Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Give Me Strength

I continue to hold the view that we do not have too few American troops in Iraq to win that campaign.

I’ve threatened/warned/promised that I’d drone on about this topic yet again if I had to, and by God I think I have to. So here goes.

It is commonly held (accurately, as far as I can tell) that you need troop strength at a minimum of 2% of the population. Calling Iraq at 25 million people means we would need at least 500,000 troops to pacify Iraq.

Of course, the same can be said for Afghanistan where we have 20,000 American troops, 10,000 NATO troops, 70,000 Afghan army, and 70,000 Afghan police to protect the same number of people. These 170,000 troops are winning there with the Taliban and al Qaeda clearly on the run and completely incapable of taking on the government. So the 2% rule is hardly an iron rule. Or have I missed the crowd that says Iraq distracts us from Afghanistan calling for an additional 330,000 US troops in Afghanistan?

In Iraq, we have 140,000 American troops as the base force (up to 160,000 for the election period we are in now, and with the next rotation announcement only including 90,000 new troops, thus far), 210,000 Iraq security personnel, 20,000 Coalition troops, and 20,000 contract personnel (I’m rounding). This totals 390,000 as the base but with 410,000 on the ground right now. Assuming Iraqi forces go up to 250,000 next year, US forces decline to 100,000, and Coalition forces decline to 10,000 (I find it hard to believe they won’t if we draw down), we can call it 380,000 forces. Still, to protect 25 million people, any of these totals should be too little to win if the 2% rule is iron. Many say that we should keep our troop strength constant or even increase this strength even as Iraqis come on line in larger numbers. Yet without the numbers the theory says we need, we’ve seen progress in the last year and a half since the low point of the April 2004 Sadr/Baathist/jihadi counter-attack. The enemy should be able to take advantage of our troops “shortage” to expand the war into Shia and Sunni areas and build momentum of their own. Yet we are winning. So how can this be possible?

Well, the 2% rule may be most applicable when you are occupying a hostile country. Had we invaded a 100% Sunni Iraq, and were unable to recruit significant numbers of locals into a puppet government to fight with us, 500,000 American or allied foreign troops would be needed, I’m sure. But it would have been a decade-long and bloody fight, more like Russia’s war in Chechnya, that I doubt we could have sustained anyway regardless of having “enough” troops.

But Sunnis only represent 20% of the total population. And the Kurds clearly welcomed us with flowers while the Shias clearly welcomed the overthrow of Saddam. Yes, some Shias did throw flowers despite the denials of the anti-war side now. But they were also mindful of our betrayal of their revolt in 1991. They did not really side with us until after the fall of 2004. We can thank the bloody-minded attacks on innocent civilians that prompted a change in Shia opinion from somehow blaming America for the attacks to wanting to kill the jihadi and Baathist enemies that were carrying out the terror attacks.

So 80% of the population of Iraq is basically with us, counting some cross-religious/ethnic loyalties that result in pro-Sadr Shias opposed to us or some Kurds to oppose us and some Sunnis supporting us. If these ethnic groups lived in geographically distinct areas, we’d be talking about subduing a population of 5 million, really. At the 2% rule, we’d need at least 100,000 troops to subdue these largely Sunni resisters.

But the population is mingled. Based on memory, I think we can call it as 8 million Shias in the south and 3 million Kurds in the north, leaving 5 million Sunnis, 2 million Kurds, and 7 million Shias mingled in the center. So to police or protect 14 million people, where the overwhelming majority of attacks take place, we’d need 280,000 troops and police at a minimum in this area. With about 400,000 Iraqi and foreign allied forces, we should be able to devote the 300,000 personnel needed to police the contested region. When you consider that the total security forces do not even count the Kurdish militias that largely secure the north and the smaller numbers of Shia militias in the south that help with the much more benign security environment there (though admittedly some of the militia should be counted as potential enemies), I don’t see how we need more US troops. Indeed, since we liberated Iraq we’d be fools to tell the Iraqis to sit back and watch us ramp up our troop numbers to fight for them. What does that tell Iraqis? What effect does it have on them? I think such a course would let Iraqis be passive observers of the war rather than combatants with a vital stake in winning. More important than numbers of troops is who the troops are. We need Iraqis and not Americans to fight and win.

As I’ve mentioned before, this so-called insurgency is nothing of the sort any more. It is now a terror campaign assisted by ample money and explosives inside Iraq plus jihadi support from outside the country. Our enemies have gone backwards down the escalation ladder from large formal units to platoon and company level attacks on military and police units, to roadside bombs directed against security forces, to suicide bombings directed at civilians. These are not discreet categories so there is some overlap and some exceptions, but the trend is quite clear. The enemy has not forged a national resistance against America and our Iraqi government allies. They have not maintained momentum to fight in larger units and gain control of areas. Instead, they have prompted a national resistance of the majority against the Baathists and jihadis and the enemy is losing control of areas it controls and getting atomized. The majority might not be happy that they need American troops but they know they do for now.

As time has gone on, more Iraqi troops and police trained and equipped to fight insurgents are being put on the line. These will provide the density of troops and police to protect the country with fewer and fewer American troops necessary to fight. US forces will still be needed for intelligence and reconnaissance, logistics, maintenance, planning, and firepower. Plus we will deter foreign invasion, of course.

More important when discussing a largely terrorist resistance, is building the Iraqi intelligence capability to identify the terrorist leaders inside Iraq. As this is developed and they gain experience (Remember, under Saddam, the Shias and Kurds were not trusted to do this so they are all new to the job.), Iraqi forces will defeat a well-financed and well-armed Sunni enemy that imports the most vicious killers from the Sunni world who have essentially bought the all-day ticket to their fantasy Jihad World in Iraq.

These jihadis remember the stirring tales of their older family members who flocked to Pakistan to go to training camps to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. But these were mostly jihadi-tourists who spent their time in Pakistan refugee camps because the Afghans didn’t want amateurs getting Afghans killed. These Sunni jihadis came home in the 1980s with a couple of stills from rare Dan Rather-style forays into the edges of the fight combined with tales of magic hats and Apocalypse Now-style boat trips into Cambodia—no wait, that’s another fantasy altogether. In this war in 2005, the jihadi-tourists are getting waxed and dying in their al Anbar theme park. But they terrorize and kill before they die.

These factors make the enemy effective beyond their numbers and more US troops would have little positive effect and a lot of negatives, including the stress on the overall force and the good possibility that the Shias would have been content to let Americans fight for them—and then grown tired and angry as the fight dragged on without a sense of responsibility for their own safety to keep them determined to beat the terrorist and Baathist enemies.

So while I trust that the motives of most people who call for more troops are good, I continue to disagree that we have too few troops to win. And I do think we are clearly winning.