Archive for Thursday, February 22, 2007

Fort’s 5-day seminar offers insight into counterinsurgencies

February 22, 2007

— Army Capt. Jeremy Turner didn't know war could be so complex.

While serving in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division, Turner was fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida while also learning to deal with problems and issues involving local political and religious leaders.

"There were things occurring that took me a few months to figure out," Turner said.

Turner is one of about 90 military personnel going through a five-day counterinsurgency seminar at Fort Leavenworth. The seminar is designed to help them better prepare for situations that could arise in Iraq or Afghanistan, including those beyond combat.

The seminar is a product of the fort's Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center, established last year by Gen. David Petraeus, who was the fort's commander but is now commander of coalition forces in Iraq.

Many of those at the seminar are officers who are training transition teams that will become embedded with Iraqi military units. Included are several Navy officers headed for the U.S.-Iraqi national command center.

One of the center's purposes is to make sure counterinsurgency education is synchronized and cohesive, said Marine Col. Mark Olson, center director.

Turner will take what he learns this week to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., where some of the training uses role-playing to replicate situations soldiers might face involving citizens, insurgents, media and more.

"This is a methodical way of thinking and looking at situations," Turner said of the seminar. "It's a clearer way of seeing things."

In Iraq there is a new effort to form smaller neighborhood forward-operating bases where American forces live and work side-by-side with Iraqi soldiers and police.

"Now they are part of the community," Army Col. Michael Smith, from the fort's Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance, said during a presentation. "What we're finding is that the community is coming up to us with information. They see the Iraqi Army and police working together, and we are the 'honest broker.'"

Olson described counterinsurgency methods as similar to community policing in the United States.

"It's like the old Irish cop on the beat," Olson said.

The military has to be cautious about how it uses combat operations in counterinsurgency, said Brig. Gen. Mark O'Neill, Fort Leavenworth's acting commander. Used incorrectly, such operations can lead to more problems, he said.

"The point is, you've got to look at how you react to something," O'Neill said. "Our default settings are not necessarily the best solutions to the problems you are going to face."

Maj. Frank Kubista, who attended the seminar with others from the Army's 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, said he didn't think it would be too difficult for soldiers to make quick transitions from combat mode to a more reserved role required in dealing with civilians.

"It's a balancing act," he said.

A group of Canadian soldiers from the 1st Service Battalion, based in Edmonton, Alberta, also is attending the seminar. The battalion, which provides close support to other units, is scheduled to go to Afghanistan next year, its commander, Lt. Col. Kerry Horlock, said.

"This is a good opportunity to see what the Americans are doing and listen to the lessons they've learned," Horlock said. "It seems that what they've learned in Iraq is applicable to Afghanistan, too."

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