Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Whack a Mole --- Guerrilla Warfare 102

The first rule of being a successful guerrilla is you don't talk about being a guerrilla.

The second rule of being a successful guerrilla is you don't stand and fight against a deliberate combined arms attack supported by armor, and air cover.

If you follow these two rules, and a couple of others, you have a decent chance of being a reasonable successful and living guerrilla. Enough people in Iraq have been following these rules for the past four years to force the Iraqi state into failure and bog down the US military.

The second rule of guerrilla warfare --- not fighting on the counter-insurgent's terms --- is significantly aided by good local intelligence who can tell the relevant people when a US platoon leaves their forward base and goes on patrol much less when a US brigade or two with 10,000 men and a thousand vehicles leave their bases to launch a deliberate sweep.

And that is what is happening in Baquaba. The US launches a large sweep operation, the three, four or eleventeen way civil war and insurgency tips everyone off while also tipping off the US to kill the idiots on one of the other sides, and then nothing decisive happens besides the US pissing off a lot of locals as their neighborhoods receive the brunt of a deliberate multi-brigade attack. Michael Gordon in the New York Times fills in the details:

One week after American forces mounted their assault on insurgent strongholds in western Baquba, at least half of the estimated 300 to 500 fighters who were there have escaped or are still at large, the colonel who is leading the attack said Monday....

The American forces had sought to trap the insurgents in the city by establishing a cordon around the western section of Baquba in the early hours of the operation.

Senior military commanders said last week that the top leaders had left the city well before they tried to seal it off, but that they hoped to kill or apprehend many of the remaining fighters. But the account from Colonel Townsend indicates that many of those fighters also eluded capture, by posing as ordinary citizens or leaving the city.....

But the insurgents have yet to make a final stand. So far, they have resorted to a familiar tactic: tangling with the United States troops only to leave or melt into the population when faced with overwhelming American firepower.

Sweeps are counterproductive as they are big, they are loud and they are an economy of force mission as there are insufficient reliable and loyal forces able to hold the city and provide the population with the blanket of protection that is needed for a credible counter-insurgency effort. Tom Ricks at the Washington Post noted that the Iraqi security forces that are supposed to hold the city after the US Army 'clears' it are incapable of completing that mission.

That view underscores the question of the reliability and combat effectiveness of Iraqi security forces. Essentially, any additional combat power is going to have to come largely from them, as will the capability to "hold" large areas outside the capital.....

But other officers report that the Iraqi forces themselves are not big enough and also have a mixed record in combat. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who oversaw training and advising efforts there until this month, said in recent congressional testimony that Iraqi units are improving but "do not have tactical staying power."

"For the control and retain phases, we will need reliable Iraqi security forces in sufficient numbers," said Lt. Col. Douglas A. Ollivant, a senior Army planner in Baghdad. "There are clearly not yet enough reliable forces."

Iraqi security forces are "the weak link," said counterinsurgency expert Krepinevich. The Iraqi government is so factionalized that Iraqi forces remain largely ineffective, he explained: "This is the principal weak spot in our strategy -- and I'm afraid it may be fatal."

The 10,000 US troops involved in this sweep are sufficient to push through any light rear guard forces that the targeted insurgent groups in Baquaba elected to sacrifice in order to cover their retreat. However as the city has a population of roughly 300,000, to provide the doctrinally acceptable minimal force to population ratios for a counter insurgent effort, at least 7,500 of those soldiers would then need to garrison the city for the next year or three, and more likely the entire force with significant reinforcements would be needed to hold the city.

Phil Carter noted that the current US force in the province is a five fold increase in combat force levels since he was there which means the extra four battalions are part of the surge either as new units, or normal rotation pattern units displaced from the Baghdad area by the new units. This is a short term offensive that relies on unreliable Iraqi security forces to consolidate any gains as the US can not afford to keep 10,000 US troops in a city of 300,000 when the force levels in Baghdad are still massively insufficient to carry out the preferred counter-insurgency doctrine.

So in a couple of months, Baquaba will once again be on the radar screen as insurgents will re-infilitrate the city and start causing chaos again.

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