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Surge Math (UPDATED)
Posted by: mcq on Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Fred Kaplan has a piece out in Slate in which he says no matter how bright a guy David Petraeus is, the general slated to take over in Iraq, he just isn't going to have the troop numbers necessary to do the job. That is if the job is counterinsurgency.

If the job is counterinsurgency (COIN), argues Kaplan, by his own doctrine (Petraeus wrote the new Counter Insurgency manual) the number of troops needed will be far less than the number of troops made available.

At the heart of the point is paragraph 1-67 of Field Manual 3-24 "Counterinsurgency" (pdf):
1-67. The movement leaders provide the organizational and managerial skills needed to transform mobilized individuals and communities into an effective force for armed political action. The result is a contest of resource mobilization and force deployment. No force level guarantees victory for either side. During previous conflicts, planners assumed that combatants required a 10 or 15 to 1 advantage over insurgents to win. However, no predetermined, fixed ratio of friendly troops to enemy combatants ensures success in COIN. The conditions of the operational environment and the approaches insurgents use vary too widely.

A better force requirement gauge is troop density, the ratio of security forces (including the host nation’s military and police forces as well as foreign counterinsurgents) to inhabitants. Most density recommendations fall within a range of 20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1000 residents in an AO. Twenty counterinsurgents per 1000 residents is often considered the minimum troop density required for effective COIN operations; however as with any fixed ratio, such calculations remain very dependent upon the situation.

1-68. As in any conflict, the size of the force needed to defeat an insurgency depends on the situation. However, COIN is manpower intensive because counterinsurgents must maintain widespread order and security. Moreover, counterinsurgents typically have to adopt different approaches to address each element of the insurgency. For example, auxiliaries might be co-opted by economic or political reforms, while fanatic combatants will most likely have to be killed or captured.
Kaplan estimates that there are presently 70,000 combat troops in all of Iraq (the rest being support). Baghdad's population is variously reported from 5 million to 6 million. For purposes of this exercise, 5.5 million will do.

If the purpose of the surge is to conduct counterinsurgent operations in Baghdad, and we plan on doing it within all of Baghdad, simple math using the minimum number of COIN personnel necessary place the desired troop levels for such operations at 110,000. If we take the best case number of troops needed for COIN, that level would be 137,500.

Put susinctly, if the surge is pointed at COIN in Baghdad we obviously don't have the troop strength necessary, even at the minimum, to carry out such a mission. In fact, at best, given the missions still ongoing in other parts of the country, I'd guess we'd do well to put a total of 50,000 in the city including the surge troops.

So. So the rest have to come from where? The ISF. 60,000 to 87,500 (depending on whether we follow the minimalist model or the more robust one) Iraqi troops are going to be necessary. Now again, this is a guess, but I'd imagine there are about the same number of ISF in and around Baghdad now as there are US ... putting the total at about 60K combined. Add our surge and we're up to 80,000 combined. That means that 30,000 to 57,500 additional ISF troops would be necessary to conduct COIN in Baghdad.

Maliki has promised 20,000 more leaving the total 10,000 short of the minimum. However, some reports have said that Bush actually plans on sending 9,000 into Iraq with 11,000 of the 20,000 sitting "on call" in another area. If true, we're 21,000 short.

Kaplan notes this and it is the main reason he points out that Petraeus won't be able to conduct successful COIN. Maybe. I say maybe because perhaps the plan isn't to take on Baghdad as a whole. Maybe the plan isn't to confront, say, the Mahdi Army in Sadr city. Maybe that portion, controlled by al Sadr's militia, is left alone and instead the operation is concentrated in the Sunni sections with the aim of clearing, holding and denying access to both Sunni insurgents and Shia death squads.

The effect at first would most likely see sunnis believe their worst fears were being realized and the US had taken sides against them. However over time, if clearing, holding and securing, coupled with improvements is successful, that perception would change. But you are again looking at a long term operation which still leaves the shia militias in place and as a challenge to the authority of the government.

I bring all of that up to say there are many ways to attack the problem of the insurgency, that being one of them. While Kaplan has written it off as a mission impossible immediately, using raw numbers, what Kaplan doesn't do is analyze how such numbers could be used alternatively. That's not to say the scenario I outline is either feasible or likely. It's simply to point out that we don't even know the plan yet. Yes, if you use the raw numbers and the new COIN doctrine while also assuming the whole of Baghdad is the target, it appears to be badly undermanned. But at this point that's simply speculation.

I can't imagine a guy as bright as Gen. Petreaus, who is indeed the architect of the new COIN doctrine, accepting a command with a mission he knows, better than anyone, would be impossible to accomplish.

