USA — Troops Must Understand the ‘Why’ of the Fight, Odierno Says

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2010 — With his tenure wind­ing down as com­man­der of U.S. Forces Iraq, Army Gen. Ray­mond T. Odier­no today shared with reporters some of his lessons learned on asym­met­ric war­fare and the U.S. military’s needs of the future.

For coun­terin­sur­gency to work, mil­i­tary units must demon­strate their stay­ing pow­er to pro­tect the local cit­i­zens, Odier­no told reporters here dur­ing a Defense Writ­ers Group break­fast meet­ing.

“What we learned in Iraq in 2006 was that it was­n’t just about get­ting more peo­ple; it was about putting our peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hoods every day,” he said. “It was about trust.” When U.S. troops first arrived in Iraqi cities and towns, Odier­no said, the res­i­dents would­n’t talk to them – a key method used to gath­er infor­ma­tion about the insur­gency. That changed, he said, when the mil­i­tary began build­ing per­ma­nent struc­tures.

“They’re posi­tion was, ‘We’ll tell you this stuff, but we want you here to pro­tect us, after we tell you,’ ” he said.

Also, the gen­er­al said, human­i­tar­i­an mis­sions, such as one-day med­ical clin­ics that U.S. troops con­duct through­out Iraq, are impor­tant to con­nect­ing with res­i­dents. “Give them some­thing they don’t already have,” the gen­er­al said.

Odier­no also dis­cussed the U.S. troop draw­down in Iraq, which impos­es a Sept. 1 goal of reduc­ing the cur­rent 70,000 troops to 50,000. He trav­eled to Wash­ing­ton from Bagh­dad to take part in meet­ings with State Depart­ment offi­cials about the tran­si­tion from the mil­i­tary oper­a­tions that began in Iraq in 2003 to the increas­ing State Depart­ment mis­sion there.

The gen­er­al him­self will be part of the draw­down; the Sen­ate ear­li­er this month con­firmed his pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion to head U.S. Joint Forces Com­mand, based in Nor­folk, Va.

Odier­no said he will use his lessons learned dur­ing three com­bat tours in Iraq to meet the command’s mis­sion of devel­op­ing joint doc­trine and sup­port­ing the com­bat­ant com­mands.

Odier­no said he will con­tin­ue to make the point that mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in today’s envi­ron­ment are “expo­nen­tial­ly more com­pli­cat­ed than when I was a lieu­tenant.”

In con­ven­tion­al war­fare, ser­vice­mem­bers could get by on sur­veil­lance of the ene­my, Odier­no said. But today’s ser­vice­mem­bers, he said, need to under­stand the cul­ture, pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics of the regions in which they are fight­ing in.

“You have to under­stand the ‘why,’ ” the gen­er­al said. “You have both lethal and non-lethal tools avail­able to you, and you have to know how and when to use them. It’s a new way of think­ing.”

Odier­no said he has been think­ing a lot about those changes and how they should be reflect­ed in mil­i­tary doc­trine and train­ing. He said he hopes those units that served under him in Iraq will come away more broad­ly trained and agile to meet chang­ing demands.

“The Army has to be flex­i­ble enough to meet the many needs the Com­man­der in Chief needs us to do,” the gen­er­al said. “The basic prin­ci­ples are that we have to train and study for each mis­sion.”

Army units of the future will have to be cross-trained in the way of brigade com­bat teams, rather than divid­ing units between those trained in asym­met­ric war­fare and those trained con­ven­tion­al­ly, Odier­no said.

“We want brigades and bat­tal­ions that can oper­ate across spec­trums,” he said. “It’s about ana­lyz­ing the prob­lem, under­stand­ing your capa­bil­i­ties, and being flex­i­ble.”

In the case of Iraq’s coun­terin­sur­gency, Odier­no said, “This is a very think­ing ene­my. They change how they do things, and we have to react to that.”

It’s not enough to cre­ate train­ing and doc­trine only around the Iraq and Afghanistan expe­ri­ences, which “are very spe­cif­ic kinds of prob­lems,” the gen­er­al said.

“If you look at the coun­terin­sur­gency of the future,” he said, “we want to be able to send small units inside coun­tries to work with gov­ern­ments.”

The spe­cial­ized teams of U.S. troops serv­ing in Yemen are an exam­ple of that con­cept, Odier­no said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)