Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Anbar Anvil

Our so-called surge in Iraq devotes 17,500 troops to Baghdad and 4,000 to all of Anbar. The Baghdad effort is our main effort but Anbar is an important supporting front to the main effort. This press conference by the I MEF commander in Anbar has some good information.

Given the call of some who oppose the war to simply concentrate on the jihadis in Anbar and let the Sunnis and Shias kill each other in central Iraq, this allocation of force is disappointing.

But we don't need more troops in Iraq's Anbar province to win there. I had written before that Anbar could not be won militarily unless we killed every third adult male. Political progress to deny support to the jihadis was key. We've done that with agreements with Anbar tribal sheiks that provide Sunni Arab fighters for the battle against the jihadis.

Coupled to our military strength in Anbar, we now have the means to grind down what is now a predominantly local al Qaeda branch that relies on local recruits rather than smaller numbers of foreign fighters. Consider that Anbar has a population of up to 1.3 million people, depending on estimates. Add another 200,000 Sunni refugees from central Iraq (as a guess). So call it 1.5 million people to control. By standard counter-insurgency doctrine we'd need at least 30,000 troops to control this number of people (2%). We have 30,000 US forces in Anbar. Add in 14,000 Iraqi army and we have 44,000 troops. Add in police and tribal forces (I'm estimating 6,000 more combined, though the tribes are supposed to be providing 30,000). Fifty thousand security forces are 3.33% of the population. We can grind the jihadis down with the population backing efforts to kill and capture the jihadis.

So adding troops to Anbar would not make sense even if our main effort was Anbar. We have enough. So why add troops to Anbar under these circumstances? Well, to help the main effort, of course. The commander speaks of doing more in Anbar and buying time to train Iraqis, but this gives the game away:

The 4,000 Marines in our case that have been identified for reinforcing operations in Anbar province, they will have a very positive effect there is no doubt about that. They will allow us first and foremost to reinforce success where we have seen success, and in the late fall months and where we are right now we've seen some tremendous progress all -- but from a security perspective as well as from an economic and governance perspective.

But those 4,000 troops, again, they'll allow us to reinforce that success we're seeing out here, but just as importantly, they were announced as part of the overall Baghdad security plan. Our security out here in Anbar is tied very directly to that of Baghdad and vice versa. So the addition of those 4,000 troops out here are going to enable us to provide that isolation, that security that is essential for the Baghdad security plan.

I imagine that the 4,000 Marines heading to Anbar will be used to block retreat paths for the jihadis who operate in Baghdad as Army troops pair up with Iraqi troops and police to comb the city for the enemy. If 17,500 more Army troops going to Baghdad are the hammer, then the 4,000 Marines going to Anbar are the anvil against which the hammer can smash running jihadis. This is an effort to avoid the fallout in Mosul in December 2004 that followed the Fallujah assault in November 2004 as jihadi survivors of Fallujah ran to Mosul and wreaked havoc for a month.

How this will play out with reinforcements coming in over several months remains to be seen. In a purely military point of view, I'd rather see the troops go in all at once. From a political point of view, stretching out the deployment should help avoid expectations at home of rapid success.

But our military knows that Baghdad is the main effort and is orienting our forces accordingly.