Friday, September 15, 2006

A better counterinsurgency to counter our enemies

Earlier this week, a great deal of attention was cast on a report by Colonel Devlin of Marine intelligence. The Washington Post broke the story. The New York Times had an informative follow up report. General Zilmer, Devlin's commanding officer, said that he agreed with the report's findings, but added that the report was not intended to analyze important positive steps, the Los Angeles Times. The general rightly said that American forces were not defeated in al Anbar.

Another United States commander has now commented on the report, Stars and Stripes:
Col. Sean MacFarland, who leads the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in Ramadi, said in an e-mail response to Stars and Stripes that the initial news story “failed to put the report in its proper context, which was to inform commanders, like myself, of possible threats to our operations.”

“As such, it naturally focused on the bad or potentially bad aspects of Anbar.”

More importantly, MacFarland wrote, the story “fails to understand that senior commanders must choose their fight, where to be strong and where to accept risk.

“Clearly, Baghdad is the most important place in Iraq. Ramadi is only important to the extent that it influences events in Baghdad,” he wrote.

MacFarland characterized the daily fighting in Ramadi as a “supporting effort” and that troops there are “making steady progress against a determined enemy in Anbar.”
From all this, we see a great deal of consensus among commanders and the general information conveyed in these news stories. Military leaders point out weaknesses in aspects of the journalistic accounts (to be anticipated based on the nature of the story), but they do not object to the report's assessments. Moreover, we now see MacFarland explaining that al Anbar is placed at a lower priority so that forces can focus on Baghdad. Based on the lengthy retention of the Stryker Bridage in that city, there is on-the-ground evidence for this shift in priorities. Additonally, there is a report today that trenches will be dug around Baghdad and additonal checkpoints established, AP.

In that city, there have been at least 130 sectarian killings in recent days.

At this point, the usual rhetoric we see from elected officials is pointless. They are, unfortunately, arguing about past decisions. Clearly, the "stand up/stand down" strategy has not been applied well. There ought to be accountability, and it will likely begin with the November elections. However, when additional oversight is brought to bear on the Bush administration, it should have a sound tactical basis. It should be wrought so that an effective counterinsurgency is waged in Iraq. There have been pockets of success, as detailed in today's Washington Post:
Green Berets skilled in working closely with indigenous forces have enlisted one of the largest and most influential tribes in Iraq to launch a regional police force -- a rarity in this Sunni insurgent stronghold. Working deals and favors over endless cups of spiced tea, they built up their wasta -- or pull -- with the ancient tribe, which boasts more than 300,000 members. They then began empowering the tribe to safeguard its territory and help interdict desert routes for insurgents and weapons. The goal, they say, is to spread security outward to envelop urban trouble spots such as Hit.

But the initial progress has been tempered by friction between the team of elite troops and the U.S. Army's battalion that oversees the region. At one point this year, the battalion's commander, uncomfortable with his lack of control over a team he saw as dangerously undisciplined, sought to expel it from his turf, officers on both sides acknowledged.

The conflict in the Anbar camp, while extreme, is not an isolated phenomenon in Iraq, U.S. officers say. It highlights two clashing approaches to the war: the heavy focus of many regular U.S. military units on sweeping combat operations; and the more fine-grained, patient work Special Forces teams put into building rapport with local leaders, security forces and the people -- work that experts consider vital in a counterinsurgency.

"This war was fought with a conventional mind-set. The conventional units are bogged down in cities doing the same old thing," said the Special Forces team's 44-year-old sergeant, who like all the Green Berets interviewed was not allowed to be quoted by name for security reasons. "It's not about bulldozing Hit, driving through with a tank, with all the kids running away. . . . These insurgencies are defeated by personal relationships."
Seth Moulton, a Marine officer with two tours worth of experience in Iraq, comments on the SF efforts (my emphasis):
So, what should we do? The obvious prescription to stop the rising violence is more troops, but the wrong kinds of soldiers and tactics only alienate the Iraqi people, strengthening the insurgency. On top of that, the Army and Marine Corps don’t have any extra troops to send. President Bush recently sent more American forces back into Baghdad, another place where militias took over after United States troops were withdrawn too quickly. But they too have to come from somewhere, and in turn we should expect those areas to become more violent.

This makes it all the more important to use the troops we have as effectively as possible.

We need more military advisers, including both Special Forces teams and specially trained conventional units. Our precious few Special Forces troops must focus on mentoring Iraqi troops, rather than on the more exciting diversion of unilateral raids. Some of our best Special Forces units were devoted to hunting down the Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but violence has only increased in the three months since his death. Had that same manpower and money been devoted to training Iraqi troops and stemming the growth of militias, we would have another Iraqi battalion or two ready to take our places.

While consolidating bases is a short-term way to reduce troop requirements, fielding more adviser teams will eventually allow more Americans to come home. American troops embedded with the Iraqis they train usually require less support than conventional units; many rely on the Iraqis for food, shelter and basic defenses. Green Berets in 12-man teams have already replaced entire battalions of conventional forces in some Iraqi cities.

Yet despite the success of advisers, the Army and Marine Corps still have a habit of sending their least capable troops to fill these positions. Many teams have trouble getting essential supplies like weapons and ammunition, even as the Army finds the resources to man speed traps on its ever-growing bases. Only 1 in 30 Americans deployed to Iraq serves as an embedded adviser. We can’t win this war from the Burger Kings and rec centers of our largest bases, nor can we afford the thousands of non-combat troops needed to support them.

Iraq’s militia problems are likely to get worse before they get better, and only a legitimate Iraqi government can rid the country of them completely. But we must be sure we are fighting the war we say we are. Both problems with our current strategy — not waiting for Iraqi forces to be ready, and consolidating our bases at the expense of classic counterinsurgency tactics like small adviser teams — emanate from the overriding concern for bringing the troops home.

Pushing for withdrawal timelines is not helping the struggle in Iraq; encouraging the military to better fight the insurgency will. After all, winning the war would be the best reason to leave.
In short, we need up-close wasta. Now, we may conclude that certain administration officials are not capable of guiding the counterinsurgency (Rumsfeld). A Democratic House or Senate should not pass a resolution assailing the president's competency in counterinsurgency. But, they may comment on the lack of success during Don Rumsfeld's tenure.

To conclude this entry, I'll post (again) from a former counterinsurgency leader now with RAND (my emphasis):
The first law. The objective is the population. The population is at the same time the real terrain of the war. Destruction of the rebel forces and occupation of the geographic terrain led us nowhere as long as we did not control and get the support of the population.

The second law. The support from the population is not spontaneous and in any case must be organized. It can be obtained only through the efforts of the minority among the population that favors the counterinsurgent.

The third law. This minority will emerge, and will be followed by the majority, only if the counterinsurgent is seen as the ultimate victor. If his leadership is irresolute and incompetent, he will never find a significant number of supporters.

The fourth law. Seldom is the material superiority of the counterinsurgent so great that he can literally saturate the entire territory. The means required to destroy or expel the main guerrilla forces, to control the population, and to win its support are such that, in most cases, the counterinsurgent will be obliged to concentrate his efforts area by area.

As the war lasts, the war itself becomes the central issue, and the ideological advantage of the insurgent decreases considerably. The population’s attitude is dictated not by the intrinsic merits of the contending causes, but by the answer to these two simple questions: Which side is going to win? Which side threatens the most, and which offers the most protection?
Which side has the wasta today?

How can we get the wasta back? How great would the benefits be of additional wasta? In all likelihood, if we achieve more prestige in Iraq, Iran will recalculate their nuclear ambitions.


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