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U.S. Military Rethinks Counterinsurgency Strategy

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U.S. Military Rethinks Counterinsurgency Strategy


U.S. Military Rethinks Counterinsurgency Strategy

U.S. Military Rethinks Counterinsurgency Strategy

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The U.S. Army is trying to figure out how to deal more effectively with the insurgency in Iraq. Steve Inskeep talks with the lead author of the soon-to-be-published manual on insurgencies, retired Army Col. Conrad Crane. He's the director of the U.S. Army Military History Institute at the Army War College.


Three years of war in Iraq have forced the United States to rethink how it battles insurgents. Current and former military officers are redrafting the manual for that kind of conflict. And the writers include retired Army Colonel Conrad Crane, who attended the U.S. Military Academy in the early 1970s.

Colonel CONRAD CRANE (U.S. Army Military History Institute, Army War College): I guess my own personal experience would be sitting in classrooms at West Point and watching the Vietnam War go on. And a lot of my instructors at West Point were Vietnam veterans. In fact, almost all of them were.

INSKEEP: Were they teaching the right lessons?

Col. CRANE: I think that the individuals were at the time. The problem was, really, the way the institution reacted after the war. In the late 1970s, the Army especially really moved away from counter-insurgency. The idea was that the way to do these kinds of wars better was really to avoid them.

INSKEEP: I want to spend much of our time focusing on something that you describe as paradoxes of counter-insurgency. You have listed a bunch of them here. The first one says this, The more you protect your force, the less secure you are. What does that mean?

Col. CRANE: The key to being successful in counter-insurgency is you must stay connected to the populace. And if you're going to lock yourself up in a base camp, keep your soldiers and Marines locked up in heavy armored vehicles all the time, you're never going to get the contact with the populace where you get your best intelligence, where you build up this trusting relationship that really makes everything work. You'll basically concede the fields and the streets to the insurgents. You've got to get out and mingle. You've got to get out and in some ways take a little more risk.

INSKEEP: And we should be frank about this. You're also saying that you have to be willing to risk more casualties, more dead.

Col. CRANE: Sometimes that's, that happens. Commanders on the scene have got to make that evaluation based on their, how they consider the situation. But you've got to remember that you've got to keep in contact with the people. And sometimes that does entail some more risk.

INSKEEP: Here's another paradox of counter-insurgency, as you describe it. The more force you use, the less effective you are.

Col. CRANE: If you go into an area in order to take out a couple of insurgents, you cause so much damage that you create 20 more, then you really haven't gained anything by that action.

INSKEEP: I'm remembering a couple of years ago an Iraqi described to me a situation where he was on a street, there was a sniper, somebody took a shot at American troops on the street. And they identified the building that they thought the shot was coming from and basically started firing to destroy the entire building.

Col. CRANE: That's one of those situation where you've got to think very much about what you're trying to accomplish and what the effects are going to be of the action that you take.

INSKEEP: How realistic is it for you to expect soldiers to make these kind of nuanced decisions when they're in a foreign environment, they don't speak the language, and many of them are reservists. This a large army. There's 130,000 people at a time that you have to have up to date and ready to go.

Col. CRANE: It's a very difficult problem. And the institutions are wrestling with how to prepare soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, at all levels to do these kind of things. I'm actually doing the revisions of the manual. I'm going to be adding another paradox on counter-insurgency to it. And one of them is going to be that most of the important decisions are not made by generals. The senior leaders have got to prepare their subordinates, their strategic corporals, their lieutenants, to make these kind of hard decisions. An then they've got to hope that they've given the preparation in the school system, and in their guidance, and in their intent, and in their orders, and their ethical training, so that they make the right decision when the time comes.

INSKEEP: Conrad Crane is a retired U.S. Army colonel who teaches at the Army War College.

Thanks very much.

Col. CRANE: Thank you.

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