Monday, June 04, 2007

Surge Dirge

As the "surge" progresses, Iraqi insurgents use increasingly lethal weapons and tactics, according to Ann Scott Tyson and John Ward Anderson of the Washington Post. What's more, the insurgents are focusing their efforts on U.S. troops.

"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.

Good News?

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.


  1. One of my readers pointed out recently, and quite accurately too I might add, our troops are being used as 'fodder' and as cops, and not even being allowed to be aggressive cops at that...

    This 'small outpost' thing in Baghdad is very similar to the exact same tactics employed in Vietnam too, we called em 'fire bases' and I really don't want to launch on a huge tirade but Jeff, if you remember Vietnam, I don't know how old you are, but if you had experience there, and if you didn't I'm sure you studied tactics somewhere along the way, these 'fire bases' were nothing more than sitting ducks, constantly subjected to 'insurgents attacks', mortars and so forth, and that is exactly what I'm seeing in Iraq, we have NOT learned anything from history, and we ARE repeating it...

    I also vividly remember the Marines taking such and such a position and turning it over to the Army to clean it up, develop it and then turn it over to the ARVN's, and a month or 2 later the VC and/or NVA over ran it, destroyed it and we had to go back and do it all over again...

    That's coming in Iraq as well, we're fighting for these guys, and I guess in some instances they do stand and fight too, but I'd be totally surprised if the 'infiltration levels' aren't at least as high, if not higher than any figures to date, but concerning Iraq, I am a pessimist...

    As long as we're standing with them they'll fight but there must come a time when the Iraqis stand alone, and hold their own freedom and destiny in their own hands, but if WE fight to GIVE them their freedom I feel that they won't keep it nor appreciate that freedom, and again, in MY opinion, a people that aren't willing to stand as one and FIGHT for their freedom aren't deserving OF that freedom, because freedom isn't a gift, it must be earned, and we have some people in this nation that really need to learn that lesson themselves and stop wasting the lives of our troops and the BILLIONS of our tax dollars that are being thrown down that 'hole' called Iraq...

  2. semper fubar8:19 AM

    It all starts to make more sense if you replace the objective "winning" with "staying."

    Bush let it slip when he said this would be like Korea. (Well, it's like Korea except for the part about all the killing of soldiers and civilians going on.) A 50+ year occupation. Need to enforce those oil contracts, you know.

    Gravel had it right last night - we're not paying $3 a gallon for gas, we're paying $7 a gallon for gas, when you add up what it's costing us to maintain access to the oil. (I'll bet it's a lot more than that, but for sake of argument, I'll accept his figure.) "Free markets," my ass.

    People snickered when I wore my "No Blood For Oil" button back in 2002- 2003. Who's laughing now? Bush, Cheney and the oil companies are laughing at US -- that I know for sure.

    How long will we all be content to spend billions of dollars and countless lives so our military can act as the private security detail for the oil industry? The military brass seem to be agreeable for the time being. Our congress, both D and R, seems to be agreeable to it.

    I'm curious, Jeff -- what would "winning" the war look like to you?

    Enjoy your blog - glad I discovered it recently.

  3. Jeff,

    I'd like to invite you to participate in a little experiment with blogging, but I can't seem to find your contact info. Could you get in touch with me, please...



    /s/ Peter

    Peter Stinson, the Tidewater Muse

  4. Dad would agree on the "do it all over again" part from his Vietnam experience ('66-'67).

    I have to believe the 104-acre embassy under construction will be nothing but a giant target waiting to be hit, too.

  5. semper fubar12:29 PM

    Protecting the embassy will be reason enough to keep 150,000+ forces in Iraq. Look! A self-perpetuating mission! Not to mention the billions of dollars we'll continue to pour down the rathole.

  6. Seen from a neo-con cynical point of view, its was a brilliant plan: Go in & earn a lot of money fast, bleed the US treasury over into private hands, satisfy demand for new weapons from the military industrial complex and as a bonus, if everything went right, secure the de-nationalization of those oil sources and give em back to whom they rightly belong to, all this at the cost of a few thousand poor latinos and white trash.

    The owners of Cheney in Blackwater, Kellogs&Root, etc. sure as hell dont think this war was a failure. ANd it sure saved a lot of peoples arses from Enron-like investigations. Thats one of the great things about having a pet monkey running the department of justice.

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