Before 2004, General George Casey had never been in combat and had only scant experience with the Middle East. But President George W. Bush nominated him anyway to one of the hardest jobs in the world: command of the US military effort in Iraq. Two years later, he is still in command, and while the shift in strategy that General Casey has overseen has generally been praised, the violence in Iraq continues to spiral out of control. US strategy in Iraq is created and implemented by a huge cast of characters including the White House, the Defence Department, the State Department, the army, the marine corps and Central Command. But General Casey has become the public face of the US occupation for the past two years, and has played a vital role in both its successes and failures. After an easy invasion in 2003 and a relatively quiet occupation for several months, by 2004 the situation in Iraq had spiralled out of control. In the spring, Sunni extremists in Fallujah ambushed four American private security guards, killed them, strung the bodies from a bridge, then took them down and burned them. The attack was filmed and the footage shocked Americans. The US military attempted to root insurgents out of the city, but failed. Shortly thereafter, it emerged that US military prison guards had been humiliating Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, creating a public relations catastrophe for the military. In Washington, the administration had begun to lose faith in Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, then commander of American forces in Iraq, and thought that General John Abizaid, a highly regarded Lebanese-American in charge of the US military across the Middle East, was spending too much of his energy on Iraq. 'Sanchez was a miserable failure and Abizaid had failed to do anything about the man and the mess he created,' said retired colonel Douglas MacGregor, a prominent commentator on army affairs. Mr Bush decided to replace the three-star General Sanchez with the four-star General Casey, who was then serving as the army's vice-chief of staff. Sending a higher-ranking officer was a sign that the administration knew it needed higher firepower in Baghdad. 'When I asked 'Why is General Casey being sent over there?' I was told by someone very highly placed in the army that it was to make the trains run on time,' said Mr MacGregor. General Casey, the son of a two-star general who died in a helicopter crash in Vietnam, joined the army after studying international relations at college. He did not intend to make a career of the army, but moved up the ranks through mainly planning and policy jobs. As he rose higher, he became well known around Washington, having done Pentagon tours on the army and Joint Staff. He was confirmed easily by the Senate despite his lack of combat experience. 'I've learned how to think competitively and how to operate against a thinking enemy, and that has great carry-over into combat operations,' General Casey told The Washington Post shortly after he was confirmed. He was also loyal to the administration, Mr MacGregor said. 'He's a 'can do, yes sir, let's get it done' personality who's willing to do whatever it takes to make the secretary of defence happy,' said the retired colonel. General Casey had proved his loyalty to the administration during the run-up to the Iraq war, according to respected military writer Thomas Ricks in his new book, Fiasco. As planning for the Iraq war progressed in late 2002, some army officers quietly started to rebel, arguing that Iraq had nothing to do with the 'global war on terror' they thought they were fighting. General Casey, then the chief of strategic plans at the Joint Staff, laid down the law, wrote Ricks, citing an unnamed aide. 'Look, this is part of the 'war on terror',' General Casey said. 'Iraq is one of those state supporters, and it is a state that has used weapons of mass destruction.' During his Senate confirmation, General Casey admitted that he did not know the answers to many of the hard questions facing the US in Iraq then - how many troops did the US need there? Was the strategy the US was employing a good one? - but said he would learn on the job. And in the first year of his command he largely hewed to General Sanchez's strategy, which was to focus on killing and capturing insurgents. That experience led him to suggest that despite many calls in the US for an increase in the number of American troops to try to quell the violence, this was not the answer. 'What you saw for the next 12 months [after he took over] was large-scale raids - battalion and brigade-sized operations that just create more enemies. So by the fall of 2005 ... he said, 'More soldiers are not the answer',' Mr MacGregor said. But as the violence increased, General Casey and his advisers began to look more seriously at their strategy and how to fight an insurgency. The last insurgency the US had fought was the Vietnam war, and it had been a painful experience. The lesson the army took from Vietnam was to never fight a popular insurgency again. Throughout the 1970s, '80s and '90s counter-insurgency doctrine was ignored, and the army focused on what it was best at: fighting against other large armies like that of the Soviet Union. But a small group of army intellectuals began to challenge that myopia as the war in Iraq worsened. General Casey brought in advisers like Kalev Sepp, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School who studied past insurgencies and how they were fought. He came up with a series of rules for fighting insurgencies - almost all of which the US Army was breaking in Iraq. The rules included living among the population, focusing on intelligence-gathering rather than on attack, and placing the best officers as advisers to indigenous forces. Towards the end of last year, General Casey established a training centre for counter-insurgency - known as the Coin Academy - north of Baghdad and required every commander in Iraq to attend a five-day course there. Under General Casey, the US also focused more attention on development of the Iraqi army and police. Some commanders in Iraq, following the principles taught at the Coin Academy, have succeeded in driving insurgents out of their areas and developing good relations with the Iraqi population. But the army is a tradition-bound institution, and change comes very slowly. In any case it is probably too late for the US, Mr MacGregor said. '[General Casey's] focus for the last 12 months has been on the Iraqi military and the government ... I also think that's a losing proposition and there's no chance of success,' he said. On Tuesday, General Casey held a press conference in which he acknowledged that the US may need to send additional troops to bolster the approximately 144,000 there now. Mr MacGregor believes the move is not in fact a precursor of a longer war, but the opposite. The unstated strategy, he said, is to increase troop strength on the ground and then launch a new offensive as a last-ditch effort to achieve success. 'The generals have been lying to themselves and the country for years and how do they get out of those lies? They have to do something spectacular in an effort to reverse the situation,' he said. 'That will fail, more people will be killed, more damage will be done and nothing will be achieved ... and there's nowhere to go but home.'