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Watch this Space Part 2: Understanding General Petraeus’s Strategy

June 27, 2007

Tim comments, quite understandably I think, that the so-called surge looks to him like more of the “clear, hold, build” strategy that has not fared well so far in Iraq. In response, I’d like to point towards this testimony to the House Foreign Affairs committe by Fredrick W. Kagan: Understanding General Petraeus’s Strategy:

It is now beyond question that the Bush Administration pursued a flawed approach to the war in Iraq from 2003 to 2007. That approach relied on keeping the American troop presence in Iraq as small as possible, pushing unprepared Iraqi Security Forces into the lead too rapidly, and using political progress as the principal means of bringing the violence under control. In other words, it is an approach similar to the one proposed by the ISG and by some who are now pushing for political benchmarks and the rapid drawdown of American forces as the keys to success in the war. It is no more likely to work now than it was then. Political progress is something thatfollows the establishment of security, not something that causes it. (Emphsis mine- CountG)

I think every word of this piece, if not objectively true, is completely defensible.

The purpose of (current troop) movements was not to clear-and-hold–the units present in theater were not sufficient in numbers to conduct such operations. The purpose was instead to establish positions within those key areas and to develop both intelligence about the enemy and trust relationships with the local communities that would make possible decisive clear-and-hold operations subsequently.

He continues:

But even this operation–the largest coordinated combat operation the U.S. has undertaken since the invasion in 2003–is not the decisive phase of the current strategy. It is an operation designed to set the preconditions for a successful clear-and-hold operation that will probably begin in late July or early August within Baghdad itself. That is the operation that is designed to bring security to Iraq’s capital in a lasting way that will create the space for political progress that we all desire.

This is a time for patience, not timetables. This new strategy is genuinely different than what we’ve done before, and as such carries the promise of success, whereas withdrawl guarantees defeat. I don’t see the wisdom of that calculation if you care about the safety of America.

I’ve been reading a lot about the current strategy and I hope to be able to share what I’ve learned soon. I do hope you will all listen to the podcast mentioned in the previous post.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim C. permalink
    June 28, 2007 12:35 pm

    I agree with Kagan that for much of the occupation, our strategy was more or less this: “That approach relied on keeping the American troop presence in Iraq as small as possible, pushing unprepared Iraqi Security Forces into the lead too rapidly, and using political progress as the principal means of bringing the violence under control.”

    But not for all of it. In Operation Together Forward II, they did their first attempt and “clear hold build” as a strategy was first really tried in this operation. And it failed.

    My implied question: not how is this different than MOST of the occupation, but how is it significantly different than Operation Together Forward II.

  2. Tim C. permalink
    June 28, 2007 12:53 pm

    Here is a bit more on the Operation Together Forward II from about 9 months ago:

    The operation has been dubbed “Together Forward II,” reflecting the core assumption that the Iraqi government is to be an equal partner in regaining control of its capital. Necessarily, the security plan requires an integrated political and military approach, as its goal is not to defeat an enemy but to bring order to a city. But the early returns have raised searching questions as to whether the Maliki government is prepared to hold up its end. Since it takes months to clear, hold and begin reconstruction in select neighborhoods, American commanders said that the viability of the plan should be clear by the end of the year.

    …Without sufficient Iraqi forces it has been more difficult to prevent militias and insurgents from sneaking back into areas the Americans have cleared and that has delayed the American forces from moving on to clear new neighborhoods.

    “What takes the combat power is the holding piece,” Thurman said. “We can do the clearing. But once you clear, if you don’t leave somebody in there and build civilian capability, it is the old mudhole approach. You know, the water runs out of the mudhole once you drive through the mudhole and then runs back in it.”

    http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/10/22/news/assess.php

  3. June 28, 2007 1:17 pm

    Why did Together Forward II fail? Several reasons: too few troops staying too short a time, lack of Iraqi co-operation politically and militarily.

    The current operation seeks to put more troops in that will stay longer. We are utilizing the tribal dynamic to our advantage (over some protest fromt the central government) which is creating more cooperation from the population both politically and militarily. So some of the major flaws in our apporoach are being adressed.

    If you agree that a big problem was that troop levels were too low- which mainifestly seems to be the case- why oppose them now as futile?

    Previous to this operation we took action against some of the Shiite militias- also a difference. I think one could make the case that the sectarian nature of the conflict is waning a bit, despite the best efforts of al Queda, which remains the real problem.

