The Broader War: Redefining our Strategy for Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
17 years, 6 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 “nonkinetic

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  1. On January 10, 2007 at 6:19 pm, Donald Sensing said:

    An outstanding analysis! The administration has deliberately not admitted that our enemies comprise far more than the various insurgencies inside Iraq. No one in the Middle East, excepting Israel, wants us to succeed in Iraq, including putative allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

    This is one more reason the “surge” won’t work; the most lethal insurgencies get foreign direct support that the Keane-Kagan tactics don’t really address.

  2. On January 11, 2007 at 12:21 am, Dave N. said:

    This posting presents several good points.

    Porous borders are something that bedevils Americans. The Iraq borders are open and causing us trouble. The reference to the Ho Chi Minh trail is apt. Another example might be the US failure to notice the Chinese Army crossing the Yalu during the Korean war. Although not a military event, the present porous border with Mexico is just another example that, as a national characteristic, we tend to neglect the importance of borders, compared to what might be more reasonable behavior on our part. But if we can recognize this flaw in our priorities, we can take steps to correct it. It’s good to point out the open Iraqi borders with Iran and Syria, even if it’s obvious and a known problem, because if we keep talking about it, it makes it harder for the leaders to continue to ignore it. The inverse of “don’t mention it, and maybe people won’t notice” is, if we people keep mentioning it, it’s harder for leadership to ignore.

    Regarding the “Jihad TV” satellite station (leasing a channel on an Egyptian-owned satellite), here’s another idea: Why isn’t the US military producing 10 or 20 TV channels worth of “true propaganda,” i.e. news and information shows 24/7 about the good things the US and coalition countries are doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries where we operate? In Arabic, Farsi, all their languages. Some shows about civil affairs projects, other shows with video from combat, to show the enemy what really happens to them when the US has a good day. Fast response, as near to real time as info can be put up without compromising operational security. Apply Boyd’s OODA loop theory (Observe Orient Decision Action) to media: we have to put out truth faster than they can put out lies, after every action big or small. Think, helmet-cams on troops, and cameras co-axial (parallel) with every weapon’s bore, to record all actions for military media offensive operations. Think time-on-target media barrages, our military uploading hundreds or thousands of video clips to Youtube in a fraction of a second, at random times in the day, showing real imagery of what good things our troops are doing, both combat and civil affairs. Visualize what an “information war” would actually look like on the offensive side, if we were actually trying to fight one, instead of just letting the enemy take the lead in that. What people (both friend and enemy, and the huge mass in the middle) nowadays Observe and Orient to largely comes through the media and Internet. We have to get inside their loop, flooding the zone of what they observe and orient to in the media universe.

    Egypt (officially a friend of the US) and the other Islamic-majority countries don’t even build and launch their own satellites. They buy and lease them and have them launched by countries with high-tech capability (i.e., the sane countries). How about, any satellite that’s used to spread terrorist propaganda is considered a terrorist asset and is targeted as such. We need the US Space Command to eliminate this problem just like the US Navy sinks pirates.

    As to snipers, there is an article in the January 2007 issue of Soldier of Fortune magazine, with letters/email from both Marine and Army snipers, saying they are not being used properly or enough. Their officers seldom have specific training in how to employ them properly, so since the snipers have had more advanced training than many other infantry troops, they are too often tasked as squad leaders, etc., and their specialty skills are sqandered. If they are deployed as snipers, they are often micro-managed as to where to set up, etc., by officers without sniper training, who may put them in dumb places. As to the reply that “any Marine can be a sniper,” yes, but it’s not only about shooting accurately, it’s also about ID’ing targets at long ranges, and learning watching/observation/recon type skills. Not saying they all couldn’t learn it, but it’s more training and skills than just long range shooting, sniper school is several months. It’s a specialty skill set that could be better deployed, especially in urban areas of Iraq, according to its practitioners.

    Regarding the President’s speech tonight, good that he mentioned the new “clear and hold” policy. Also, good to eliminate the “no go” areas where the enemy groups are holed up. Great that he mentioned “there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have,” in a possible oblique reference to the ROE debates, but he gave no hint as to what any changes on those restrictions might be. (Or was this sentence even about ROE or not? Maybe I’m too optimistic, and interpreting statements in the way I’d like them to have been meant, when really they meant something else.) Perhaps this will be clarified by Tony Snow on Thursday. Unless the White House Press Corps are so dumb that they don’t even understand the possible significance of this sentence (distinct possibility).

  3. On January 16, 2007 at 10:45 am, Dominique R. Poirier said:

    My mind being much wrapped up in the reading of a long paper, I missed to read this recent article with all care it deserves. Actually, I have nothing but praise for this serious and documented analysis.

