Snakes on a plane
Austin Bay links to the charts used by General Petraeus to accompany his testimony before Congress. Three charts deserve a closer look. The first shows the dramatic increase in "Caches Found and Cleared". In insurgent warfare, an arms cache represents the potential combat power of its cells. The cache is the foundation upon which its armed struggle is founded. The state of an insurgency's arms cache is a good index of its fighting power and information security. The more caches it has, the greater its fighting power. The fewer caches found the better its information security and population control.
The spike in cache discoveries represent vast withdrawals from the insurgent's combat bank account. They are also an indication of the insurgency's inability to protect this most precious of assets. Interestingly, the steady rise in the number of caches found began before the Surge. But in any event, the chart clearly shows that something very bad is happening to the enemy infrastructure.
But caches can be replenished if supply lines to the sources of arms remain open. This second chart shows the effect of the campaign against the Sunni insurgency's line of communication. The obvious difference between the left panel of the chart, representing December 2006 and the right panel, representing March 2008 is the reduction of the Euphrates River insurgency ratline.
The Euphrates enemy line of communication, as I wrote before in the "River War", was based upon a series of towns along its banks, many of which are now familiar names to American audiences. The stepping stones went through Qaim, Ramadi and hooked around Baghdad through Fallujah to the southern belts. These have been reduced and garrisoned by reliable Iraqi Army units. The desert line going through Ar Rutbah and terminating at Ramadi has also been dismantled, so that generally speaking the Western ratlines have been taken apart.
The Sunni insurgency's line of communications along the Tigris is in better shape, although it is too appears to be in the process of fragmentation. Because forces used to hold the Euphrates line have to be maintained while the Tigris is cleared, the reduction of the Eastern side will have to await the generation of new Iraqi forces. The Iraqi Army is slated to add 16 battalions between March and December, 2008.
The last chart, evocatively labeled the "Anaconda" chart describes the mental command model Petraeus has used to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq. This chart is important for two reasons. First it shows the thinking which manifested itself in the squeeze against the caches and the squeeze against the enemy lines of communication. The Anaconda chart was the idea. The first two charts are examples of the execution. But second and maybe more significantly, the Anaconda chart represents a known example of an apparently successful strategy against al-Qaeda. To all those who say that al-Qaeda is invulnerable; or maintain that a distributed insurgency is unstoppable; or claim that no response against Islamic terrorism is possible there is the counterexample of the Anaconda Chart.
A few observations about this Chart are in order. First, it is a strategy designed against the AQI; to explicitly cut it off from Syria. It makes no claims about its effectiveness against the Shi'ite milita threat in the South whose wellsprings are in Iran. Secondly, it makes no claims to generality. What the chart illustrates is the way to take down the AQI in Iraq.
But imagine for a moment you were the national security adviser of Barack Obama asking yourself what the Anaconda chart implied about the global strategy against terrorism. We find that "engagement" or diplomacy has a place in Petraeus' strategy. (It is in the 12 o'clock position of the chart). So far so good. But what to do about "information operations", "kinetics", "intelligence" and "religious engagement"? In other words, where does one fit in activities like spying on the enemy, misleading them, debating them, killing them, building indigenous forces against them and criticizing -- where necessary -- their religion? How feasible is it to do this from Kuwait -- where all forces are to be withdrawn at the rate of one or two brigades per month? And how popular will such activities be with the Democratic base?
Those who believe arranging a Muslim summit with the new President or visiting hostile heads of state is the answer to winning the War on Terror will find from the Anaconda chart that engagement is part of the answer but only a part; and a small part. The rest unfortunately consists of activities that are politically incorrect, expensive or may lead to casualties.
That unpleasant circumstance means that whatever the operational experience in Iraq, whatever has been shown to work or not to work, the search must go on for the Magic Bullet. Because the war in Iraq must be ended Now and a solution to the war on terror must be found Now, "Anacondas" need not apply. The political and psychological requirement is for the anti-Anaconda: the quick fix.
Part of the implicit promise of Change is that that We Can Find a Better Way. Well maybe we can. And they're going to bet the farm on it.
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