Lessons Learned in Iraq Show Up in Army Classes

At the Command and General Staff College, Army instructor Stuart Lyon teaches a seminar on the theory of counterinsurgency. Officers know, Lyon said, that when they return to Iraq,
At the Command and General Staff College, Army instructor Stuart Lyon teaches a seminar on the theory of counterinsurgency. Officers know, Lyon said, that when they return to Iraq, "they've got to be smarter about it." (Photo By Thomas E. Ricks -- The Washington Post)

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By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 21, 2006

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- 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.

Officers studying at the Army's Command and General Staff College here are flocking to elective courses on the subject, with three times as many enrolled this year as last. Soon the Army will require a block of instruction in counterinsurgency for all of the 1,000 or so majors who attend the college each year.

In an adjacent institution, the elite School of Advanced Military Studies, where the Army trains what are known colloquially as its "Jedi knight" planners, 31 of 78 student monographs this year were devoted to counterinsurgency or "stability operations," compared with "only a couple" two years ago, said Col. Kevin Benson, the school's director. In the college bookstore, copies of a 1964 book, "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice" by David Galula, a French army officer who fought in North Africa, are piled on a cart and selling swiftly.

There is an air of urgency to this redirection.

"It's a survival thing for us," said Maj. Scott Sonsalla, who served in Kosovo and was an aide to the deputy secretary of defense. This year, he said, he is taking courses on counterinsurgency, terrorism, strategy, intelligence and defeating roadside bombs.

"I'm going to go" to Iraq to lead "600 or so soldiers," he said. "If I do something wrong, that affects a lot of soldiers -- and a lot of families."

The new emphasis on studying how to respond to guerrilla-like campaigns underscores how the Army has been tempered, even chastened, by three years of fighting an unexpectedly difficult war in Iraq.

The air of hubris that some Army officers displayed just a few years ago, after victories in Panama, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo and Afghanistan (and an outcome in Somalia that they blamed on their civilian overseers in the Clinton administration) has dissipated, replaced by a sense that they have a lot to learn about how to operate effectively in Iraq, and about the cultures and languages there and in other likely hot spots.

"Yes, they had the great run to Baghdad, but since then they've had losses," said Stuart Lyon, who teaches a seminar on counterinsurgency here. "And they know that when they go back, they've got to be smarter about it."

"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.


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