Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Paper planning tigers

Ladies and Gentleman, we have a timetable. The New York Times:
President Bush said today that he was “not satisfied” with the situation in Iraq and that the United States was shifting its tactics and working on a timetable with the Iraqi government that includes political measures to stem some of the violence.

“As the enemy shifts tactics we are shifting our tactics as well,” said Mr. Bush, speaking at a news conference at the White House a day after the American ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, laid out a timetable for political measures he said the Iraqi government had agreed to take.
This is poor analysis. This conveys that the enemy is adapting tactics requiring the United States to counter. That might be true, for example the insurgency(insurgencies) have used different detonators for improvised explosive devices depending on countermeasures used by our military. Also, I have read about enemy IED behavior following two paths. One is a dead drop of the components necessary for an IED. I believe an individual goes the the area and constructs a device. This was portrayed recently by a CNN embed. There are also specific areas that are set for an IED. Several different insurgents construct the device and plant it in stages. A hole is dug. Someone drops a device. Someone covers the hole. Some devices are detonated with garage door remotes. Some with cell phones -- those can be jammed. Some are set to explode when sufficient weight is applied by a passing vehicle.

Those are tactics. They shift quickly and our military is very good as adapting to those without the advice of Tony Snow and George Bush.

The problems in Iraq are much more complicated than these shifting tactics. At the level of the administration and senior military leadership, the Iraq plan confronts huge obstacles. To confront these obstacles, the U.S. and the Iraqis have agreed on a set of goals and a timetable, the New York Times:
America’s top military and civilian officials in Iraq said today that the Baghdad government has agreed to a timetable for a series of milestones to be pursued in the coming year, including cracking down on Shiite militias, completing a “national compact” between competing political groups, persuading Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms and settling contentious issues like the division of oil revenues.
Here are the bullet points:

1.) Disarm the militias

2.) Rework the constitution

3.) Disarm the insurgency

4.) Share the wealth

These points should all sound familiar. They have been the political objective of the United States from the beginning of the Iraq-lead government. It seems that the United States, with some Iraqi approval and involvement, has begun to increase pressure on Sadr's very problematic militia. However, Prime Minister Maliki is playing an odd public-game in the press. The AP:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. and Iraqi forces on Wednesday raided Sadr City, the stronghold of the feared Shiite militia led by radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki disavowed the operation, saying he had not been consulted and insisting ''that it will not be repeated.''

The defiant al-Maliki also slammed the top U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Iraq for saying Iraq needed to set a timetable to curb violence ravaging the country.

''I affirm that this government represents the will of the people and no one has the right to impose a timetable on it,'' al-Maliki said at a news conference.
This might be bluster meant to placate Sadr. If it is, it will not work. Australia's ABC News notes this:
The US military said Iraqi special forces backed by US air strikes conducted the raid in the Sadr City district of Baghdad "to capture a top illegal armed group commander directing widespread death squad activity".

Unusually, the US statement specifically said the raid had been "authorised by the government of Iraq".

But Mr Maliki, who is under mounting pressure from an impatient Washington to curb violence so US forces can start to go home, said there was a "lack of coordination" in the raid.
It would be wonderful to find out if this was authorized and who was the party that agreed to it.

In my previous post, I discussed how combat power in Iraq limits the ability to clear areas, hold them and then build political, social and economic infrastructure. That is the only solution, the only way to succeed in Iraq. The amount of combat power necessary to achieve these three phases in Iraq (indeed, just in Baghdad this summer) has increased. Meanwhile, the amount of available combat power lags behind, Michael Gordon of the New York Times:
But that laudable goal seems far removed from the violence-plagued streets of Iraq’s capital, where American forces have taken the lead in trying to protect the city and American soldiers substantially outnumber Iraqi ones.

Given the rise in sectarian killings, a Sunni-based insurgency that appears to be as potent as ever and an Iraqi security establishment that continues to have difficulties deploying sufficient numbers of motivated and proficient forces in Baghdad, General Casey’s target seems to be an increasingly heroic assumption.

On paper, Iraq has substantial security forces. The Pentagon noted in an August report to Congress that Iraq had more than 277,000 troops and police officers, including some 115,000 army combat soldiers.

But those figures, which have often been cited at Pentagon news conferences as an indicator of progress and a potential exit strategy for American troops, paint a distorted picture. When the deep-seated reluctance of many soldiers to serve outside their home regions, leaves of absence and AWOL rates are taken into account, only a portion of the Iraqi Army is readily available for duty in Baghdad and other hot spots.

