Wednesday, December 20, 2006

To surge, or not to surge

There is a great deal of news that will profoundly impact both Iraq and the United States.

The newly minted Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, is on his not-so-surprising "surprise" tour to Iraq. There are persistent stories of additional troops that will be sent to Iraq. The Decider has decided that he was wrong in late October. He has also Decided that he needs to expand the size of the ground warriors in the American military, a policy advocated by the opposition party in 2004. There are subtle, perhaps too subtle, changes in Iraq's internal politics as well. This is where we shall begin...

Internal politics (drastic improvements necessary for any success)

The New York Times:
BAGHDAD, Dec. 19 —Iraq’s most venerated Shiite cleric has tentatively approved an American-backed coalition of Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties that aims to isolate extremists, particularly the powerful Shiite militia leader Moktada al-Sadr, Iraqi and Western officials say.


Sistani has grown increasingly distressed as the Shiite-led government has proved incapable of taming the violence and improving public services, Shiite officials say. He now appears to be backing away from his demand that the Shiite bloc play the dominant political role and that it hold together at all costs, Iraqi and Western officials say.
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has made some minor changes to the executive component of the Iraqi government. These changes are not all that encouraging, so reports the Los Angeles Times. Instead of a major change in the security establishment, Maliki appears to be rearranging some deck chairs, as the saying goes.:
"The security dilemma is not an issue of ministries," said Abbas Bayati, a member of Maliki's Shiite Muslim coalition. "The issue is beyond the government and ministries. The real challenge is to find reconciliation and political understanding. It's not possible to accuse the security ministries of poor performance."

Word of the plan emerged amid swirling lawlessness throughout the country that left at least 68 Iraqis and two U.S. troops dead Tuesday in shootings, bombings and sectarian death-squad killings.

And thieves made off with nearly $1 million in government money.

Given Iraq's dire state, some Iraqi politicians said they were surprised by the limited nature of Maliki's reforms.

"I'm astonished," said independent lawmaker Mithal Alusi. "Do we have a problem in tourism so we need to change the minister of tourism? Or do we have a security problem? Or do we have economic problems?"
Control in the province of Najaf, Sistani's base of operations, has been passed to the Iraqi government. The BBC reports:
The senior US commander present, Maj Gen Kurt Cichowski, said the handover was a sign of the growing capability of Iraq's security forces.

But Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie, sounded a note of caution.

"If we don't handle the responsibility, history will destroy us," he said.
A "surge" of additional forces (very dubious unless politics move forward as well)

The Christian Science Monitor:
When it comes to force levels, finding 15,000 to 30,000 additional troops for Iraq is not the real problem, say officers and experts outside the government. The White House is considering such a surge as a way to counter rising sectarian violence.

More difficult is deciding how long to keep those extra units there. After years of war, US active duty ground forces are stretched to the limit. Many National Guard and reserve personnel can't be deployed to Iraq. Recruiting more soldiers would be an expensive and time-consuming process.

"The other issue is equipment," says Kevin Ryan, a retired Army brigadier general and fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "Even if you could magically have 30,000 more troops, you don't have the equipment to give them."
Michael Gordon (always worth a close read) of the New York Times (please note the emphasis on my part):
By most accounts, a decision to substantially increase the American military presence in Baghdad would signal an important strategic shift. For years, the generals have argued that their military strategy could not work unless the Iraqis simultaneously made progress toward political reconciliation, a development that American commanders calculated would reduce the support among Sunnis for the insurgency and ease sectarian tensions.

In effect, the advocates of sending more troops have turned that logic on its head by arguing that the Iraqis cannot make political headway toward overcoming their sectarian differences until military action is taken to blunt the Sunni-led insurgency, and security is improved. That could lessen the increasing dependence on militias by Iraqis who feel the need for protection against sectarian violence.

The idea of sending reinforcements to Baghdad is not a new one. The United States dispatched a Stryker brigade and several Army battalions to the capital in August as part of a joint American and Iraqi operation to improve security there. Those additions brought the number of American troops involved in the Baghdad operation to 15,000.

Sectarian killings initially declined, only to soar after death squads adapted to American tactics.


Advocates of sending additional forces acknowledge that troops can be only part of the answer. To be effective, the strategy must include efforts to train the Iraqi Army and deal with political and economic issues. But they also say that too few reinforcements were sent this summer to decisively improve security.

“It was not done to the necessary scale and not to the point where the people felt they were secure and protected,” said Daniel Dwyer, a retired major who served with the Army’s Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in Baghdad and Tal Afar. “The people right now feel that there is no tactical design toward securing them, that we come in and conduct operations that are short-lived and leave, and their problems don’t go away.”

Another problem with the Baghdad security operation, critics say, is that it depended on Iraqi policies that were never adequately carried out. The Iraqi Army supplied only two of the six battalions that American commanders requested. Iraqi-funded reconstruction projects to generate jobs and win popular support have been too few or too late.

To address these shortfalls, some advocates of sending reinforcements have proposed that the United States substantially expand its military mission. There are a variety of possible options for adding troops.

Gen. Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff, has argued for sending four or five additional brigades to Baghdad, effectively doubling the American military presence there. The United States would also change its concept of operations in Baghdad.

Instead of limiting themselves to conducting patrols from bases in the capital, American troops would take up new positions in 23 mixed Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods to better protect the population. Millions of dollars in new American reconstruction assistance would be provided. Iraqi forces would also be involved in the operation.

