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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Counterinsurgency: A grunt's eye view 


Princeton University has given rise to some of the smartest counterinsurgency minds in the Untied States Army. Lt. General David Patraeus (a Princeton Ph.D. who spoke on campus last year) was widely regarded -- at least by the press (see, e.g., Thomas Ricks' book Fiasco) -- as more effective in the practice of counterinsurgency than his peers. Then there is Lt. Pete Hegseth '03, who has written a grunt's-eye-view essay about the significance of boots on the ground and the lack thereof in the Princeton Alumni Weekly. It is the best "tactical" description of the importance of more soldiers that I have read.

I volunteered to serve in Iraq because I believe in our mission there. I share the president's conviction about the Iraq war – we can and must win, for the Iraqi people, for the future of our country, and for peace-loving people everywhere. But I'm frustrated. America is fighting with a hand tied behind its back. Soldiers have all the equipment we need – armored Humvees, body armor for every body part, superior technology, etc. – but we simply do not have enough troops in Iraq, and we need them now.

After witnessing two national elections during three months in Baghdad, my Army unit moved north to Samarra, where we spent eight months sowing the seeds of progress. While we had success in uprooting the insurgency and building the local government, it wasn't enough. We had just enough troops to control Samarra and secure ourselves, but not enough to bring lasting stability or security. "Not enough" became the story of my year in Iraq.

The future of Samarra, and Iraq as a whole, ultimately lies in the hands of her people – their sympathies are the ultimate prize in this war. No matter how many insurgents we kill, city leaders we meet, or policemen we enlist, it is all for naught if we cannot provide security and stability. Tribal sheikhs told us that even within Samarra – deep in the Sunni triangle – a vast majority of people just want peace and order and will side with whoever can provide it. Right now Samarrans rightfully question who that will be.

On the question of "footprint":
I also understand calling for more troops is contrary to conventional thinking inside government and the military. Supporters of the current approach argue sending more troops would further inflame anti-American sentiment, incite more violence, and retard independent progress. My experience suggests otherwise. American troops are tolerated, even welcomed, when they effectively provide security; but their presence is cursed when it does not accompany progress. Violence persists not because American troops are present, but because our presence is futile. Many local leaders asked us, "How come the most powerful country in the world cannot defeat local criminals and thugs?" They suggested our failure was part of a larger conspiracy to keep the Iraqi people suffering.

Read the whole essay, and then try to tell yourself that we don't need a bigger Army.

12 Comments:

By Blogger lilfeathers2000, at Tue Nov 14, 11:01:00 AM:

My prayers is we don't let the Iraqi people down again. That we don't cut and run.

