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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Misreading the History of the Iraq War

    Misreading the History of the Iraq War by COL Peter Mansoor at SWJ Blog.

    In his latest missive on the U.S. endeavor in Iraq (Misreading the Surge Threatens U.S. Army's Conventional Capabilities), Army Lieutenant Colonel Gian Gentile claims that the Surge forces and the new U.S. Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency doctrine had little effect on the situation in Iraq. Rather, U.S. forces paid off the insurgents, who stopped fighting for cash. Once again, Gian Gentile misreads not just what is happening today in Iraq, but the history of the war.

    To borrow a quote from Ronald Reagan, "Gian, there you go again."

    Gentile's analysis is incorrect in a number of ways, and his narrative is heavily influenced by the fact that he was a battalion commander in Baghdad in 2006. His unit didn't fail, his thinking goes, therefore recent successes cannot be due to anything accomplished by units that came to Iraq during the Surge.

    The facts speak otherwise. Gentile's battalion occupied Ameriyah, which in 2006 was an Al Qaeda safe-haven infested by Sunni insurgents and their Al Qaeda-Iraq allies. I'm certain that he and his soldiers did their best to combat these enemies and to protect the people in their area. But since his battalion lived at Forward Operating Base Falcon and commuted to the neighborhood, they could not accomplish their mission. The soldiers did not fail. The strategy did...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Mansoor
    The Surge succeeded on a number of levels. Lieutenant General Odierno brought the operational level of war back into play
    Quote Originally Posted by Gian
    "I think Andrew Bacevich, at the policy-strategy level, has basically nailed it," Gentile said, referring to the retired Army colonel who contends that Iraq is an irredeemable strategic mistake. "He points out the limits of what American military power can accomplish."
    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Bacevich
    The purpose of the surge, as it was explained by its architects, was to create the opportunity for Iraqis to negotiate some kind of political reconciliation that would bring the conflict to an end. It is certainly true that the surge reduced the occurrence of violence in Iraq. But it has not brought about that political reconciliation. Iraq has become a dependency of the United States, rather than a sovereign nation able to manage its own affairs.
    I agree with every quote above: operational, but not strategic success.

    I agree with Mr. Mansoor. We're going to be in Afghanistan - and possibly Iraq - for a long time. Let's get better at COIN.

    I also agree with Gian. COIN is very resource intensive. An infatuation with it that doesn't recognize it's strategic limitations can potentially lead to a situation where the military can't fight other battles.
    Quote Originally Posted by SteveMetz View Post
    Sometimes it takes someone without deep experience to think creatively.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Well, no one can fault you for not being agreeable.

    Something for everyone.

    Just one minor point: COIN in a given nation is in fact the Operational level of war, ergo no success in such a an operation can or could be by itself a Strategic success. Even if it could, that 'success' could not be determined until the operations ceased, having failed or succeeded.

    The Strategic issue is the total content of the Long War (or whatever name one wants to apply to the Strategy) and Iraq is merely the most visible but not necessarily the most important part of that Strategy. That comment also applies to an extent to Afghanistan, both are simply pieces of the picture, not the whole puzzle. Thus there will be no determination of success or failure of the Strategy until more pieces -- and more than those two --fall in place and the picture emerges.

    I suspect that will take another 15 years or so, perhaps a bit longer. So all impatient folks are going to get really frazzled and upset. And that's okay...

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    Council Member Xenophon's Avatar
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    He rights. The change in to a more COIN-like approach is not having an effect. But not because of any fault of the doctrine, but because as much Generals Petreus and Odierno are preaching it, the military is not practicing it.

    Here in Diyala the Army only ventures outside its comfortable FOB with at least three stykers, oftentimes six or more. They do commute to the neighborhoods, and when they do they don't go without a ridiculous amount of security. Even when they poke their heads out to visit my MTT living out in town with our IA battalion, they stay buttoned up in their armor and fire warning shots and anything that moves, even IA HUMVEES. Meanwhile, we're playing a game of soccer with the local kids without even a pistol between us. And they wonder why they don't have a relationship with the people and they get with IEDs 10 feet from the front gate.

