8 years, 9 months ago
In Concerning the Failure of Counterinsurgency in Iraq, I argued that the counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy employed by the U.S. in Iraq has failed. I argued that this failure is not attributable to the warriors in the field, nor is it a detraction from the effort they have expended and the blood and limbs they have lost. Rather, it is due at least in part to the adoption of David Galula’s principles of COIN, coming mostly from the situation he faced in Algeria. To be sure, his book is serious study, and much wisdom can be gleaned from his theories. But the global war on terror is a “horse of a different color,” and requires its own theoretical framework.
While the list isn’t comprehensive, I cited seven reasons that the Iraq situation is not entirely conducive to application of the same COIN doctrine, and gave hints as to things that might be considered in the development of revised doctrine for the war. President Bush will soon announce his strategy for going forward in Iraq, and it seems prudent and timely to pull one thread in the tapestry of a revised strategy, perhaps the most important one. Without this thread, the rest of the fabric unravels.
Pointing to a border with Syria that has not been secured, I said that “The battlefield, both for military actions and so-called â€śnonkineticâ€? actions to win the people, is dynamic. As one insurgent is killed, another pops up in his place, coming not from any action the U.S. has or has not taken in Iraq, but rather, coming from hundreds or even thousands of miles away due to a religious hatred that has been taught to him from birth. The war in Iraq is both figuratively and quite literally a war without borders.”
Perhaps the most remarkable failure of the existing COIN doctrine has to do with its assumption that we are working with a static population, that population being the prize for the victor in Iraq. But as Michael Ledeen points out:
” … this war is not like the one Galula waged in at least two crucial respects: It is much bigger than a single country, and ideology is much more important in vital areas of the battlefield. The insurgents in Iraq do not just depend on the Iraqi people for support, as the Algerian revolutionaries did, because the Iraqis have enormous support in Syria and Iran. It is hard to imagine any realistic level of Coalition forces in Iraq that could protect the country from infiltration across the Iranian and Syrian borders.”
I also mentioned that the customary understanding of Galula’s COIN doctrine has the insurgent attempting to win the population, with the government forces attempting to hold them in submission. The Iraq model has this turned entirely on its head. The insurgents are holding the population in submission while we are attempting to win them, with insurgent terror proving to be more compelling than our so-called “nonkinetic” operations.
Iraq is not just a part of the global war on terror. It is very much at the center of the war, with Iran and Syria involved through proxy fighters from Syria, al Qaeda from both Syria and Iran, Ansar al Sunna from Iran, and other terrorist and criminal elements. It is a regional problem, and therefore will require a regional solution.
Saddam Hussein, being the nemesis of Iran and catalyst for the deaths of thousands of Iranian troops, was the only true enemy that Iran had, and while his death marks the end of an ugly era for them, the Iranian regime had plans for more regional influence even before the war began. Iran has designs on regional domination, and has already acted on these designs:
Iranâ€™s paramilitary and intelligence buildup in Iraq would put some members of the â€ścoalition of the willingâ€? to shame. Over the past three years, Tehran has deployed to Iraq a large number of the Revolutionary Guardâ€™s Qods Force â€” a highly professional force specializing in assassinations and bombings â€” as well as officers from the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security and representatives of Lebanese Hezbollah.
Iranian personnel have established safe houses throughout southern Iraq. They monitor the movement of coalition forces, tend weapons caches, facilitate cross-border travel of clerics, smuggle munitions into Iraq and recruit individuals as intelligence sources. Presumably, Tehran has recruited networks within U.S. military bases and civilian compounds that could be activated on short notice. Iran is also believed by regional intelligence agencies to have armed and trained as many as 40,000 Iraqis to prevent an unlikely rollback of Shiite control.
