The Army on Thursday rolled out the first revision of its operations manual since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, putting stability operations — nation-building — on par with combat.
Army officials said the revision reflects a focus on fighting terrorism.
"The field manual is our Army's blueprint for an uncertain future," said Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, commander of Fort Leavenworth, where the document was produced. "It does provide the blueprint for how we, as an Army, will operate over the next 10 to 15 years."
The new manual reflects Army experiences over the past six years of fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan and insurgents in Iraq, as well as with relief efforts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Caldwell said the U.S. will focus on building its influence in nations plagued by conflicts so that it can make them stable and secure.
"If we are going to be a successful instrument of national will, we need to be as competent in executing stability operations as we have traditionally been in combat-military operations," Caldwell said.
In Iraq in the past few years, the U.S. has trained Iraqi security forces and is helping government ministries develop. A surge of 30,000 troops in January 2007 sought to root out insurgents and allow the Iraqi government to function.
Future operations, military officials say, will depend on joint efforts by all military branches and other U.S. government agencies to assist foreign nations. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has repeatedly stressed that the military can't accomplish all national security goals alone.
Gen. William Wallace, commander of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, calls the manual "evolutionary," incorporating new military ideas while retaining core Army values.
He said the current operations require initiatives that may not involve combat.
"It also requires leaders at every level to think and act flexibly, constantly adapting to the situation," he wrote in an article appearing in this week's Military Review.
Work on the manual began in 2004 when Wallace was Fort Leavenworth's commander. He picked writers with operations or leadership experience and sought out officers who had graduated from the Army's elite School for Advanced Military Studies.
Lt. Col. Steven Leonard, one of the team members at Fort Leavenworth, said some of the authors came "directly out of theater." Leonard was a logistician who worked with the 101st Airborne Division and later an executive officer of a support battalion.
The Army also used conferences and reviews to shape the manual, involving senior Army leaders, civilian officials, members of Congress and even media.
Caldwell said he and Wallace also have been discussing the operations manual with Army "graybeards." They recognize that the U.S. has few military peers that would challenge it in conventional combat, the signature threat of the Cold War era.
"The environment has changed, and we need to alter our view as to how we organize, train and prepare ourselves to operate in the 21st century," Caldwell said.
House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton gave the manual good marks.
"I'm encouraged that the Army's new manual recognizes the importance of stability operations to address today's security challenges," said Skelton, a Missouri Democrat. "It represents a significant step forward, and our soldiers who have been fighting these two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will see their hard-learned lessons reflected in the text.
However, he added: "I'm concerned that with the demands we are placing on our forces and with the resources available, it will be enormously difficult for the Army to do all it wants to do."
Long-term effects uncertain
Richard Weitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., wasn't sure what long-term effect the manual will have.
"The limited durability of the Army's past efforts to stress nation-building and counterinsurgency, while de-emphasizing the importance of winning conventional wars, does not bode well," he wrote in a critique for World Politics Review.
Weitz cites the Army's experience after Vietnam. After an emphasis on fighting insurgents, he said, the Army lost interest and under President Reagan purchased weapons aimed at defeating the Soviet Union in a conventional fight. He said focusing on high-tech systems instead of the civil affairs failed to achieve as much success as hoped in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And, even if the Army reinvents itself, he said, "The willingness of the rest of the U.S. defense establishment to undertake a comprehensive restructuring program aimed at undertaking noncombat operations better is doubtful."