Saturday, December 25, 2004

CounterInsurgency

Powerline highlighted a pessimistic piece in the Weekly Standard by Reuel Marc Gerecht, entitled “The Struggle For the Middle East”. Gerecht thinks we are in peril of losing Iraq:
The administration really should not use here the refrain..."only Iraqis can secure their country." Clearing the roads adequately, which means suppressing the occasional bombings, brigandage, and assassinations, really has nothing to do with "standing up" Iraqi security forces. If there is one kind of military operation that does not require much local knowledge, it's undertaking roadblocks, observation posts, and ground and air patrols. The military personnel required to perform this function 24/7 isn't small, but it is certainly within the capabilities of forces already present in Iraq if the Pentagon so chose to allocate these resources. It beggars the mind to believe that the U.S. military cannot deploy sufficient forces to secure the highway between Baghdad and the capital's international airport. Insurgents and brigands--it's very difficult often to tell the difference--now own this short stretch of highway, which regularly sees ordinary Iraqis robbed and shot, often in carefree, outrageous ways.

…But we have reached a point in Iraq where our first priority must be to guarantee Iraqis--not Americans--a minimum of security on the major highways. A greater American presence and firepower on the roads could kill more innocent Iraqis. The American death toll could climb. Yet it is an excellent bet that most Iraqis would be willing to absorb the losses provided they can see improvement in their daily security.

...At this late date before the January 30 elections, there is probably no more effective and essential campaign for the U.S. military than securing the roads. Start with the highway to the airport, and then go after the roads from the capital south to the Shiite heartlands... Everybody...needs to see that the United States can protect one short airport highway that connects Iraq to the outside world.
A Powerline reader and IDF veteran, Paul Kotik, supports this policy:
In Lebanon, we quickly learned what Gerecht advocates: control of the roads is everything. The daily, nightly, and dreaded priority mission of Israeli forces in Lebanon became 'Ptihat Tzir" - opening the road. We set ambushes and lay there all night motionless and silent. We laid sensors, flew drones, and at daybreak walked our section of road in plain view.

By and large, it worked. I didn't need to whine about armor in Lebanon at the height of the Shi'ite insurgency. I got around in a Toyota sedan just fine, thank you.
I think Gerecht, and many in the media and much of their American audience, are confused about the definition of “security”.
We have already secured the ability of Iraqi commerce and government to function day-to-day, and are constantly improving the quality of Iraqi services. What we are unable to prevent are spectacles and incidents of violence by the insurgents. This is the core of the grunts’ complaint to Rumsfeld this week about the “propaganda war”: no matter how much the effective government of Iraq improves, the focus remains on the incoherent spectacles of violence.

A problem with Gerecht’s theory of “security” is that the media and much of the public regard the presence of any violence in Iraq as a failure of security. When Iraqis are dragged from their vehicles and murdered, this is reported as “more violence in Iraq”. When Marines kill 30 insurgents, this is reported as “more violence in Iraq”. As Gerecht acknowledges, a series of checkpoints would increase both Iraqi and American casualties; yet he argues it would improve “security”. In fact, by increasing the violence on the roads, it would fuel the complaints of a ‘security breakdown’.

Gerecht decries a Coalition that to him occupies “ever smaller, disconnected, fortified oases surrounded by insurgents, their sympathizers, and a fearful population”. That's a perfect description of his proposed checkpoints.

This method was employed by the French in Vietnam. Their "vietnamization" program merely produced Vietnamese garrison forces to relieve French troops on sentry duty. The French forces thus spared duty in the blockhouses and remote outposts were rotated home to France.

The result was failure. The French could not prevent the Viet Minh from mustering superior forces just beyond the range of their outposts; their outposts were too weak to withstand attacks without reinforcements and their reinforcements moved too slowly to prevent Viet Minh escape. In time, along the Rue Coloniales of North Vietnam, the Viet Minh had sufficient strength to obliterate the relieving columns; and eventually, surround and overrun the fortified bases. Long before Vietnamese divisions swarmed over Dien Bien Phu, their companies and battalions were destroying smaller French strongpoints across Vietnam.

Kotik says his IDF unit in Lebanon was successful because it ensured the road was clear. From his description of their tactics, I would argue it was due to aggressive and intelligent use of aerial and electronic surveillance and mobile patrols to force combat on terrorist guerrillas. The French successfully employed these measures against Algerian fellouze when interdicting covert traffic across Algeria's western frontiers. The purpose there was not to preserve French traffic from attack, but to deny mobility to the terrorists.

Likewise the Navy SEALS seriously damaged the Viet Cong in the river deltas of South Vietnam, through accurate intelligence, superior firepower, and excellent mobility. The SEALs earned the name "Greenfaced Devils" for their swift raids and overpowering ambushes against what was supposed to be an elusive guerrilla force.

