Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Understanding the Surge

Over at Small Wars Journal, David Kilcullen has a very interesting post on "Understanding Current Operations in Iraq." Why should we listen to Kilcullen? Because he is the Senior Counter-Insurgency Adviser to the Multi-National Forces in Iraq.

According to Kilcullen:

This post is not about whether current ops are “working” — for us, here on the ground, time will tell, though some observers elsewhere seem to have already made up their minds (on the basis of what evidence, I’m not really sure). But for professional counterinsurgency operators such as our SWJ community, the thing to understand at this point is the intention and concept behind current ops in Iraq: if you grasp this, you can tell for yourself how the operations are going, without relying on armchair pundits. So in the interests of self-education (and cutting out the commentariat middlemen—sorry, guys) here is a field perspective on current operations.


These operations are qualitatively different from what we have done before. Our concept is to knock over several insurgent safe havens simultaneously, in order to prevent terrorists relocating their infrastructure from one to another, and to create an operational synergy between what we're doing in Baghdad and what's happening outside. Unlike on previous occasions, we don't plan to leave these areas once they’re secured. These ops will run over months, and the key activity is to stand up viable local security forces in partnership with Iraqi Army and Police, as well as political and economic programs, to permanently secure them. The really decisive activity will be police work, registration of the population and counterintelligence in these areas, to comb out the insurgent sleeper cells and political cells that have "gone quiet" as we moved in, but which will try to survive through the op and emerge later. This will take operational patience, and it will be intelligence-led, and Iraqi government-led. It will probably not make the news (the really important stuff rarely does) but it will be the truly decisive action.


Personally, I think we are doing reasonably well and casualties have been lower so far than I feared. Every single loss is a tragedy. But so far, thank God, the loss rate has not been too terrible: casualties are up in absolute terms, but down as a proportion of troops deployed (in the fourth quarter of 2006 we had about 100,000 troops in country and casualties averaged 90 deaths a month; now we have almost 160,000 troops in country but deaths are under 120 per month, much less than a proportionate increase, which would have been around 150 a month). And last year we patrolled rarely, mainly in vehicles, and got hit almost every time we went out. Now we patrol all the time, on foot, by day and night with Iraqi units normally present as partners, and the chances of getting hit are much lower on each patrol. We are finally coming out of the "defensive crouch" with which we used to approach the environment, and it is starting to pay off.
I'll follow up today or tomorrow with some thoughts of my own on the surge.

1 comment:

Matt Bondy said...

On the one hand, stuff like this is reasonable enough that you want to give it time to work for a few months.

On the other, it begs the question, "Then what the hell were we doing before?!", and the answer's not pretty.

I was in favour of the war, though I think it's prosecution has been a mess. I'm looking forward to September so we can listen to Petraeus' SITREP and take a good look at what's going on.

I understand the Left's argument that a partial or full withdrawal puts pressure on the Iraqis to start getting along, but I'm not sure I'm buyin. Are you?

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