Thursday, June 28, 2007

Remember How We Got Here

It is common to say that our strategy in Iraq for the last years until the surge was all wrong. I disagree. We were progressing until spring 2006, but new circumstances following the Samarra Golden Dome bombing required a change in approach that the surge is carrying out. (Certainly, it took us too long to adapt, but only in retrospect is that absolutely clear.)

I want to address one thing in the good post on the surge that I wrote about here, which I think is potentially misleading:

Therefore—and this is the major change in our strategy this year—protecting and controlling the population is do-able, but destroying the enemy is not. We can drive him off from the population, then introduce local security forces, population control, and economic and political development, and thereby "hard-wire" the enemy out of the environment, preventing his return. But chasing enemy cells around the countryside is not only a waste of time, it is precisely the sort of action he wants to provoke us into. That’s why AQ cells leaving an area are not the main game—they are a distraction. We played the enemy’s game for too long: not any more. Now it is time for him to play our game.

The problem is that while going after enemy cells is surely pointless if you can't protect the population, going after the enemy so that they can only move about in small cells is absolutely crucial to protecting the people. This is the problem I saw with the calls for an oil spot strategy that ignored the enemy outside the oil spots:

To recap, we can't secure population centers without atomizing the enemy which makes our Iraqi friends relatively more capable than the enemy and which keeps the enemy busy surviving rather than attacking. Further, good kill ratios are only important tactically. It helps to keep our losses down by being more effective but this is just a holding action. Stopping the recruitment of new enemy forces is the only way to defeat the enemy.

We can focus on the population now precisely because earlier we atomized the enemy through offensive operations. The enemy operates in squads at most and almost always relies on roadside bombs or suicide bombs rather than direct combat.

The complaint that we are only now fighting properly also ignores the fact that in the big picture, we were trying to protect the Iraqi population all along even as we atomized the enemy on offense. The difference was that prior to the surge we split the jobs between American forces on offense and Iraqi forces for the securing part of the strategy. But the Iraqis have not been good enough or experienced enough to cope with the terrorists, death squads, and insurgents, whose money, fervor, and experience make them too formidable to defeat without our more direct help.

This direct American help in the securing aspect is what is different. And in the end, we can't do this for very long. In the long run, the old strategy of relying on the Iraqis to secure the population must be resurrected. Hopefully, our surge disrupts the enemy enough and secures the population long enough for the Iraqis to become good enough for the job and for the population to feel safe enough to reject the terrorists, death squads, and insurgents.