June 01, 2005

Cheney's Estimation May Be Conservative

Vice President Dick Cheney made a prediction Monday night on CNN's "Larry King Live" (transcript) that the Iraqi insurgency will end before the Bush administration leaves office in 2009.
"I think we may well have some kind of presence there over a period of time," Cheney said. "The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."
Critics of the Bush administration have been quick to point out that attacks by the insurgency have not declined since the Iraqi elections, and that the numbers of attacks have actually increased. While technically accurate, this criticism misses the larger context that seems to bolster Cheney's that the insurgency is in its "last throes."

The number and type of insurgent attacks have changed substantially since the conventional war ended just three weeks after the U.S.-led invasion began.

Early insurgent attacks were typically ambush attacks by groups of Saddam loyalists against coalition combat troops. These attacks often consisted of coordinated rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) supported by small arms (RPD, RPK machine guns, AK-type rifles) fire from fixed ambush positions. Despite the initial element of surprise enjoyed by the insurgents, the superior weapons, training, and tactics used by coalition combat forces typically reversed the ambushes, turning the insurgent's fixed ambush positions into funeral pyres. Superior armor and close air support assets decimated the insurgents, leading to many instances of the entire attacking force being captured, wounded, or killed.

Because of their decidedly lopsided defeats in early engagements against frontline coalition combat units, insurgents quickly changed their targets to "soft" targets, such as resupply convoys. While the insurgents were able to inflict more damage in their assaults on these more lightly armed and armored vehicles, the rapid response capability of coalition air and ground combat units once again led to high casualty rates among the insurgents during these attacks. (Note: These early insurgent attacks led to the widespread armoring and up-gunning of supply convoys).

In response to better coalition defense against these fixed-position attacks from both combat and combat support forces, insurgents once again tried to shift tactics, foregoing their near-suicidal fixed position engagements in favor of quick hit-and-run attacks that they hoped would increase their survivability, while also relying more heavily on the use of mines and IEDs.

Rapid response convoy escort units and UAV surveillance soon proved that insurgents fleeing the scene of ambushes in vehicles were just as vulnerable to coalition counterstrikes as they were in previous attacks from fixed positions. As the coalition forces became more and more adept at countering and often reversing most forms of enemy ambushes, force-on-force ambushes have largely gone away, and the insurgents have reverted to the use of mines, IEDs, and vehicles driven by suicide bombers.

While these IED and mine attacks in particular still continue to inflict casualties on coalition forces on a nearly daily basis, tactics and platforms are being developed to neutralize IEDs and mines. Coalition soldiers can and will continue to die as a result of these insurgent attacks, but these usually isolated attacks have little chance of viable long term tactical or strategic success.

As a result of their near complete failure to significantly impact the goals of coalition forces on either the strategic or tactical levels without sustaining heavy casualties of their own, the secular pro-Saddam elements of the insurgency are becoming marginalized and reticent to fight.

The insurgency that remains is now a force increasingly made up of non-Iraqi Arab Islamist fighters as the (largely Sunni) natives that made up the core of Iraqi insurgents seems to be less inclined to fight as the war continues without a weakening of coalition and Iraqi resolve.

These foreign fighters have united behind an al Qaeda terrorist leader named al-Zarqawi, and have in the past two years shifted their tactics several times, and each tactical decision has compounded the threat to their position. It is precisely because of these shifts that Vice President Cheney's prediction of the end of the Iraqi insurgency by 2009 is not only probable, but a conservative estimate of the actual timetable.

It is quite likely that any widespread insurgency in Iraq will fall apart well before the end of the Bush administration. It is possible that the insurgency will collapse by early 2007, and it could conceivably devolve from its current level of operations into local, cell-level operations with little or no widespread planning and coordination capabilities by as early as late 2005.

When this occurs, the disintegration of the insurgency will come as a shock to many, but it should really come as hardly a surprise at all.

The insurgency learned early on that it could not fight even a semi-conventional war against even the most fragile elements of coalition military forces. Once it became apparent through the elections of John Howard in Australia and George Bush in America that coalition nations would not capitulate to the anti-involvement Left's desire to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the insurgency turned upon the Iraqi people and its government as their only remaining soft targets.

When the insurgents began attacking Iraqi targets, any slight chance they had of winning a stalemate (their only real hope) turned to ash. When al-Zarqawi's loyalists began assassinating political and community leaders, murdering police officers, and detonating car bombs in crowds of civilians, they not only lost and credibility they had had with the Iraqi people, they steeled Iraqi resolve.

The al-Zarqawi-mandated attacks against polling places before and during Iraq's January elections proved that al-Zarqawi and his supporters were anything but freedom fighters; they were enemy of the Iraqi people. They were not insurgents or Michael Moore's minutemen. They were--and are--terrorists.

Any lingering sympathy for the terrorists evaporated with the recent spate of suicide bombings in April and the al-Zarqawi announcement that the killing of Iraqi civilians was justified, as al-Zarqawi considers them "collaborators" under his radical fundamentalist version of Islam.

Because of the actions of al-Zarqawi and his followers, few Iraqis are willing to suddenly join a terror organization that may call upon them to murder their families, neighbors, and friends. It is becoming increasingly apparent to even the most disenchanted Sunni Baathists that the terrorists are far more of a threat to them than are coalition forces or the newly-formed Iraqi government.

The terrorists will lose the war in Iraq; it is simply a matter of when they will lose. Vice President Cheney predicts by 2009. Based upon al-Zarqawi's ability to galvanize Iraqi opinion against the insurgency, it may be far sooner than that.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at June 1, 2005 12:38 AM