The fact that the Ministry of Defense has sent only two of the six additional battalions that American commanders have requested for Baghdad speaks volumes about the difficulty the Iraqi government has encountered in fielding a professional military. The four battalions that American commanders are still waiting for is equivalent to 2,800 soldiers, hardly a large commitment in the abstract but one that the Iraqis are still struggling to meet.
In a sense, the Bush administration deserves credit for establishing a sound plan. That is where the credit ends. We now have another sound-on-paper plan, according to David Ignatius:
Some months ago, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was explaining to a senior Bush administration official his plan for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq over 12 months, in consultation with the Iraqis. "We're going to do the same thing," the senior official confided, "but we're going to call it victory."


So what are the right guideposts for a gradual American withdrawal from Iraq? How can the United States, in its search for an exit, avoid compounding the mistakes it made in invading Iraq? To help light the way, we are blessed with a deus ex machina in the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, headed by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and ex-congressman Lee Hamilton.

A starting point is to understand what the United States is actually doing in Iraq now. A strategy of phased withdrawal is already underway -- on paper. The latest affirmation was yesterday's proposal by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey of a security timetable to transfer control to the Iraqis in 12 to 18 months. The plan envisions a "national compact" among Iraq's different factions. By the end of this year, they would agree on terms for demobilizing militias, sharing oil revenue and easing de-Baathification rules. It all looks sensible -- on paper.

The problem is that this approach hasn't been working. Since January Khalilzad has been prodding Iraqi leaders in the Green Zone to make precisely these compromises. But out in the real world, the hopes for reconciliation have fallen apart, for a simple but terrifying reason: Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites are so enraged that they have stopped believing compromise is possible.

How will withdrawal plans deal with the reality of this sectarian hatred? The administration's answer has been to try to build up the Iraqi military so it can impose a monopoly of force. But that hasn't been working, either. The Iraqi troops simply can't match the brutality of the insurgents and death squads. The U.S. military can do the job, but the cost in American lives is becoming unacceptable. If we are serious about a withdrawal timetable, we will have to accept Iraqi solutions, ragged and violent though they may be.
If we are attempting the same plan, those four points of compromise and disarmed militias, then we should address why the plan has not worked to this point. The answers to that one are simple: 1.) combat power. I am not talking about another division or two, which is what we could do, but an increase of many orders of magnitude. Iraqi combat power -- we clearly have seen in Balad, Amarah and Baghdad -- has not proved sufficient. The best case planning of General Casey still assumes that this will change. 2.) The second factor required in the potential re-building or Iraq is time. This is not a timeline of 12 to 18 months, again that is best-case on a limited goal. This timeline is five to ten years.

The president's grasp on the reins of power is about to slip. The four goals, while reasonable, are not attainable given the political and military positioning of the United States. We must realize this and therefore must alter that positioning. In fact we must do this NOW. The amount of combat power necessary to clear, hold and build has increased during the summer. This has been demonstrated by the deployment of coalition forces in Baghdad, and their lack of success in securing the capital. Violence has increased throughout the country. Militias and the insurgency grow more powerful. Hence, more power is needed to clear and hold. Azzaman Online:
Iraqi tribes are getting more and more involved in the sectarian strife that is tearing the country apart.

Both Arab and Kurdish tribes still wield influence in the country and many thought they could play a decisive role in halting the current bloodshed.

But the tribes, like other sectors of the society, find themselves drawn into the current sectarian struggle.

Kurdish and Arab tribes in the northern city of Mosul and restive oil-rich city of Kirkuk fight each other and Sunni and Shiite tribes across the country are also involved in the fight.

Affiliation particularly among Arab tribal hierarchy has little to do with sectarian divisions as many major tribes have both Shiite and Sunni members.

But the ferocity of the present strife and its heavy toll in casualties is setting them apart.
The United States would have to greatly expand its combat power and the timeline for Iraq involvement -- two steps that may not be possible in our political climate. Or, the United States has to figure out a different set of goals in Iraq. That new set could be as limited as a phased withdrawal, over the horizon. Yes, that would be the Murtha plan -- something designed to attack al Qaeda positions in al Anbar and to prevent a broad, regional conflict.

Sole responsibility for the overreach in Iraq and the failure to adapt resides with the president. He is the "decider".

The ramifications shall be global.


Blogger Chuck said...

You include a lot of statements by journalists about what will work and what will not. I would be interested in what insurgencies they have actually been involved in and what was their role.

I have been involved in counter terrorism and know what it is like to try to grasp smoke. I place very little credence in armchair generals who have never actually picked up the pieces of a comrade or taken a diemboweled village chief and his family down from a post.

It is very easy to analyze the words of the President in the context of a safe office and pass judgements based only on feelings. It is an entirely different matter to make those judgements based on knowledge.

5:03 PM  

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