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Published: Saturday, 1/15/2005

Defeating the insurgents

THE people who predicted that Afghanistan and the assault on Baghdad would be "quagmires" are now telling you the insurgency in Iraq is growing. This journalistic theme mushroomed after the head of Iraq's intelligence service estimated the resistance was composed of 40,000 fighters and 400,000 supporters.

The first thing to note is that this is about 8 percent of Iraq's roughly 5 million Sunnis, less than 2 percent of its 25 million people.

The second thing to note, as did Jim Dunnigan of StrategyPage.com, is the estimate matches almost precisely prewar estimates of the number of Saddam's security forces, Baath party activists, and their families.

The Baath party was hated by ordinary Iraqis before the war, and is less popular now. Baathists intimidate, but lack the appeal to proselytize. Their ranks are not increasing.

Jihadis are a small proportion of the resistance forces (most intelligence estimates put them at less than 10 percent), and the "help" they are providing is hurting the Baathists, because they are perceived as foreign invaders, thinks Brian Dunn, a former Michigan Army National Guardsman who writes frequently for military publications. (Osama bin Laden, a Saudi, has declared Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian, an "emir" of Iraq.)

"The Baathists screwed up big by allying with the Islamists," Mr. Dunn said in "Dignified Rant," his web log. "They thought they could use the Islamists to spark a national revolt against American forces, but instead the Islamists are giving all Iraqis a foreign enemy to rally against."

It is less the prospect of success than the consequences of failure that motivates the resistance, Mr. Dunnigan said.

"The Kurds and Shia Arabs are 80 percent of the population, they control the oil, and have American troops to back up their efforts," he said. "The Kurds and Shia Arabs have lists of names, because Saddam's thugs didn't wear masks when they ran things for three decades. Guess who is going to lose? But that thought is what is driving the resistance. The Baath party thugs know what they will have to face eventually, if they don't regain control of Iraq."

The elections are critical because "as sovereignty passes more and more to the Iraqis in concrete terms, it will be easier for the non-Baathist Sunni to join other Iraqis to kill and expel the foreign invaders - the Islamists - and subdue the Baathists who aid the foreign invaders," Mr. Dunn said.

Though defeat of the resistance is inevitable unless the U.S. precipitously withdraws, victory isn't likely to come soon. History suggests that the average time required to defeat an insurgency is nine years. The Baathists have plenty of money and a safe haven (so far) in Syria.

The mission of retired Gen. Gary Luck to Iraq suggests a change in role for and a significant draw down of U.S. forces before the end of the year. By late summer Iraqi security forces - stiffened by the presence of American advisers and backed by U.S. air power - can assume full responsibility for crushing the resistance.

U.S. troops will be required for four or five years more to protect Iraq from hostile neighbors. But this would be a much smaller number of troops, deployed (mostly) along the Syrian and Iranian borders.

General Luck - who commanded the XVIII Airborne Corps in the first gulf war, and was an adviser to Gen. Tommy Franks in Operation Iraqi Freedom - was one of the Army's premier special operators. Special Forces types have been arguing for months that victory is more likely to be achieved by a smaller number of specialized troops rather than by a larger number of conventional troops.

Counterinsurgency war is driven by intelligence and quick raids by experienced commandos. Large numbers of conventional troops mostly provide targets for the resisters, and their presence over time becomes an irritant for Iraqis who welcomed liberation.

A model for success is President Nixon's Vietnamization program. In 1968, there were 550,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam, and we were suffering more casualties each month than we have during the entire Iraq war. Four years later, U.S. troop levels had declined to 69,000, the Viet Cong were crushed, and the North Vietnamese sued for peace.



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