Iraq quickly went from being a nemesis to being a pawn in the larger, more regional plan. So it is not by accident that the same IED technology that Hezballah used in its war with Israel is now in use against U.S. forces in Iraq. It all comes from Iran. But if the nuclear problem in Iran is troublesome, perhaps even more immediate problems are the porous borders with Syria and Saudi Arabia. Michael Fumento, reporting from the Anbar Province, noted what he called a mini-Ho Chi Minh trail along which foreign fighters pass. This method has been effective, and as military sources admit:
Saudi Arabia and Syria are the leading sources of insurgents. An Army official provided a list of the top 10 countries to NBC News but would not release the numbers of foreign fighters from each. The top 10, alphabetically, are: Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.
The drainage of sewage from surrounding locations into Iraq has its effect, and just today, the Multi-National Force web site issued a press release concerning combat action in Baghdad:
Early today Iraqi Army and coalition forces began a joint operation in Taleel Square.
Soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division with support from Coalition forces are conducting targeted raids to capture multiple targets, disrupt insurgent activity and restore Iraqi Security Forces control of North Haifa Street, said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, spokesperson for Multi-National Division Baghdad.
â€śThis area has been subject to insurgent activity which has repeatedly disrupted Iraqi Security Force operations in central Baghdad,â€? said Bleichwehl.
Joint forces reported receiving small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenade and indirect fire attacks during the operation.
The targeted raids have successfully resulted in three arrests this morning. The operation is currently ongoing.
Most interesting is what is missing from this press release. We are told by the BBC that seven Syrian nationals were arrested as part of this operation (Fox News reports that it is three Syrian nationals). As to the U.S. response to this kind of behavior? It warrants a mention to the press: “The U.S. says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad allows weapons and fighters to cross its border into Iraq to support the insurgency.” Based on this observation, I’m sure that they’re shaking in their boots.
One well-placed army intelligence source recently told me that “We knew when we were there that to win in Iraq we had to win in Anbar. And to win in Anbar we had to win in Ramadi. But to win in Ramadi we have to control the border with Syria and Jordan (as well as Saudi Arabia actually).”
Army intelligence knows this, and Syrian intelligence certainly knows that Syria is in the direct supply chain for the rogue elements being funneled through Syria. Of course, this makes Syria complicit in these things, and thus Syria is, by use of proxy fighters and land access, at war with both Iraq and the U.S. The U.S. response so far has been tepid for the same reason that the MNF web site didn’t mention the capture of Syrian fighters. If we openly admit to the scope of the Syrian problem, then logically we must put it into the formula for success – something politically objectionable to a vast audience in America. Don’t mention it, and maybe people won’t notice.
But there is more. Thanks to Politics Central (Pajamas Media), we learn that Iraqi insurgents have successfully launched a 24-hour propaganda television station, located in Syria, and with the help of Egypt. It is apparently primarily aimed at the youth to attempt to persuade them to join the jihad against the Iraqi government and the U.S. forces, and thus it will serve in the future to be a tool of recruitment for the forces of terror.
In Attack Syria, I joined Blackfive in calling for a strike on Syria (primarily with air power), saying “In a time when the entire country, even the world, is watching to see what reaction Bush will have to the Baker report, an attack on Syrian assets along with the destruction of jihadist television would go a long way towards an authoritative answer to this question. In addition to an attack on Syrian assets and jihadist television, the State Department should finally engage in the GWOT (this might require them to pick a side in the war). Assuming that they side with the U.S., Egypt should be our next target for high-pressure diplomacy. The State Department, again assuming that they side with the U.S., should not countenance pretend allies. Allowing an Egyptian satellite to be used for the publication of enemy propaganda should be viewed as aiding the enemy, and Egypt should suffer all of the political and diplomatic pressure that we can bring to bear on them for this act.”
