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Shift in Tactics Seen as Vital to U.S. Victory in Iraq

A U.S. Marine meets with a chairman of the Fallujah city council.  U.S. counterinsurgency training increasingly emphasizes a greater reliance on working with local officials in Iraq to help stabilize regions.
Peter Dejong-Pool/Getty Images
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A U.S. Marine meets with a chairman of the Fallujah city council. U.S. counterinsurgency training increasingly emphasizes a greater reliance on working with local officials in Iraq to help stabilize regions.

Three years after the war began, the U.S. military has learned hard lessons in Iraq. One lesson is key: It is possible to win all the battles and still lose the war, a basic truth in any counterinsurgency campaign.

In Iraq's early days, top military and political leaders claimed that the Iraqi resistance was a "bump" on the road to victory. Three years later, the Army's chief of staff concedes the United States is up against a highly adaptive "thinking" enemy.

At Fort Irwin in California, new, sophisticated courses at the Army's National Training Center reflect everything the U.S. military has learned about counterinsurgency in the past three years. The intense two-week training regimen gives U.S. soldiers a good idea of what to expect when they get to Iraq.

There are more than 2,000 role-players, including 200 Iraqi-Americans, who speak Arabic and assume the identities of mayors and Iraqi townspeople. They "live" in 12 Iraqi villages where the Muslim call to prayer is heard five times a day.

In the exercises, soldiers hone their negotiating skills with "Iraqi mayors" and learn crowd control when insurgents try to disrupt a government meeting. They practice battlefield medicine, and through it all, must deal with "reporters" from Arabic satellite channels reporting on their actions. They also get the latest information on improvised explosive devices, the most deadly weapons of insurgents in Iraq.

This is a dramatic shift in tactics since April 2003, when the U.S. military had no rulebook for fighting counterinsurgency warfare. Now, American soldiers are taught "Consequence Management," a military term that describes a simple idea. By their actions, U.S. soldiers can keep Iraqis on their side -- or drive them to support the insurgents.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.