"It is very clear that the number of attacks against U.S. forces is up," says Major General James E. Simmons, deputy commander for operations in Iraq. Interestingly enough, attacks against Iraqi security forces have declined. "The attacks are being directed at us and not against other people," Simmons says.
Which means that by putting more troops in Iraq, we're providing the insurgents with more of their favorite targets, and they're obliging by successfully attacking us.
Wearing the Bullseye
The 127 U.S. fatalities in May made it the third deadliest month for American forces since the 2003 invasion. As with the other two deadliest months--April and November of 2004--the main cause of the May's death toll has been a large-scale offensive U.S. operation.
Force protection is an important principle of war, but it's not the overriding principle. If you have to expose some or all of your force to risk of attrition to accomplish vital objectives, that's just the way it goes. But a good rule of thumb says that if the force's primary mission becomes conducting operations in order to protect itself, that force is putting itself in harm's way for the sake of being in harm's way.
That's the position we found ourselves in during the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, and it's a situation we're approaching now in Iraq. The "new" counterinsurgency strategy is placing thousands of extra American troops at risk in small outposts in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. The Baghdad piece of the surge strategy was designed to create "hearts and minds" contact with locals as U.S. troops secured the neighborhoods, but events seem to have pushed that strategy in a different direction.
In early May, the Washington Post reported that U.S. forces were turning their Baghdad outposts into mini-fortresses.
To guard against bombs, mortar fire and other threats, U.S. commanders are adding fortifications to the outposts, setting them farther back from traffic and arming them with antitank weapons capable of stopping suicide bombers driving armored vehicles. U.S. troops maintain the advantage of living in the neighborhoods they are asked to protect, but the need to safeguard themselves from attack means more walls between them and civilians…
…[Captain Frank] Fisher, 37, of Dryden, Mich., said that by living in Sadr City he can respond much faster to incidents than if he stayed on a large outlying military base, as U.S. forces did in the past. "We hear a boom somewhere in the city and within minutes or seconds I can get an indication of where that explosion happened," Fisher said. "Every time I step out of the base I'm in my own battle space. It pays big rewards when people see you in their neighborhood every day," he said.
But what are the people in the neighborhoods really seeing? From Captain Fisher's description, they're seeing U.S. troops protect themselves behind concrete walls, only coming out to protect the neighborhoods after the neighborhoods have already been attacked, and then retreating back to their reinforced sanctuaries, leaving the locals vulnerable to further attacks.
Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, number two U.S. commander in Iraq, points to "good news" in Anbar province as evidence that the surge is working. Attacks in Anbar have been cut in half, he says, and almost 18,000 enemy fighters have been captured this year. I'd like to know how Odierno is counting numbers of attacks In Anbar, and who exactly these 18,000 "enemy fighters" are. Sorry to sound so skeptical, but we've heard this kind of happy talk before only to find out that the military has pulled a Max Bialystock with the numbers to "produce" successes out of failures.
As to whether Iraqi forces are ready to stand up, well, the news on that front doesn't inspire a 76-trombone salute. The infusion of more U.S. troops into Anbar and Baghdad has pushed the violence into the so-called "outer belts," most notably the Diyala province, a once stable area that has turned volatile. Iraqi forces in Diyala were once considered among the best of the Iraq, but in the face of increasing challenges, they appear to be sitting down on the job. In May, the commander of an Iraqi division was relieved for taking heavy-handed measures against Diyala's Sunni population. The commander supposedly has ties to the Shiite controlled Badr Brigade.
On May 30, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told CBS News that he fears a coup by the Iraqi Army, and one senior police commander says that fifty percent of his recruits belong to the militias.
Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey oversees training and equipping of Iraqi forces. In a telephone interview with Chicago Tribune reporters and editors, Dempsey said, "Militia infiltration of the security forces is less of a problem. The larger problem is the influence militias have on the security force."
That a three-star general could make a statement like that to a major U.S. news outlet with a straight face gives you an idea of the intellectual bankruptcy of U.S. military leadership. Iraq's security forces aren't infiltrated; they're just influenced, so it's okay. All we have to do now is find them a commander who isn't a militia infiltrator and won't influence them.
Then all we'll need to do is put a handful of American generals in charge of Iraq who know the difference between spinning wars and winning them.
Do we have any of those left?
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.