Some of the Army’s brightest minds gathered Oct. 16 in an auditorium in the Pentagon to hear a British general explain how Britain won in Northern Ireland after 37 years of fighting insurgents and how those lessons might be applied in Iraq.
At Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where officers pore over thousands of pages of after-action battlefield reports to learn the lessons of this war, the Combined Arms Center next month will release the Army’s first comprehensive counterinsurgency manual since the 1960s. An Army official said it will stress winning hearts and minds, rather than using brute force, to defeat armed groups. The command has opened a Counterinsurgency Center to continue brainstorming over better battlefield tactics against terrorists.
On Capitol Hill this month, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner met privately with Gen. Peter Pace, the Joint Chiefs chairman, to convey his concerns over a war he says is “drifting sideways.” An aide said Mr. Warner, Virginia Republican, is canvassing military specialists for new options for Iraq. He plans a hearing on the war after the Nov. 7 elections.
“He has been reaching out to officials at [the State Department, the Pentagon] and the White House as he looks at all facets of the Iraq issue to determine the way forward,” said John Ullyot, Mr. Warner’s spokesman. “Understanding and thinking about Iraq is Senator Warner’s highest present priority, and he is working at it seven days a week.”
Finding new tactics and broader strategies for Iraq is consuming the military as it ends one of its most violent months in Iraq, with more than 80 American troops killed. Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the chief military spokesman there, acknowledged last week that a three-month offensive had failed to meet expectations for reducing violence in Baghdad and that new methods would be used.
“Iraq isn’t getting any better,” said Richard H. Shultz Jr., director of International Security Studies Programs at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. “As a result, there is a lot of nervousness about finding a better way of dealing with. The reason is straightforward. We lose in Iraq and it’s going to be such a major victory for the jihadis. It will pale in comparison to Afghanistan and they thought they got a lot of mileage in defeating the Soviets.”
The Army lecture featured Gen. C. Redmond Watt, Britain’s top land forces commander who headed government troops in Northern Ireland when the Irish Republican Army announced disarmament last year. That 37-year campaign offered a textbook of lessons on how to defeat armed groups who use unconventional warfare to kill people, military and civilian alike.
Gen. Watt told the senior Army people, who included Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the chief of staff, that the British initially made mistakes by trying for quick tactical victories instead of embracing a long-range plan.
A person at the lecture noted that Gen. Watt said Iraq is 10 years away from a “sufficient outcome.” It will take that long to bring along the Iraqi security forces, disarm militants and nurture the politicians needed to sustain a democratic society.
Gen. Watt was not invited especially because of Iraq. His appearance was part of a long-standing Kermit Roosevelt Lecture series to forge close British-American ties. But his talk did give Army officials insights into how to win in Iraq.
“Listening to a British general makes sense because the British, through a hard and long experience, discovered some of the ways to force armed groups to give up armed struggle,” said Mr. Shultz, author of “Insurgents, Terrorists and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat.”
He added, “The British understood there were different factions in Northern Ireland. They helped some. They worked against others. You also need to be able to degrade insurgents. That’s how others have done it. This includes the Israelis and the British. The key to success was intelligence. They developed a method for local intelligence that was able to put the IRA back on its heels. The chieftains can’t breathe. They have to worry about their own security. The reason the IRA finally came to the table is because they just knew they weren’t going to win the armed struggle.”
Iraq is just as complex, if not more so. American commanders face different types of deadly enemies. An Army officer in Baghdad said in an interview that it is now impossible to say how large the enemy is. “It’s gang warfare,” the officer said.