"Surge": What's the Use?


Obviously, the giant news of the day is Bush's plan for more troops in Iraq. And I have to say, I'm having trouble getting my arms around the story. Because I can't find anyone -- anyone -- that thinks this "surge," this "escalation," is a good idea. That believes it will truly deliver a significant impact.soldiers_crouch.jpgI know a lot of you guys who hang out here at Defense Tech are committed supporters of the President. Who think he's done a solid job, given extremely difficult circumstances. So let's hear from you: Will adding 20,000 troops really make much of a difference in Iraq? How?Don't get me wrong. For more than three years, I've had soldiers complaining to me about the lack of boots on the ground. About how winnable this war might be with more troops. But these guys didn't want a 10 or 15 percent increase in manpower, like the President will call for tonight. They wanted several divisions to join 'em. Enough troops to completely blanket the country -- or at least to pull off the classic counterinsurgency move of clearing out neighborhoods of guerrillas, and holding the areas for the good guys.As Fred Kaplan notes, incoming Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus and his co-authors "discussed this strategy at great length" when they put together the Army's new counterinsurgency field manual.

One point they made is that it requires a lot of manpower at minimum, 20 combat troops for every 1,000 people in the area's population. Baghdad has about 6 million people; so clearing, holding, and building it will require about 120,000 combat troops.Right now, the United States has about 70,000 combat troops in all of Iraq (another 60,000 or so are support troops or headquarters personnel). Even an extra 20,000 would leave the force well short of the minimum required and that's with every soldier and Marine in Iraq moved to Baghdad. Iraqi security forces would have to make up the deficit.In the short term, then, say for a year or so, enough troops might be concentrated in Baghdad if troops now deployed in Iraq have their tours of duty extended, troops due for redeployment to Iraq are mobilized several months ahead of schedule, nearly all these troops are transferred to Baghdad, and enough Iraqi troops can be mobilized to make up the remaining slack.Meanwhile, how will Petraeus be able to keep Baghdad's insurgents from simply slipping out of town and wreaking havoc elsewhere? This is what happened in Fallujah when U.S. troops tried to destroy the insurgents' stronghold in that city. (emphasis mine)
It doesn't even seem like the surge's intellectual authors even back the plan. Gen Jack Keane, who helped push the idea to the White House, called for 32,000 troops -- 50% more than what the President is supposed to ask for. John McCain, Congress' most visible backer for more troops, is squirming, too. On the Today show last week, the Senator was asked if 20,000 more soldiers would be enough. His answer: "Im not sure... To make it of short duration and small size would be the worst of all options to exercise, in my opinion."UPDATE 1:55 PM: "The thousands of troops that President Bush is expected to order to Iraq will join the fight largely without the protection of the latest armored vehicles that withstand bomb blasts far better than Humvees," says the Baltimore Sun.
Vehicles such as the Cougar and the M1117 Armored Security Vehicle have proven ability to save lives, but production started late and relatively small numbers are in use in Iraq, mostly because of money shortages.
UPDATE 2:20 PM: Good analysis in this video from Paul Rieckhoff and Lt. Gen. Rick Francona. "This is not like a Haily Mary pass on the part of the President," Paul says. "This is like calling a draw play when you're down big in the 4th quarter."UPDATE 2:33 PM: The surge option "has deep blind spots that destroy my confidence in [its] proposed solutio[n] as anything except a recipe for accelerated defeat," says former Bush-backer Joe Katzman. He's got a long, detailed list of the escalation effort's unanswered questions. A few:
* If capturing terrorists in Iraq continues to result in "catch and release" due to a poorly-functioning and often intimidated Iraqi judicial system, what do you expect to accomplish with more troops? A higher flow-through rate?* What are the fundamental attitudes on the ground of Sunni and Shi'ite leaders? Are the Sunnis really prepared to deal, or are they still maniacally focused on their loss of dominance in Iraq?* If you stupidly continue to let Moqtada "death squads" al-Sadr live, what lasting good do 50,000 troops do when you propose to deploy them for a while in Baghdad? US troops have whittled down his forces before - how do the long-term results look now? What happens after US troops leave, if al-Sadr is still breathing?
UPDATE 3:50 PM:Matt Yglesias has a pair of talking point memos on the surge that are almost indescribably vacuous. Click on over for a laugh. Or a cry.There is one substantive point in these memos, however: that two-thirds of the "new" Iraqi troops in Baghdad will be Kurdish pesh merga. That could actually be the move that brings warring Shi'a and Sunni factions together: both groups absolutely, completely hate the pesh's guts.(Big ups: Umansky)
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