New Army Field Manual Is Road Map To Stabilization

The Army has a new operations manual that emphasizes nation-building over conventional warfare. The Stability Operations Field Manual was put together at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the home of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center. The new doctrine will drive Army resources, organization and training for many years to come.

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ARI SHAPIRO, Host:

When the U.S. Army fought its way into Baghdad in 2003, soldiers there found they were not prepared to establish peace, security, and the rule of law in Iraq. It's taken the military years to show some progress on those fronts. And now the Army does not want to forget the lessons it fought so hard to learn. It's issued a new field manual called "Stability Operations." NPR's JJ Sutherland reports.

JJ SUTHERLAND: Lieutenant General William Caldwell has a story he likes to tell about how the Army used to prepare for stability operations. It's 1989, the invasion of Panama. The U.S. military is in control. Caldwell had spent eight months planning the war for the 82nd Airborne.

WILLIAM CALDWELL: And I remember my boss turning to me about the third day into the operation saying, OK, how are we going to get the police operating, Bill? And I remember just looking at them going, Sir, I have absolutely no idea. That's not our job.

SUTHERLAND: That lack of coherent planning for what happens after the shooting stops was intrinsic to the Army. The Army didn't think - didn't want to think about it. That process bore terrible fruit in the days, then months, then years after the invasion of Iraq, chaos in the streets, no basic services, a growing insurgency, thousands of dead Americans. Security in Iraq has improved dramatically from a civil war to at least a modicum of peace, fragile certainly, but an improvement, an improvement driven by fundamentally changing the Army's approach. General Caldwell now oversees training and doctrine in the U.S. Army. He was tasked with coming up with a manual that encapsulated those hard-won lessons.

CALDWELL: Our military has always been good about talking about how we will go in and destroy an enemy and eliminate an enemy threat. What we have not talked well about is how do we operate well amongst the people?

SUTHERLAND: The new manual lays out a series of steps on how to stabilize a country after a war from providing security and establishing the rule of law to things like social well-being, stable governance, and a working economy. When General David Petraeus had Caldwell's job, he put together the manual on counterinsurgency. Retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl helped write it.

JOHN NAGL: The mounting weight of evidence of accumulated wisdom in the Army's doctrinal process drives us toward building a very different kind of army.

SUTHERLAND: An army, Nagl says, needed to win the wars we're in. An army this manual will help to build. But that ongoing transformation has some critics both outside and inside the military. Colonel John Gentile is one of them. He served in Iraq, and he says that, of course, the Army has to be able to win in Iraq and Afghanistan, but worries about what toll this new doctrine might take in the future.

JOHN GENTILE: The organizing principle in this new stability doctrine has essentially become the organizing principle, as I read it, for the United States Army, which is centered around stability operations and nation building rather than fighting.

SUTHERLAND: And training for full-spectrum or high-intensity conflict, tanks on tanks, artillery barrages, all-out war, that has stopped. There simply isn't time given the grueling deployment schedules in Iraq and Afghanistan. General Caldwell hopes to start up that training next summer at the earliest. JJ Sutherland, NPR News, Washington.

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