November 18, 2004

Gloomy Lede Watch

A NYT piece timed to make Fallujah (a successful operation) appear, well, unsuccessful.

Senior Marine intelligence officers in Iraq are warning that if American troop levels in the Falluja area are significantly reduced during reconstruction there, as has been planned, insurgents in the region will rebound from their defeat. The rebels could thwart the retraining of Iraqi security forces, intimidate the local population and derail elections set for January, the officers say.

You have to dig down into the piece to read this:

"The assessment of the enemy is a worst-case assessment," Brig. Gen. John DeFreitas III of the Army, the senior military intelligence officer in Iraq, said of the Marine report in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "We have no intention of creating a vacuum and walking away from Falluja."

And this:

Officers who have read the report played down its dire warnings and pointed out several successes noted in the document. The report, for instance, says that the Falluja operation achieved its basic goal, to deny the insurgents their largest sanctuary in Iraq, and has forced the network of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to move to a new base of operations in the country, probably Mosul.

The report also says that the number of attacks in Ramadi, the capital of Al Anbar Province, has declined by 40 percent in the last few weeks, after security was heightened in the region, according to Maj. Douglas M. Powell, a Marine spokesman in Washington.

That said, as with most things, the reality lies somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between these positive and negative going forward assessments. Put simply, and sorry to sound like such a broken record for some 15 or so months now, but more troops wouldn't hurt right about now in places like Ramadi, Mosul, Fallujah and Samarra, would they?

Oh, don't miss this assessment re: why the insurgency is proving rather resilient:

The insurgency has shown "outstanding resilience" and the militants' willingness to fight is bolstered by four main factors, the report says. One, the tribal and insurgent leaders understand the limitations of the United Nations, American elections and internal Iraqi government politics, and try to exploit them. Two, they are skilled at turning battlefield defeats into symbolic victories, just as Saddam Hussein did after the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Insurgents will make the battle of Falluja into an excellent recruiting tool, the report says.

Three, the insurgents are dedicated propagandists who use the Internet and other means to feed exaggerated and contrived reporting from the battlefield to jihadists in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East. Al Jazeera and Arab media then pick it up, the report says.

Finally, the report says, the insurgents believe they are more willing to suffer casualties than the American military and public, and "will continue to find refuge among sympathetic tribes and former regime members."

Bush's victory took some wind out of their sails on the italicized portion of that fourth point, in my view.

Posted by Gregory at November 18, 2004 06:30 AM

"Three, the insurgents are dedicated propagandists...."

Anyone who has read the NYT consistently over the past several years must be forced to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that the insurgents are not the only dedicated propagandists.

Like most (if not all) members of the MSM once believed to have been credible sources of news, the NYT has moved beyond shame---all too often, in fact, veering into utter stupidity (cf. the Nov. 17th editorial on the mulahs' purportedly unclear nuclear ambitions.)

One may wonder how long it wil take the majority of NYT readers to discover what many in the blogosphere have already learned: that regarding news, information and analysis, the NYT has become quite useless; or useful only in the sense that, like Pravda of yore, one can understand events by reading between the lines and/or triangulating between what has and what has not said.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at November 18, 2004 08:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


i am curious as to your thoughts on why the generals in charge of operations in iraq have not asked for more troops. do you really believe bush would not deliver if asked? is rummy just too damn intimidating? have not the generals received face time with bush? is the mission not being defined properly?

or could it *possibly* be the case that the generals really are on to something when they say that more troops are not the answer? or is it simply the case that more troops didn't really work out that well in vietnam, so everyone involved is trying to avoid that scenario?

i am not enough of a military expert to know the answer to the forve level question, but i would love to hear it thrashed out in detail.

Posted by: ej at November 18, 2004 12:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually, the Russians poured 24K men into Grozny alone in 1994-95 and suffered a humiliating defeat (read Wretchard in today's Belmont Club....). Numbers ain't everything: it's how you use them.

That said, Rumsfeld's unwillingness to increase trigger puller numbers back in 2001-02 should be counted among his greater mistakes. It would help right now to have a couple of extra divisions to chase down the jihadi right now. Relying as we do on, say, the Rainbow Division of the NY National Guard is damn foolish, imho, and deleterious to Guard recruiting in the long run. In addition to that, a more dexterous approach towards Turkey in the runup to the war might have helped put the 4th ID in place.

He's done a lot very well, but that one mistake is reason enough for him to leave early next year, and be replaced by a guy who doesn't burn so many bridges.

Posted by: section9 at November 18, 2004 12:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Please explain to me where the additional troops would come from.

Posted by: Mary at November 18, 2004 03:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The NYT clearly suffered under Raines, but it should be pointed out that in the run-up to the Iraq war they were among its supporters, running story after story by Judith Miller about the WMDs, etc., most of which later turned out to be totally false, based on information spoon fed to Miller by Chalabi and his minions. Admittedly the NYT got a black eye from that series of stories, but in that case it was inaccuracy in the opposite direction.

Regarding Falluja the same thing has happened elsewhere --- an initial military success followed by the return of the insurgents. Insurgent leave an area only to pop up elsewhere. That's the problem with having insufficient troops; you can't cover the ground everywhere. I'm not really sure what's so controversial about this obvious point, well-confirmed by events over the past year and a half.

Posted by: Mitsu at November 18, 2004 03:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mary asks a very significant question. A lot of blame is put on Rumsfeld, but in view of the difficulties we are having keeping the existing troops in the field, where exactly are these to come from? Perhaps, and this is something I have not seen anything about, we might ask Mr. Clinton about the downsizing of the military. No one seems to be making that connection for some strange reason.

Posted by: Tamquam L. Rugiens at November 18, 2004 03:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, the problem we're having is that we don't have enough troops to sustain a long-term, drawn-out occupation. Had we gone in at first with a large number of troops (which would have been possible for a shorter engagement), we may have been able to forestall some of the looting and stabilized things to the point that the ongoing insurgency, etc., wouldn't have had a chance to get off the ground as it has. (Consider, for example, all of the looted weapons that are now fueling the insurgency). Thus, we might not have needed to keep troop levels at the same level as they are now.

As for downsizing, keep in mind that Rumsfeld was strongly in favor of downsizing the Army, and he continued to push that concept even in the face of countervailing opinion within the military and increasing evidence that we would need more soldiers in Iraq.

Posted by: Mitsu at November 18, 2004 05:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dead "insurgents" don't "pop up" anywhere, except as flowers.

Posted by: Todd at November 18, 2004 06:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mitsu, stop the psycho' re regurgitating liberal MSM garbage. More troops only provide more targets......this is not the kind of war that is being fought. Also the main reason why a draft will not happen. We don't want "gun fodder" ala Vietnam; we want trained strike and destroy units -- who are currently doing an incredible job over there.

Stats for "house to house" close quarter combat projects are casualty rate of 30% of troops involved.


Educate yourself before you WHIIIIIIIIIIIIINE.

Posted by: Maggie at November 18, 2004 10:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The insurgents are not dead. Their bodies weren't found. In fact they have been ramping up attacks all over the triangle just to show their resolve and their continuing ability to act as an organized force.

For every one we kill there will be two new ones initiated. For every family we gun down - and there have been many - there will be ten new insurgents.

Those are the facts. They aren't the property of liberals or conservatives. And they're being presented to you by a former US Marine that loves his country.

This ain't a tv reality show. There's no value in blind cheer leading by partisans. Over 51 US troops have died in Fallujah alone in the last week or so. Many more have been maimed. Casualties would be higher if not for modern body armor. It's war. And I'm not sure we going to prevail in Iraq any more than we did in Vietnam and for many of the same reasons.

