The Consequences of Inadequate Force Projection

BY Herschel Smith
8 years ago

I have made heavy use of a phrase at TCJ that I have not seen anywhere else: force projection.  Its full meaning will come clear in a minute.  Even if it is difficult for the U.S. commanders to admit that force projection at the beginning of the Iraq war was inadequate (as it currently is), Australia’s Commander in Chief has no problems telling us that we needed more troops.  In an interview with the Weekend Australian Magazine, Governor-General Michael Jeffery said he believes a lack of troops on the ground in the weeks after the US-led coalition went into Iraq hampered efforts to secure Baghdad.

He contrasted early tactics in Iraq with the counter-insurgency campaign he led in Phuoc Tuy province during the Vietnam War. “We were charged with winning the hearts and minds of local people and ensuring they were safe, which is the antithesis of what’s happening in Baghdad. People aren’t safe,” he said.  Reflecting on the initial phase of the Iraqi conflict, in March 2003, the Governor-General said: “There weren’t enough soldiers to seal Baghdad off.”

“A lack of troops, a lack of police, the structures weren’t there, the numbers weren’t there and this is a vitally important time immediately after the first battles.”

This lack of troop presence (note, not exactly equal to the definition of force projection) causes various contortions by the commanders regarding situational details.  In testimony before the Senate where senators questioned the adequacy of the number of troops, Abizaid said that “Al-Anbar province is not under control.  But while “Al-Anbar province is critical, more critical than al-Anbar province is Baghdad. Baghdad’s the main military effort,” Abizaid told Nelson. “That’s where our military resources will go.”

It is a remarkable thing to witness a general say that a particular province is “not under control” three and a half years into the war effort, and then to demur to the “more critical” city of Baghdad, presumably because it is the seat of government in Iraq.  The point is that this question – and its remarkable answer – would never have been salient with the right number of troops.  Said another way, only a lack of troop presence causes the need to shift resources from one location to another, while leaving the one to suffer and descend into anarchy.  Is this clear enough?

There isn’t any question that despite the heavy media attention given to Baghdad and the various street bombings and other violence, the al Anbar Province is still the most dangerous place in Iraq, and likely then the most dangerous place on earth.  Further, this “whack-a-mole” concept of war has extended the war effort in Iraq longer than the U.S. was involved in World War II, contrary to the counsel from the Small Wars Manual that I discussed in “War, Counterinsurgency and Prolonged Operations” (note from this post the unwillingness to mention or tackle the issue of prolonged operations and its effect on moral in the draft U.S. Counterinsurgency Field Manual FM 3-24).

Finally, there is more to the concept of force projection than number of troops.  Proper force projection also has to do with how the troops are used, i.e., their mission.  I have previously noted that the Marines in the Anbar Province feel hamstrung by the rules of engagement, which have evolved over the war in Iraq.  Further, having a troop presence, even with robust rules of engagement, is not the same thing as utilizing them.  Camp Fallujah has at the present around 10,000 troops resident.  Of those troops in the area, only 300 currently have a continual presence in Fallujah-proper, a city of 300,000.  Note that this is a ratio 1000:1 Iraqis to Marines.

As Marines in Iraq expand into more advisory roles to Iraqi troops, the insurgency, by the use of criminal techniques, has become financially self-sufficient.  The violence has not abated, there are daily retaliatory attacks by Sunni and Shia, and there is talk of civil war in Iraq.  U.S. troops face the daily threat of sniper attacks, and the U.S. casualty rate in Iraq has a positive slope line.  At least in part, these are the consequences of inadequate force projection.




You are currently reading "The Consequences of Inadequate Force Projection", entry #399 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,Small Wars and was published November 28th, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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