Sunday, November 11, 2007

Looking Back

Kimberly Kagan has an article in the Weekly Standard entitled "How they did it: executing the winning strategy in Iraq" which is the military history of the Surge. Every history is at heart the story of a journey. The destination in this case, the goal of strategy was simple: "the goal became to secure Iraq's population from violence in order to allow civic and political progress." From the outset it was a politico-military strategy which recognized two essential truths. First, there was no purely military solution to the problems in Iraq. Second -- and less frequently emphasized -- there was no purely political solution either. Unless security by military action could be provided from terrorist gangs, intent on establishing an "Islamic State of Iraq" or sparking a civil war, no political progress could take hold.

Kagan describes the mechanics of the road trip: "how" the destination was reached. The foundation of success was an adequacy of forces. Although the Surge did not provide a very large reinforcement, it provided enough to move on to the offensive. Like an arm wrestling contest, the reinforcement provided a chance to go "over the top". Petraeus and Odierno began a process of bootstrapping: starting by clearing an initial area of enemy and consolidating it, Coalition forces progressively moved onto the next. In the process they acquired a gathering operational and political momentum. Success bred success; the uncommitted got off the fence, enemy sympathizers were dismayed. Like a huge freight train whose hardest job is to overcome inertia the operation slowly left the platform but steadily gathered speed. The Surge was under way.

Like the familiar computer bootstrapping operation the operational challenge was to fire things up in the right sequence. Kagan provides a narrative of events which implicitly reveals howthe coalition decided to proceed. Baghdad was the political center of gravity, not simply for Iraq but international opinion. The capital was staked swept. The surrounding areas were cleared. Enemy logistical lines into it were severed. The campaign raged round the capital city.

... the Baghdad Security Plan ... Commanders positioned the other three additional brigades in Baghdad's "belts," the networks of roadways, rivers, and other lines of communication within a 30-mile radius of the capital. ...

Northeast of Baghdad, almost 10,000 U.S. and Iraqi forces surrounded Baquba and blocked the escape routes from the city along the Diyala River valley on June 18. U.S. forces south of Baghdad conducted clearing operations from north to south along the Tigris River valley, focusing first on the al Qaeda sanctuary in Arab Jabour on June 15. ...

But if the insurgents believed the speculation that the Surge was a limited offensive aimed at momentarily easing the situation in Baghdad, they were wrong. Without skipping a beat the Coalition swept North. Anbar was the next target. As the tribes were rising against al-Qaeda the Coalition simultaneously began picking apart its structure and logistical support. "U.S. forces in August increased the tempo of attacks on al Qaeda in Balad and Samarra. These cities were important to al Qaeda's ability to project force into Anbar." Kagan's narrative shows how familiar types of military operations played a role in the politico-military offensive. The enemy, never the disembodied, evanescent force portrayed in the media, still needed training areas, lines of communication, ammunition dumps, etc to continue combat. Those were purposefully attacked. The following paragraph shows the interplay between combat operations and the goal of achieving a secure environment for the ordinary Iraqi.

U.S. and Iraqi forces cleared 50 villages in the Diyala River valley during the middle of August, many of which al Qaeda had occupied as recently as April. This large operation prevented al Qaeda from reinfiltrating into Diyala from the Hamrin Ridge. U.S. forces cleared the city of Muqdadiya, at the junction of the Diyala and Hamrin Lake, in a follow-on operation in mid-October. They established a new forward operating base near Muqdadiya, so that they could control the Diyala from Baquba to Hamrin Lake with Iraqi assistance.

The enemy, by now alive to the danger, attempted to counterattack. But they had left it too late. Earlier US action had denied them the ability to pick and choose their moment and compelled them to engage in conventional ripostes simply to maintain their operational viability. But in this type of combat they no hope of succeeding at all.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces in August increased the tempo of attacks on al Qaeda in Balad and Samarra. These cities were important to al Qaeda's ability to project force into Anbar. Al Qaeda launched its failed June expedition to recapture Ramadi from this area, which likewise served as a base for the September 13 assassination of Sheikh Sattar Abu Risha. Thirty masked al Qaeda gunmen attempted to overrun a U.S. observation post in Samarra in late August, presumably to regain control over a safe haven or line of communication. They failed.

