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Don't just surge, strategize

Author: Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies
February 7, 2007
Los Angeles Times


While politicians debate whether more U.S. troops should be sent to Iraq, just as important is how those troops will be utilized. In the Boer War, a “surge” of soldiers helped. In the Vietnam War, it didn’t. The difference is that the British had a sounder strategy.

In formulating the right strategy, there is no better guide than a slim 1964 volume, “Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice.” Its author was a French officer named David Galula, who saw service not only in World War II but in postwar China, Greece, Hong Kong and Algeria. If there is a Clausewitz of counterinsurgency, Galula is it.

Although much has changed in recent decades, most of his admonitions still apply, which is why so many are echoed in the new Army-Marine counterinsurgency field manual. U.S. forces have gotten better at this demanding type of warfare in Iraq, but even now they’re still falling short, often through no fault of their own, in carrying out many of Galula’s key precepts:

Which side gives the best protection, which one threatens the most, which one is most likely to win, these are the criteria governing the population’s stand…. Political, social, economic and other reforms, however much they ought to be wanted and popular, are inoperative when offered while the insurgent still controls the population.”

Too often the U.S. has gotten it backward, building infrastructure, holding elections and carrying out other civil reforms in an insecure environment. Expensive projects, such as electrical and water treatment plants, have been sabotaged. Any goodwill won has been ephemeral.

Our top priority must be to establish a modicum of security. Only then can reconstruction go forward.

If insurgents, though identified and arrested by the police, take advantage of the many normal safeguards built into the judicial system and are released, the police can do little.

Captured Iraqi insurgents know they can remain silent and that most likely they will never be convicted because witnesses and judges can be bought or intimidated.

“Eight of 10 detainees are set free,” write military analysts Bing West and Eliot Cohen. “One in 75 American males is in jail, compared to one in 450 Iraqi males.” Since, as they note, “Iraq is not six times safer than the U.S.,” the disparity is because of faults with the legal system that need to be fixed—perhaps by imposing martial law. Iraq will not become safer until more militants are behind bars, but they will never be convicted under peacetime rules of evidence.

Clearly, more than any other kind of warfare, counterinsurgency must respect the principle of a single direction. A single boss must direct the operations from beginning until the end.”

There has never been a single boss in Iraq. On the American side, responsibility has been split between the Defense and State departments, which have not always worked harmoniously together. On the Iraqi side, the split is between the Interior and Defense ministries, between the police and army. The situation is especially muddled in Baghdad because President Bush has promised that Iraqis will “lead” operations there. That makes Gen. David H. Petraeus’ job much harder. One of his first tasks as the top U.S. general in Iraq will simply be figuring out command relationships.

Expensive constructions for housing the troops should be prohibited…. If no construction other than what is strictly necessary is allowed, the counterinsurgent forces will be forced to live with the population, in shacks if necessary, and this will help to create common bonds.

The U.S. has spent countless billions of dollars to build an elaborate network of forward operating bases in Iraq where troops are totally isolated from the population. A key part of the Baghdad security plan must be to get forces into smaller outposts where they can interact with locals, gather intelligence and provide security. This may increase casualties in the short term, but it will save American and Iraqi lives in the long run.

Control of the population begins obviously with a thorough census. Every inhabitant must be registered and given a foolproof identity card.

Amazingly enough, the Iraqi and American governments have not issued biometric ID cards—something like our driver’s licenses, with a fingerprint included—to the populace and have not equipped security forces with portable computer terminals linked to a central database.

The lack of such a setup—employed by pretty much every U.S. police department—makes it difficult to tell whether someone stopped at a checkpoint is a wanted terrorist.

These aren’t insuperable problems. But they do need to be addressed if the reinforcements being sent to Iraq are to have any hope of success.

This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.

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