A benefit from this action would be to take two branches of the United States Armed Forces that have been relegated to the state of largely irrelevant in the global war on terror, and utilize them again in a powerful way. And would such an action destabilize the region? Well, it might destabilize Syria, which would be a good consequence, but there is no compelling argument that this action would be detrimental to U.S. interests. I recently had an opportunity to arrange a meeting between James Baker and Sun Tzu, and Baker was reminded from the timeless wisdom of Sun Tzu that in order to intimidate your neighbor, you must inflict injury upon them. Since we must always assume that our enemies will come to fight us rather than make peace (“The Art of War,” Section VIII.16), Syria will only be malleable if she fears us. At the present, it is quite obvious that she does not.
As a “going forward” strategy, incursions into Syria must be made in order to kill terrorists and deny them safe haven. The border must be absolutely secured with both Syria and Iran, including even incidental traffic. Based on my intelligence source cited above, only after the borders have been secured can we begin to treat Iraq as a nation even roughly amenable to standard COIN doctrine. But even this is incomplete and only temporary. What next?
Turning again to Michael Ledeen, a bold strategy is suggested to encourage regime change in both Syria and Iran:
Paradoxically, the Syrian/Iranian involvement in Iraq cuts both ways, for at the same time they are supporting the terror war in Iraq and Afghanistan, they face the very real possibility of insurgencies in their own countries. Indeed, the Iranians have had to contend with a nonviolent insurgency for many years now.
That fact changes things considerably. It means that while we are counterinsurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, we are potential insurgents in Syria and Iran. We should be fighting for popular support in at least four countries, where the people will be evaluating our likelihood of success across the entire battlefield, not just city by city or country by country.
The peoples of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (as well as those on the margins, who are not yet swept up in the war, but may well be quite soon) are evaluating the battlefield very carefully, for they must be ready to jump on the winner’s bandwagon.
There are certainly changes that need to occur at the microscopic level. The rules of engagement need serious reevaluation, and probably at least some tweaking (including for Marine snipers). On a somewhat larger scale, following the counsel of the Small Wars Manual (Chapter XI), the Sadrists must be disarmed. On a somewhat larger scale still, the U.S. must go on the offensive once again against the insurgents. Most U.S. troops are sitting on well-protected bases that are more safe than major U.S. cities and have never seen combat. More troops to sit on these bases while several hundred are saddled with the responsibility to patrol Fallujah is not, by anyone’s estimation, a robust strategy for defeating an insurgency. So a surge in troops does nothing to determine how these troops are used and how they engage the enemy.
On a larger scale still, the Iraqi borders must be shut down. But on a macroscopic level, Syria and Iran must be dealt with, both as part of the Iraq war and also as subsets of the global war on terror and jihadism. If the deaths of more than three thousand sons and daughters of America are to mean anything, our strategy must outfit our troops to win.
I have done my share of pontificating about force size, nation-building versus traditional war, and Rumsfeld’s views versus those of Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. And as much as we might like to opine and pontificate about what we should have done four years ago, talk of Eric Shinseki and Anthony Zinni has now become passe. The question now is not whether there should be a troop surge, or even how large it should be if there is one. Increase troops if needed, but the question of the hour is one of strategy. Are we in the global war on terror to win? In September of 2006 I said that “The U.S. will not win in Iraq until Iran is driven out entirely.” We might expand that to say that until Iran is dealt with, we will not win the global war on terror.
America has the most adaptive and innovative boys in the world. One officer used AC/DC’s “Back in Black” to kill Taliban:
After wearing the Taliban down for six days with rock music blaring across the river valley, and artillery and airstrikes, they found a weak spot in the Talibanâ€™s defenses. Playing his favorite music, AC/DCâ€™s â€śBack in Black,â€? to hide the sound of the armored vehicles, Williams took the Taliban by surprise, crossing the river and driving through the cornfields from the northeast.
Further east in the Anbar Province, American boys have figured out a way to protect HMMWV turrets which were previously vulnerable to grenades being lobbed in: a hemisphere of chicken wire. There is no paucity of thinking, sweating or bleeding by U.S. troops. Now all they need is a winning strategy.