Step one in counterinsurgency Posted by: McQ
on Saturday, January 13, 2007
I'm not sure Joe Klein knows what he's talking about but his is fairly typical of some of the analysis I'm seeing out there.
Quoting Condi Rice:
"I think in the next few months you are going to know whether or not this is working," she said. "They bring forces in starting February 1st. They bring in another set of forces February 15th. And I think from then on you'll have a good sense of how this is unfolding. So it's not as if there is a date, at six months, we'll know and then we have to do something dramatic. This is going to happen over a period of time. So you've got time to adjust. You've got time to go to them and say, you're not getting it done."
As I've written in earlier posts, this stands contrary to the basic principles of counterinsurgency doctrine—that it takes a long time to get residents of a distressed neighborhood to put their faith in the troops, rather than in the insurgents, and that it requires a stable, credible government.
Yeah, but that can't begin to happen until, you know, you control the neighborhood. So step one is clear and hold which is anything but contrary to our COIN doctrine. In fact you can't begin the long process necessary to win over the residents until you do that.
Obviously then Rice is correct in saying that within the first 6 months we ought to be able to see how this is all unfolding. That is, we ought to be able to see if the operation is successful in accomplishing step one. No step one and the whole thing goes down the drain.
But there is a very good possibility that the Baghdad operation will appear to be successful in the short-term. Guerrillas tend to avoid straight up confrontations with conventional forces. When the second battle of Falluja took place in November 2004, most of the insurgents evaporated—and fighting erupted in cities largely abandoned by U.S. troops.
If they clear and hold, it will be successful in the short term. The whole point is to deny insurgents, who, as Klein notes, avoid straight up confrontation, any influence in these neighborhoods. If they can't or won't confront the ISF/US forces, they can't assert any authority. So the whole point is not to duplicate the battle of Falluja, but instead to clear and hold. That means establishing the government's authority and denying the insurgents legitimacy in the eyes of the population.
Or—more likely—the guerrillas could just go to ground for six months until the U.S. troops withdraw to the periphery of Baghdad.
So? That's 6 months out of the area, 6 months in which the ISF and the government establish authority and security and 6 months for the insurgency to reconsider its ability to win. It's also 6 months more experience for the ISF in conducting counterinsurgency operations (aimed at those guys forced out on the "periphery of Baghdad").
That's why counterinsurgency experts insist that these sorts of operations take years to complete. That's why the administration is being irresponsible when it says that we'll see results in a matter of months.
Yup. But they all start with "step one". And they all require the COIN forces establish and keep control. So yes, in 6 months to a year, you may indeed see US forces withdrawing. But, if within that time-frame, they and the ISF have successfully held Baghdad, the Iraqis will be in a much stronger position than the insurgents and be on the long road to winning the insurgency ... and, lest we forget, it is they who have to win the insurgency, not us.
6 months in which the ISF and the government establish authority and security and 6 months for the insurgency to reconsider its ability to win.
And 6 months without the type of press the insurgency depends on, 6 months of insurgent recruits finding there are peaceful options, 6 months of preparing Baghdad for our troops to leave in a manner that bears less resemblance to Operation Frequent Wind. I’m not sure how successful it will be. I hope it works, but people like Klein miss the entire point.