Parthian Shot 2
John Keegan has an article in the Telegraph describing plans to use a surge force of 50,000 to inflict damage on Iraqi militias and insurgents. Prior to large scale withdrawal. If Keegan's reportage on the plan is correct, then the "surge" will be the historical equivalent of the Linebacker aerial offensive in Vietnam; probably destined to be as tactically brilliant and as strategically pointless.
Breaking: Admiral William J. Fallon will replace General John Abizaid at Central Command and LTG David Petreaus will replace George Casey as MNF-I commander in Iraq according to ABC News.
President George W. Bush is about to launch a final push in Iraq with a large reinforcement of American troops in the hope of crushing the insurgency before America embarks on a large-scale withdrawal of force from the country.
The size of the force is commonly set at about 40,000-50,000 troops. The aim of this surge will be to inflict severe damage and loss on the problem-making elements within Iraq, including both Shia and Sunni militias, and to increase training of the Iraqi security forces under American supervision.
The arguments against the surge are that it might exacerbate the violence without deterring the perpetrators from persisting in their attacks and that it might result in a sharp increase in American casualties with no observable gain. The arguments for trying a surge are that it is defeatist to concentrate on withdrawal from Iraq without attempting a final effort to make military force work. ...
Hitherto most military activity by coalition forces has been reactive rather than unilateral. Typically, units have become involved in fire fights while on patrol or on convoy protection duties. During the surge, the additional troops would take the fight to the enemy with the intention of doing him harm, destabilising him and his leaders and damaging or destroying the bases from which he operates. ... The British contingent recently demonstrated that such overwhelming tactics have their effect. After their surprise move into Basra with massed columns of fighting vehicles and Challenger tanks, they succeeded in dominating the chosen area and evoking respect from the local militias.
In any case, the sending of such force will be a necessary preliminary to any reduction in strength, since it would be necessary to cover the withdrawal. Retreat is a complicated operation of war which paradoxically always involves far more troops if it is to be brought off successfully. The reason for that is that the spectacle of withdrawal tempts the enemy to interpret the time of withdrawal as an indication of weakness, and so risks infliction of passing shots and the launching of farewell attacks. It is vastly important to have additional troops on hand at such a time.
The surge reinforcements may therefore have a dual purpose to cover the reduction and also to deal final blows at the source of the disorder prior to departure. American commanders certainly will not wish to leave Iraq, tail between legs. We may therefore confidently expect to see the number of American troops in the theatre increase suddenly from 150,000 to 200,000, if only for a short time. An important side effect of the surge for which Western leaders will hope is that it will increase the size and capability of Iraqi security forces, which it will be vital to include in the operation. For it is upon them that the stability of Iraq and its elected government will depend when the size of Western involvement is reduced.
Keegan notes the difficulty of finding the additional 50,000 men for the surge; and an increase of this size must be temporary because sustaining an additional force of this magnitude ultimately requires a far larger force behind it, to allow for rotation. But while America struggles to find an additional source of kinetic power, it continues to fail to mobilize all the sources of national power, in particular information warfare power and political power, to complement the efforts of the troops. At an interview on the Hugh Hewitt show yesterday, I emphasized that "troops are great but they can't do it alone". The surge which John Keegan describes is very disheartening because it does not differ in strategic intent from Andrew Sullivan's prescription of a retreat to Kurdistan or elsewhere, except that it inflicts on the enemy one last and parting shot -- Keegan's "final blows at the source of disorder prior to departure" -- before lowering the flag. Given this telegraphed intent, there may be no inclination for the enemy to fight at all. All they need do is quietly wait for the surge to collapse from its own weight and crawl back up when the lights are turned out.
The "surge" described in Keegan's article will be largely a kinetic effort aimed at destroying enemy fighting units. It will not have any obvious information warfare component. For example, the kind of video likely to emerge from US efforts will be documentary, unedited and taken from a tasteful distance to avoid any disturbing imagery of enemy dead; like this amateur video of Marines calling air and artillery down on an enemy position. On the other hand, the enemy will purposefully shoot video from the future surge engagements will be professionally edited, musically scored, and designed to emphasize US casualties. Such as this enemy video which is complete with rap accompaniment. (Hat tip an informed reader for both links. But caution to readers, the enemy video is graphic). This will affect not only the Western audiences, whose news outlets will lap it up, but equally importantly, the Iraqi and regional audience. An earlier post noted that information warfare must ideally be targeted locally as well as globally. Whatever the proposed surge of 50,000 men accomplishes on the battlefield, the enemy superiority in information warfare will ensure that only one message will emerge. Rather than increasing the confidence of the Iraqis, the proposed kinetic surge, if unaccompanied by information operations for example, will hardly present the picture of a fearful force; only the image of a draggled, desperate force in its death throes.
Part of the problem, one that is openly acknowledged by the Baker report, is that the "sources of disorder" are partly in Syria and Iran, beyond the reach of any deployment to Iraq. The "surge" John Keegan describes can do nothing to address these sources; and is part of its ultimate pointlessness. But more fundamentally, surging the troops represents a continued reliance on the one American weapon that works while neglecting to acquire the capabilities whose lack has handicapped American efforts so far. It means using one dimension of national power -- kinetic warfare -- while refusing to develop the other sources: political, informational and economic warfare -- that are needed for victory in the war against terror. The one essential surge that matters is a surge in the will to win. At an interview on the Hugh Hewitt show yesterday, I mused that America literally had the power to march on Teheran and hang Ahmadinejad in three weeks -- not that it would but that it could -- because it could do that to Saddam, who headed a country of equivalent military power. But without the will to win, there would be no efforts of any decisive sort, nothing to subvert the Ayatollahs, not even radio programs beamed across the border. "The flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak."
Wars are won in the mind; and the mind of Washington as described by John Keegan appears to want a cover operation for withdrawal. It is not a "surge" so much as the arrival of the Rear Guard. It may be unfair to characterize it as the Andrew Sullivan strategy with a band flourish and colored spotlights added for Exit Stage Left and I wish it weren't so, but that's what it looks like.