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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In small steps and without fanfare, the U.S. Army is adapting its training to "the war of the flea," the type of hit-and-run insurgency that is gripping Iraq, where more than 2,000 American military personnel have been killed.
Counterinsurgency training, military experts say, largely vanished from the curriculum of Army schools after the Vietnam War. It began a slow comeback after the Iraq war, which opened with a massive ground and air assault, turned into a protracted conflict of ambushes, bombings and hit-and-run attacks.
"Now, there is counterinsurgency (instruction) at every level, from the warrior leader course (for front-line sergeants) through to the war college," said Brig. Gen. Volney Warner, deputy commandant of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
One of the books that will be required reading at the college -- an essential career step for all officers who want to rise above the rank of major -- is a textbook by David Galula which was first published in 1964.
It deals with the central dilemma facing counterinsurgency forces: To break an insurgency you need intelligence about the insurgents from the population. But the population will not talk to counterinsurgency forces unless it feels safe from retribution from the insurgents. It does not feel safe as long as insurgents are active.
In Iraq, assassinations and bomb attacks have killed thousands of people seen as sympathetic to the Americans or working with the government. The Iraqi civilian death toll has topped 50 a day on average for many months.
Galula's book first appeared at about the same time as another treatise on counterinsurgency that is now high on contemporary military reading lists because of Iraq, "War of the Flea" by Robert Taber.
Taber likened guerrillas to fleas and conventional armies to dogs. The dog is always at a disadvantage against the flea -- he has "too much to defend, too small, ubiquitous and agile an enemy to come to grips with. If the war continues long enough ... the dog succumbs to exhaustion and anemia without ever having found anything on which to close its jaws or to rake with its claws."