    In the podcast I mentioned, Kilcullen says near the end that the one question he always asks tribal leaders and the like is “If you were us, what would you have us do?” Sadly, it’s a question almost no-one has been asked. Some pretty good ideas have come of it.

    Another change that is really fundamental is the way coalition troops have been taken from the big bases and put into close quarters with the Iraqis. They are getting to know the population better and leading the Iraqis by example, not to mention being much closer to the problem areas, making response times much more fast for timid Iraqis.

    I agree that it would be insane to simply try the same thing and hope for diffrent results. This approach is different, but in a way that is hard to appreciate from afar. I also think it’s a whole lot smarter than the false dichotomy of simply leaving vs. hitting them harder. In my mind both are fantasies.

  4. July 2, 2007 2:24 pm

    Without sufficient Iraqi forces it has been more difficult to prevent militias and insurgents from sneaking back into areas the Americans have cleared

    That’s why it failed. It was (obviously) tried too soon. There are many more IA and police online now than 9 months ago, and the mood of the populace towards destabilizing elements seems to have shifted.

    An insurgency doesn’t need the active “support” of a populace, but it does require their ambivalence. That ambivalence appears to be fading.

  5. Tim C permalink
    July 5, 2007 9:09 am

    I think we all agree Operation Forward Together II failed in part due to lack of troops… We may differ on the opinion if 20-something additional troops is enough to be called a significant different strategy or not.

    To me, I thought the current surge strategy was likely to be futile, because I worry that it was us upping our troop levels just high enough to still loose.

    A “surge” or “escalation” (pick your term of choice) of an additional 200K troops, that I would have clearly said isn’t just part of a “clap harder” strategy.

    Mr. Avenger: Not sure I agree that the other reason it failed was that it was tried too soon. If so, then I don’t understand what changed since last summer that is now not too soon. Maybe more resistance to AQ in Anbar. But that is only very specific to that province.

    Dave wrote:

    “Another change that is really fundamental is the way coalition troops have been taken from the big bases and put into close quarters with the Iraqis. They are getting to know the population better and leading the Iraqis by example, not to mention being much closer to the problem areas, making response times much more fast for timid Iraqis.”

    Are you certain that these techniques or similiar weren’t tried in “Operation Forward Together II”? I think they might have been.

    Lastly, would love to hear what facts make you both feel that:

    “The mood of the population to the destabilizing elements seems to have shifted…”
    and that “the sectarian nature of the conflict is waning a bit”

    Especially given stories like this in today’s Post:

    “…the number of unidentified bodies found on the streets of the capital was 41 percent higher in June than in January, according to unofficial Health Ministry statistics….During the month of June, 453 unidentified corpses, some bound, blindfolded, and bearing signs of torture, were found in Baghdad, according to morgue data provided by a Health Ministry official…

    Overall, the level of violent civilian deaths in Iraq is declining, according to the U.S. military and Health Ministry statistics…

    But the number of unidentified bodies found on the streets is considered a key indicator of the malignancy of sectarian strife. While the declining number of bombing victims suggests that efforts to control violence are showing some success, the daily slayings of individuals, in aggregate, speak to an enduring level of aggression.”

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19604814/

  6. Tim C permalink
    July 5, 2007 4:08 pm

    Another AP story on the lack of iraqi forces that sounds a lot like Operation Forward Together II. And again, I hope this isn’t representative of the whole:

    “…In Tuesday’s pre-dawn raid, the lack of Iraqi backup meant a frustrating outcome for U.S. forces. When suspects fled, there was no Iraqi cordon to catch them.

    But more broadly, it illustrates a key weakness in the new U.S. counterinsurgency strategy of ‘clear, hold, rebuild.’ American commanders say the “hold” phase relies on Iraqi forces’ ability to move into cleared areas and keep insurgents in check once the U.S. draws down its troop levels….

    ‘We’re all very frustrated. We’re trying to fix this country, but the Iraqis are having trouble recruiting and getting their numbers up,” said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, which is deployed in the area. “There just aren’t enough Iraqi forces here.'”

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070705/ap_on_re_mi_ea/waiting_for_iraqis;_ylt=AnxrmJ2sJXg3YLgOUYEiWxJvaA8F

  7. July 10, 2007 8:05 pm

    If so, then I don’t understand what changed since last summer

    Then you’ve been watching too much TV and not reading enough Yon/Fumento/Roggio. The answer would be obvious to anyone who has done their homework.

  8. October 25, 2008 3:46 am

    Thanks for writing this.

  9. October 27, 2008 1:25 pm

    Thanks for writing this.

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