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U.S. Military takes lessons from Iraq 'insurgent' war

As the fight in Iraq drives fundamental changes to the military, it is also forcing a debate on how far those changes should go.

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However, even those who believe the US will continue to fight insurgencies take issue with establishing a permanent adviser corps. They argue that such efforts essentially prepare the military to fight the most recent war it fought.

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"We are right now in danger of overlearning some of our lessons and already we're preparing to fight our last war," says Roger Carstens, who recently retired as a lieutenant colonel with a career in Army Special Forces.

Some are voicing concerns that the military should be prepared for a "full spectrum" of operations. Creating a force essentially dedicated to training foreign militaries swings the pendulum too far to one side, they say.

Instead, the focus should be on instilling multiple capabilities within the small, tactical units, say critics. They caution against dedicating a special force of soldier-advisers to a specific cause, which they say essentially creates "two armies."

"The best hedge against strategic risk is to have multidimensional, multifaceted small units and individuals," says Robert Scales Jr., a retired two-star general who at one point led the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa. "Squads and platoons: That's the building block that will defeat radical Islamicists over the long term."

Senior Army officials, including Gen. George Casey, the Army's chief of staff, have not signed on to the idea of an adviser corps, opting instead to create new brigade combat teams capable of more conventional warfare. Still, they've begun making changes: The Army recently released a new field manual that puts "stability operations" on par with conventional military operations – a nod to those who believe the US will primarily be engaged in fighting insurgencies, not big land armies.

"For a lot of my career, the pattern of the enemy was quite obvious," Army Maj. Gen. David Fastabend, a chief strategist for the Army, told a group of Pentagon reporters recently. He calls the new manual "revolutionary" even if the concepts are well established. "Now in an irregular conflict, you don't have that pattern so much," he says.

The new field manual was last revamped just prior to September 2001.

But the Army is not yet ready to embrace the idea of building the 20,000-strong Army corps that officers like Nagl are advocating, General Fastabend says.

"It's still a matter of discussion," he says, noting that it is unclear how long the Army would need that kind of capability. "One of the challenges of working in irregular warfare environment is, it's not regular, and the ability to forecast is difficult."