    Securing Iraq’s border seems to be a recurrent subject since some times and I still have in mind the difficulties one may have at successfully undertaking such task, as Col. David Galula meticulously describes it in his account of the costly techniques he experimented along the Algerian border during the Algerian War.
    It seems that progress and technology did little for our expectations to find such kind of works less costly since previous estimates relating to the cost of securing the Mexican border provides us a hint about the feasibility of this enterprise.
    Iraqi’s perimeter is 3,650 km long. This number includes an Irak-Iran border 1,458 km long, and 605 km for the Iraq-Syria border.

    The U.S. Mexican border is 3,141 km long, for comparison. According to estimates previously made about the cost of securing (fencing) the U.S.-Mexican border, and the Israel West Bank we may rely on a building cost of about $1.7 million per mile.
    So, in the case of Iraq, and on the basis of these numbers and estimates, securing the Iraq borders along Iran and Syria (total: 1,282 miles) would represent a cost of about $2.18 billions, to which we may add, in the case of countries such as Iran and Syria and considering the exceptional circumstances, a heavy additional cost of maintenance and surveillance. Moreover, if we expect not to be the unfortunate victims of a remake of the German strategy against the French Maginot Line in 1940 (done this time by small and stealthy units, of course) perhaps would it be well advised to secure, at least, the border of Iraq along Jordan (181 km), and this of Saudi Arabia (814 km) as well.
    These additional costs (618 miles) amount to about $1.05 billion. I do not state at all that to get involved in this undertaking would be reckless. I just think that, at such cost, one has to carefully consider such an investment and to ascertain it has much chance to be a profitable investment on the long run. Here lies my concern, actually.

    P.S.: For the records. Since some times, already, some intelligence services and special units, outside the United States, have considered with much seriousness the tactical use of inexpensive means of clandestine transportation easily concealable: namely paragliders and engine propelled paragliders.

  4. On January 16, 2007 at 7:16 pm, Herschel Smith said:


    I enjoy your comments. As usual, they are thought-provoking and well-done.

    On the issue of illegal immigration and the border with Mexico, it really is very easy to solve, logistically and strategically. The border is not secure and illegal immigration is a problem for one simple reason: the political will to end it does not exist in the U.S. at this time, and probably never will. If the U.S. enacted federal laws to put CEOs in prison (who were found to have hired illegals) for mandatory terms without the possibility of parole, no matter how large or small the company or corporation, and then actually did begin sending them to federal prison, the hiring of illegals would desist and there would be a flood back across the border. The incentive being removed, part of the problem would be solved. Next, rather than put Guardsmen on the border with no ammunition, send more of them to the border and give them orders to arrest those who violate our borders and shoot those who resist. Finally, construct a fence from California to Texas with electronic surveillance and regular Guardsmen/dog patrols. Again, the political will does not exist, because companies are benefiting from the use of illegals to perform labor. The costs associated with medical care, uninsured motorist premiums, welfare, education, etc., for these low-skilled and low-paid workers goes to the public, and so given the size of this corporate welfare program, you can see why there is no chance at doing this. Couple this with the fact that most immigrants, because of the type of government in which they were raised, will vote socialist (i.e., for Democrats in larger numbers than Republicans), and you have two very big reasons the border will never be secured: 1) Republicans, and 2) Democrats. It is a political problem, not a logistical one.

    As to the very long border(s) with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Iran, I understand the issue and perhaps have not been detailed enough in my thoughts. I still believe, like General Patton, that fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity. Put a gaurd tower at a location, and the innovative illegal will find a way around, over or under it.

    The solution I attempt to point to is to launch offensive operations to deny the insurgents safe haven. It would prove to be far easier, my argument goes, to make the insurgent worry with his own safety in his supposedly safe staging areas in Jordan and Syria than to stop him once he attempts to come across the porous border.

    And … I understand why this is so politically difficult to swallow. It means war, but in the end, Syria is at war with us now, along with Iran, by the use of proxy fighters, as I have argued in previous posts.

    Of course, this does pose a dilemma for our “friend,” Jordan. Raids across the Jordanian border would be a “sticky wicket” indeed.

    [Editorial Comment: This comment is edited for response to previous comment by Dave, HPS]

    Dave, I have just now had the chance to read your comment on this post, and you make great observations and ask great questions.  Does the administration even come close to understanding the implications of changing ROE and what the failures of ROE are?  I don’t know.

    Stay tuned.  I have another post coming on ROE soon.  You won’t want to miss it.  Thanks for your insight.


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You are currently reading "The Broader War: Redefining our Strategy for Iraq", entry #441 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iran,Iraq,Syria,War & Warfare and was published January 9th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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