US commanders in Iraq grim about prospects

Once the terror insurgency in Iraq had begun, it quickly became evident that the U.S. had no plan or strategy in place to defeat it, notwithstanding President Bush’s rote reassurances that everything was going just swell, that difficulties in a war were of course to be expected, and that if we just “stayed the course” we would “win.” Bush thus became the emperor who wore no clothes: his words about Iraq were manifestly, stunningly, false, yet no one in the Republican party or the mainstream conservatives movement ever deigned to notice this embarrassing fact (while the Democrats were too absorbed in their anti-Bush madness to notice it, let alone to make an intelligent issue of it). I would say, over and over, to establishment conservatives and Bush supporters with whom I would get in contact, “The emperor is wearing no clothes—Bush’s words about ‘war,’ ‘victory,’ ‘success,’ and ‘building a stable democracy’ bear little or no connection with reality.” I would never get any agreement from them or even an acknowledgement of the point I was making. But reality cannot be suppressed forever, and neither can the hideous mess in Iraq and our lack of any serious intention, means, or plans to prevail over it, as the below New York Times article (lightly abridged by me) makes disturbingly clear.

October 31, 2004
In Iraq, U.S. Officials Cite Obstacles to Victory

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30—Senior American military commanders and civilian officials in Iraq are speaking more candidly about the hurdles that could jeopardize their plans to defeat an adaptive and tenacious insurgency and hold elections in January.

Outwardly, they give an upbeat assessment that the counterinsurgency is winnable. But in interviews with 15 of the top American generals, admirals and embassy officials conducted in Iraq in late October, many described risks that could worsen the security situation and derail the political process that they are counting on to help quell the insurgency.

Commanders voiced fears that many of Iraq’s expanding security forces, soon to be led by largely untested generals, have been penetrated by spies for the insurgents. Reconstruction aid is finally flowing into formerly rebel-held cities like Samarra and other areas, but some officers fear that bureaucratic delays could undermine the aid’s calming effects. They also spoke of new American intelligence assessments that show that the insurgents have significantly more fighters—8,000 to 12,000 hard-core militants—and far greater financial resources than previously estimated.

Perhaps most disturbing, they said, is the militants’ campaign of intimidation to silence thousands of Iraqis and undermine the government through assassinations, kidnappings, beheadings and car bombings. New gangs specializing in hostage-taking are entering Iraq, intelligence reports indicate.

“If we can’t stop the intimidation factor, we can’t win,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, the commander of nearly 40,000 marines and soldiers in western and south-central Iraq, who is drawing up battle plans for a possible showdown with more than 3,000 guerrillas in Falluja and Ramadi, with the hope of destroying the leadership of the national insurgency.

In some cases, senior officers say, their goals could inadvertently act at cross purposes. For example, Iraq cannot hold meaningful national elections if militants still control major Sunni cities like Falluja. Negotiations there have broken down and many officers predict a military offensive. But hard-line Sunni clerics say they will call for an election boycott if American troops use force to put down the insurrection….

But when pressed in interviews and informal conversations—mostly not for attribution, because of fear that their more candid remarks could be used as campaign fodder back home—senior commanders and civilian officials voiced misgivings about how their plans could go awry, reflecting the unpredictability of events in Iraq.

“It’s a very complex country, and there are many things to worry about,” said one senior officer. “But we’re trying to work through all the unforeseen results of an insurgency that becomes more robust.”

Senior military officers say they are under no illusion that military might alone will resolve Iraq’s problems. At best, using force to retake rebel-held cities will help establish an environment secure enough to allow political and economic programs that will ultimately defeat the insurgency, they say.

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, compares the priorities in Iraq to two giant locomotive engines, one generating new Iraqi security forces, the other producing reconstruction gains, aides say. The two are intended to generate “irreversible momentum” that demonstrates to Iraqis and to the American public that steady progress, even if sometimes halting is being made.

Each morning General Casey’s command briefing includes a slide called “Drumbeat,” a detailed compilation of progress made in security, governance and the economy. No accomplishment is too minor for mention, from the opening of a new hospital to the signing of contracts for water projects. General Casey presses his commanders to show that reconstruction projects are under way and “turning dirt,” and not just on the books. Right now there are about 700 such projects, with 1,800 scheduled to be under way by year’s end, officers said….

The broader context, senior officers and embassy officials say, is for the United States to stay the course and be patient, with the aim of restoring local control to Iraqis and helping to rebuild the security forces and the economy.

“We can’t lose this one,” said Maj. Gen. Henry W. Stratman, who as deputy chief of staff for political, military and economic affairs is the military’s main liaison with the United States Embassy and Iraqi ministries.

Confronting Intimidation

The military is measuring its progress against a 43-page document, prosaically titled “Multinational Force Iraq Campaign Plan: Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Under this plan, the military uses up to 215 measurements to gauge progress in 15 pivotal cities and 7 smaller towns that must be brought under control before nationwide elections can be held.

The measurements are reviewed weekly by senior officials, including 25 military planners nicknamed the Brainiacs, who are responsible for anticipating worst-case situations and proposing possible solutions. Every other week, General Casey and his top aides adjust the measurements to reflect changing dynamics on the ground.

“I see indications to believe the security environment will be sufficient for Iraq to have legitimate elections in January,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Sargeant, the plan’s main author. …

But senior officers also say there are formidable hurdles ahead.

The recent massacre of 49 newly trained Iraqi soldiers in eastern Iraq illustrates the lengths that the insurgents, including former Baathist security forces and followers of the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, will go to terrorize Iraqis who work with the Americans or take part in the new government.

