The Army is engaged in a bureaucratic brawl with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over how to organize troops for "nation-building," a growing problem for the military as it settles in for lengthy occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and possibly other countries.
Rumsfeld wants to shift thousands of civil affairs troops from the Special Operations Command to the regular Army on the theory that the service needs to do better at security and stabilization. This comes as he is pushing other components of the elite Special Operations Command -- such as Navy SEALs and the Army Delta Force -- to focus on aggressive actions against terrorists and other missions.
Donald H. Rumsfeld wants to reorganize Special Forces.
(Evan Vucci -- AP)
Officers specializing in civil affairs -- which helps establish local governments in occupied areas, oversees humanitarian assistance and coordinates military activities with aid organizations -- say they oppose the move. They say many officers believe, based in part on their experience in Iraq, that regular combat commanders do not understand their work and do not know how to use them well.
"This is a huge change," said retired Army Col. Michael Hess, who remains active in civil affairs issues and who said he has concerns about it.
The proposed reorganization is the latest issue over which the strong-minded defense secretary has tangled with the Army, which is the largest of the services, the one most enmeshed in Iraq, and the one that most consistently feels misunderstood. Over the last two years, the Army saw its chief of staff publicly rebuked by civilian leaders over the number of troops that would be required to occupy Iraq, and then, after the spring 2003 invasion, saw the firing of the Army secretary.
The reorganization also touches on the sensitive issue of the changing role of Special Operations forces since Sept. 11, 2001. Some Special Operations officers feel that under Rumsfeld, short-term "direct action" missions to kill or capture enemies are being overemphasized to the neglect of less dramatic long-term missions, such as training foreign militaries or winning hearts and minds with aid projects. They maintain that those less dramatic missions are sometimes more important. One example, they say, is Iraq, where the U.S. exit strategy turns on training local security forces, an endeavor that has hit frequent bumps.
In recent years, said Robert Andrews, a former official in the Pentagon office overseeing Special Operations, "Our Army Special Forces have been focusing on direct action -- killing or capturing HVTs" -- that is, the "high-value targets" who are key figures in terrorist organizations and Saddam Hussein's deposed regime.
Rumsfeld "wants the SOCOM [Special Operations Command] guys to focus more on kinetic stuff," agreed one civil affairs commander who recently returned from Iraq. Like every other active-duty civil affairs officer interviewed for this article, he declined to be identified because he fears being punished. "The CA [civil affairs] community is really concerned" about the proposed change, he added. "One hundred percent, we want to stay in the Special Operations community."
Historically, civil affairs has been something of a backwater for the military. But since the end of the Cold War, it has served an increasingly prominent role, most notably in peacekeeping and relief operations in northern Iraq in 1991, in Bosnia and Kosovo later in the 1990s and across Iraq and Afghanistan over the past three years. Most recently, civil affairs soldiers have been deployed to Southeast Asia for tsunami relief.
Some civil affairs officers interviewed for this article said they fear Rumsfeld's desire to move them out of Special Operations will only accelerate the trend toward emphasizing Special Operations attack missions. "From my perspective, he's never liked nation-building," said Hess, who helped run such missions in northern Iraq and in Bosnia. He worries that the proposed transfer would "dilute" the effect of civil affairs work.
Rumsfeld has been pushing the Army on the Special Operations reorganization issue for a full year, having first issued a "Snowflake" -- the Pentagon term for the short memos he issues by the score to prod the defense bureaucracy -- to Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Jan. 12, 2004, asking him to consider making the move. He queried top generals again in March, when Rumsfeld argued that the transfer of civil affairs units would help focus the Army more on handling missions such as the occupation of Iraq.
"My impression is that we ought to give careful thought to moving it over to the regular Army, so that the regular Army interests itself in that subject and so the transitions from combat to post-combat stabilization can be relatively seamless," the defense secretary wrote, according to a slide titled "SECDEF Rumsfeld Snowflakes" that was contained in an internal Army briefing given in December.
Last April, Rumsfeld wondered about the delay in acting. "Is it getting on my schedule?" he asked in a Snowflake, the briefing notes.
Finally, on Oct. 29, Rumsfeld wrote to Myers with apparent dissatisfaction at the pace of change. "What is taking so long in deciding where Civil Affairs ought to be located?" he asked. "If they don't agree I want it kicked up to me and I will figure it out. Let's get it moving."