to expand by 65,000 soldiers would add new combat troops to traditional infantry brigades. However, some have argued that these new soldiers could be assigned to the advisory and training missions as well.

"If we need advisory teams for a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, it makes sense to build this force structure permanently," Nagl said.

In his speech, Gates is expected to emphasize that such training missions could prevent future wars. The senior Pentagon official said Gates still believed the Army should continue training for conventional wars -- skills that have begun to atrophy as it focuses on counterinsurgency missions in Iraq. But by emphasizing training and advisory missions, he appears to be aligning himself with reformers like Nagl.

"We don't want to do the fighting; we want our friends to do the fighting," said Nagl, who trains military advisors at Ft. Riley, Kan. "And the better our training teams are, the more rapidly we increase the abilities of our friends and our allies."

High-level disagreement

But the proposal has sparked disagreement. In an article in the current issue of the academic Army journal Military Review, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the former day-to-day commander in Iraq who is now Gates' military assistant, argued against the creation of a dedicated advisor corps.

As a division commander in Iraq, Chiarelli was one of the first officers to create teams to train Iraqi forces. But Chiarelli argued that training should be performed by special operations forces, the military units that have traditionally done most advisory and training work.

When a training mission grows too large, Chiarelli wrote, the military should draw additional trainers from existing brigades. Such an arrangement would ensure that the trainers and combat units worked closely and supported one another's efforts.

In the article, Chiarelli argued that the Army must adapt to changes in warfare but that specialized units would be a mistake.

"We simply don't have the resources to divide the military into 'combat' and 'stability' organizations," he wrote. "Instead we must focus on developing full-spectrum capabilities across all organizations in the armed forces."

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