Perhaps the objection now is that 21,500 troops won't make much difference. It's true that, according to the new Army-Marine Counterinsurgency Manual, effective operations generally require at least one soldier or police officer per 40 or 50 inhabitants. That would suggest doubling our current force of 132,000 to secure Baghdad and the entire Sunni Triangle (population 13 million). But it would be difficult to find that many soldiers in the overstretched and undersized U.S. armed forces.For a long time I've been calling on the White House and the Pentagon to start fighting a classical counterinsurgency much like the British did in Malaya in the 50's or what Gen. Creighton Abrams was pushing in the later half of Vietnam(Until Congress cut off the funds). If we can stick to the techniques of Small War fighting while injecting a myriad of soft power into the mix, I think we have a shot of achieving our goals.
That doesn't mean, however, that the reinforcements Bush is sending are useless. As called for under a plan formulated by military historian Frederick Kagan and retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, the five newly arriving brigades should be deployed alongside Iraqi units to live in Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad. This is a classic counterinsurgency approach focused on securing the populace, and it has never really been tried before in the capital. It could work, especially if the surge is long lasting and if it's coupled with other vital steps — such as increasing the number of American advisors in the Iraqi security forces, instituting a biometric identity card to make it easier to detain terrorism suspects and enhancing the capacity of the Iraqi legal system to incarcerate more violent offenders.
If everything goes right, large swathes of Baghdad could gradually be brought under control. Then American and Iraqi units could pursue a "spreading inkblot" strategy — another classic counterinsurgency concept — to increase the pacified zone outward.
Of course that's a big if. It may be that we still don't have enough troops to successfully carry out this strategy. It may be that we don't have the will to see it through. It may be that we don't have enough reliable Iraqi partners. But considering the massive investment we have already made in Iraq, and the lack of good alternatives, it seems worth one final effort to see if we can salvage something from this dire situation.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
One Piece At a Time
Max Boot has a good column in the Los Angeles Times that notes how a large portion of America(I'm guessing more Americans prefer victory over defeat) and Congress should be very wary of calling President Bush's Iraq policy "dead on arrival" and offering retreat as the only alternative. I think Boot sums up the need to give the President and our military a fighting chance in Iraq when he notes the following: