Military strategy in Iraq: What is it?
Congress presses Bush and the Pentagon for a clearer articulation of their vision.
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Not coincidentally, the most critical voices have been Democrats. Sensing a president wounded by Katrina and buffeted by the growing unpopularity of the Iraq war, some lawmakers have seized the strategy issue as a new and politically palatable way to criticize the administration without overtly opposing the war.Skip to next paragraph
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But the concerns go beyond politics. They strike at the very character and capacity of the modern military. The grand lesson of Vietnam was that America's armed forces were peerless on the field of battle, but ill-suited for protracted conflicts against unconventional armies.
"The consensus among the military was that we don't want any more of these wars because we don't like them and we're not good at them," says Dr. Krepinevich.
From that experience emerged the so-called Powell Doctrine - named for retired Gen. Colin Powell's insistence that the US military go to war only when it had a clear mission, overwhelming force, and an obvious exit strategy. Sept. 11, however, drew America into the sorts of conflicts it had specifically avoided, involving the untidy and time-consuming prospect of toppling nations and rebuilding them.
In Iraq, the toppling was practically flawless, but the military is still coming to grips with how to wage war against the embers of anger - an unseen enemy that doesn't align itself in battalions, divisions, or corps. Army leaders recognize that something more than a rifle and a helmet is required.
"You need a strategy, not just a military strategy," says Brig. Gen. Volney Warner of the Army Command and General Staff College, noting that political and economic progress are necessary to turn citizens against an insurgency. "The military's general role is to ensure security and stability."
How to provide that security, however, has so far proved elusive in the four most violent provinces. The large, periodic raids against scattered insurgent strongholds - such as the recent Operations Iron Fist and River Gate - have accomplished little, critics say, and have had more to do with short-term election-day security than a long-term plan for victory. Although it is the kind of mission for which the Army is best suited, there's little evidence that they have significantly dulled the insurgents' capacity. "What we've had are operations that go out and try to find terrorists and kill them in situations where we haven't got the underlying intelligence [from informants]," says Krepinevich.
So he suggests what he calls the ink-spot strategy: consolidating security in the 14 relatively nonviolent provinces and then slowly moving out to areas of the other provinces. The military would hold these areas with overwhelming force for a period of six months or a year before moving on - spreading like an ink spot on a tablecloth.
By creating a sense of security, the coalition can create and gradually expand the number of areas where residents feel comfortable passing along tips about insurgents without fear of reprisals. After all, coalition forces are estimated to outnumber insurgents 20 to 1, Krepinevich says: "If we knew who [the] insurgents were and where they were, the insurgency would be over."