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Army shifting focus to nation-building

New doctrine touts 'stability operations'

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post / October 6, 2008
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WASHINGTON - The Army today will unveil an unprecedented doctrine that declares nation-building missions will probably become more important than conventional warfare and defines "fragile states" that breed crime, terrorism, and religious and ethnic strife as the greatest threat to US national security.

The doctrine, which has generated intense debate in the US military establishment and government, holds that in coming years, American troops are not likely to engage in major ground combat against hostile states as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan, but instead will frequently be called upon to operate in lawless areas to safeguard populations and rebuild countries.

Such "stability operations" will last longer and ultimately contribute more to the military's success than "traditional combat operations," according to the Army's new Stability Operations Field Manual, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.

"This is the document that bridges from conflict to peace," said Lieutenant General William Caldwell, commander of the US Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where the manual was drafted over the last 10 months.

The US military "will never secure the peace until we can conduct stability operations in a collaborative manner" with civilian government and private entities at home and abroad, he said.

The stability operations doctrine is an engine that will drive Army resources, organization, and training for years to come, Caldwell said, and Army officials already have detailed plans to execute it.

The operations directive underpinning the manual "elevated stability operations to a status equal to that of the offense and defense," the manual reads, describing the move as a "fundamental change in emphasis" for the Army.

Yet the concept has drawn fire from all sides: Military critics say it will weaken heavy war-fighting skills - using tanks and artillery - that have already atrophied during years of counterinsurgency campaigns.

Civilian officials and nongovernmental groups with scarce resources say armed forces are filling the gap, but at the cost of encroaching upon their traditional overseas missions.

Military advocates argue that the Army has long been called upon for peacekeeping and rebuilding in unstable areas, but that it has conducted those operations in an ad hoc fashion because of an excessive focus on combat.

As the Army struggles to define its long-term future beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, some critics within the military warn that the new emphasis on nation-building is a dangerous distraction from what they believe should be the Army's focus: strengthening its core war-fighting skills to prepare for large-scale ground combat.

"All we need to do is look at Russia and Georgia a few months ago.

"That suggests the description . . . of future war is too narrow," said Colonel Gian Gentile, an Iraq war veteran with a doctorate in history who is a leading thinker in the Army camp opposed to the new doctrine.

"The organizing principle for the US Army should be the Army's capability to fight on all levels of war," he said.

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