@>~~,~~'~~~~~~
Blessings
~~~~~`~,~~~<@  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Tue Nov 14, 11:15:00 AM:

A pretty damning indictment of Rumsfeld's approach is what I'm reading here. How do you reconcile this with your support for Rumsfeld, TH?  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Tue Nov 14, 11:28:00 AM:

I don't think its the number of troops at all. It's the RoE's. Keeping people like Phrizz from going balistic over war crimes turned out to be more important to us than actually dealing with the enemy.

What I've seen is this: PC will kill us one way or another.

Here's an example. Many of the military bases in Iraq suffer routine mortar attacks. America posseses technology, called counterbattery radar, that can pinpoint the launch sitet of these mortars shells. Only we didn't fire back for fear of killing "civilians".

Sorry boys but more boots with the same RoE's just means more America casualties and more American frustration and no more success in the war.

another example? Bing West describes a process that the Marines used just before the launching of Fallujah Two. They used unmanned drones to follow truck loads of armed men to safe houses. The intent of the Marines was destroy these houses using stand off weapons such as arty. But headquarters rejected the vast majority of these targets. Why? Because we might have killed "civilians" If there were so called civilians in Fallujah at the time the marines launched thier assault they were either stupid or outright supporters of the insurgency. but leave us not kill them because that would outrage Dan Trabue and Phrizz, right?

All this pontification makes me damned angry. The left in this country did everything it could to hamstring us and then complained incessantly about the failure they themselves created.

The troops in Iraq right now, with the right RoE's would change the landscape in a month. but noooooo, let's blame "Rummy" and "Bushie".

the peace weenies are winning while our civilization is losing. We are staring a major conflagration in the face and still we hear from Phrizz and Dan about war crimes.

Nonsense. If you don't want to win I strongly suggest you buy a koran and learn how to kneel.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Tue Nov 14, 11:28:00 AM:

I don't think its the number of troops at all. It's the RoE's. Keeping people like Phrizz from going balistic over war crimes turned out to be more important to us than actually dealing with the enemy.

What I've seen is this: PC will kill us one way or another.

Here's an example. Many of the military bases in Iraq suffer routine mortar attacks. America posseses technology, called counterbattery radar, that can pinpoint the launch sitet of these mortars shells. Only we didn't fire back for fear of killing "civilians".

Sorry boys but more boots with the same RoE's just means more America casualties and more American frustration and no more success in the war.

another example? Bing West describes a process that the Marines used just before the launching of Fallujah Two. They used unmanned drones to follow truck loads of armed men to safe houses. The intent of the Marines was destroy these houses using stand off weapons such as arty. But headquarters rejected the vast majority of these targets. Why? Because we might have killed "civilians" If there were so called civilians in Fallujah at the time the marines launched thier assault they were either stupid or outright supporters of the insurgency. but leave us not kill them because that would outrage Dan Trabue and Phrizz, right?

All this pontification makes me damned angry. The left in this country did everything it could to hamstring us and then complained incessantly about the failure they themselves created.

The troops in Iraq right now, with the right RoE's would change the landscape in a month. but noooooo, let's blame "Rummy" and "Bushie".

the peace weenies are winning while our civilization is losing. We are staring a major conflagration in the face and still we hear from Phrizz and Dan about war crimes.

Nonsense. If you don't want to win I strongly suggest you buy a koran and learn how to kneel.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Tue Nov 14, 11:55:00 AM:

Please excuse the double post. An error in comment box lead me to believe that my comment had not been posted.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Tue Nov 14, 12:26:00 PM:

Skipsailing, I suspect you are right... "more boots with the same RoE's just means more America casualties and more American frustration and no more success in the war."

Of course, it's probably also correct to suggest we aren't engaged in a war anymore, if we ever really were. It's more like a police action (with public works thrown in for good measure.) In my estimation, our combat forces should never have been asked to become policemen (much less construction workers.) We blinked during Fallujah one and have kept our eyes half-closed to reality ever since.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Tue Nov 14, 01:13:00 PM:

Yes, the decision to back off on fallujah one was a huge mistake, but then the decision to assault fallujah in the first place wasn't well thought out either.

I see two seperate chores in Iraq now. There is still much to be done via the application of lethal force. the Americans retain their well deserved reputation for being both deadly accurate and deadly. Armed conflict continues to be a part of the Iraqi puzzle.

But I also agree that police work is now important. The problem is that the Iraqis have struggled to put together an effective and "clean" police force. We're still trying but corruption and clan loyalty are so ingrained in the population that it will take quite a while to develop a force that the Iraqis themselves can trust.  

By Anonymous davod, at Tue Nov 14, 03:51:00 PM:

I knew the things were going wrong when the army decided it needed new battalions of military police. Military police? Infantryman first everything else second. I do not think Rumsfeld decided to make our guys into MPs.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Nov 14, 04:00:00 PM:

Creating new units of MPs was a strategic decision. The line of reasoning went something like, "our troops are more likely to be pulling peace-keeping and counter-guerilla missions than regular combat. An infantryman in an ambiguous peacekeeping mission will be more likely to shoot first and ask later, which could be disastrous for PR. MPs, which are trained to handle run of the mill criminals and weird situations, will be better in larger numbers." Not unreasonable, I think.

My humble opinion is that our forces are being restrained against their will by the civilian leadership in order to try to force the Iraqis to stand on their own two feet. Unfortunately, the government has one foot in the Shi'i resurgence already and isn't making much in the way of progress.

If we were to take aggressive action against Sadr and co. (who ARE in the pay of Iran and who DO seek to compromise the government) it would become a bright political nightmare probably climaxed by an Iraqi demand to leave the country and maybe even a lasting enmity; but the militia problem would be solved, because they would be dead or gone.  

By Blogger Mycroft, at Tue Nov 14, 05:43:00 PM:

One of the mainstays of counterinsurgency doctrine is minimum force.

If your force becomes too large and unwieldy, then the commanders become terribly out of touch with the local situation as they become absorbed in directing the operations of their own personnel, which is a far more familiar and welcome task. Also, with a long view, a minimal troop presence forces the locals to stand up and take charge, instead of allowing them to become grievously dependent on your supplies and firepower.

However, it is also of primary importance to use the troops you do have wisely: to put them on the ground, in support of your political goals. So I wonder: what would have happened had those 500 troops Lt. Hegseth talks about been deployed in Samarra proper, bunking down with the locals, instead of coagulating at a large base? And, also, would Lt. Hegseth's achievements in Samarra better stand the test of time if the City Council always had a large American presence to fall back on, or if they learned, slowly, painfully, but surely, to stand up on their own?

Too few troops, or too few in hidden bases away from the locals, and you never get a handle on the situation. Too many, and the locals become dependent on you even as you become alienated from them. On these considerations does counterinsurgency turn.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed Nov 15, 08:12:00 PM:

Looks like I'm in good company...

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061115/ap_on_go_co/congress_iraq

"Gen. John Abizaid instead urged quick action to strengthen Iraq's government, predicting that the vicious sectarian violence in Baghdad would surge out of control within four to six months unless immediate steps were taken."  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Thu Nov 16, 05:39:00 AM:

Mycroft has it right. That is one reason the Marines have been as successful as they've been, both in training the Iraqis and in counterinsurgency - they are a smaller force, but what they happen to be particularly good at is getting out and getting to know the local people. You can't just be a guy with a gun in your hand, and you also have to be willing at some point to trust them to stand up and take some responsibility.

One of the more touching things I heard back from some 3-time combat vets over there was how much, in between being frustrated by inevitable cultural differences, they came to trust and admire their IA counterparts. By the time they left they were willing to put their lives in their hands - no questions asked. For many of them, training the IA was the thing they were proudest of in their time over there.

I can't think of a finer testament. But of course you won't read much about that in the WaPo or NYT. Too positive.  

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