American forces would not initially confront the Mahdi Army, which is controlled by Moktada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric. Once security was improved, Prime Minister Maliki would be encouraged to negotiate with the Shiite militias to stop attacks against Sunnis.

There is a risk that an adversary could wait out the American forces, evading major combat until American troops levels began to subside. For that reason, General Keane has argued that the United States should be prepared to carry out the expanded mission for 18 months, or perhaps longer, a far cry from the increase of several months that some Democratic lawmakers support.

Whether the Bush administration will opt for such a demanding strategy is far from clear. It would be an approach with huge political risks and one that would dramatically escalate American involvement in Iraq. President Bush has, however, taken one step that is a prerequisite for any effort to sustain expanded military operations in Iraq: he has signaled his intention to increase the size of the American armed forces.
A bigger force (necessary for any increase, necessary without an increase)

The Washington Post:
President Bush acknowledged for the first time yesterday that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq and said he plans to expand the overall size of the "stressed" U.S. armed forces to meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists.

As he searches for a new strategy for Iraq, Bush has now adopted the formula advanced by his top military adviser to describe the situation. "We're not winning, we're not losing," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. The assessment was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, "Absolutely, we're winning."

In another turnaround, Bush said he has ordered Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to develop a plan to increase the troop strength of the Army and Marine Corps, heeding warnings from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill that multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are stretching the armed forces toward the breaking point.
The president has changed his tune very quickly. What was his motivation for the optimism before the election? It was pure politics. This is most discouraging. He has always valued politics over the actual conduct of and potential success with this war.

The Los Angeles Times:
Countering any talk that a beefed-up force would necessitate a draft, Army officials have said they believe at least an extra 20,000 soldiers a year could be recruited through pay incentives.

"The president is inclined to believe we need to increase the overall size of the Army and the Marines," said the official, adding that "how big and how soon" would be up to Gates. "The genesis is his long-held belief the global war on terror is going to be a long one and we're going to need a military capable of sustaining our effort to keep the country safe."
The New York Times:
Any decision to increase the size of the Army and the Marine Corps would do little to meet the need for more troops should Mr. Bush order a significant increase of American forces in Iraq in 2007, as it takes considerable time to recruit, train and deploy new troops. Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, said last week that the Army could probably grow by only 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers per year.

Army officials have estimated that for each addition of 10,000 soldiers to the force, it would cost about $1.2 billion.
Abizaid to step down (he is no advocate of the "surge")

The Arabic-speaking CENTCOM commander is to step down. The Los Angeles Times:
"If you're going to change the strategy, in fairness to [Abizaid], let him go," said a former senior Pentagon official who has worked closely with the general. "He's given it all he's got, in terms of personal sacrifice."

Abizaid's planned departure clears the way for new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to recommend his own commander, a decision current and former Defense officials say is nearly as important as the new administration strategy expected to be unveiled by Bush in January.


Abizaid's four-year term as chief of the Central Command, or Centcom, was to end in July. But some close to the Army have speculated in recent weeks that his term might be extended to see through implementation of the administration's new Iraq strategy. However, a Centcom spokesman said that earlier this year, Rumsfeld asked Abizaid to stay only until "early 2007."


In Gates' search for a successor, the candidate most closely associated with Abizaid's strategy is Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, who is also expected to leave his current assignment early next year. Although Casey was considered the favorite to become the next Army chief of staff under Rumsfeld, Gates could decide to move him to the Central Command for continuity, officials said.

Critics of the current war effort say making Casey either chief of staff or Centcom commander would send the wrong signal — essentially endorsing a strategy that the president acknowledges has failed.

"It would be a terrible thing," said one military analyst with close ties to the Pentagon. "He's the guy who's losing the war."

The leading candidate from the counterinsurgency advocates is Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, a highly respected military thinker who led the 101st Airborne Division during the Iraq invasion in March 2003.

In his current job as head of the Army's leading military schools, Petraeus oversaw the rewriting of the Army and Marine counterinsurgency field manual, which was issued last week and argues that while killing insurgents is often important, the most vital task in a counterinsurgency is winning the support of the population.

The manual also argues for moving soldiers out of large bases into smaller outposts among the local population. Such manpower-intensive tactics run counter to those now used by Abizaid and Casey. Currently, troops clear dangerous Baghdad neighborhoods with regularity but, because of their limited numbers, must quickly turn over long-term security responsibilities to unprepared Iraqi units, which frequently results in backsliding.

Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who last week left Iraq as the head of day-to-day military operations, is also closely associated with such tactics, having implemented them when he was commander of the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad's Shiite slums. He is also seen as a top counterinsurgency candidate if Petraeus is chosen for another job in Iraq, such as replacing Casey.

"I do think there are two camps," said the military analyst. "I think there is a Petraeus camp, and Chiarelli has been in it, and there is definitely an Abizaid-Casey camp."

Both Chiarelli and Petraeus have gained key backing from the Army's influential alumni, such as retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who recently briefed Bush on his views of Iraq policy, and former Army Secretary Thomas White.
There is also a movement for smaller, more ecclectic units. These would not be infantry formations, but rather battalions with engineers, civil affairs specialists and I assume linguists. There would be some traditional combat power in these formations as well. I am not certain where Petraeus or Chiarelli fall on this matter. I do know that Ret. General Paul Eaton endorses this plan as do some subordinate officers in active service. (More in this old post.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to Cordesman "to surge, or not to surge is not the question" Somewhat interesting article. Oddly enough could only find the full article in a blog posting for the Chicago Trib

10:49 AM  

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