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More Surge Math
Posted by: mcq on Friday, January 12, 2007

Some funny numbers are flying around out there. Dean Barnett takes Andrew Sullivan to task about his "analysis". From Barnett's "FAQ - The Surge":
Take Andrew Sullivan. Please. In his “analysis” of the speech last night, Andrew tossed around troop figures without having the faintest idea of what he was talking about:
“If the president tonight had outlined a serious attempt to grapple with this new situation - a minimum of 50,000 new troops as a game-changer - then I'd eagerly be supporting him. But he hasn't. 21,500 U.S. troops is once again, I fear, just enough troops to lose.”
6) What’s wrong with that? Andrew wanted 50,000 troops. Big deal.

Mentioning a troop number without saying what those troops are going to do is an intellectually vacant and frivolous exercise. It’s a low form of positional bargaining, throwing out numbers without attaching those numbers to anything concrete. If Andrew’s going to hurl out the number 50,000, he should give a hint as to what he’s going to do with those 50,000. He should also specify why he thinks 20,000 isn’t an adequate number for the task at hand.

7) Which is?

8) Where did the number 21,500 come from?

Out of a hat. Just kidding. But that is where figures like Andrew’s 50,000 came from.

The surge strength number comes from Dave Petraeus’ estimate of what will be necessary to win Baghdad. Petraeus is breaking Baghdad into nine neighborhoods. Each neighborhood will get a contingent of 2500 Iraqi soldiers (probably ones trained by Petraeus) supported by 600 American troops. This number, the plan figures, will be sufficient to clear the neighborhoods and then hold them. In previous encounters, we would clear and retreat. This is a very significant difference. The total surge into Baghdad, counting Iraqi troops, will be well over 40,000.
OK, wait a minute. Baghdad is a city of 5.5 million. 9 neighborhoods. That means if the city is evenly divided by population into those 9 neighborhoods that each will have 611,111 people.

And we're going to put a total of 3,100 soldiers combined? That's not even close to enough. So methinks Dean may have not understood the numbers either.

Per our new counterinsurgency doctrine, as I pointed out here, we set as a minimum 20 soldiers per 1,000 population. For a population of 611,111 that is 12,222 soldiers. So at a minimum, per our doctrine, each neighborhood must have 4 times as many soldiers as Barnett is claiming will be there if they ever hope to clear and hold.

Obviously 17,500 soldiers isn't enough (21,500 - 4,000 for al Anbar province).

More numbers. How big is a brigade?
* Infantry brigades will have around 3,300 troops and be equivalent to a light infantry or airborne brigade.
* Stryker brigades will have around 3,900 troops and be based around the Stryker family of vehicles.
For the purposes of this exercise figure 3,500 as an average. So we have a 21,500 troop surge, minus 4,000 from that for al Anbar and that leaves 17,500 (which President Bush said was 5 brigades (which interestingly enough divides out into 3,500 each). Per an article in USA Today we have 24,000 troops already there or most of 7 brigades. Consequently we'll have a total, give or take a few bodies, of 12 brigades in Baghdad.

So we'll be able to deploy a brigade plus in each neighborhood (4,600).

Now, what did President Bush say the Iraqis were throwing into the pot? 18 brigades. How nice. It makes the math even easier. That's 2 Iraqi brigades per neighborhood.

Assuming about the same size for the Iraqi brigades, we're looking at 7,000 Iraqi ISF forces for a total of 11,600 combined US/Iraqi troops per neighborhood.

Bottom line ... we're still, on average, about 600 short (about a battalion) of even the minimum we call for in our own doctrine but nowhere near as short as Barnett's numbers.

I don't see that as particularly good but it isn't at all as bad as the numbers Dean was quoting. My guess is after an initial assessment, there'll be some adjustments among neighborhoods with the hottest getting more troops and perhaps the most peaceful needing less (one must remember, as planners in the military are constantly reminded, our doctrine is a guideline, but each situation is different and therefore doctrine may need to be modified to fit the situaiton. Or said another way, 10,500 may be enough).

OTOH, we also have to remember we still have 47,000 other combat troops in Iraq not involved in Baghdad proper. That is where the difference may end up coming from, if they're needed. We're talking 5,400 troops total to reach that minimum. As stated, my guess is some neighborhoods will be relatively easy to clear and hold while others will be a bear and thus you'll see some internal adjustments among those total numbers.

With that sort of a force, and assuming all the promised Iraqi brigades show up and are actually worth a crap (see USA Today article cited above), there is actually a legitimate chance this may work. It won't be quick and it won't be easy, but it just might work.

Don't mistake this, in particular, for enthusiasm from me for fighting a counterinsurgency. I'm not at all happy about that. But it appears they are lining up the numbers correctly ... and that is a very important first step. But there are a whole bunch of other things which have to line up as well, most of them in the category of "political will" for this to have a real shot.