WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 — The United States Army and Marines are finishing work on a new counterinsurgency doctrine that draws on the hard-learned lessons from Iraq and makes the welfare and protection of civilians a bedrock element of military strategy.
The doctrine warns against some of the practices used early in the war, when the military operated without an effective counterinsurgency playbook. It cautions against overly aggressive raids and mistreatment of detainees. Instead it emphasizes the importance of safeguarding civilians and restoring essential services, and the rapid development of local security forces.
The current military leadership in Iraq has already embraced many of the ideas in the doctrine. But some military experts question whether the Army and the Marines have sufficient troops to carry out the doctrine effectively while also preparing for other threats.
The subtleties of the battle were highlighted Wednesday when the Iraqi Interior Ministry suspended a police brigade on suspicion that some members had been involved in death squads. The move was the most serious step Iraqi officials had taken to tackle the festering problem of militias operating within ministry forces.
The new doctrine is part of a broader effort to change the culture of a military that has long promoted the virtues of using firepower and battlefield maneuvers in swift, decisive operations against a conventional enemy.
“The Army will use this manual to change its entire culture as it transitions to irregular warfare,” said Jack Keane, a retired four-star general who served in 2003 as the acting chief of staff of the Army. “But the Army does not have nearly enough resources, particularly in terms of people, to meet its global responsibilities while making such a significant commitment to irregular warfare.”
The doctrine is outlined in a new field manual on counterinsurgency that is to be published next month. But recent drafts of the unclassified documents have been made available to The New York Times, and military officials said that the major elements of final version would not change.
The spirit of the document is captured in nine paradoxes that reflect the nimbleness required to win the support of the people and isolate insurgents from their potential base of support — a task so complex that military officers refer to it as the graduate level of war.
Instead of massing firepower to destroy Republican Guard troops and other enemy forces, as was required in the opening weeks of the invasion of Iraq, the draft manual emphasizes the importance of minimizing civilian casualties. “The more force used, the less effective it is,” it notes.
Stressing the need to build up local institutions and encourage economic development, the manual cautions against putting too much weight on purely military solutions. “Tactical success guarantees nothing,” it says.
Noting the need to interact with the people to gather intelligence and understand the civilians’ needs, the doctrine cautions against hunkering down at large bases. “The more you protect your force, the less secure you are,” it asserts.
The military generally turned its back on counterinsurgency operations after the Vietnam War. The Army concentrated on defending Europe against a Soviet attack. The Marines were focused on expeditionary operations in the third world.
“Basically, after Vietnam, the general attitude of the American military was that we don’t want to fight that kind of war again,” said Conrad C. Crane, the director of the military history institute at the Army War College, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and one of the principal drafters of the new doctrine. “The Army’s idea was to fight the big war against the Russians and ignore these other things.”
A common assumption was that if the military trained for major combat operations, it would be able to easily handle less violent operations like peacekeeping and counterinsurgency. But that assumption proved to be wrong in Iraq; in effect, the military without an up-to-date doctrine. Different units improvised different approaches. The failure by civilian policy makers to prepare for the reconstruction of Iraq compounded the problem.
The limited number of forces was also a constraint. To mass enough troops to storm Falluja, an insurgent stronghold, in 2004, American commanders drew troops from Haditha, another town in western Iraq. Insurgents took advantage of the Americans’ limited numbers to attack the police there. Iraqi policemen were executed, dealing a severe setback to efforts to build a local force.
Frank G. Hoffman, a retired Marine infantry officer who works as a research fellow at an agency at the Marine base at Quantico, Va., said that in 2005, the Marines sometimes lacked sufficient forces to safeguard civilians. As a result, while these forces were often effective “in neutralizing an identifiable foe, they could not stay and work with the population the way the classical counterinsurgency would suggest.”
The effort to develop the new program began a year ago under Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, former commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command and the current chief of the First Marine Expeditionary Force. Colonel Crane, Lt. Col. John A. Nagl and Col. Douglas King of the Marines were among the major drafters.
Academics and experts from private groups were asked for input. A draft was completed in June and was circulated for comment. Almost 800 responses were received, but military officials said they would not alter the substance of the new doctrine.
“We are codifying the best practices of previous counterinsurgency campaigns and the lessons we have learned from Iraq and Afghanistan to help our forces succeed in the current fight and prepare for the future,” Colonel Nagl said.
In drafting the doctrine, the military drew upon some of the classic texts on counterinsurgency by the likes of T. E. Lawrence of Arabia, and David Galula, whose ideas were partly informed by his experience in Algeria.
Colonel Crane said that many of the ideas adopted for the manual had been percolating throughout the military. “In many ways, this is a bottom-up change, “ he said. “The young soldiers who had been through Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and now Iraq and Afghanistan, understood why we need to do this.”
As the manual is being drafted, the military has also revised the curriculum at its war colleges and training ranges to emphasize counterinsurgency. At the National Training Center in California, the old tank-on-tank war games against a Soviet-style enemy have been supplanted by combat rehearsals in which troops on their way to Iraq and Afghanistan engage in mock operations with role players who simulate insurgents, militias and civilians.
Dennis Tighe, a training program manager for the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, said the rehearsals were vital for preparing troops for their new counterinsurgency mission. But the Army is stretched so thin and so many units are focused on rehearsing for Iraq and Afghanistan at the training center that concerns have grown that the Army may be raising a new group of young officers with little experience in high-intensity warfare against heavily equipped armies like North Korea.
“That is one of the things folks are a little concerned about,” Mr. Tighe said.
While the counterinsurgency doctrine attempts to look beyond Iraq, it cites as a positive example the experience in 2005 of the Army’s Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which worked with Iraqi security forces to clear Tal Afar of insurgents, to hold the town with Iraqi and American troops, then to encourage reconstruction there, an approach known as “clear, hold, build.”
One military officer who served in Iraq said American units there generally carried out the tenets of the emerging doctrine when they had sufficient forces. But protecting civilians is a troop-intensive task. He noted that there were areas in which there were not enough American and Iraqi troops to protect Iraqis adequately against intimidation, a central element of the counterinsurgency strategy.
“The units that have sufficient forces are applying the doctrine with good effect,” said the officer, who is not authorized to speak on military policy. “Those units without sufficient forces can only conduct raids to disrupt the enemy while protecting themselves. They can’t do enough to protect the population effectively and partner with Iraqi forces.”