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Key officer is quitting Army for think tank

Email|Print| Text size + By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post / January 17, 2008

WASHINGTON - One of the Army's most prominent younger officers, whose writings have influenced the conduct of the US troop buildup in Iraq, said he has decided to leave the service to study strategic issues full time at a new Washington think tank.

Lieutenant Col. John Nagl, 41, is a coauthor of the Army's new manual on counterinsurgency operations, which has been used heavily by US forces carrying out the strategy of moving off big bases, living among the population, and making the protection of civilians their top priority.

A Rhodes scholar, Nagl first achieved prominence for his Oxford University doctoral dissertation, which was published in 2002 as a book titled "Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons From Malaya and Vietnam." The introduction to a recent edition of the book was written by General Peter Schoomaker, at the time the Army's chief of staff.

Nagl led a tank platoon in the 1991 Persian Gulf war and served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 as the operations officer for an Army battalion in Iraq's Anbar province. "I thought I understood something about counterinsurgency," Nagl told the New York Times Magazine in January 2004, "until I started doing it."

Nagl said in a brief telephone interview this week that he has filed his papers requesting retirement. "I love the Army very much," he said, but he added that he decided to leave after discussing his future with his family. "It's not the strain of repeated deployments," he said, but "a belief that I can contribute perhaps on a different level - and my family wants me to leave."

He said he plans to become a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a centrist think tank recently founded by Kurt Campbell and Michele Flournoy, Clinton-era Pentagon officials.

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