Army ponders next move

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other officials are considering proposals to alter - and, in some cases, abandon - military strategies that have been in place for decades

October 12, 2007|By Peter Spiegel and Julian E. Barnes | Peter Spiegel and Julian E. Barnes,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Absorbing the lessons of a troubled war, U.S. military officials have begun an intense debate over proposals for a sweeping reorganization of the Army to address shortcomings that have beset the force in Iraq and to abandon some war-fighting principles that have prevailed since the Cold War.

On one side of the widening debate are officers who want many Army units to become specialized, so that entire units or even divisions are dedicated to training foreign militaries. On the other are those who believe that military units must remain generalists, able to do a range of skills well.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates weighed in on the debate in a major address Wednesday in which he warned that the Army is unlikely to face a conventional war in the future and must reorganize to fight in irregular conflicts.

Success in future wars, said Gates, "will be less a matter of imposing one's will and more a function of shaping behavior - of friends, adversaries and, most importantly, the people in between."

Gates, speaking at the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army, also singled out the need for changes in Army personnel policies to better recognize and reward young officers who show promise in less traditional areas, including those skilled in foreign languages and in advising foreign forces.

He emphasized that many of these nontraditional skills were learned during the Vietnam War but quickly forgotten, leaving the Army "unprepared" for ensuing conflicts in Haiti, Somalia and, ultimately, Iraq.

"He doesn't believe anyone is going to take us on conventionally in the near future," said one Pentagon official familiar with Gates' thinking. "We can't forget the things we learned in Iraq after Iraq."

The view of the Army in the current debate is radically different than under the former Defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld advocated a smaller Army with faster, more technological units that did not participate in nation-building activities. Rumsfeld considered training foreign militaries the task of small numbers of special operations forces, not conventional Army units.

The debate over training foreign security forces has grown more urgent after the decision by Army Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, to begin drawing down forces in Iraq over the next year. Decisions over the shape and organization of the Army will directly affect the post-"surge" phase of the war, which will see fewer combat troops and an increased emphasis on training and advising Iraqi forces.

In sometimes emotional sessions under way at the Pentagon and military institutes, including a recent "war game" exercise, defense officials have been weighing proposals ranging from modest alterations that would add new specialties to major changes in the way the Army fights.

Most officers say they believe that the Army will need to focus on training other foreign militaries in years to come, both in Iraq and in other countries. Some officers, including one of the Army's most prominent counterinsurgency theorists, say a designated force of trainers, also called an "Advisor Corps," is needed.

But others, including Gates' senior military adviser, oppose creating specialized units. They argue that a more effective strategy would be to ensure that all military leaders are able to train security forces.

Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, who oversees the Army schools and research institutes at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., said the proposals would create a dedicated unit of trainers that could be assigned to each of the commanders of the worldwide regions.

"The concept here is a very specific focus: They do not do direct action, they do not command and control combat forces, they are not a combat force," Caldwell said. "Their mission is to do security force assistance."

The size of the proposed units is undecided, and a recent war game at Leavenworth examined at least three organizational structures.

The leading advocate of establishing a stand-alone Advisor Corps within the Army is Lt. Col. John A. Nagl, a co-author of the Army's new counterinsurgency field manual who is considered a rising star within the service.

"It requires a different focus in training. It requires a different mind-set," Nagl said. "Forces practicing advisory skills also need a particular way of looking at the world."

As the number of combat troops in Iraq goes down, the demand for advisers will increase, Nagl expects. Under current plans, the Army's strategy to expand by 65,000 soldiers would add new combat troops to traditional infantry brigades. However, some have argued that these new soldiers could be assigned to the advisory and training missions as well.

In an article in the current issue of Military Review, an Army academic journal, Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the former day-to-day commander in Iraq who is Gates' military assistant, argued against creation of a dedicated Advisor Corps.

"We simply do not have the resources to divide the military into `combat' and `stability' organizations," he wrote. "Instead we must focus on developing full-spectrum capabilities across all organizations in the armed forces."

Peter Spiegel and Julian E. Barnes write for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Rethinking the army

U.S. military officials are rethinking the Army's long-term role to better prepare for unconventional warfare. Success in future wars, says Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, "will be less a matter of imposing one's will and more a function of shaping behavior - of friends, adversaries and, most importantly, the people in between."

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