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A New Doctrine in Search of More Boots

6:30 PM, Oct 5, 2006 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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The NYT's Michael Gordon http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/05/washington/05doctrine.html?_r=1&ref=wo... target=_blank>reports on the military's new counterinsurgency doctrine. Some highlights:

[The doctrine] draws on the hard-learned lessons from Iraq and makes the welfare and protection of civilians a bedrock element of military strategy….

The current military leadership in Iraq has already embraced many of the ideas in the doctrine. But some military experts question whether the Army and the Marines have sufficient troops to carry out the doctrine effectively while also preparing for other threats….

The limited number of forces was also a constraint. To mass enough troops to storm Falluja, an insurgent stronghold, in 2004, American commanders drew troops from Haditha, another town in western Iraq. 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.

Frank G. Hoffman, a retired Marine infantry officer who works as a research fellow at an agency at the Marine base at Quantico, Va., said that in 2005, the Marines sometimes lacked sufficient forces to safeguard civilians. As a result, while these forces were often effective "in neutralizing an identifiable foe, they could not stay and work with the population the way the classical counterinsurgency would suggest."

… Dennis Tighe, a training program manager for the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, said the rehearsals were vital for preparing troops for their new counterinsurgency mission. But the Army is stretched so thin and so many units are focused on rehearsing for Iraq and Afghanistan at the training center that concerns have grown that the Army may be raising a new group of young officers with little experience in high-intensity warfare against heavily equipped armies like North Korea….

While the counterinsurgency doctrine attempts to look beyond Iraq, it cites as a positive example the experience in 2005 of the Army's Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which worked with Iraqi security forces to clear Tal Afar of insurgents, to hold the town with Iraqi and American troops, then to encourage reconstruction there, an approach known as "clear, hold, build."

One military officer who served in Iraq said American units there generally carried out the tenets of the emerging doctrine when they had sufficient forces. But protecting civilians is a troop-intensive task. He noted that there were areas in which there were not enough American and Iraqi troops to protect Iraqis adequately against intimidation, a central element of the counterinsurgency strategy (see here for some examples).

"The units that have sufficient forces are applying the doctrine with good effect," said the officer, who is not authorized to speak on military policy. "Those units without sufficient forces can only conduct raids to disrupt the enemy while protecting themselves. They can't do enough to protect the population effectively and partner with Iraqi forces."

All this suggests the need for a larger ground force.