In each case, the roads, trails, wadis, and rivers were not valuable as means of commerce and mobility, but as arenas in which to ensnare and destroy an opponent who survives by avoiding open battle. In those actions, small, speedy units, well-informed and familiar with their territory, are very valuable; and it is easier to train and equip Iraqis to fight like American commandos, than it is to train American commandos to move through the cities and countryside, and interact with Iraqi civilians, as easily as native Iraqis. Gerecht's advice to the contrary ignores these realities.

How should a terrorist insurgency be fought?
Let's absorb the lessons of a successful insurgent strategist:
...it dawned on me that we had won the Hejaz war. Out of every thousand square miles of Hejaz, nine hundred ninety-nine were now free...If we held the rest, the Turks were welcome to the tiny fraction on which they stood, til peace or Doomsday showed them the futility of clinging to our windowpane.

...I wondered why Feisal wanted to fight the Turks, and why the Arabs wanted to help him, and saw that their aim was geographical, to extrude the Turk from all Arabic-speaking lands...If they would go quietly the war would end. If not, we would urge them, or try to drive them out. In the last resort, we should be compelled to the desperate course of blood and the maxims of "murder war", but as cheaply as could be for ourselves, since the Arab fought for freedom, and that was a pleasure to be tasted only by a man alive.

...Armies were like plants, immobile, firm-rooted, nourished by long stems to the head. We might be like a vapour, blowing where we listed. It seemed a regular soldier might be helpless without a target, owning only what he sat on, and subjugating only what, by order, he could point his rifle at.

Then I figured out how many men they would need to cover all this ground...I knew the Turkish Army exactly...it seemed they would need a fortified post every four square miles, and a post could not be less than twenty men. If so, they would need six hundred thousand men...

...In Turkey things were scarce and precious, men less esteemed than equipment. Our cue was to destroy, not the Turk's army, but his minerals...In the Arab Army at the moment we were chary both of materials and of men. Governments saw men only in mass; our men, being irregulars, were not formations, but individuals...We could not afford casualties.

...Most wars were wars of contact, both forces striving into touch to avoid tactical surprise. Ours should be a war of detachment...Many Turks on our front had no chance all the war to fire on us, and we were never on the defensive except by accident and in error.
T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

This is an effective answer to war by garrison and checkpoint. It can also serve as a direct statement of the aims of the insurgency: the absence of a foriegn occupier and the "freedom" to practice self-determined despotism.

Fortunately for our efforts in Iraq, we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the Turks, nor are our opponents capable of the cold objectivity of Lawrence of Arabia.

In the Iraq war, America's weakness is not material poverty, but public opinion. The death of a dozen soldiers is fuel for the liberal anti-war machine, which includes much of the highest levels of American media. Insurgency by remote detonator and light artillery works well against this weakness.

However, the insurgents seem unable to rely upon ambush, and appear unable to avoid premature seizures of local power. The terrorist uprisings in Najaf and Karbala, Fallujah and Samarra, worked only as traps for the insurgents, permitting the Coalition to kill hundreds of insurgents and capture huge stockpiles of munitions--more than had been expended all year in terrorist attacks. As this mistake was made by both Shiite and Sunni insurgents, separately, it would seem to indicate an Iraqi political need for some measure of territorial soveriegnity, no matter how impractical. This need is a serious weakness in an unpopular uprising.

Lawrence gave clear reasons for his confidence in ultimate Arab victory over the Turks:
It seemed to me proven that our rebellion had an unassailable base, guarded not only from attack, but from the fear of attack. It had a sophisticated alien enemy, disposed into an army of occupation in an area greater than could be dominated effectively from fortified posts. It had a friendly population, of which some two in the hundred were active, and the rest quietly sympathetic to the point of not betraying the movements of the minority. The active rebels had the virtues of secrecy and self-control, and the qualities of speed, endurance and independence of arteries of supply. They had technical equipment enough to paralyse the enemy's communications. A province would be won when we had taught the civilians in it to die for our ideal of freedom.
The insurgents do not have "an unassailable base" unless we grant them such freedom from fear; our communications are several hundred miles beyond their reach; they do not have 2% of Iraq's 25,000,000 people in their ranks; although they fight an alien enemy their propaganda is corroded by association with a hated domestic oppressor; they are no more free of foriegn aid than Lawrence's Bedouin, as his very presence demonstrated; we match them in speed and endurance and surpass them in self-control.

All of these are reasons for optimism so long as we actively and aggressively exploit our strengths and our enemy's weaknesses; accept violence as a means to ultimate victory and peace, instead of a lamentable failure of 'security'; and reject totally the passive doctrines of stasis and serenity that would leave us plant-like, predictable, and passively content to point rifles at nothing, leaving the enemy free to prepare for their Day.

We cannot avoid combat in Iraq, so long as the enemy is willing to fight. We can only seize the initiative and impose greater losses on them than we suffer ourselves, or yield the initiative, and the casualties, and the loss of public confidence which is the only sure means by which we can be driven from Iraq.

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