Somewhere alone the line Petraeus and Odierno had changed the rules of the game. The al-Qaeda were now dancing to an American tune and there was no winning on that ballroom. Then Petraeus speeded up the music. Having swept north American forces rounded and worked South of Baghdad. What made this ferocious tempo possible was a revolution in "maintenance operations". In the past US forces had relied exclusively on Iraqi Army and police forces to hold what had been cleared. That had often failed, forcing American troops to repeatedly clear areas they had swept. But now the coalition decided it would bring new partners into the mix: tribal leaders and citizen groups.

Holding terrain is troop-intensive, and it requires offensive as well as defensive operations. In past years, U.S. forces relied almost exclusively on Iraqi security forces to preserve gains after clearing operations, because of lack of troops and because of the focus on a rapid transition to Iraqis. U.S. forces in 2007 likewise relied on their partner units in the Iraqi army and Iraqi police, and the greater number of Iraqi and American troops meant that more soldiers were available to hold terrain. The cooperation of Iraqi citizens, serving as interim and regular police, increased the ability of all forces to hold terrain.

The rejection of al Qaeda by the Ramadi sheikhs in late 2006 has been widely reported. General Petraeus transformed the tribal movement in Anbar into a national phenomenon supportive of government institutions. U.S. commanders fostered grassroots movements throughout Iraq, methodically negotiating security agreements with local officials, tribes, and former insurgent leaders. They thus achieved one of the major objectives of the counterinsurgency strategy by reconciling much of the Sunni population with the government.

The operational effect of this revolution in "maintenance operations" was twofold. First it vastly increased the number of US troops available for operations. One of the major sources of manpower for the Surge was in fact the economy of force made possible by tribal and citizen partnerships. US troops were free to "move on" and hammer al-Qaeda, relieved of the necessity to hold what had been cleared. The second effect was to make a rapid tempo of operations possible. Coalition forces were able to go on a continuous offensive, often in several places at once. This pace overwhelmed the ability of al-Qaeda to react and adapt. They were being hit faster than they could block; faster even than they could see the punches coming.

But the Sunni extremist groups were not the only enemy. There were the Shia terrorist groups, some of whom were trained and directed from Teheran who had to be dealt with. Quickly shifting to this second front, the Coalition moved against them while it had the momentum.

As the imminent threat from al Qaeda receded, U.S. forces waged an aggressive campaign against Iranian-backed secret cells and extreme elements of Moktada al-Sadr's militia, the Jaysh al-Mahdi. Coalition and Iraqi Special Forces captured and interrogated secret cell leaders throughout Iraq...

...prompted Moktada al-Sadr to issue a statement once again requesting that militia members loyal to him lay down their arms. U.S. and Iraqi forces continued to target rogue elements of the militia that did not respond to Sadr's request throughout September and October.

Although Iraq is far from completely secure, Kagan clearly believes that some sort of victory has been achieved. Time has been bought to build up a stable Iraq. Whether diplomats and politicians can make use of that chance is a challenge still to be met. Kagan writes:

The theater-wide offensives were meant to buy time for the government of Iraq to develop the institutions of governance. The fragmentation of Al Qaeda in Iraq, extremist militias, and secret cells has only just happened. The opportunity to negotiate a political settlement now belongs to the government of Iraq. It is too soon to know what the Iraqis will do. But clearly, this skillful military operation has created new realities on the ground. With violence falling sharply, Iraqis are no longer mobilizing for full-scale civil war, as they were at the end of 2006. Whether the political developments that were always the ultimate objective of the surge can be brought to fruition remains to be seen.


Blogger Unknown said...

Hopefully ,the American electorate won't overwhelm the victory with a surge of stupidity similar to the hard left majority in Congress elected in 1974. These friends of the Cong knee-capped the South Vietnamese with a cutoff of funds and paved the way for the NVA blitzkreig in 1975 Only to be followed by the venal little peanut farmer who put out the welcome mat for radical Islam in the middle east. We have paid for those blunders in foreign policy ever since. God help us not to see a re-play.

11/11/2007 03:38:00 PM  
Blogger Ticker said...

It's interesting to reflect, on Veterans Day, that all bravery can ever buy is time. What we do with that gift of time, so dearly purchased, is always what momentary victory is all about. It's a chance, nothing more.

I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here.

But we are.

It’s like in the great stories. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy?

How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.

Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

What are we holding on to?

11/11/2007 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger reoconnot said...