    Even Army MTT teams commute- COMMUTE!- to their IA battalions. There are whole areas of the U.S. battalion's AO that go unpatrolled because, according to them, it's "too dangerous." Too dangerous? What did you sign up for, the KBR food? We've been fighting the Army for a week now to clear a stretch of road of IEDs so the civilians can use it again, but the Army refuses because their stykers can't make it down the road even though we're going to maintain security. You can walk can't you?

    Things are a little better in Anbar (spent a month there before moving here to Diyala), but not by very much.

    Bottom line is: The new doctrine is good but, since it is not even close to being implemented on the ground, it can't have contributed to the success in Iraq.

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    Default Ken, I must take issue

    with you over the level of war we are dealing with. For the Iraqis and Afghanistan their wars are strategic, no matter what level we are on. For the US, I would suggest that GEN Petraeus (and Amb Crocker) is fighting a theater strategic war while his deputy (fomerly Odierno) controls the operational fight. But since Clausewitz notes that the boundaries between the strategic and tactical often blur - and we've added the operational since the late 70s - those boundaries are often blurred as well. Which means that I can live with your formulation for the US but not so easily for our hosts.

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    John,
    You bring up some good points. Outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan I believe do have strategic consequences, although we (big Allied "we") have trouble articulating and agreeing on them, and as such the HQs of those efforts are plugged into the broader strategic pictures (I'll use a geographical reference of regional and global because its easier to think about). We have CENTCOM with responsibilities both to support those 2 wars, but also in charge of a much broader area with strategic importance, and finally there is US SOCOM with synchronizing responsibilities in the larger (global) war, but we still have all the geographic COCOMs that have responsibilities.

    Is this C2 structure appropriate in terms of achieving our strategic ends? I think from an operational standpoint, it probably is - but I'm not sure it links the operational to the strategic levels in a way that helps us see clearly how the broader strategic ends are effected by our efforts in one location or another. It seems we could wind up missing strategic decision points because the layers form stovepipes into specific areas. The idea that success or failure in one area might be contingent on the success or failure in another area is something I think we have a tenuous grasp of (at least it feels that way.) To be certain we can and do think in terms of the allocation of means (time, political focus, $$$, troops,etc.) - but I wonder if we are missing something? A strategic communications plan that discussed how our various public efforts across the spectrum of national power were being employed (the UNCLASS parts, or in just a philosophical way) in different locations to enable our strategic end(s) would go a long way. I think that should come from the NSS (however it might could come in an abbreviated document called "Strategy for the Long War". It could build on speeches and policies given by the President, and by his Secretaries (as his agents of authority in the Executive).

    I'm sure I did not do that last paragraph the justice it deserves for such an idea, and I apologize for suggesting something I have not fully developed as an idea - its just a feeling that nags at me as being incomplete, that somehow we are still struggling to understand the scope and consequences of the "Long War", along with the "what we should do about it" and "why we should do it" in terms of the consequences. I'd touched on this with my response to LTC Nagl's piece on the blog - but I was still working through it there too.

    Best, Rob

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Me,too...

    Quote Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
    ... Which means that I can live with your formulation for the US but not so easily for our hosts.

    Cheers

    JohnT
    Further, Rob said:
    "...Outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan I believe do have strategic consequences, although we (big Allied "we") have trouble articulating and agreeing on them, and as such the HQs of those efforts are plugged into the broader strategic pictures (I'll use a geographical reference of regional and global because its easier to think about)."
    Agreed -- but I do not see that as a problem, or as a negation of my earlier statement: ""The Strategic issue is the total content of the Long War (or whatever name one wants to apply to the Strategy) and Iraq is merely the most visible but not necessarily the most important part of that Strategy. That comment also applies to an extent to Afghanistan, both are simply pieces of the picture, not the whole puzzle.""
    "I wonder if we are missing something? A strategic communications plan that discussed how our various public efforts across the spectrum of national power were being employed (the UNCLASS parts, or in just a philosophical way) in different locations to enable our strategic end(s) would go a long way.'
    My personal belief is that if that were done honestly it would make some folks happy, others distinctly unhappy and would result in more harm than good.

    I think J.Wolfsberger has it about right and while I realize that is not enough to satisfy many, I suggest the more you lay out clearly and publicly what you wish to do, the easier it is for someone to counter you. Thomas Jonathan Jackson had it right on that score...

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