Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Eighteen Months

Fred Kagan, perhaps fearing that his particular "surge" plan is getting lost among all the other ideas floating around out there, writes an op-ed with retired general Jack Keane in today's Washington Post clarifying exactly what his plan means:
We need to cut through the confusion. Bringing security to Baghdad -- the essential precondition for political compromise, national reconciliation and economic development -- is possible only with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any other option is likely to fail.

I had trouble believing what I was seeing even as I read that paragraph. Kagan honestly believes that the American people will accept a plan that calls for ramping up our forces in Iraq to around 170,000 for another year and a half. It's hard to imagine that many people are going to be okay with another year and a half of casualties along the lines of what we've witnessed the last several months. And why eighteen months? Why not a year? Or two years?
Of all the "surge" options out there, short ones are the most dangerous. Increasing troop levels in Baghdad for three or six months would virtually ensure defeat. It takes that long for newly arrived soldiers to begin to understand the areas where they operate. Short surges would redeploy them just as they began to be effective.

That's an argument for never pulling any soldiers out of Iraq. If we were concerned about soldiers understanding their areas of operation, we'd leave the same units in the same towns and cities for years at a time. And if it takes a year for soldiers to become familiar with the areas they operate in, why would we remove them six months later?
In addition, a short surge would play into the enemy's hands. Both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias expect the U.S. presence to fade away over the course of 2007, and they expect any surge to be brief. They will naturally go to ground in the face of a short surge and wait until we have left. They will then attack the civilian population and whatever Iraqi security forces remain, knowing them to be easier targets than U.S. soldiers and Marines. They will work hard to raise the level of sectarian violence in order to prove that our efforts have failed.
Is this not the strategy the insurgents have adopted for almost the entire occupation? They attack our soldiers as the opportunies present themselves (and as the last few months have shown, there are countless opportunies) but most of their effort is aimed at the government, or those who aid the government, or at civilians, etc. And seeing as how they have waited for three years for us to leave, why would they not be willing to wait another eighteen months? And this argument is premised on the notion that 30,000 troops is enough. After all, Operating Together Forward saw increased sectarian attacks, even as more of our soldiers took to the streets. How did Kagan decide that 30,000 would do what an extra 5000, or 10,000 or 20,000 would not?
Clearing and holding the Sunni and mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods in the center of Baghdad, which are the keys to getting the overall levels of violence down, will require around nine American combat brigades (27 battalions, in partnership with Iraqi forces, divided among some 23 districts). Since there are about five brigades in Baghdad now, achieving this level would require a surge of at least four additional combat brigades -- some 20,000 combat troops. Moreover, it would be foolhardy to send precisely as many troops as we think we need. Sound planning requires a reserve of at least one brigade (5,000 soldiers) to respond to unexpected developments. The insurgents have bases beyond Baghdad, especially in Anbar province. Securing Baghdad requires addressing these bases -- a task that would necessitate at least two more Marine regiments (around 7,000 Marines). It is difficult to imagine a responsible plan for getting the violence in and around Baghdad under control that could succeed with fewer than 30,000 combat troops beyond the forces already in Iraq.
And now Kagan reveals that his plan calls not only for more troops in Baghdad, but also troops to deal with insurgent bases in Anbar province, the very province that Marine intelligence officers say they are losing. Will 5,000 soldiers in Anbar save the province? What will they do that the troops already there are not doing? Of course, there is no explanation for how this many troops in Anbar, or in Baghdad, will achieve this goal of securing Baghdad. There is simply this assumption that this many troops will do the trick. You will forgive me for assuming that Kagan and Keane adopt this figure not because that's how many troops are needed, but because that's only as many as we can possibly send.

And lastly, Kagan and Keane, like all the other pundits calling for more troops, make the assumption that if we can only secure Baghdad, we can begin the process of bringing peace to the whole country. But there is no explanation for why this assumption is correct, or why we could then go onto to secure the rest of the country. Yes Baghdad is the scene of the worst of the violence, but it is after all the capital and it is the largest city in Iraq. Even if-incredibly-we could secure Baghdad, what then? What of the other towns in central Baghdad that are also scenes of sectarian killings? What troops will we use to secure those towns and cities? What of western Iraq, still home to the Sunni insurgency? What of southern Iraq, controlled largely by the Shiites and serving largely as the home bases for the militias?

These questions go unanswered because there are no answers to them, and to ask them would be to realistically face the situation in Iraq and realize that 30,000 more troops quite simply aren't going to make a difference. It's hard to know whether Kagan and his ilk know that and simply won't admit that there's nothing left to do in Iraq, or whether they are still fooling themselves into thinking that we can "win." But either mode of thought results in plans like this one, where key assumptions are made and critical questions go unanswered. Such an approach is not at all serious or thoughtful, and will not undo what has gone so wrong in Iraq.

UPDATE: Here's Jim Henley on how the insurgents have never "gone to ground", but instead have only increased the pace of attacks on coalition forces over the last three years:

We’ve talked before about the seasonally adjusted ratcheting pattern of insurgent violence. I think there’s a facet of the data that gets overlooked, though. The recent Pentagon report has the crucial graph on page 25, the one that plots the frequency of “Enemy-Initiated Attacks” is a stacked-bar graph with three components: attacks on coalition forces; attacks on Iraqi forces; and attacks on civilians. The composite bar height, over time, increases. As you’d expect from the news since the Samarra mosque bombings in February, the attacks on civilians sub-bar height increases over time as well.

But even the attacks on coalition forces have increased over the course of 2006, with the frequency of attacks on coalition forces in the latter half of 2006 roughly equalling the rate for the same months in 2005. One version of recent history of the war is that the insurgents recognized the futility of direct conflict with the US and shifted their strategy to attacking softer Iraqi targets, military but especially civilian. It turns out, though, that the insurgency has added other targets, but maintained the same tempo of anti-coalition violence. Despite three and a half years of US efforts, the insurgency can maintain and even increase its pace of operations against American and other foreign forces in Iraq. And substantially increase its assaults on local targets.

Do you think that 30,000 soldiers will make a difference in that stat, where 140,000 have not? I don't. Not for a minute.

1 comment:

copy editor said...

We all know he's an idiot, but: "security to Baghdad -- the essential precondition for political compromise".

Call me crazy, but I think political compromise is the precondition to security. Security, maybe, can be applied (with force, with the insurgency reactiing) with more troops. But, the political solution is the key. So says, you know, the generals and stuff.