The "hug an insurgent" school of war


THE US army has turned years of conventional military thinking on its head in a new field manual for soldiers on counter-insurgency operations in Iraq.

The manual, the first for 20 years, emphasises that it is far more important to secure moral legitimacy and the support of the community than to kill insurgents and win battles.

It has been drawn up by General David Petraeus, who is known as one of America’s more culturally sensitive commanders. He led the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles, into Iraq and set up training for the Iraqi forces before returning to the US last year to head the army staff college at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

The manual’s conclusions are stark. “Lose moral legitimacy, lose the war,” it warns. In what could prove to be uncomfortable reading for Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, it emphasises that “efforts to build a legitimate government through illegitimate action — including unjustified or excessive use of force, unlawful detention, torture or punishment without trial — are self-defeating, even against insurgents who conceal themselves amid non-combatants”.

The 241-page report, to be published in September, has gone in “final draft” form to General Peter Schoomaker, the army chief of staff, for approval and was obtained by Secrecy News, an intelligence gathering website. A Fort Leavenworth spokesman said it was “not thrilled” the report had been leaked but was proud of its conclusions.


The field manual warns that “the more force is used, the less effective it is” and says the “best weapon is do not shoot”. It points out that “sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction” to provocation by insurgents.

Under the heading Unsuccessful Practices, it lists placing “priority on killing and capturing the enemy, not on engaging the population” and concentrating forces in large bases for protection rather than risking American casualties. It claims that “amnesty and rehabilitation” are tried and tested methods of winning over insurgents.


I have respect for Gen. Petraeus, but I think the population in Iraq wants the enemy to be killed or captured. Right now the enemy is making war on the Iraqi population instead of US forces. Hugging the people who are making war against non combatants is a good way to lose the support that we have from the Iraqi people. The enemy in Iraq has already lost the hearts and mind battle. We need to focus on making him lose his current battle against non combatants in Iraq. The Washington Post also reviews the new book on counter insurgency.


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