Sunday, October 01, 2006

Troop Strength

Once more on the topic of what is enough troop strength to win in Iraq.

While there are renewed calls for more American troops in Iraq, I still do not think it is necessary to ramp up our troop strength. Sure, the recent fairly minor adjustments can help, but the focus of moving responsibilities to trained Iraqi forces is the key.

This conference is interesting, in particular the statement's discussion of what is enough to win a counter-insurgency campaign:

One example of this dilemma is troop strength. What is the proper ratio of security forces (military and police) to a given population? An often cited rule of thumb is approximately 20 soldiers per 1000 residents. A recent study by the Army’s Combat Studies Institute in Fort Leavenworth attempted to derive the “right” ratio based on historical analysis. Although the numbers varied significantly across cases, the average turned out to be 13.26 soldiers per 1000 inhabitants or 91.82 residents per soldier. But, the study’s own Forward warns that these results “cannot be used to guarantee victory by simply putting a certain number of soldiers ‘on the ground’ relative to the indigenous population. The percentages and numbers in the study are merely historical averages, with all the dangers inherent in any average figure.”

As is noted, this is not a rule where if you get 13.26 (or 20 as was commonly asserted as the minimum) troops per 1000 residents, you win. The point of the conference is that counter-insurgency is mostly political. The government needs to run a successful country with economic opportunity and political inclusion to keep people pro-government and pull neutrals or anti-government folks in the government's direction. These are things any government must do even in peacetime and so the security forces' job is to provide a shield to do these things. The military aspect is a minority of the problem but an absolutely essential shield to let government work.

In a country of 25 million, we'd need 350,000 to have 14% ratio. We have 140,000 US, 20,000 coalition, 10,000 private security, 300,000 Iraqi police and army, and 150,000 facility protection forces (this is all from memory so don't cite me for precise numbers). That is 620,000 troops--24.8 per 1,000 people. This doesn't count the 70,000 Kurdish Pesh Merga that keep the northern Kurdish areas safe. And if you break it down by region, we can skimp on the southern Shia area and pump up the numbers in the central Sunni and mixed area. I fail to see how we have insufficient troops to win. Unless you hold the bizarre notion that only American and British forces count. If you argue this tell me how many American and British soldiers did Saddam have to hold Iraq against a hostile Shia and Kurd population before we destroyed his regime?

On the security level, it is important to get the locals fighting. Indeed, the statement provides that "a key objective is to assist the host nation in developing its own capabilities[.]" More of our troops could interfere with this goal as I've argued from early in the insurgency (back in the Fall of 2003). If we fight for our friends, they'll let us fight for them. And eventually blame us for the violence as they watch from the sidelines. Indeed, we still get some of that attitude even as we stand up Iraqi forces to fight instead of us. How much worse would it be if we had 200,000 troops in Iraq?

We have started a process of creating an Iraqi military to fight the insurgency and not a miniature version of our military:

Working with the host nations in these states, we are not creating, nor have we attempted to create, a “mirror image” of our own military. Instead, we are helping to build forces that can counter their respective insurgencies and which can be sustained by the host nation.

Troop strength is important, but arguing about our levels ignores that we have made progress in the far more important political and economic areas even as some claim we have too few troops. How have we made progress in these areas if we have too few troops? The study of past ratios and campaigns should tell us that winning is not a matter of reaching some magic number of troops density. (Indeed, one study by the Army before the war argued that 100,000 US troops would be needed.) This is simply not the key ingredient to winning when the non-military aspects are 80% or more of the solution. I don't care how many hawks and doves argue we need more American troops to win. We don't.

And we've made military progress, too. The enemy is restricted to fewer areas even if numbers of attacks increase. This is where the ample enemy money comes in. They still are using the Oil for Food money to carry on an insurgency out of proportion to their support and strength. And despite their money, the enemy is atomized, unable to operate in company strength and rarely, it seems, in even platoon strength. This is something the rookie Iraqi forces can take on successfully.

So have patience. We are winning. And stop focusing on troop strength since that is hardly the key; and even in military terms alone, we've done the job well.

We will win this. If we don't falter in spirit.