Media note: I will be on St. Louis 97.1 TALK with Jamie Allman who has an excellently smart-assed blog called BullMooseAmerica. You can listen live at 0830 am Monday morning at the 97.1 link and I'm pretty sure I have a scoop for Allman about the pro-blogger world.
One of the many problems the Bush administration has made for itself is the inability to control the narrative about the war. A perfect example is that the current effort is known as The Surge, which gives the impression of simply more of the same. The problem is that this has been a completely new and different effort and having it branded as throwing more troops at the problem is unhelpful.
There has been some success in having Gen. Petraeus as the brainiac in charge of the effort, as that makes it difficult to attack "Bush's" strategy. But the fact that we waited more than two years to fight an insurgency with a counter-insurgency (COIN) falls on W's shoulders for not firing Rumsfeld, and those like me who supported him far too long. But now we have a the proper doctrine under leadership committed to fighting it, but do we have the time necessary to make it happen?
It has seemed like Gen. Petraeus and this whole wacky COIN idea just landed fresh on the scene last Fall. He finishes up the new book on COIN doctrine and goes up on Capitol Hill to explain his cunning plan to the dim bulbs in the Senate who overwhelmingly approve this and send him off to Iraq in Jan. and then before the last troops to conduct this new effort have left the US, the disloyal Democrats begin calling the whole thing a failure. Well COIN is hardly new and even before Petraeus, we had the basics down, just ask the Marines, who had a perfectly functional manual that would have been a much better guide than Rumsfeld's plan of Iraqification, even if it is a bit weak on hearts and minds.
So what is Counter-inSURGEncy?
An insurgency can be fighting a sitting government or can oppose an occupying power. Our current situation is a mixture although it leans toward the latter as the Iraqi Government has shown little ability to actually govern. The Shia rebellion at the end of the first Gulf War was an example of fighting a sitting government. Sadaam also showed the most effective method for stopping an insurgency, completely brutal and savage violence to kill all or most of the opposition and their families and immediately break their will to resist. We had that option early in the war when we found heavy opposition in Fallujah and instead of crushing that resistance we pulled back. I am not saying we should have acted like Sadaam and just killed them all for Allah to sort out, I am saying we should have gone in and pummeled any and all who opposed us. We should have done so using the precision fire weapons and rules of engagement to limit civilian casualties that we always use
In addition, let's consider who is an insurgent and who is an innocent civilian. Casualty numbers are often tossed around in the media as if anyone not found with an AK and a couple of RPGs isn't an insurgent. I disconcur, and in many cases civilian casualties are members of the insurgents family and support group. If Akhnard heads out in the street next to his house and lobs a couple of mortar rounds at us, then jogs back inside, well the 2,000 bomb that flattens that building kills no civilians. Anyone in there is actively or passively assisting Akhnard and while it is sad that some of these are actually innocent kids, if he puts his whole family in his fighting position then their blood is on his hands.
Another early COIN test that we failed was when Mookie Sadr's thugs poked their nasty heads up. The whole point of an insurgency is to oppose the formal powers of the state or occupier and show that you are equally able to project force. Sadr's thugs started running around acting like the religious jagoffs that they are, and showing that they were the power. Then they started fighting and killing US troops and there was one good answer to that, Mookie's head on a pike, yet once again we appeased. Throw in the early decision to disband the Iraqi Army and you have three strikes that put us in our current position behind the eight ball.
How do you win a Counter-inSURGEncy?
Mao had the answer to winning an insurgency "The people are like water and the army is like fish,". An insurgency requires that the populace either actively assist or at least not oppose it. This has obviously been the case for us in Iraq as Sunni insurgents, AQI and Shia extremists have been shielded by the rest of the people and we stayed in our bases, venturing out to clear some area of bad guys and then hand security off to Iraq military and police forces either incapable of handling the job, or hopelessly infiltrated by sectarian agents. We would move on to the next target and the area we just cleared would see death squad retaliations by Shia militia members of the security forces, or we would see Sunni and AQI attack and defeat the "Iraqi" forces then retake control of the area.
To defeat the insurgency, you must be in the water swimming with and catching the fishes and that is the simple fact about COIN. It is less about combat power, than cup of tea power. Currently in Iraq many of the insurgent strongholds were maintained through intimidation not allegiance and once we have come in and then put down stakes the locals see that they will not be left to the tender mercies of the insurgents or sectarian security forces. They get to know and trust the US forces who now have skin in the game just like the locals. Now they can point out that there are a couple of terrorists trying to lay low in a house over there. Oh and there are IEDs on that route, and the guys who planted them went that way in a white Toyota pickup. We have heard all along that only the Iraqis can give themselves security, and that is true. But they need us to keep the savages trying to maintain their claw hold at bay while they do this. Once initial security has been established then local security/police forces must be empowered to share and then take over day to day security.
That is COIN pure and simple. You go among the people and share their sacrifices, build rapport and protect them from the barbarians at the gates. Once you have marginalized the insurgents by denying them safe haven to rest, refit, and plan they are much less capable of creating havoc as they are constantly looking out for that Predator drone. This creates a snowball effect as more areas are pacified and the insurgents are driven like salmon to the shallows to be scarfed up easily.
Then and only then can true political reconciliation occur. It is ridiculous to expect Sunni and Shia to make a political deal when every day each side's worst elements compete in a spectacle of savagery trying to win the atrocity of the day award. COIN is designed to first eliminate the insurgent's ability to operate in safety and then to build the people's confidence that our forces are on their side. That sets up the political reconciliation which is the only way to get to an end game.