So let's wait and see. Regardless, I'm coming to the conclusion about one thing: the Democrats are right to characterize this more as an escalation than a surge. That's because COIN operations, as outlined in the above paragraphs, are labor intensive, remain labor intensive and take a long time. And the ISF and Iraqi government still remains the wild card which will, regardless, be what determines success or failure in any operation.

UPDATE: From a USA Today article, some more numbers:
The U.S. military command increased the number of U.S. troops in Baghdad last summer to 15,000 from 7,500 before the offensive. An additional 45,000 Iraqi police and soldiers were in the capital, but not all the troops the Iraqi government promised showed up.
That means in total, with the Iraqis, there are, at best, 60,000 troops in Baghdad now. Add the 40,000 of the surge combined with the additonal 20,000 promised by Maliki and you have, at best (and assuming all the Iraqis show up) 100,000.

Of course having that few combined troops in a city the size of Baghdad right now has led to inevitable problems which spell failure in COIN. Thus the apparent reasoning for the surge:
"We were able to clear areas," Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the new No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, says of last year's Baghdad offensive. "We were not able to hold the areas."
Naturally if you can't hold an area, you can't secure it. And that is absolutely critical to success.

Another expert weighs in:
T.X. Hammes, a retired Marine colonel who has written a book on insurgencies, calls the proposal a "dribble" rather than a surge. Hammes argues for a larger commitment of forces over a longer period. "If it's only 20,000 or 30,000 … it won't work," he says. "If we're serious about winning, we've got to talk 300,000 (total) armed coalition forces over a minimum of four years. Otherwise, don't commit more troops."
And, of course, the inevitable about any such operation regardless of size:
"This proposal is mathematically certain to produce greater casualties," says retired major general Paul Eaton, who trained Iraqi forces in Iraq. "Putting soldiers in direct grinding, attrition warfare will cause more casualties." Eaton supports adding more troops only if they're specifically assigned to embed with Iraqi units and train them.
This is a very, very difficult scenario, regardless of how we plan on going about it. I'll be listening very carefully tonight when President Bush lays it out. Regardless of our plan however, it most critical point is:
Some military experts say this offensive won't work any better than the previous one unless the Iraqi government is on board and has reached political agreements with its main Sunni opponents.
And just as important as the military plan:
"If this is to work, you have to get through the next year," says Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "To do that, you have to have a political plan. You have to have an economic plan."
So I'll be listening to hear about them as well.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

"... the number of troops necessary will be far less than the number of troops needed"

You have spent too much time immersed in arcane political discussion. I will wager this actually means something to somebody. :)
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Yeow ... no kidding. Thanks for the catch ... now edited.
Written By: McQ
I think that you may be too generous in counting the Iraqi police when calculating the number of counterinsurgents in Baghdad. The Iraqi police force is not only incompetent, but actively part of the problem because of how closely connected to the militias they are.
Written By: Josh
URL: http://
I think that you may be too generous in counting the Iraqi police when calculating the number of counterinsurgents in Baghdad.
Actually I think I’m being generous with most of those numbers which has me thinking that something other than doing all of Baghdad at one time may be afoot.
Written By: McQ
If you haven’t properly identified the enemy, how can you make the fight?
Who is the enemy in "Iraq" America must smite? Sunni? Shi’a? Al Qaida? The Ba’athist remnant?
The President hasn’t said.

The President talks about bringing democracy to "Iraq". That is unislamic.
Islam is the legacy of Mohammed. To moslems, it is a total world view and the answer to all life’s questions. There is only Dar al Harb and Dar al Islam. If an idea is not in the Koran or Sunnah and embraced by Mohammed it is nothing. Mohammed the whim driven, Mohammed the pirate, Mohammed the child-rapist, Mohammed the paranoid butcher, knew and cared nothing of democracy.

However to appease the Americans most "Iraqis" will happily vote, and mouth suspicion lulling platitudes, and an exotic beautiful woman may even have her blue-inked finger photographed and published in the National Geographic, for the result will be the triumph of the majority Shi’ite Arab "rafidite dogs" and independence minded Kurds over the "orthodox" Sunni Arabs.

To overturn this, and to be faithful to the Koran, the Sunni gulf, Jordanian and Saudi rulers pour money and arms to their brethren in Mesopotamia to crush the "heretics" and turn a blind eye to volunteer recruitment.

Our men are getting killed in "Iraq", in no small part thanks to the Saudis, Jordanians, and Kuwaitis, but according to the President, these are our "allies".

We are in the middle of a 1400 year old conflict that Americans did not start and cannot end.
Written By: Ted Monroe
URL: http://
Not bad at all!
Written By: Savannah

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