Lessons Learned in Iraq Show Up in Army Classes: Culture Shifts to Counterinsurgency (Thomas E. Ricks, January 21, 2006, Washington Post)

A fundamental change overtaking the Army is on display in classrooms across this base above the Missouri River. After decades of being told that their job was to close in on and destroy the enemy, officers are being taught that sometimes the best thing might be not to attack but to co-opt the enemy, perhaps by employing him, or encouraging him to desert, or by drawing him into local or national politics.

It is a new focus devoted to one overarching topic: counterinsurgency, putting down an armed and political campaign against a government, the U.S. military’s imperative in Iraq. […]

“It’s a vastly different Army from 2003,” said Lawrence T. Di Rita, an aide to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld who until recently was the chief Pentagon spokesman. “It’s impressive.”

Di Rita’s comments are noteworthy given the history of antagonism between the Army’s leadership and Rumsfeld’s office. An Army chief of staff and the service’s civilian secretary left the Pentagon bitterly critical of how Rumsfeld and his associates handled the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003.

Officers here said they see a strong cultural shift at work for the Army, whose self-image still sometimes seems based on charging across Europe toward Berlin in 1944 and blasting Saddam Hussein’s tanks in the Arabian Desert 47 years later.

“What we’re trying to do is change the culture, to modify that culture, that solving the problem isn’t just a tactical problem of guns and bombs and maneuver,” said retired Army Col. Clinton J. Ancker III, director of the “doctrine”-writing office here that defines how the Army does what it does. He is involved in an effort to restructure the Army’s “interim” manual on insurgency, which some insiders see as a mediocre stopgap.

Unusually, the Army and the Marines are collaborating on the new manual and also asking for input from the British army, which has had centuries of experience in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Conscious that it largely walked away from counterinsurgency after the Vietnam War — the subject was not mentioned in the mid-1970s version of the Army’s key fighting manual — the service now is trying to ensure that the mistake is not repeated. Spearheading that effort is Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, whose doctoral dissertation at Princeton was on the Vietnam War and who later commanded the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. “I think the changes are very broad,” Petraeus said. He oversees several of the Army’s training bases and schools” with his new job here.

“This is about institutional change, and the whole Army is included. It is kind of a generational change,” he said. Indeed, in the next few years, officers who joined the Army after the end of the Cold War will begin to take command of battalions.

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