Saturday, September 16, 2006

Reconstructing Col. Devlin's report (on reconstructing al Anbar)

Colonel Devlin's report on the situation in al Anbar, Iraq, is clearly a document of importance. I have taken some time to piece together a mock-up of what I think it would look like. My sources are the reporting of Thomas Ricks and Michael Gordon, of the Washington Post and the New York Times respectively. I took both stories and placed them on one word processor document. I then removed additional news items, like the deployment of the Stryker Brigade out of al Anbar. Next, I augmented some points made in these accounts of the report with passages from the interim Field Manual on counterinsurgency operations (FMI 3 07.22). I also added a reference to a recent Op Ed concerning the limitations of what America can do with our present military levels -- namely, we're stretched thin.

It is my hope that I have replicated some of the material one would find in Colonel Devlin's report. There is no way for me to know whether I have. However, what I have put together is based on the reporting from those two newspapers, with speculative links and analysis clearly offset by "[CE]" for "Copy Editor".

My mock-up:
An effort to piece together Devlin’s report on al Anbar (Dated 8/16/2006)

(NYT) The political and security situation in western Iraq is grim and will continue to deteriorate unless the region receives a major infusion of aid and a division is sent to reinforce the American troops operating there, according to the senior Marine intelligence officer in Iraq. [CE: According to Lawrence J. Korb and Peter Ogden, that division is not available.]

(WP) [The] prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there, said several military officers and intelligence officials familiar with its contents. [CE: The report may not have as pessimistic a tone as this passage. It may request another division. But, as that is not an option given security needs in Baghdad and the present strain on the military, then the pessimistic conclusion may be derived from the need stated in the report and the available response to that need.]

(WP) One Army officer summarized it as arguing that in Anbar province, "We haven't been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically -- and that's where wars are won and lost."

(FMI 3 07 1.1) An insurgency is organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict (JP 1-02). It is a protracted politico military struggle designed to weaken government control and legitimacy while increasing insurgent control. Political power is the central issue in an insurgency.

(WP) Devlin reports that there are no [CE: He probably wrote “practically none” or some such.] functioning Iraqi government institutions in Anbar, leaving a vacuum that has been filled by the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has become the province's most significant political force, said the Army officer, who has read the report. Another person familiar with the report said it describes Anbar as beyond repair; a third said it concludes that the United States has [CE: Politically?] lost in Anbar.

(NYT) Feeling marginalized in the new Iraq, the Sunnis in Anbar have generally lost faith in the new Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. The Sunnis’ “greatest fears have been realized,” the report says.

(NYT) The Sunnis’ suspicion of the government makes the task of forging a political reconciliation more difficult, and has also complicated one policy option … dividing the country into Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni enclaves. Such a plan would not be welcomed by Sunnis, since they would not trust the central government to share proceeds from oil sales, the assessment says.

(WP) Devlin offers a series of reasons for the situation, including a lack of U.S. and Iraqi troops … said people who have read it. These people said he reported that not only are military operations facing a stalemate, unable to extend and sustain security beyond the perimeters of their bases, but also local governments in the province have collapsed and the weak central government has almost no presence.

(FMI 3 07) 1-3. The goal of an insurgency is to mobilize human and material resources in order to form an alternative to the state. This alternative is called the counterstate. The counterstate may have much of the infrastructure possessed by the state itself, but this must normally be hidden, since it is illegal. Thus the counterstate is often referred to by the term “clandestine infrastructure.” As the insurgents gain confidence and power, the clandestine infrastructure may become more open, as observed historically in communist regions during the Chinese Revolution, in South Vietnam after the North Vietnamese 1972 Easter Offensive, and in Colombia in the summer of 1998.

(NYT) One factor that has hampered the American counterinsurgency effort has been the limited number of American troops. As a general rule, a substantial number of troops are required in a counterinsurgency campaign to protect the population from attacks and intimidation by insurgent groups. [CE: This remark follows a comment about military officials providing details of the report to the Times. We may assume that this is an important comment in the report. Also, if the need for more troops is cited in the report, then this assumption about counterinsurgency tactics most likely is stated in the report as well.]

(NYT) American forces can generally maneuver where they want and are fighting to regain control of Ramadi, the provincial capital, neighborhood by neighborhood. But there are areas of the province where the Americans have not established a persistent presence, the assessment says.

(FMI 3 07) [CE: On a successful counterinsurgency] 2-10. Security of the populace is an imperative. This is security from the influence of the insurgents initially. The population is then mobilized, armed, and trained to protect itself. Effective security allows local political and administrative institutions to operate freely and commerce to flourish.

(NYT) Without the deployment of an additional division, “there is nothing MNF-W can do to influence the motivation of the Sunni to wage an insurgency,” the report states, according to a military officer familiar with it. MNF-W stands for Multinational Force-West, the formal name of the Marine command.

