After another easy victory over Iraq’s conventional forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. Army has not achieved similar success in “Phase Four” (counterinsurgency) operations in Iraq since May 2003
Indeed, the U.S. Army may be heading in the wrong direction. Predominant characteristics of the ongoing lack of success are the cultural arrogance of American soldiers, especially officers, toward Iraqi civilians—bordering on “institutional (but not personal) racism”—excessive reliance on technology to solve essentially human problems, and a top-down mentality from some senior commanders who ignore unfolding realities on the ground and refuse to adapt. Core reasons for these characteristics are: a poor incentive structure for innovation outside the realm of conventional, attrition warfare, and a careerist officer corps that caused junior officers to vote with their feet and leave the Army in the 1990s—thereby making the top-down, zero-defects, micromanagement mentality of this decade’s senior commanders even worse because people who could think for themselves at the mid-career level are gone. While the U.S. Army may be unsurpassed, thus far, in modern conventional warfare operations, its penchant to try to apply conventional, attrition tactics and techniques in a fourth generation warfare (modern insurgency) setting is highly counterproductive, and indeed helps the enemy.
Can this be fixed? Some in the U.S. Army are trying, but do not have the institutional strength, despite support from some at the very top, to overcome decades of ingrained culture.
These are not all be the nouns and adjectives used by the more diplomatic author, but they are the message of a remarkable article in the U.S. Army’s Military Review journal. Written by a British observer, Brigadier Nigel Aylin-Foster, who was in close contact with the U.S. Army in Iraq, the article “Changing the Army for Counterinsurgency Operations” can be found at the U.S. Military website here.
It is a positive sign for reform that the U.S. Army has published the article in its Military Review journal.
Kudos to the U.S. Army’s Military Review for publishing it from a valuable friend of America.