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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Michele Norris.

A senior British military commander is criticizing the US Army's ability to fight an insurgency. Brigadier Nigel Alwyn-Foster served in Iraq with US forces, and in an American Army journal he writes `The US Army's cultural insensitivity and preference for the use of force may have contributed to the insurgency in Iraq.' As NPR's Vicky O'Hara reports, some senior US Army officers apparently agree with at least some of his conclusions.

VICKY O'HARA reporting:

Brigadier Nigel Alwyn-Foster is extremely complimentary of the US Army's prowess on the battlefield. In his essay, he describes the US Army as `the ultimate war-fighting machine.' `But the Army's focus on conventional war-fighting,' he writes, `leaves it ill-equipped for today's unconventional battlefield in the war on terror.' Those and other comments caught the attention of a US Army officer who also had served in Iraq. He referred the article to the Army magazine Military Review, which included it in its latest edition. When asked about the article during a Pentagon briefing today, General Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized this point.

General PETER PACE (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): It was published in a US Army professional journal, a journal that was designed exactly for the opportunity for individuals to express their opinions and get dialogue going in the community. So for this individual to write what he wrote, and the Army to publish it, and to get that kind of debate going, is very, very healthy.

O'HARA: Alwyn-Foster's essay reflects concerns among some US Army officers that the Army should have been much better prepared for the situation it faces in Iraq. Colonel Douglas Macgregor, who retired from the Army in June 2004, has written extensively about both US-led wars against Iraq. Macgregor says he agrees with the brigadier's criticisms.

Colonel DOUGLAS MACGREGOR (Retired US Army): I think the brigadier has been entirely too polite. I think the situation over the last few years in Iraq has actually been much worse than he suggests in his article. But, of course, he's an ally and he's trying to be polite.

O'HARA: Like Brigadier Alwyn-Foster, Macgregor says the Army should have known that sending large numbers of Western, predominantly Christian, soldiers to police Muslim neighborhoods in Iraq was a prescription for disaster. He also agrees with Alwyn-Foster's assertion that the Army's strategic and cultural assumptions alienated the people of Iraq.

Col. MACGREGOR: We adopted this policy fairly early, that any Muslim Arab that did not care to have American soldiers patrolling his neighborhood, entering his house, searching his vehicle was instantly the enemy. And so we were very successful in making large number of enemies quite early.

O'HARA: Other Army officers say the publication of the Alwyn-Foster essay in Military Review is all the talk of military chat rooms online. The editor of the magazine, Colonel William Darley, says his publication should be a platform for professional debate.

Colonel WILLIAM DARLEY (Editor, Military Review): We're not looking and would not consider things that are overtly meant to be damaging or cynical or unvalidated, but we certainly don't shy away from controversy or opinion that we perceive to be constructive.

O'HARA: Darley says he published the article upon the recommendation of several Army officers, one of whom was General David Petraeus. He is Darley's boss as commander of the Army's central educational establishment based at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. Petraeus recently returned from Iraq where he and Alwyn-Foster worked together training Iraqi security forces. Petraeus says he thought Alwyn-Foster's views were worth publishing in an Army journal.

General DAVID PETRAEUS: It has caused a lot of very productive discussion, frankly. Whether you agree with it or not, it's from a senior officer of a very important ally, our most important ally, and I think that it, therefore, merits a discussion and perhaps some searching look at the way we have operated.

O'HARA: General Petraeus notes that Alwyn-Foster's essay originally was published some months ago and that some of the observations may be dated. He says that the Army has made a lot of changes in the way officers and Army units are prepared for the challenges they face in Iraq and Afghanistan. Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, Washington.

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