The Army has drafted a new operations manual that elevates the mission of stabilizing war-torn nations, making it equal in importance to defeating adversaries on the battlefield.
Military officials described the new document, the first new edition of the Army's basic comprehensive doctrine since 2001, as a major development that draws on the hard-learned lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, where initial military successes gave way to long, grueling struggles to establish control.
It is also an illustration of how far the Pentagon has moved beyond the Bush administration's initial reluctance to use the military to support "nation-building" efforts when it came into office.
But some influential officers are already arguing that the Army still needs to put actions behind its new words, and they have raised searching questions about whether the Army's military structure, personnel policies and weapons programs are consistent with its doctrine. The manual describes the United States as facing an era of "persistent conflict" in which the U.S. military will often operate among civilians in countries where local institutions are fragile and efforts to win over a wary population are vital.
Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the commander of the Army's Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, began briefing lawmakers on the document on Thursday. In an interview, he called it a "blueprint to operate over the next 10 to 15 years."
"Army doctrine now equally weights tasks dealing with the population - stability or civil support - with those related to offensive and defensive operations," the manual states. "Winning battles and engagements is important but alone is not sufficient. Shaping the civil situation is just as important to success."
In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the military is enmeshed in rebuilding local institutions, helping to restore essential services and safeguarding a vulnerable population. The new manual is an attempt to put these endeavors - along with counterinsurgency warfare - at the core of military training, planning and operations. That would require some important changes.
"There is going to be some resistance," Caldwell said. "There will be people who will hear and understand what we are saying, but it is going to take some time to inculcate that into our culture."
Even as they welcomed its adoption, other Army officers said there were inconsistencies between the newly minted doctrine on how to wage war and current practice. Army brigades in Iraq have too few combat engineers to support civil programs, they said. Also, they added, the Army does not promote officers who advise the Iraqi and Afghan security forces as readily as battalion staff officers and needs to improve their training.
Some Army officers have also questioned whether the development of the Army's Future Combat System, a multibillion-dollar program in which air and unmanned ground sensors will be networked with armored vehicles so that soldiers can attack targets from a safe distance, is consistent with this new vision of war.
The new manual is expected to be formally unveiled later this month. The New York Times was provided with a recent draft.
When the United States invaded Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, and many ranking military leaders spoke highly of the value of speed and high-technology military systems, arguing this could enable relatively small number of troops to rapidly defeat the United States' adversaries. The mission of stabilizing Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein was generally treated as a secondary concern, one that assumed that Iraq's security forces would both cooperate and be effective.
The U.S. military's difficulty in securing Iraq has led to much soul-searching within the armed forces on how to prepare for future conflicts. Col. H.R. McMaster of the Army, who commanded the successful effort in 2005 to secure the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar, asserts in a new article that an exaggerated faith in military technology and a corresponding undervaluation of political and military measures to secure the peace undermined American efforts in Iraq.
"Self-delusion about the character of future conflict weakened U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq," he wrote in Survival, a magazine published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
McMaster added in the article that the Army "is finding it difficult to cut completely loose from years of wrongheaded thinking," noting that assumptions that high-technology systems will provide the U.S. military with "dominant knowledge" of the battlefield has formed much of the justification for the Army program to build the Future Combat System.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has cautioned the Army not to assume that the counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan are anomalies. Gates said in October that "unconventional wars" are "the ones most likely to be fought in the years ahead." A 2005 Pentagon directive also advised the military to treat "stability operations" as a core mission.
The Army's new manual tries to address such concerns. It paints a picture of future wars in which the Army needs to be prepared to deal with changing coalitions and complex cultural factors.
"The operational environment will remain a dirty, frightening, physically and emotionally draining one in which death and destruction result from environmental conditions creating humanitarian crisis as well as conflict itself," the manual states. It will be an arena, the manual notes, in which success depends not only on force in defeating an enemy but also "how quickly a state of stability can be established and maintained."