January 03, 2007

An Offensive or Defensive Surge?

John Keegan has an article today in the U.K. Telegraph titled, 50,000 more US troops can save Iraq. His article refers to the expected surge of US troops into Iraq, presumably to engage and suppress Sunni and Shia terror groups.

All sorts of pundits have all sorts of opinions on whether or not a surge would be effective. In very general terms, those pundits that are left of center, and a few on the right, hold the view that sending in more soldiers is simply giving the various terror groups more American soldiers to shoot at, and that adding more troops will not appreciably change the military of political situation on the ground in Iraq.

These concerns are not without some merit. If we send more soldiers over to merely increase the number of patrols and IED hunts (like the one Bill Aradalino just completed) without any sort of a change to our offensive strategic and/or tactical goals, then yes, all we are effectively doing is providing more targets with very little chance of seeing much in the way of a long-term change.

That said, in his article Keegan speaks of the kind of offensive-minded surge that could make a profound difference on the shape of the conflict, and potentially shape Iraqi politics as well:

The object of the surge deployment should be to overwhelm the insurgents with a sudden concentration, both of numbers, armoured vehicles and firepower with the intention to inflict severe losses and heavy shock. The Mahdi Army in Sadr City should prove vulnerable to such tactics, which would of course be supported by helicopters and fixed-wing aviation.

Hitherto most military activity by coalition forces has been reactive rather than unilateral. Typically, units have become involved in fire fights while on patrol or on convoy protection duties. During the surge, the additional troops would take the fight to the enemy with the intention of doing him harm, destabilising him and his leaders and damaging or destroying the bases from which he operates.

The cost of such tactics is likely to be high but not unbearable if enough armoured vehicles are used to protect the attacking troops. The advantage of committing recently arrived troops to such operations is that they will come to operations fresh and enthusiastic. Though there is the disadvantage that they may not be familiar with local conditions or topography, this need not be a disqualification since the purpose of a surge strike would be to create a shock effect, not to alter local conditions by informal action.

The British contingent recently demonstrated that such overwhelming tactics have their effect. After their surprise move into Basra with massed columns of fighting vehicles and Challenger tanks, they succeeded in dominating the chosen area and evoking respect from the local militias.

If additional forces are specifically sent in with the goal of crushing the Sadrist Mahdi Army, affiliated criminal gangs and Shia death squads operating out of Baghdad's Sadr City and Najaf, along with elements of the Sunni insurgency and al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists operating out of Ramadi and other areas, then this will be a worthwhile operation to surge in these additional troops.

As I've noted previously, Sadr City may be a slum that is home to two-million people, but it is a compact slum, which can be cordoned off relatively easily and systematically demilitarized by whatever means are deemed necessary. Some will be quick to attempt to compare it to Fallujah, but the simple fact of the matter is that there is little indication that the Mahdi Army is as dedicated or as well-trained as were the terrorists of al Qaeda, despite any expected interference of Iranian Special Forces, and I doubt there will be a full-on military assault as a result. Odds are that most Sadrists will surrender or run, not fight, leaving their weapons caches behind.

Once Sadr City is cleared, US forces can (and probably should) impose checkpoints to keep the surviving Shiite death squad members from picking hteri habits back up after the sweep, even as they consider whether or not they need to also pay a visit to Najaf, an Iraqi city where U.S. Marines previously battled the Mahdi Army, and where al-Sadr's family traditionally draws power. One thing is almost certain: Muqtada al-Sadr should not be allowed to survive. Period.

Once the Madhi Army is fractured and Sadr City's remaining death squads under lockdown, the US military's attention should turn to the Sunni insurgency in Ramadi, where local forces and the U.S. military is slowly taking back the city from Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda on a block-by block basis. While it has gone mostly underreported in the media, this city is where the battle against the Sunni insurgency seems to be at it's most concentrated, even as al Qaeda forces and influence seem to be a on a slow constant ebb.

If the Shiite militias in Baghdad and southern Iraq can be curbed, and the Sunni terrorists in al Anbar are forced into retreat, then the surge will have been worthwhile. If we fight an offensive campaign with the 30,000-50,000 troops projected to be sent to Iraq, then we have a chance to win. If we donít use our soldiers in an offensive manner, and use them to merely augment our currently forces on their current, mostly defensive missions, then I fear this surge will have been wasted.

While I'm sure he doesn't even know I exist, my counsel to the President would be this: Send them in for combat, or donít send them in at all.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at January 3, 2007 01:15 PM | TrackBack

Anyone who wants to know what's going on in Ramadi should read Fumento's latest dispatch.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at January 3, 2007 01:59 PM

"As I've noted previously, Sadr City may be a slum that is home to two-million people, but it is a compact slum, which can be cordoned off relatively easily and systematically demilitarized by whatever means are deemed necessary."

I would submit that this is by design. I suspect Saddam Hussein made sure this area could be quickly subdued in case the Shiites got "upity" with him.

Posted by: crosspatch at January 3, 2007 04:39 PM