Sunday, May 07, 2017

Yeah, I'm Going to Stick With the Tactical Excellence Narrative

This essay really does miss the point of enemy reliance on improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq:

The U.S. military seems to have settled on the narrative that it won every tactical engagement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this view, failures of strategy and the challenges of nation-building proved the undoing of coalition counter-insurgency efforts in each conflict. Even the most critical accounts of U.S. military performance in the wars, like Lt Gen. (ret.) Bolger’s Why We Lost, emphasize American “tactical excellence” in the campaigns. Such a conclusion, however, seems to equate tactics with firefights and ignores the U.S. military’s failure to meet its objectives to counter the enemy’s weapon of choice — the improvised explosive device (IED).

This critique of American counter-IED tactics in Iraq fails to consider that the IED both represented an inability of Iraqi enemies to attack American forces with rifles and mortars and survive the encounter; and fails to consider that the IED campaign failed to stop the supplies from rolling or defeat our troops.

IEDs were a weapon of the weak that inflicted casualties with an inverse drive-by shooting (we had to drive by the mines rather than enemies driving by and shooting at us) without inflicting tactical defeats on American forces.

And American casualty rates in Iraq (and Afghanistan) were dramatically lower than in Vietnam, Korea, or World War II, even considering body armor and medical treatment. So just as killing and wounding weapons they came up short.

A tougher and more effective enemy would have followed up IED blasts on an American unit with ground attacks that exploited the confusion and casualties to inflict defeats in battle and cause more American casualties.

Instead, after a blast from an IED we secured the blast site and conducted CSI: Sunni Triangle to build a database of clues to find the bomb makers and emplacers in the campaign that did reduce IED effectiveness in inflicting casualties.

Remember, we did in fact by the winter of 2006-2007 convince many of our Sunni Arab enemies to switch to our side (who we figuratively threw out of their palaces and had fought since then, remember) and beat our enemies on the battlefield in Iraq by 2008, and put the job for winning in civilian hands.

Lord knows I'm all for improving on failures. But I'm not seeing an American tactical failure here.