Washington – The sheen of a stunning military victory in Iraq has been tarnished by the 12 months of long, hard occupation of the country since Saddam Hussein was driven from power.
The invasion launched on March 20 quickly displayed the United States military's unequalled power. The US campaign also revealed worrying intelligence gaps.
And the world's most powerful military is being tested now in a different kind of war against shadowy insurgents who fight with roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, sniper fire and devastating suicide attacks.
“This is a war of intelligence and perception,” General John Abizaid, commander of US forces in the region told a Senate commiitee this month.
As it digests the lessons of the campaign, the US military is struggling to learn how to fight an adversary it only dimly understands, in an alien environment in which US soldiers are isolated by culture and language.
The high tech wizadry defined US combat power has taken a back seat to low tech, manpower intensive soldiering. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called it “a long, hard slog.”
The military has turned to technology for answers to some problems: it is working on jammers to neutralise remote controlled bombs and other devices to destroy incoming rocket propelled grenades.
Stunned by the loss of more than 550 troops, the army has stepped up production of armoured Humvees and rushed more body armour to the conflict zone.
The downing of helicopters with rocket-propelled grenades and surface-to-air missiles has prompted a review of aviation tactics and technology.
The military also has added more intelligence specialists and translators and sought to fuse its intelligence gathering to get a clearer picture of the insurgents.
But human intelligence has emerged as one of the shortfalls exposed by the war, and not only because of the highly publicised failure to find the weapons of mass destruction that the American government used to justify the war.
“We do not have enough intelligence professionals in our nation,” Abizaid warned. “We must increase our human capacity. We must increase our ability to have translators and interrogators in the field.”
“As we fight this global war on terrorism, if we don't do that, we are putting the nation at risk,” he said.
Another broad lesson that the US military has drawn is that US forces alone are not enough to provide security in a place like Iraq.
American defence officials say Iraqis need to be out front to put an Iraqi face on security and because they know much better than Americans what is happening in their communities.
It is a lesson that appears to have been learned only after Paul Bremer, the US civilian administrator in Baghdad, disbanded the Iraqi army last May, scuttling pre-war plans to salvage some units to provide internal security.
The US military has trained about 220 000 Iraqis for the police and other security forces. But military officials acknowledge it will be months before they are strong enough to stand alone.
A year after US forces stormed across the Kuwait border, experts still debate whether the US military could have avoided its current problems by deploying a larger force.
Military leaders maintain that General Tommy Frank's risky decision to launch the invasion before the arrival of the 4th Infantry Division in Kuwait caught the surprised Iraqis with their defences down.
“Speed kills – not just physical speed, but mental speed and situational awareness,” said Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, whose command in Norfolk, Virginia is studying the lessons of the war.
“It reduces decision and execution cycles, creates opportunities, denies an enemy options and speeds his collapse,” he said.
The campaign succeeded brilliantly on the whole. Long supply lines were exposed to attack and the force nearly ran out of fuel and water. But Baghdad fell after a three-week dash by US armoured forces through sandstorms and surprisingly determined resistance by regime supporters.
The speed of the campaign and the regime's abrupt collapse created another problem, however.
The small US force proved incapable of controlling the looting and lawlessness that swept the capital after the fall, causing irreparable damage to public confidence.
The absence of an all-out battle for Baghdad also meant Iraq's elite forces had survived in the Sunni triangle north where they regrouped to wage an insurgency that has claimed more than twice as many US casualties than the combat phase of the war itself.