Monday, December 31, 2007

The Most Important Fraction

Counter-insurgency (COIN) is a form of war. Asserting that winning COIN is not mostly fighting doesn't mean that fighting is not necessary. That is where war critics often stumble, trying to insist that we don't need to fight a COIN campaign, but instead just build and talk our way to victory.

In a related matter, one of the complaints I had of the oil spot strategy was that it seemed to ignore the enemy forces in its focus on protecting the population. I was always on board with that protecting the people aspect, but never thought we could ignore the enemy outside the protected zones:

It is not sufficient to just build walls and patrol secured areas as the spot activists want. For if the enemy roams free outside the oil spots, they will eventually hit the "secure" areas and then infiltrate them as the feeling of security is eroded by attacks on the enclaves.

The calculus of security is not merely dependent on one variable--beefing up our defenses. A good result includes reducing the enemy capacity to attack. Atomize the enemy and make them expend effort avoiding our attacks, and even partially trained defenders can handle the reduced threat. But let the enemy spend all its time planning and be free to mass when they want to strike, and we ensure that even American troops won't be sufficient to stop determined attacks from succeeding on occasion and providing propaganda victories for the enemy. Oil spots will shrink and be absorbed into the sands of Iraq with this strategy.

Reading A Better War, a 1999 book by Lewis Sorley that focuses on the post-Tet Vietnam War, reminds us of the importance of military security for the population:

George Jacobson, an "old hand" who altogether served eighteen years in Vietnam and was a mainstay of the pacification program in these later years, often observed that "there's no question that pacification is either 90 percent or 10 percent security, depending on which expert you talk to. But there isn't any expert that will doubt that it's the first 10 percent or the first 90 percent. You just can't conduct pacification in the face of an NVA division."

That sums it up pretty well. Security may not be enough but is is necessary. And the only way to keep at bay those enemy divisions--whether real or figurative--is to hammer them away from the people you want to protect. When we sought to protect Baghdad, we didn't stop at the city limits. We hit the belts and regions around and the border itself to stop the forces from hitting Baghdad with a defense in depth. And we chased the enemy down outside Baghdad. We still pursue them.

Don't get confused about statements that COIN isn't mostly military force. That is a true statement. But security is the first part of successful COIN. And security includes atomizing the enemy and making them worry about surviving.