Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times tells us that after four years of playing whack-a-mole, in which insurgents and terrorists sneak away live to fight another day, U.S. forces are changing tactics. It seems they figured out that taking the fight to al-Qaeda in Anbar province didn't destroy them; it just chased them up to Baquba, the capital of Diyala province.
But now that they've got al-Qaeda pinned down in the west end of Baquba, boy, they're going to keep them pinned down. The planners of the current operation, Arrowhead Ripper, want to block the escape routes. The way Gordon writes this story, you get the impression that Army commanders are proud of the fact that it only took them four years to figure out that maybe letting the bad guys run away wasn't a good idea. He quotes Colonel Steve Townsend, commander of a Stryker brigade team in Baquba as saying, “Rather than let the problem export to some other place and then have to fight them again, my goal is to isolate this thing and cordon it off.”
Isolate and cordon off. What a concept. It's been around since Sun Tzu reported to boot camp.
Someone Please Explain
There are, of course, complications. The al-Qaeda fighters have fortified their positions and show no signs of giving up. That could lead to some ferocious fighting, made even bloodier (and more complicated) by the fact that thousands of civilians have remained in the city. If the fighters decide not to fight, they don't necessarily have to slip away. They can hide their weapons and fade into the general population.
U.S. forces have measures designed to keep this from happening: taking biometrics of potential militants, relying on locals to identify insurgents and so on. That'll work great if the militants cooperate in giving their biometrics and the locals agree to risk their lives by identifying the militants.
Gordon says that al-Qaeda strength in western Baquba is estimated between 300 and 500. According to John Ward Anderson and Salih Dehima of the Washington Post, Operation Arrowhead Ripper involves roughly 10,000 American troops.
Someone in the mainstream press or Army public affairs please clarify this for me. Did we really go into this operation with a force advantage of 20 to one or greater? If so, why is there any question of any of the bad guys getting away? And what's to worry about if they stand and fight?
As the week ends, we learn that the "surge" deployments are complete, but the surge itself is a bust. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, is gone, but his legacy is still with us. The Taliban have launched their spring offensive in Afghanistan, and the light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq is just another train. 14 U.S. troops died in Baghdad's Green Zone on Thursday in an attack on the mayor's office. And oh, yeah, we're handing arms out to Sunni militant groups.
The reactions to the announcement that Pace would step down were mixed. I didn't hear or see too much of "Good, let the bastard burn in hell." A lot of voices decried that Pace hadn't done a thing wrong, and was being made the fall guy for other people's sins. My take was that, more or less as Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, nobody in the administration wanted Pace under oath in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. I think that would have turned into a pre-war intelligence fishing expedition in a heartbeat.
As to Pace's culpability in losing two wars, my take is that while he wasn't in the combatant chain of command, he was the president's senior military adviser, and he either failed to give his boss good advice or failed to make him listen to it. Pace also had a penchant for exaggerating successes in Iraq, which to me is the leading cause of our failures there. Granted, Paces predecessor, Air Force General Richard Myers was a lot worse with the malarkey that Pace was. Myers was the administration's best echo chamberlain.
Part of our problem is that the wartime roles of politicians and generals have reversed since George S. Patton's heyday. Today, politicians micromanage wars and generals play politics. Even the war fighters are spin doctors first, war winners second (if ever). As chief of Central Command, John Abizaid was the one who came up with "If we withdraw, they will follow us here." Abizaid knows "they" can't follow us "here" in significant numbers. "They" don't have a navy and it's too far to swim. And Abizaid's commander in Iraq, George Casey, boasted that "the men and women of the armed forces here have never lost a battle in over three years of war; that is a fact unprecedented in military history," a statement both false and irrelevant. Vietnam War apologists said that the Army was never defeated in the field in over a decade of conflict in that country, but like the old saying goes, you can win a thousand battles and still lose the war.
Part of the problem with today's general and flag officer community is that its members started their careers toward the end of the Vietnam conflict, and over the years they have come to embrace the false mantra that says we lost that war on the home front. That's utter bunker mentality bunk. We lost the Vietnam War in Vietnam. The "liberal" media and the Democrats and Jane Fonda did not lose the war for us. Our commanders in chief and their key advisers and generals lost the war for us.
Today's commander in chief and his advisers and generals are trying to pull the same con job on us. They're working overtime to shift blame for their incompetence to the "hostile press," Iran and Syria, Pelosi and Reid, Catholics who voted for John Kerry and whatever other scapegoats make themselves handy.
I really hope I'm wrong about this, but David Petraeus, our new commander in Iraq, is starting to look like he's cut from the same bolt of polyester as Bush era four-star spinsters like Abizaid and Casey. He was sold as a brilliant officer who wrote the new Army field manual on counter-insurgency operations. Based on reports we're getting, it sounds like he wrote the field manual titled Chinese Fire Drills.
It may be that the reports we're getting from journalists like Michael R. Gordon aren't very accurate. Keep in mind, though, that Gordon has a hard earned reputation for being Bush administration friendly. By most accounts, he helped Judith Miller push the White House's pre-Iraq invasion propaganda through the New York Times, so it seems unlikely he'd go out of his way to make Petraeus look bad.
No, folks, I'm afraid the dogs are in charge of the kennel, and all the opposable thumb types have run away in fear or resigned in disgust.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.