With respect, you have missed the first essential truth which is that the insurgents offered nothing but tyranny, death, destruction, terror, and extremism whereas America offered freedom, peace, hope and (eventually) prosperity.

Furthermore, Iraqis got to see al Qaeda and America up close and personal and they chose America.

The wonder is that virtually everyone on the left and most of the paleocons thought Iraqis would choose the former over the latter.

And it needs to be pointed out ad naseum that the liberation of Iraq would not have been possible if GWB had not responded to the daily attacks by his betters with a resolve that they could never imagine let alone duplicate.

11/11/2007 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

Or perhaps more cynically, the Americans were not staying as threats to the Sheiks power while AQ certainly was (and hoped to and in some cases, did supplant the Sheiks).

Tribalism started the killing and seemed to have also ended it (when AQ predictably sought to master Iraq and America merely find partners).

Democracy, freedom, liberty? No. Merely a better deal from a power far away and not intent on staying.

11/11/2007 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

They chose Iraq.
Yon says even the Shia resent Iranian meddling, and the Sunni want to help us kill PERSIANS!
Michael Yon Interview.
Transcript is here

11/11/2007 06:53:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Winds of Change in the Military Approach

In recent weeks I have spent time at numerous events with U.S. military personnel across the different services, speaking, listening and watching as the senior officers challenge the assumptions they have help on the war on terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan and other pressing issues.

One of the most innovative new concepts bubbling to the surface is that a great deal can be accomplished in pushing back against Islamist radicals, transnational criminal groups, warlords and militias by recognizing these issues all affect a nation’s sovereignty.

If one recognizes this, then the need to form coalitions built on U.S. assumptions, pressures and cajoling diminishes considerably.

Nations can take actions in their own enlightened self interest to improve or regain their own sovereignty that benefit aspects of U.S. policy, without having to agree on any other policy aspect.

Most nations do not want organized criminal networks corrupting the system. Most do not want their territory to be terrorist enclaves. Most do not want warlords controlling vast swaths of territory.

This concept of helping nations focus on their own national sovereignty issues is liberating from the highly unpopular concepts of “coalitions of the willing” and other policies that have been trotted out in recent times.

Given the weakness of the State Department, the generally-recognized inability of Karen Hughes to advance a coherent agenda on outreach, the weakness of the intelligence community and the hodge-podge on strategic thinking that has often prevailed, the military has been called on to do things that it is not qualified to do and should not be asked to do.

I don’t know how Iraq will turn out or if the situation in Pakistan will lead to a strengthening of al Qaeda. I do know that much creative thinking is now going into the short and long term issues this complex mosaic presents. It is refreshing to see.
-Douglas Farah

11/11/2007 06:54:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

wretchard, I think what a lot of us are holding on to is pride.

Pride in our young men and women who volunteered to defend, protect, and keep the Cradle of Civilization for civilization, on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting themselves in the mud.

Pride in the strength of our horses.

We would have reached this point much sooner if more of us had been on board.

11/12/2007 12:12:00 AM  
Blogger watimebeing said...

What are we holding on to?
According to Kagan, that would be
"maintenance operations".

Which is an awfully ugly way of saying that we gave the indigenous population the tools to make up their own minds, instead of minding or being bent to someone else' bend of mind. Self determination exercised in relative freedom, will always benefit our best interest as well as the best interests of those making the determination.

Whether you call it Risk, reward and responsibility or life liberty and pursuit of happiness, it is a chance to control your own destiny and lay conditions favorable for your tribe/children to succeed.

When a political, religious or social movement (cult) removes the individual from the equation is when things go hell.

It is...self evident?

11/12/2007 02:24:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Petraeus was doing this in his first deployment in Mosul.
Others in Baghdad and Washington DC had other ideas.
Bremmer's ideas were the opposite.

11/12/2007 04:44:00 AM  
Blogger NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

Antiwar narratives-

1. The Iraqis won by themselves, since the Awakening movements were more important than the surge.

2. We didn't need to be there so long, since the Iraqis would have kicked Al Qeada out eventually without us.

3. The Surge was a product of the 2006 elections. Otherwise Rumsfeld's failed strategy would have continued.

Just wait, you'll be hearing all three. It's the same as the people who say the Soviet Union collapsed on its own.

11/12/2007 08:55:00 AM  

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