TAJI, Iraq -- If the U.S. effort in Iraq ultimately is successful, one reason may be the small school started recently on a military base here by Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the U.S. commander in Iraq. Called the COIN Academy -- using military shorthand for "counterinsurgency" -- the newest educational institution in the U.S. military establishment seeks, as a course summary puts it, to "stress the need for U.S. forces to shift from a conventional warfare mindset" to one that understands how to win in a guerrilla-style conflict. Or, as a sign on the wall of one administrator's office here put it less politely: "Insanity is doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different outcome."
The purpose of the school north of Baghdad is to try to bring about a different outcome than the U.S. military achieved in 2003-04, when Army commanders committed mistakes typical of a conventional military facing an insurgency. "When the insurgency started, we came in very conventional," said Col. Chris Short, the District native and recent Manassas resident who is the new school's commandant. Back then, U.S. forces rounded up tens of thousands of Iraqis, mixing innocent people in detention with hard-core Islamic extremists. Commanders permitted troops to shoot at anything mildly threatening. And they failed to give their troops the basic conceptual and cultural tools needed to operate in the complex environment of Iraq, from how to deal with a sheik to understanding why killing insurgents usually is the least desirable outcome in dealing with them. (It is more effective, they are now taught, to persuade them either to desert or to join the political process.) (...)
Casey, the school's builder, found an easy way to make [commanders] come: He made attendance compulsory for any officer heading to a combat command in Iraq. He also meets with each class, offering the captains and lieutenant colonels a rare chance to quiz a four-star general. Some members of the faculty, which draws heavily on Special Forces officers, were not eager to teach U.S. infantry, artillery, aviation and armor officers. Short recalled that some said: "That's not our mission. We don't teach U.S. forces." Such qualms have been eliminated, he said with a chuckle.
Again and again, the intense immersion course, which 30 to 50 officers attend at a time, emphasizes that the right answer is probably the counterintuitive one, rather than something that the Army has taught officers in their 10 or 20 years of service. The school's textbook, a huge binder, offers the example of a mission that busts into a house and captures someone who mortared a U.S. base. "On the surface, a raid that captures a known insurgent or terrorist may seem like a sure victory for the coalition," it observes in red block letters. It continues, "The potential second- and third-order effects, however, can turn it into a long-term defeat if our actions humiliate the family, needlessly destroy property, or alienate the local population from our goals." (...)
As Apache attack helicopters clattered overhead, Short also offered an unconventional view of Iraq's December elections, which many U.S. officials have portrayed as a great victory. "You can ask just about every Iraqi, 'What about the elections?' " he said. "They'll say" -- Short shrugged his shoulders -- " 'Well, we voted five times, and nothing's happening out here.' " Recent attendees at the school came away impressed. "I think it's an incredibly insightful course," said Army Maj. Sheldon Horsfall, an adviser to the Iraqi military in Baghdad. "One of the things that was brought home to us, again and again, was the importance of cultural awareness."
The basics of counterinsurgency doctrine are stable: the centre of gravity is the legitimacy of the whole project; the oft mentioned hearts and minds of the population. The challenge of this kind of COIN is that it is hard to reconcile with the classical warrior spirit's more (necessarily?) manichean function, which is the evident reason it is met with suspicion.
But with the effects based thinking there is a clear connection running from Rumsfeld's tech-driven, net-centric warfare to the gritty reality of the combatant commanders on the ground in Iraq. Who would have thought that the efficiency optimization of closing the decision cycle meant investing in cultural awareness?