Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Curse of Sisyphus

Interesting Iraq piece at the Christian Science Monitor that is worth a careful read. The key theme is clearly uncertainty, as indeed it has been for the past two years. Not only is the divining of a set of metrics for success startlingly difficult, the sheer number of areas where experts, both in uniform and out, disagree - often violently - is astonishing. In fact, two years into the insurgency, even the nature and composition of the enemy being faced is hotly disputed - not an encouraging sign given the key role sound intelligence plays in quashing an insurgency.

Anyway, there's quote and counter-quote from experts of varying calibre. But the money paragraph is this one:

US commanders and soldiers in Iraq frequently complain they don't have the manpower to deal anything resembling a decisive blow. Soldiers operating in tough Iraqi provinces like Anbar say they feel as if they're watering the desert: They can win any neighborhood or mid-sized city they care to and make it "bloom" for as long as they're present in strength, but their efforts wither when they inevitably leave and move on to the next engagement.

In order to be successful, Coalition forces need to Clear and Hold. It is widely perceived that the US Army "doesn't get it" and is fixated on sweeping, mobile Search and Destroy missions. There is something to this, but it is clear that in fact a lot of people in uniform on the ground do get it (the US Army not being a monolithic entity) but that other aspects, such as force structure, mean that even if the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. This is where the debate over troop numbers comes in and where it gradually becomes apparent just why counterinsurgency operations are so very manpower-intensive.

At this point it would be helpful if I offered a solution. But I don't think I've got one. If you don't have the troops to conduct an integrated programme of clear and hold operations, developing a slowly spreading area of "White Zones" then the only real solution is to get more men on the ground. If geting more men on the ground means coming up with something like the draft, you begin to see the emergence of a serious means/ends disconnect whereby the effort, resource mobilisation and domestic and military upheaval required to sustain a successful strategy rapidly outstrip the ends being pursued in what is, and must be, essentially a limited (though important and high-stakes) conflict. If the troops simply aren't there to conduct a proper COIN campaign ("More men?! Where am I supposed to get them? Perhaps you expect me to make them!", as Napoleon is supposed to have raged at an aide requesting reinforcements as the French positions caved in at Waterloo) you're getting pretty close to a Catch-22 situation.

Which in practice is probably why we've got what we're seeing now - a frantic attempt to get enough indigenous units online to make up for the manpower shortfall.

(Thanks to David Chasteen for the heads up elsewhere, re: this article)


Blogger J. said...

What manpower shortage? Gens Casey and Abazaid just told Congress, with SecDef Rumsfeld present, that they had all the troops they need. I believe them...

8:31 AM  
Blogger Anthony said...


Well it seems to me that there are two options here:

1) They are telling little white lies.

2) They actually think "Search and Destroy" works fine and therefore by their lights they actually DO have enough men.

Frankly I find 2 as, if not more, scary than 1.

2:53 PM  

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