Posted by: avedis at November 19, 2004 12:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The insurgents? Who are they? And aren't they really just terrorists?

The CIA Worldfact book puts the Shia at around 65% of the population; the Kurds at 15%; and the Sunni at 25% or so.

This isn't Vietnam ... a classic guerilla/communist "insurgency" of the "people" ... but a tribe far smaller than it's main rival (the Shia) who they oppressed and dominated for decades.

There WILL be a sorting out after the US has broken the strong points; the Peshmerga and the Shia militias will eventually end up killing most of the armed Sunni who hope forlornly to reconstitute the Saddam regime.

As for more troops? Well we could withdraw our tropps from Germany, who right now seem to protect the German populace from Russian tennis stars and bad pop acts.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at November 19, 2004 12:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"There WILL be a sorting out after the US has broken the strong points; the Peshmerga and the Shia militias will eventually end up killing most of the armed Sunni who hope forlornly to reconstitute the Saddam regime."

Right now they're throing down their weapons and running. Big help. Sounds just like the ARVN.

Even if you're correct about the insurgents being only Sunni, at 25% of the population that's a lot of people to kill.

But you're wrong. Politics and war make strange bedfellows. There is reason to believe that some proportion of the attacks being carried out against US and British troops are by members of the Shia population.

Then there are foreign terrorists, estimated to be in the thousands. Of course, thanks to a US cluster f***k of the first order these guys have plenty of explosives, 380 tons to be exact. Should be good for several thousand car bombings plus a few real big events.

Finally, in the Sunni triangle, it is indeed a classic insurgency. It's called the Sunni triangle because, you won't believe this, the population is mostly Sunni. This happans to be the area of greatest urbanization in Iraq. Its an urban Vietnam.

You can fantasize about the shia taking care of business all you want. Join Wolfowitx, Bush, Perle, Rummy and the rest in a big fantasy circle jerk if you'd like. Still doesn't change the reality on the ground. The shia aren't cutting muster.

Posted by: avedis at November 19, 2004 03:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The way you defeat an enemy is by killing him until he loses the will to fight. The small, highly trained US military forces deployed in Iraq did the job, the problem is that the enemy ran away. Couple that with 100 million metric tons of Saddam's French and Russian munitions, foreign intrigue, terrorists and too damn many journalists acting as cheerleaders for the bad guys and you have the problems we see in Iraq today.

We need to finish the original mission and kill the enemy in droves to break their will to resist. Now that the US election is over the war can resume to conclusion.

Since it takes seven soldiers to support every warrior in combat, more troops in Iraq would only have meant more convoys for more IEDs, in other words....more targets. And what ports could handle the cargo?
US troops aren't trained to be cops. They are soldiers. Soldiers kill the enemy, they don't arrest them. And they sure as hell don't make good prison guards. Iraqis have to step up and police their country.

Posted by: lugh lampfhota at November 19, 2004 04:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hmm, by this logic, perhaps we should have only sent in ten troops ... think of how many fewer targets there would have been then?

The whole idea of the focused "strike team" approach can work in some situations, as it did in Afghanistan, where all we were doing was supporting an already-existing rebellion, the Northern Alliance. But nothing fails like success --- repeating the same strategy in a dramatically different environment is a sure way to fail. We have learned from peacekeeping missions elsewhere that you need a certain number of troops to maintain security after a war --- we found this out in Bosnia and elsewhere. We provided far too few troops to provide this security.

I'm sorry, the whole "not as many targets" argument is complete hogwash. If you don't have enough troops you allow the insurgents to gain momentum, as Greg points out in a later post, above. There's a certain minimum you need to establish security, and we didn't provide it.

Meanwhile, of course, Al Qaeda is working to get a nuclear device, and we've let North Korea build them, and Iran is sitting there not very worried about us since we're bogged down in Iraq. We're in a very vulnerable position, to say the least. We need a much stronger approach to this war.

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