Thursday, December 28, 2006

"Wasta", rapport -- Tribe to tribe war fighting

A surge of 20,000 - 30,000 troops in early 2007 is a bad idea for a number of reasons, many sufficient in isolation to discourage strongly the idea. The United States has an underresourced military in terms of equipment. Present troop deployments, among all forms of the Army, are approaching the limits of the Pentagon's policy. For some units, they are deploying more quickly than policy suggests. It is possible that additional troops will improve the security situation in Baghdad, but that did not happen in the summer. Nor are there sufficient troops to improve security throughout the country. If a post-surge military is forced to curtail operations in Baghdad, the insurgents that hid in Hit or Baquba will re-emerge.

A huge force of 500,000 American troops could substantially change the game in Iraq, as would the infusion of billions and billions on reconstruction.

Those resources are not available.

Two Pentagon experts wrote in today's Washington Times:
It's time to alter U.S. strategy by putting USSOCOM generals and admirals truly in command of the global war. And in Iraq, conventional forces could best serve by providing ground, air and sea support to USSOCOM and Iraqi security forces and sealing Iraq's porous borders with hostile and/or dubious neighbors in Iran, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to prevent foreign jihadists, arms and sophisticated munitions from entering the country.
Special forces work up-close with Iraqis, building relationships whereas traditional combat units fight bad guys when they are visible.

The Washington Post noted the contrast in September:
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."

The real battles, he said, are unfolding "in a sheik's house, squatting in the desert eating with my right hand and smoking Turkish cigarettes and trying to influence tribes to rise up against an insurgency."
Earlier this week, TIME observed that one tribe has joined sides with American forces:
Tasked with clearing Ramadi of insurgents, MacFarland and the officers under his command had been looking for local allies to help with the fight since they arrived in the summer as Ramadi became an urban battleground. Seemingly from nowhere Sittar, the leader of the Albu Risha tribe, volunteered himself — and the thousands of followers loyal to him. Shortly before MacFarland met Sittar, a tribal alliance led by the sheik had come together and issued a manifesto denouncing al-Qaeda in Iraq and pledging support to American forces. MacFarland had heard about Sittar and his movement, which the sheiks call the "Awakening." And after a few meetings with Sittar, MacFarland felt he had a friend he could trust.

Soon an agreement was struck. U.S. forces would build and secure a series of police stations in Ramadi, where insurgents had run off the cops almost entirely. In return, Sittar would send recruits, hundreds of them, to join local security forces, which MacFarland wants to see take the lead in the battle to regain control of the city. MacFarland admits that he was a bit skeptical about Sittar's commitment to cooperating with U.S. forces. But month after month through the fall, police volunteers turned up, just as Sittar promised. An estimated 500 recruits joined the revamped police training program for Ramadi in November, bringing the number of overall new volunteers to around 1,500. Compare that figure to enrollment in May, when roughly 40 men signed on to a police force then numbering only about 150 officers in Ramadi. "Sheik Sittar has delivered on every single thing he has promised me," says MacFarland. "He's a leader."

MacFarland says his pact with Sittar is bringing gains in Ramadi, which remains the latest insurgent stronghold in Anbar Province. But, helped by U.S. forces, local police for the first time in recent memory are taking to the streets, where they fight and sometimes even capture insurgents.
Your war plan has to take into account the situation on the ground as it is, not as you'd like it to be. Surging a small increase of forces for a short period of time (indeed any period of time with a clear ending, or an implicit ending as a result of force fatigue) is a very Western, nation-state response to the problems in Iraq. Yet, the problems in Iraq are splintered (cracked) along sectarian and tribal lines. Getting in close, with people who have language training, and building rapport are the only prudent steps at this point. American forces can augment tribes willing to denounce attacks on civilians, and American forces can keep their eyes on those tribes.

This sort of approach may yet work. Large amounts of combat forces are extremely counterproductive. They should not be withdrawn from the country, but they should have a low profile and augment smaller teams. It's time to think of our own presence in the country as one of the tribes. How can we get the other groups to work with us?

Ultimately, a political solution is the only way to end the violence. However, politics won't be possible until the most powerful tribe in Iraq starts drawing allies closer to its side and further isolates extremists.


Blogger mikevotes said...

I'm not all too sure of the cooperation of the Sunni tribe leaders.

They are cooperating/using the US when outsiders cut into their turf and power, but their larger long term interest is still against the current governmental structure.

So, as soon as Al Qaeda in the area is significantly degraded, these guys go back to being enemies.

The deals with the Americans are deals of utility. They're not working against an insurgency, just against their rivals.

(Much like the Shia gangs in the south used to tip the British to their rivals to gain control of criminal activities and territory.)

Just my take after watching a number of these periods of cooperation by different tribal groups.

Look at Tal Afar. The US conducted a major temporarily successful operation with the aid of local tribve leaders to push out a lot of outside smugglers and criminals who were getting rich working the border smuggling routes. But once that was done, the local leaders put in their people, and the crime and violence returned.

Maybe I'm just in a cynical mood today.


4:46 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

Your cynicism is well deserved, Mike.

I don't think we'll see the Iraq of Bush's dreams, but I do think we can undo some of the damage by taking out the groups that are the most violent.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Chuck said...

I agree with Mike. The Sunnis and Shia are using us to further their own ends. We can't trust any of them and the only way to regain control is to smoke them.

I read the part about the billions of dollars we would have to infuse for reconstruction and it set my teeth on edge. We have no obligation to rebuild Iraq. This is something we did after WW2 because the whole continent of Europe was destroyed and in Japan we had a huge guilt complex because we nuked them. In my opinion we would have a lot less problems if we had just packed up and gone home and let them rebuild their own countries. It bought us nothing but ingratitude and envy.

I posted a little piece on my blog you might find interesting/ humorous.

5:15 PM  
Blogger mikevotes said...

But, please let me add, keeping the longer term issues in mind, we should definitely take advantage of any information while we can get it. (keeping in mind its inherent bias.)


6:45 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

Chuck, Mike --

Your comments are interesting and I greatly appreciate them. I am going to expand this entry in the coming days, in response to the issues you raise.

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the record, the shaykh's name wasn't "Sittar" .. it was Abdulsattar. Abdulsattar ar-Rishawi

10:56 AM  

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