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Why The Surge Failed

"The bottom-line conclusion appears clear: The surge strategy could not compensate for the lack of an effective government and security forces in Iraq. Nor could it provide a quick fix for the four years of failed strategy, passivity and complacency that preceded it." Photo courtesy AFP.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) June 20, 2007
Five months into Gen. David Petraeus' "surge" strategy to tame Baghdad, it seems farther away from succeeding than ever. Tuesday's suicide truck bomb that killed around 80 people at the Khalani Mosque in central Baghdad came only days after the minarets and tomb of the al-Askariya Shiite Mosque in Samara were devastated in an earlier attack.

Despite new U.S. tactics to hunt down and kill or capture Islamist guerrillas in and outside Baghdad, the goal of restoring law and order to the city of up to 7 million people remains elusive.

These grim developments unfortunately confirm a series of predictions we made when in these columns after the "surge" strategy was unveiled with much optimism and fanfare five months ago. On Jan. 19, we predicted of the "surge" strategy, "Its success seems unlikely."

Even then, as we noted, there were solid reasons to fear that the "surge" strategy was too little, too late and that it ignored core realities of the strategic dilemmas in Iraq. We noted that the surge had been much hyped, but that it remained exceptionally underpowered.

Of the 21,500 U.S. troops initially being added to the forces in Iraq, especially in Baghdad, only 7,000 were to be shipped out by the end of February. Eventually, the force levels in Baghdad and around Iraq were a little higher than those originally announced. But they have remained far too few to do the job required of them.

As we noted back on Jan. 19, "Given the heavy casualties, force attrition and exhaustion that U.S. combat forces have been experiencing in Iraq, along with the growing immediate demands of the Afghanistan theater, the difficulty in finding more troops at short notice should not be surprising."

A core problem, as we predicted in January, has been that Baghdad is a city of up to 7 million people and that therefore the U.S. combat brigades operating there -- even after they were boosted by the surge -- remained far too few to make significant inroads into Sunni insurgent violence.

Current U.S. Army counter-insurgency doctrine, which Gen. Petraeus co-authored, explicitly states that at least 20 troops are needed to secure every 1,000 people in the general population. That level of force ratio would require 140,000 U.S. troops concentrated in Baghdad alone -- equivalent to current U.S. force levels for the entire California-sized country of 28 million people.

The immediate troop "surge" remains less than one-tenth, or under 10 percent, of the minimum force levels that current U.S. military doctrine requires as necessary.

The "surge" strategy therefore contradicted what Winston Churchill called the fundamental catastrophic error in waging war: Doing things half-heartedly, with vastly insufficient force. Either an operation should be carried out with overwhelming force, as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell maintained in his famous military doctrine, or not at all.

Powell applied his principle with exceptional success when he amassed an enormous army of 700,000 troops to crush Iraq's far more formidable military -- then the fourth or fifth largest in the world, in the 1991 Gulf War.

Second, it appears that U.S. forces have so far failed to establish any widespread intelligence penetration of the insurgent groups sufficient to significantly reduce their operational capabilities.

Casualties inflicted on U.S. forces have significantly risen during the "surge" and while the larger U.S. military presence or "footprint" on the ground in Baghdad has greatly reduced the number of random killings by sectarian militias, it has so far still failed to reduce the capability of the insurgents to carry out monstrous attacks like the Khalani Mosque one.

Until such attacks can be vastly reduced in frequency, the surge will still have to be counted as a failure strategically and politically, whatever other justifications or successes are claimed on its behalf.

Third, as we warned on Jan. 19, Petraeus was unable to replicate his previous success in restoring security to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in Baghdad because the Iraqi capital is a very different and more difficult and complex security problem to tackle.

We then noted, "Baghdad is a vastly more populous city than Mosul and an infinitely more violent and fractured one. And the Shiite population in Baghdad is far more militant and far more uncertain in its sympathies towards U.S. military forces than the majority Kurds of the north were. Success in Mosul therefore does not guarantee the automatic success of the same kinds of tactics in the very different conditions of Baghdad. On the contrary, repeating once successful tactics in a very different operational theater where the conditions are so different is far more often a recipe for military disaster."

Finally, unfortunately we were also proven correct in our prediction that the "surge" strategy would likely generate significantly increased U.S. casualties. This was because the U.S. forces sent to Baghdad were dispersed around different neighborhoods in order to help the local population more. And as we warned, spreading the new U.S. troop contingent out that way made them far more vulnerable to attacks from the Sunni insurgents.

The war is far from over. The insurgents are not the only ones who have proven capable of adapting to rapidly changing realities. U.S. forces are doing that too. And the new team with Petraeus as ground forces commander and a Pentagon headed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates with a new secretary of the Army as well has so far proven far more efficient, responsive and fast-reacting to tactical developments in the conflict than previous Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his team ever did.

However, the bottom-line conclusion appears clear: The surge strategy could not compensate for the lack of an effective government and security forces in Iraq. Nor could it provide a quick fix for the four years of failed strategy, passivity and complacency that preceded it.

Martin Sieff is regular contributor to The Washington Times

Source: United Press International

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Air Support Insanity
Washington (UPI) June 15, 2007
Looking idly at the front page of last Wednesday's Washington Post Express as I rode the Metro to work, I received a shock. It showed a railroad station in Iraq, recently destroyed by an American air strike. So now we are bombing the railroad stations in a country we occupy? What comes next, bombing Iraq's power plants and oil refineries? How about the Green Zone? If the Iraqi Parliament doesn't pass the legislation we want it to, we can always lay a couple of JDAMs on it.

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