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How the war in Iraq has shaped a new US military mind-set

The US Army is seeking to sustain the adaptability and creativity officers gained in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Adaptable: Lt. Col. Matthew Anderson says the US Army has been gaining valuable experience in waging a successful counterinsurgency.

Tom A. Peter

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If anything is certain for Lt. Col. Matthew Anderson and the nearly 500 men under his command, it's that they can expect to spend the least amount of their time doing their designated job as artillerymen.

Over the course of the unit's 10 months in Iraq, they've cleared houses rigged with explosives, helped refugees return home, and worked to restore Diyala Province's irrigation system. In the process, they've shifted from a cold-war mind-set of following rigid doctrine to a new approach that requires flexibility and creativity.

When Anderson tasked Capt. Todd Tatum to lead his company in clearing enemy weapons caches in the palm groves outside Naquib, a town in Diyala, the company commander responded with an unexpected request: set fire to the palm groves.

"I was like, 'What?!'" recalls Anderson, who comes off as the friendly guy next door rather than a hardened battle commander.

With the thick undergrowth, the mission would be dangerous. Tatum explained that he could get the landowner's permission and burn away the underbrush without damaging the trees. After some discussion Anderson agreed and managed to get approval from his commanders, who initially shared his first response. The mission became hugely successful and was a critical step that enabled many displaced people to return to Naquib.

Military to cultivate creativity


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