(NYT) The assessment describes Anbar as a region marked by violence and criminality. Except for a few relatively bright spots, like the towns of Falluja and Qaim, the region generally lacks functional governments and a respect for the rule of law.

(NYT) Although there is economic growth in relatively secure areas, much of it can be attributed to the American-supported reconstruction effort. The level of economic activity in the province is just a fraction of what it was before 2003, the assessment says.

(NYT) As the situation has deteriorated, insurgent attacks have increased. The report describes Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as an “integral part of the social fabric” of Anbar. The organization, which is predominantly made up of fighters who are native Iraqis, is flush with cash, much of it earned from black market or criminal activity.
If anything, this report is probably a synthesis of what was already well known by commanders in al Anbar and some experts. Devlin, I assume, is using basic principles of insurgency v. counterinsurgency analysis: economics, politics, security, territory under control. No American military commander, as far as I know, has said that the report is factually inaccurate. They have said that the report addresses only al Anbar province. Here are some reactions in recent days from US commanders.

Army Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, in Stars and Stripes:
“If you read the report, I think it is right on target,” he said. “I don’t think there is any military strategy alone, any kinetic operations alone which will create the conditions for victory. I think the real heart is that there are economic and political conditions that have to improve out in Al Anbar and in the rest of the country.”
What Chiarelli has said is crucial: military operations are not going to solve the problems in al Anbar. However, he also agrees with the report, which states that additional forces are needed to increase the security and economic benefits that American troops can bring to the region. Those forces are not presently available. For this reason, the province will only see small success stories while problems in other parts of Iraq are addressed. The broad direction of al Anbar will continue to deteriate toward the benefit of the insurgency.

General Zilmer as reported in the Washington Post (via Seattle Times):
"I have seen that report and I do concur with that [intelligence] assessment," said Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer, speaking to reporters Tuesday by telephone from his headquarters near Fallujah, Iraq. He said he found "frank and candid" the analysis by Col. Pete Devlin, the Marine intelligence chief in Iraq, who concluded that prospects for securing al-Anbar province are dim.

While the U.S. military can achieve tactical victories daily, the general continued, the insurgency will be "problematic" in western Iraq until comparable success is achieved in the political and economic arenas.
Col. Sean MacFarland, in Stars and Stripes:
“As such, [the report] naturally focused on the bad or potentially bad aspects of Anbar.”

More importantly, MacFarland wrote, the [press account] “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.”
MacFarland's remark that actions in Ramadi (and perhaps all of Anbar) are at a level of a "supporting effort" is a telling excerpt. In a sense, we can view Colonel Peter Devlin's report as a tautology: there are insufficient troops and resources (for reconstruction) to wage a classic, effective counterinsurgency in al Anbar. Therefore, the military is unable to wage a classic, effective counterinsurgency in al Anbar.

Those resources have been delegated to Baghdad. Politically speaking, Baghdad must be secured. We can conclude, in addition to what these commanders are willing to say, that the United States military is very worried about the potential for the government of Iraq to fail.

Major Jonathan Graff has written a thesis on counterinsurgency doctrines in general and the application of those doctrines in the early phase of the occupation of Iraq:
The manual Land Operations, Volume 3, Counter-Revolutionary Operations, Parts I and II, makes some interesting observations about the nature of urban guerrillas in particular. It states that the urban guerrilla uses tactics designed to erode the credibility and morale of the government and government forces in order to induce a “climate of collapse” where the people, faced with the real threat of a collapse of urban life and livelihood, will rally to whatever organization seems best able to restore order out of chaos (Ministry of Defense 1977, 14).
There is ample evidence that the insurgency in Iraq has imperiled the Iraqi government. Sectarian militias are more powerful than at any other time during the occupation. Baghdad has seen a thousand or so sectarian killings each month since the attack on the Samarra shrine.

Colonel Devlin's report is an important piece of analysis, yet it also states the obvious. No commander disagrees with his thoughts: al Anbar is politically and economically in the hands of the insurgency, with the exception of the few places that the United States can hold in force. It will take a great deal of time to change that in al Anbar -- but it can be changed.

However, what we see implied in the reaction to the report is the acceptance that the situation in al Anbar is dire for the short term. Important commanders state that we can make "tactical" progress -- most likely busting up the more flagrant elements of the insurgency and recruiting some of the population to our side. At this point, resource allocation is focused on Baghdad. The unwritten conclusion in Colonel Devlin's report is that the situation is also dire in Baghdad.


Blogger mikevotes said...

That is just great blogging.

Man, that must've been alot of work.

Of course I'm going to link it.

I did express my interpretation of your conclusion, and added on my bit as well.

Let me know if I missed it somehow, I'll be happy to correct.


5:07 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...


5:41 PM  
Blogger zen said...

Agreed. This is a superb, succinct summary of events in Iraq, and the reflections of the minds and voices operating there. It's refreshing to get the guts of the story without the political spin we get here. Thanks again for your hard work.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Chad said...

Good job.

I have some thoughts in response that I will post tomorrow.

11:58 PM  

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