First Published: 2006-01-12

British officer blasts US Army's performance in Iraq

Brigadier Aylwin-Foster says US Army’s failures compound difficulty of quelling insurgency.


Middle East Online

By Jim Mannion – WASHINGTON

Sharp criticism from Washington’s closest ally

A senior British officer has lambasted the US Army's performance in Iraq as marred by cultural insensitivity, self righteousness and a bias for "kinetic" military operations that have cost popular support.

Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who served in Iraq as deputy commander of program to train Iraqis, said the army's failures let opportunities slip away after the 2003 US invasion and compounded the difficulty of putting down the insurgency.

The critique, which was published this week in Military Review, a journal of the US Army, offered a rare look at the sharp differences in perspective between the American military and its allies in Iraq.

Aylwin-Foster said "universally those consulted for this paper who were not from the US considered that the army as too 'kinetic.'"

"This is shorthand for saying US Army personnel were too inclined to consider offensive operations and destruction of the insurgent as the key to a given situation, and conversely failed to understand its downside," he wrote.

Many US military officers on the other hand felt that their coalition allies were too reluctant to use lethal force, he said.

"It was apparent that many considered that the only effective, and morally acceptable, COIN (counter-insurgency) strategy was to kill or capture all terrorists and insurgents; they saw military destruction of the enemy as a strategic goal in its own right."

He cites an unnamed US general as saying it was unreasonable and impractical to expect front-line soldiers to develop the subtlety and mastery of skills required for a hearts-and-minds campaign.

An internal Pentagon study of 127 US pacification operations between May 2003 and May 2005 found that most were aimed at hunting down insurgents, according to the article. Only six percent were specifically to create a secure environment for the population, it said.

A variation of the complaint that the army was "too kinetic" was the widely held view among non-US officers that the Americans were "too often insensitive to the cultural nuances of the situation," Aylwin-Foster said.

He said army officers often erroneously assumed that the population would understand the justness of their cause, even if mistakes were made and civilians were killed.

"This sense of moral righteousness combined with an emotivity that was rarely far from the surface, and in extremis manifested as deep indignation or outrage that could serve to distort collective military judgement," the article said.

The US response to the capture and mutilation of four US contractors in Fallujah, which set off a long and bloody struggle for the city in 2004, was a case in point, according to Aylwin-Foster.

"In classic insurgency doctrine, this act was almost certainly a come-on, designed to invoke a disproportionate response, thereby further polarising the situation and driving a wedge between the domestic population and the coalition forces," he wrote. "It succeeded."

"Under emotional duress even the most broad-minded and pragmatic reverted to type: kinetic," he wrote.

The army further alienated itself from the local populace by relying on technology rather than foot patrols and human spying to gather intelligence, he said.

In Aylwin-Foster's view, many of the problems arose from an institutional culture that emphasized conventional warfare and paid scant attention to counter-insurgency warfare.

The army's "can-do" ethos and rigid hierarchy encouraged micro-management by commanders and over-optimism.

While all professional militaries strive for a can-do ethos, he wrote, "it is unhelpful if it discourages junior commanders from reporting unwelcome news up the chain of command."

In an editor's note accompanying the article, Military Review said its publication did not imply any endorsement of Aylwin-Foster's views.

"Nonetheless, this article does provide Military Review readers the thought-provoking assessments of a senior officer with significant experience in counterterrorism operations. And it is offered in that vein - to stimulate discussion."


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