Army’s New Full Spectrum Operations Manual

The Army is rewriting a key manual to implement the lessons of the past fifteen years.

The draft version of the Army’s Full Spectrum Operations field manual argues that in addition to defeating the enemy, military units must focus on providing security for the population — even during major combat. “The big idea here is that stability tasks have to be a consideration at every level and every operation,” said Clinton J. Ancker III, head of the Army’s Combined Arms Doctrine Directorate and an author of the guide.

Officers use the field manual, the authoritative guidebook on how to conduct ground operations, to develop tactics for military endeavors including war, counterinsurgency and peacekeeping. When completed, the manual will be taught to officers at all levels.

Before the war, Rumsfeld prodded Gen. Tommy Franks and other officers to design an invasion plan to fit his beliefs about how modern militaries should fight. When Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed and Baghdad seemed to fall in just 21 days, Rumsfeld and his emphasis on speed over mass got the credit. But after the initial military success, the Pentagon was criticized for not doing enough to plan for postwar stability. And Rumsfeld drew objections for his dismissive attitude toward the disorder and looting in Iraq, particularly when he said, just days after the fall of Baghdad, that “stuff happens” in democracies.

The old manual emphasized that stability operations usually follow combat. The draft version of the 2007 ground operations manual instructs commanders that they cannot wait for offensive operations to end before providing security and services for the population, and stresses a combination of offense, defense and stability operations.

“Army forces must defeat enemies and simultaneously shape the civil situation through stability or civil support operations,” says the manual, the contents of which were described to the Los Angeles Times by its authors. Scheduled to be completed and made public next year, the guidebook does not explicitly criticize the invasion, and in fact notes how the Iraqi military forces collapsed in the face of the swift American attack. Nevertheless, some of the ideas the guide embraces contrast sharply with Rumsfeld’s invasion blueprint.

This is a huge and necessary step. And, to be fair, this is not so much a repudiation of the Rumsfeld Doctrine but of the World War II ideal type of warfare that has held a grip on the United States military the last seven decades. As Thomas Barnett observes, “it is a sea change that many have fought against their entire careers–and continue to fight vociferously to this day.”

The military, especially the Army, was forced into what we now call “stability operations” very reluctantly and viewed them with great disdain throughout the 1990s. The institutional culture likes Big Wars because they are less ambiguous and we are very good at them. Unfortunately, armies fight the kinds of wars they have, not those they would like.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Wayne says:

    Having an invasion force many times bigger than we had going into Iraq would not have stop or even moderately improved the violence going on there. The insurgents can as easily fool 2,5,10 people by wearing civilian cloths. More troops could help in conducting more house-to-house inspection or sitting up check points. This still can be done but on the outset of the conflict given the condition at the time, more troops would have been more of a liability then an asset.

  2. Dzho says:

    can’t read the link, but glad to see this, from the army, not the white house. Curious to see the difference between ‘stability operations’ and police work. I’ve always maintained that our army finished its job in a month or so, then got assigned a different job they aren’t trained for, being cops.