British General Critical of U.S. Army in Iraq
Thomas Ricks, WaPo’s normally superb writer on military affairs, is astounded that the U.S. Army has published an article brutally critical of itself by a British general.
A senior British officer has written a scathing critique of the U.S. Army and its performance in Iraq, accusing it of cultural ignorance, moralistic self-righteousness, unproductive micromanagement and unwarranted optimism there.
His publisher: the U.S. Army.
In an article published this week in the Army magazine Military Review, British Brig. Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who was deputy commander of a program to train the Iraqi military, said American officers in Iraq displayed such “cultural insensitivity” that it “arguably amounted to institutional racism” and may have spurred the growth of the insurgency. The Army has been slow to adapt its tactics, he argues, and its approach during the early stages of the occupation “exacerbated the task it now faces by alienating significant sections of the population.”
The decision by the Army magazine to publish the essay — which already has provoked an intense reaction among American officers — is part of a broader self-examination occurring in many parts of the Army as it approaches the end of its third year of fighting in Iraq. Military Review, which is based [at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas] along with many of the Army’s educational institutions, has been part of that examination, becoming increasingly influential and pointed under the editorship of Col. William M. Darley. In the past two years, his magazine has run articles that have sharply criticized U.S. military operations in Iraq. A piece last summer by then-Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli about how to better counter the insurgency has become required reading for officers deploying to Iraq — especially since Chiarelli was recently selected to become the No. 2 American officer there.
But none of the earlier articles has been as bluntly critical of the Army as the essay by Aylwin-Foster, whose assessment is also unusual because it comes from a senior military commander with the closest ally the U.S. government has in Iraq. The Army is full of soldiers showing qualities such as patriotism, duty, passion and talent, writes Aylwin-Foster, whose rank is equivalent to a U.S. one-star general. “Yet,” he continues, “it seemed weighed down by bureaucracy, a stiflingly hierarchical outlook, a predisposition to offensive operations, and a sense that duty required all issues to be confronted head-on.”
Those traits reflect the Army’s traditional focus on conventional state-on-state wars and are seen by some experts as less appropriate for counterinsurgency, which they say requires patience, cultural understanding and a willingness to use innovative and counterintuitive approaches, such as employing only the minimal amount of force necessary. In counterinsurgency campaigns, Aylwin-Foster argues, “the quick solution is often the wrong one.”
He said he found that an intense pressure to conform and overcentralized decision making slowed the Army’s operations in Iraq, giving the enemy time to understand and respond to U.S. moves. And the Army’s can-do spirit, he wrote, encouraged a “damaging optimism” that interfered with realistic assessments of the situation in Iraq. “Such an ethos is unhelpful if it discourages junior commanders from reporting unwelcome news up the chain of command,” Aylwin-Foster says. A pervasive sense of righteousness or moral outrage, he adds, further distorted military judgments, especially in the handling of fighting in Fallujah.
Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who runs much of the Army’s educational establishment, and also oversees Military Review, said he does not agree with many of Aylwin-Foster’s assertions. But Petraeus, who commanded Aylwin-Foster in Iraq, said “he is a very good officer, and therefore his viewpoint has some importance, as we do not think it is his alone.” Reflecting that ambivalence, the article was published with two disclaimers — one in the form of an introduction, the other as a footnote — which make clear that the views expressed do not reflect those of the British government, the British military, the U.S. Army, its Combined Arms Center or Military Review.
First, it should be noted that the disclaimer above appears at the bottom of the table of contents of every issue and applies to all articles. It is there because, in fact, the articles represent the views of their authors, not their institutions. Since it is an official publication of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, that’s an important distinction to make.
Second, it should be noted that Military Review and its cousins Parameters, Sea Power, Proceedings, Naval War College Review, Joint Forces Quarterly, Marine Corps Gazette, and Air & Space Power Journal are academic journals designed to further the professional military education of our officers. Open debate has long been a part of their tradition. For example, I first became aware of Ralph Peters, now an iconoclastic columnist and book author, through his numerous articles in Parameters over the years. He published those as a major and lieutenant colonel in the Army’s Military Intelligence branch.
The current issue of Military Review contains sixteen articles. Its appears to be packaged as a special issue with lessons learned from foreign militaries.
Note: All links below PDF documents
2 Changing the Army for Counterinsurgency Operations
Brigadier Nigel R.F. Aylwin-Foster, British Army
U.S. Army Transformation needs to focus less on warfighting and more on developing a genuinely adaptive workforce.
16 Operation Knockout: Counterinsurgency in Iraq
Colonel James K. Greer, U.S. Army
In November 2005, Coalition and Iraqi forces demonstrated the flexibility and agility needed in successful COIN operations.
20 To Create a Stable Afghanistan: Provisional Reconstruction Teams, Good Governance, and a Splash of History
Major Andrew M. Roe, British Army
While trying to establish a legitimate government in Afghanistan, the Coalition force should look to earlier British management of the North-West Frontier for an example.
27 Republic of Korea Forces in Iraq: Peacekeeping and Reconstruction
Major General Eui-Don Hwang, Republic of Korea Army
KoreaÃ¢€™s Zaytun Division supported Operation Iraqi Freedom by maintaining security in its area of responsibility, conducting postwar reconstruction projects, and providing humanitarian assistance.
32 Lessons Learned: Multinational Division Central-South
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Strzelecki, Polish Army
The mission of the Polish Armed Forces in Iraq began in March 2003 with the first phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
35 Maginot Line or Fort Apache? Using Forts to Shape the Counterinsurgency Battlefield
Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey B. Demarest, U.S. Army, Retired, Ph.D., J.D., and Lieutenant Colonel Lester W. Grau, U.S. Army, Retired
Fortifications can be an effective part of an offensive strategy in counterinsurgency.
Contrary to the widely held view that military officers are automotons without any thoughts of their own and that the Services like it that way, many of these publications have been around for decades. Retired Colonel John M. Collins, in an essay entitled, “Sharp Pens Sharpen Swords,” linked from the Miltary Review website and offering advice to mid-career officers on how to enter the fray writes,
The message to readers of this missive is, Ã¢€œItÃ¢€™s never too early or too late to make your mark.Ã¢€ Fifteen publications selected for discussion from nearly 100 outlets offer aspiring authors a much richer menu of options that their predecessors enjoyed.
The Infantry Journal, activated in 1904, was a typical trailblazer. Charter members who gave that brainchild an auspicious start included two famous flag officers and two precocious second lieutenants. Major General Arthur MacArthur, DougÃ¢€™s daddy, wore a Medal of Honor; Major General Tasker Bliss culminated his career as Army Chief of Staff, 1917-18. Second Lieutenant George Catlett Marshall, who became Army Chief of Staff shortly before World War II and retired with five stars, later served as Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State while four-star Walter Krueger, commissioned from the ranks, commanded Sixth U.S. Army during all of its campaigns in the Southwest Pacific.
Indeed, if one counts less academic venues such as Infantry and Armor or smaller publications such as Strategic Insights, there are easily 100 publications out there maintained by the U.S. military and its affiliates to promote professional discussion. Challenging current policy and offering other ways to do business is not only permissible but encouraged. Self-examination is not a new Army policy; it’s a way of life.