Major General Benjamin Mixon Reports on Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 6 months ago

Major General Benjamin Mixon recently reported on counterinsurgency in the Northern Province of Diyala to Fort Leavenworth officers.

Iraqis could be chiefly in control of the security in the north of their country within a year, says the general recently returned from commanding forces there.

Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon told officers at Fort Leavenworth last week that he expected Iraqi security forces to take the lead in day-to-day patrols in the northern provinces within 12 to 18 months if U.S. commanders continue to build up the capabilities of the Iraqis and the population’s confidence in them.

The first province transferred to Iraqi security was Muthanna in July 2006, followed by Dhi Qar, An Najaf, Maysan, part of Irbil, Sulaymaniyah, Dahuk, Karbala and Basra. The general thinks Diyala, Salah ad Din, Ninawa, Al Tameen provinces and the rest of Irbil could see Iraqis assuming the lead in security in little over a year.

Mixon said gains in the north came ahead of last year’s U.S. troop surge and before the rewriting of American doctrine for fighting the insurgency.

As early as November 2006, he said, his troops were setting up smaller remote bases more in touch with the lives of ordinary Iraqis and courting tribal sheikhs and provincial officials.

“I don’t know what’s new about counterinsurgency,” Mixon said.

That runs counter to enthusiasm generated among officers by a new and much-lauded counterinsurgency manual published in 2006 under the direction of Gen. David Petraeus when he was the commander at Leavenworth. It was the first revision of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine in decades, and was notable for the way it valued collaboration with a civilian population and de-emphasized the use of brute military power.

The adoption of the manual was followed quickly by President Bush sending a surge of 30,000 troops into Iraq and putting Petraeus in charge of troops in the country.

“It’s a myth that all of a sudden we published the manual, then all of a sudden we got counterinsurgency,” Mixon told a handful of officers from Leavenworth’s counterinsurgency center.

Urban warfare studies at Fort Polk, La., for years have underscored the importance of winning the support of civilians in an occupied country through negotiation, he said. The military has long urged understanding local culture and improving people’s living conditions.

When Mixon was the top commander in northern Iraq for a 15-month stretch that ended late last year, troops worked to secure the region’s bountiful oil fields — although the general said exports could still be stifled by a single terrorist explosion — rebuilt schools, and repaired water and power facilities.

The effort included public relations work, from military commanders hosting regular radio call-in shows to arranging the telecasts of widows of suicide bombing victims receiving suitcases full of Iraqi currency in compensation.

“We’re not going to win by killing everybody,” the general said. “You’ve got to kill the right people — the leaders, the bomb makers and the people who just don’t want to give up the fight.

“But you can’t kill everybody. You have to win them over.”

Since the narrative carried forward matters to history for the purposes of training young officers and assisting the population to understand what counterinsurgency requires, and since I have been concerned about the lack of clarity of the Anbar narrative, I began the category The Anbar Narrative.  It is true that the success in Anbar came as a result of hard work prior to the so called “surge,” and that Marines were doing combat outposts (later combined with Iraqi Police Precincts) prior to the command of General Petraeus or the Petraeus / Nagl / Kilcullen doctrine promulgated in FM 3-24.  But The Captain’s Journal isn’t sure what to make of the claims by Major General Mixon regarding the Diyala Province, especially since this report differs at least moderately from previous reports by Mixon.

Maintaining security in Diyala province north of Baghdad will be impossible if U.S. troops are withdrawn from Iraq, according to a U.S. senior ground commander there.

“We obviously cannot maintain that if the forces are withdrawn — and that would be a very, very bad idea, to do a significant withdrawal immediately,” Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, told CNN’s Jamie McIntyre on CNN.com Live.

In September, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, is to brief Congress on the progress of operations involving the recent increase of U.S. troops in Iraq — a buildup the Bush administration calls a “surge.” The briefing could determine how long the additional troops will stay.

Mixon’s troops are working with Iraqi forces fighting entrenched al Qaeda forces in Baquba and around Diyala province in an operation dubbed “Arrowhead Ripper.”

U.S. troop casualties have been high in the province, according to U.S. commanders, because insurgent forces are using the area as a base and have booby-trapped it with “deeply buried” roadside bombs that have killed entire Humvee crews.

Diyala became the home base for many al Qaeda forces when U.S. troops clamped down on Baghdad in February with increased troop levels, the military says.

Once a model of how the United States was clearing violence from parts of Iraq, Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, has become a ghost town except for the pockets of fighting between coalition and al Qaeda forces.

Mixon said the U.S. military strategy of “clear, hold and retain” was not possible when his troops arrived in Baquba last September because he did not have enough forces.

“I only had enough forces initially when I arrived here last September to clear Baquba. I did that many times, but I was unable to hold it and secure it,” Mixon said.

“Now I have enough force to go in, establish permanent compound outposts throughout the city that will be manned by coalition forces, Iraqi army, and Iraqi police, and maintain a permanent presence.

But all of this has been made possible with the additional forces that have been given to me as a result of the surge,” Mixon said.

This kind of odd inconsistency helps neither the training of young officers trying to learn to lead their units nor the narrative of history.  The longer the time delay before a concerted effort is made to catalog the campaign, the less clear the narrative becomes.  Let’s hope that the battalion, regiment and division historians are busy about their business.


You are currently reading "Major General Benjamin Mixon Reports on Counterinsurgency", entry #904 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Counterinsurgency,Iraq and was published January 22nd, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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