Counterinsurgency takes center stage in Iraq
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The bomber had mounted one of two barrier cordons before a sentry's machine-gun fire detonated the shells. The explosion blew a 15-foot deep crater in the street, and greatly damaged the facade of the building. Prepositioned insurgents then opened fire from nearby buildings.Skip to next paragraph
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A patrol of armored vehicles turning to reinforce the building itself ran into a preset ambush. The fierce two-hour battle ended only after airstrikes by Navy and Marine fighter jets.
Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry earned 20 Purple Hearts during the action at COP Tampa – representing 10 percent of the Purple Hearts the unit earned during that entire tour in Iraq. Three of the unit's five Silver Stars for valor came from the same battle.
Commanders considered the COP Tampa fight a political as well as military victory. "A month later, the Sunni Mansour district in southwest Mosul, not far from COP Tampa and the ambush site, had the highest voter turnout in all of northern Iraq," concluded the Army case study.
The US military's approach to its new Baghdad mission is likely to reflect the precepts of the Army's new field manual for counterinsurgency operations. The effort to produce the manual was directed by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, in his role as commander of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. The White House has tapped General Petraeus to be the new overall commander in Iraq; his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled for Tuesday.
The goal of counterinsurgency operations is to foster the development of legitimate indigenous governments, according to the new manual. Thus political actions may be more important than military ones.
Intelligence is key. "Without good intelligence, counterinsurgents are like blind boxers wasting energy flailing at unseen opponents," according to the manual.
The point is to cut off insurgents from their sources of support within the population, not to kill them. Fighting can be a distraction: The manual says to attack insurgents only "when they get in the way."
Counterinsurgency campaigns are generally long and expensive. "At the strategic level, gaining and maintaining US public support for a protracted deployment is critical," concludes the manual.
The book describes, approvingly, the efforts of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tal Afar in northern Iraq in 2005. First, US troops constructed an eight-foot berm around the city, allowing them to control movement in and out. Then they went house to house, fighting back when they met resistance.
After the city was cleared, US and Iraqi forces recruited a new police force primarily from city residents. They worked with residents to get such services as trash collection restarted. As security improved, so did intelligence, as residents provided information about the insurgency's remaining cells. It was a classic "clear, hold, and build" operation, according to the Army manual.
"Unity of effort" between all US and Iraqi institutions was key, says the counterinsurgency handbook.
But theory is one thing, of course, and the political and economic constraints of the real world another. The manual says that an effective counterinsurgency force should have about 1 soldier per every 50 local inhabitants. Combined US and Iraqi forces in Baghdad will fall considerably short of that, even after deployment of all extra US troops.
And Gen. George Casey, the outgoing US commander in Iraq, last week said that some of the extra units could begin returning home by late summer, a prediction that seems at odd with the Army manual's emphasis on lengthy campaigns.
"It is not clear that increasing US military strength from 132,000 to 153,000 will be enough to win even in Baghdad," according to Mr. Cordesman of CSIS.
The Army's counterinsurgency handbook contains an admonitory example of what happens when campaigns are not well designed. When Napoleon occupied Spain in 1808, he and his commanders gave little thought to how difficult it might be to subdue the Spanish population. Though the French had won an easy initial military victory, they quickly became enmeshed in a protracted struggle with insurgents that lasted six years. In the end, Napoleon had to deploy four times as many troops as he had started with.
The effort drained the resources of the French empire. "It was the beginning of the end for Napoleon," according to the US Army manual.