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“The biggest change - the Army was really not an expeditionary force,” said retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who was a top aide to Gen. David H. Petraeus during the 2007 Iraq surge.

“It operated from bases in Germany,” he said. “It operated from bases in the United States. It did not deploy a lot.

“But ever since 9/11, the U.S. Army has been nothing but expeditionary. And soldiers who have grown up in the decade since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have gone through multiple deployments and have fought two wars,” he said. “So the Army has become an organization that is stressed, yes, but has also become comfortable deploying around the world and operating overseas. I think that’s one of the big changes.”

Along the way, the Army learned a new way to fight.

Events were going badly three years into the Iraq war. Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane went to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and told him the U.S. would lose Iraq unless it changed strategy. Republicans got thumped in the 2006 elections, and Mr. Rumsfeld was forced to resign.

Counterinsurgency

Percolating at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., was a new plan for fighting insurgents. Gen. Petraeus guided the new doctrine through the Pentagon and then got a chance to exercise it as the top commander in Iraq.

The big change: The Army used to stay in operating bases, launch raids into neighborhoods to kill insurgents, then return to barracks. Under the Petraeus plan, soldiers would set up shop inside insurgent territory to conduct strikes and protect civilians.

Said Col. Mansoor: “Counterinsurgents operate best when they operate among the people; … when you disperse your forces, getting them to live among the people, you generate a lot more intelligence and you insulate the people to a certain extent from insurgent violence and intimidation.”

Before 9/11, “we weren’t really thinking insurgency warfare, guerrilla warfare, irregular warfare,” he said. “We thought that was something we could pawn off on the special-warfare community. Since 9/11, obviously the U.S. Army has had to deal with it in a very serious way. And there have been a lot of growing pains in that regard, but the capabilities have increased enormously.”

Gen. Conway said that while the Army needed a new doctrine, the Marine Corps all along had been following a “small-wars manual” that had been developed over decades.

“It was new for the Army. It wasn’t new for the Marine Corps,” Gen. Conway said. “To his credit, Petraeus was always the best Army general at incorporating the things that we believe very strongly in. But the things he sort of brought to the Army were the things that we were practicing in stride.”

The irony is both of the nation’s land forces, the Marines and Army, had to switch roles. The Army became expeditionary like the Marines and then had to learn a new style of counterinsurgency. The Marines became a second land army, setting up shop in a foreign country to fight for extended periods.

“We’ve been able to morph into a second land army because that is what the country needed,” Gen. Conway said.

Counterinsurgency involves not only combat. A major challenge has been for the military to learn how to defeat improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the chief cause of casualties in Afghanistan. The Pentagon set up a new agency just for that purpose, pumping billions of dollars into electronic jammers, surveillance equipment, aircraft, metal detectors and robots.

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