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Army's Next Crop of Generals Forged in Counterinsurgency

Col. H.R. McMaster, facing camera, is said to be a rising star who embodies the qualities of the new Army general.
Col. H.R. McMaster, facing camera, is said to be a rising star who embodies the qualities of the new Army general. (By Thomas E. Ricks -- The Washington Post)
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By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 15, 2008

An Army board headed by Gen. David H. Petraeus has selected several combat-tested counterinsurgency experts for promotion to the rank of brigadier general, sifting through more than 1,000 colonels to identify a handful of innovative leaders who will shape the future Army, according to current and former senior Army officers.

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The choices suggest that the unusual decision to put the top U.S. officer in Iraq in charge of the promotions board has generated new thinking on the qualities of a successful Army officer -- and also deepened Petraeus's imprint on the Army. Petraeus, who spent nearly four of the past five years in Iraq and has seen many of the colonels in action there, faces confirmation hearings next week to take charge of Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Army Secretary Pete Geren asked Petraeus to head the board, which convened in late 2007, and instructed it to stress innovation in selecting a new generation of one-star generals, the officers said. Several of the colonels widely expected to appear on the resulting promotion list, which has not yet been released, are considered unconventional thinkers who were effective in the Iraq campaign, in many cases because they embraced a counterinsurgency doctrine that Petraeus helped craft, the officials said.

They include Special Forces Col. Ken Tovo, a veteran of multiple Iraq tours who recently led a Special Operations task force there; Col. H.R. McMaster, a senior Petraeus adviser known for leading a successful counterinsurgency effort in the Iraqi city of Tall Afar, and Col. Sean MacFarland, who created a network of patrol bases in Ramadi that helped curb violence in the capital of Anbar Province, according to the officers.

In an article published this year on the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, McMaster challenged what he called the military's preoccupation in the 1990s with technology, to the neglect of the political and cultural dimensions of war. Military leaders must end the "self-delusion" that high-tech weapons and a "minimalist" commitment of forces can solve conflicts, he wrote.

The promotion list has attracted keen attention from younger Army officers who are weary from multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. "This sends a signal to the junior officers who are laboring in the trenches, literally, that the Army is trying to cast itself in a new mold," said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales Jr., a defense consultant and former head of the Army War College. "The quickest way to change the Army is at the brigadier general level. That is the surest way to turn the ship, because those names are how those young officers intuit where the Army is going," he said.

The one-star-general list, which requires congressional approval, was expected to be released months ago but has been delayed, partly due to a requirement that to qualify for promotion Army colonels must attend a course designed to improve their understanding of other military services. Several colonels who served under Petraeus -- including some said to be on the list -- are currently attending or are scheduled to attend the 10-week course, called Joint Professional Military Education Phase II in Norfolk.

In the past, a number of colonels received waivers and were promoted without taking the class. But Army officials said the Pentagon has pushed to minimize that practice. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is a proponent of the joint education, said committee spokeswoman Lara Battles.

Promotion boards are sworn to secrecy, and none of the known board members or officers said to be selected would discuss the issue.

The Petraeus board included several prominent veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the officials said. These include Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who has headed the Joint Special Operations Command, Central Command Forward. The Senate is expected to act this month on McChrystal's nomination to become director of the Joint Staff. Another member was Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the senior military aide to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates who served twice as a senior U.S. commander in Iraq and was nominated last month to become the Army vice chief of staff, the officials said. Also on the board was Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo, who has experience in Afghanistan, they said.

Currently, the Army has 4,000 colonels and about 150 one-star generals. The board first conducts a yes or no vote on about 1,000 to 2,000 colonels, who are each ranked. Then the presiding officer determines where to draw the cutoff for a pool of a few hundred whose files will be discussed individually. Several colonels who worked under Petraeus have already been selected for promotion, including brigade commanders who served under him when he commanded the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq, as well as one who recently headed his command initiatives group.

According to Scales, the word in Army circles is that McMaster will be given a key role shaping future Army doctrine. "We are in a very similar place now to the period after Vietnam in the 1970s, when a lot of officers returned and everyone was asking 'What is next?' " said Scales. "It's time now for the Army to think about the future and institutionally anticipate the changing nature of war."

Staff writer Thomas E. Ricks contributed to this report.


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