Military intelligence in recent weeks has reported the discovery of numerous suicide-bomber vests bound for Baghdad and new kidnapping gangs crossing the border into Iraq. Since the start of the holy month of Ramadan two weeks ago, daily attacks have increased by 30 percent.

A job-training program conducted by Navy Seabees near Falluja to teach construction skills to young Iraqis shut down earlier this month when the 30 students stopped coming to work, fearing retaliation.

Another casualty of the intimidation campaign is the flow of information from ordinary Iraqis to the military about the location of militants and their arms, including roadside bombs. As rebel-held cities are retaken, commanders say, tips from residents have picked up, but more information is needed. “Intelligence is still a weakness,” a senior embassy official said….

American commanders fear that many Iraqi units are penetrated by informants. They are also grappling with cultural differences. With no formal national banking system in place, recruits and other troops need to bring their paychecks home to their families. “If you have four infantry companies, one is always on leave,” a senior American officer said….

The Americans have ambitious goals. “By next July, I hope enough of the Iraqi security forces will be trained and equipped that they’ll be able to conduct independent counterinsurgency operations, with some support,” one senior commander said. “There will still be an insurgency; it’s not going to go away. But we’re trying to get it down to a lower level, where the Iraqi security forces can deal with it.”

Once militants are driven out of their enclaves, the aim is to rush in economic aid, in large part to win over the civilian population. “We need to take Iraqis off the streets and give them meaningful jobs so they’re holding shovels and hammers, not AK-47’s,” said Charles Hess, director of the Army’s Iraq Project and Contracting Office, which oversees $12.6 billion in reconstruction programs.

In Samarra, Maj. Gen. John R. Batiste, commander of the Army’s First Infantry Division, had a blunt warning for his superiors recently: “We’ve got to get these unemployed folks back to work. We have a very small window of opportunity to make this work.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 31, 2004 11:47 PM | Send

Huh…could have sworn I just read descriptions of “intention, means, and plans” in that article. Train Iraqi security forces, retake and hold key rebel cities, destroy the main leadership of insurgency, while rebuilding civilian infrastructure. Seemed clear to me. There were problems mentioned, to be sure, but who could seriously expect all of this to go off without a hitch?

Posted by: Dan on November 1, 2004 11:15 AM

Good point by Dan. Let me clarify.

First, my criticism of the administration for their lack of a visible strategy on the insurgency goes back to the summer of 2003. Back then and until very recently, we weren’t even hearing the kinds of things we’re hearing now, about plans to take back the insurgency-dominated cities and so on. All we heard, or at least the MAIN thing we heard, for over a year, was “we are moving toward democracy in Iraq.” The goal of elections had superceded and replaced the goal of defeating the enemy.

Second, more recently, as in this article, we are hearing about more specific military and political plans to defeat the insurgents. However, my criticism remains valid that these are not _serious_ plans, that is, as the quotes of the U.S. officers in the article attest, these plans are unlikely to be able to achieve the end they are supposedly intended to achieve, which is the destruction of the insurgents’ ability to keep fighting and destabilizing any successor government in Iraq. To give one example, let’s say we cleared out Fallujah and a couple of other cities. That wouldn’t be the end of the insurgency, because the insurgents would just melt into the Iraq populace and continue from elsewhere their attacks, the roadside bombings, the suicide bombings, and would also continue to be replenished by jihadi allies crossing the borders which are still apparently unguarded.

Now, I’ll admit it’s possible that the administration and the military are more serious now than they used to be about defeating (and not just intermittantly hitting back at) the insurgency. But frankly they have a huge credibility problem with me after a year and a half of my hearing them speaking boilerplate detached from reality.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 1, 2004 11:41 AM

How do we deal with the fact that the Iraqi population does not want us there?

Posted by: David on November 1, 2004 11:47 AM

I don’t think that what David said is correct. I just saw a poll that said that 63 percent of the Iraqis want us to remain for the time being.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on November 1, 2004 11:53 AM

“If you have four infantry companies, one is always on leave,” a senior American officer said.”

As I repeatedly said before, there is a chance for a semi-positive outcome, Shia crashing Sunny (probably very bloody and brutal affair) and establishing a sort of federation with de-facto independent Kurds, Shia strong-man regime and Sunny ruled under marshall law.

This outcome depends on Shia locating their long missing spine and actually fighting and killing Sunny. This statement by a senior American officer does not inspire confidence in Shia.

Posted by: Mik on November 1, 2004 12:14 PM

I see what you’re saying here, Lawrence. I agree that either Bush (and his buddies) had no real plan for crushing the rebellion to begin with or has utterly failed to articulate what that plan is to the American people. Given that he had some good reasons for the invasion in the first place that were themselves never articulated, I lean towards the latter explanation. Nevertheless, you may be correct: they might be making this up as they go along.

Still, I stand by my opinion that removing insurgent control of major population centers will by a very large margin reduce the potency of the rebellion (though certainly not ending it outright). In particular, I believe the presence of a large, trained Iraqi security force fighting alongside US forces and then, more importantly, handling long-term patrol detail in the liberated cities will do a great deal to remove whatever support for the insurgency exists among the general populace, as well as reducing the “fear factor” (to borrow from pop culture) they currently experience.

Ultimately, only time will tell which of us is right on this count. Historically, large nations occupying regions in the face of partisan warfare have done very poorly. Since we’re stuck here now anyway, here’s to teaching history a thing or two, eh?

Posted by: Dan on November 2, 2004 2:08 PM
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