January 14, 2005

The Three Block War

Don't worry, this isn't a post about too few troops in Iraq (OK, we touch on it a tad--but, really, it's not the main theme). Reading a thought-provoking post over at the Belmont Club, I stumbled upon this Robert Kaplan article, entitled "Indian Country." It's worth quoting at some length:

The American military now has the most thankless task of any military in the history of warfare: to provide the security armature for an emerging global civilization that, the more it matures--with its own mass media and governing structures--the less credit and sympathy it will grant to the very troops who have risked and, indeed, given their lives for it. And as the thunderous roar of a global cosmopolitan press corps gets louder--demanding the application of abstract principles of universal justice that, sadly, are often neither practical nor necessarily synonymous with American national interest--the smaller and more low-key our deployments will become. In the future, military glory will come down to shadowy, page-three skirmishes around the globe, which the armed services will quietly celebrate among their own subculture.

The goal will be suppression of terrorist networks through the training of--and combined operations with--indigenous troops. That is why the Pan-Sahel Initiative in Africa, in which Marines and Army Special Forces have been training local militaries in Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad, in order to counter al-Qaeda infiltration of sub-Saharan Africa, is a surer paradigm for the American imperial future than anything occurring in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In months of travels with the American military, I have learned that the smaller the American footprint and the less notice it draws from the international media, the more effective is the operation. One good soldier-diplomat in a place like Mongolia can accomplish miracles. A few hundred Green Berets in Colombia and the Philippines can be adequate force multipliers. Ten thousand troops, as in Afghanistan, can tread water. And 130,000, as in Iraq, constitutes a mess that nobody wants to repeat--regardless of one's position on the war.

In Indian Country, the smaller the tactical unit, the more forward deployed it is, and the more autonomy it enjoys from the chain of command, the more that can be accomplished. It simply isn't enough for units to be out all day in Iraqi towns and villages engaged in presence patrols and civil-affairs projects: A successful forward operating base is a nearly empty one, in which most units are living beyond the base perimeters among the indigenous population for days or weeks at a time.

Much can be learned from our ongoing Horn of Africa experience. From a base in Djibouti, small U.S. military teams have been quietly scouring an anarchic region that because of an Islamic setting offers al Qaeda cultural access. "Who needs meetings in Washington?" one Army major told me. "Guys in the field will figure out what to do. I took 10 guys to explore eastern Ethiopia. In every town people wanted a bigger American presence. They know we're here, they want to see what we can do for them." The new economy-of-force paradigm being pioneered in the horn borrows more from the Lewis and Clark expedition than from the major conflicts of the 20th century.

In Indian Country, as one general officer told me, "you want to whack bad guys quietly and cover your tracks with humanitarian-aid projects." Because of the need for simultaneous military, relief and diplomatic operations, our greatest enemy is the size, rigidity and artificial boundaries of the Washington bureaucracy. Thus, the next administration, be it Republican or Democrat, will have to advance the merging of the departments of State and Defense as never before; or risk failure. A strong secretary of state who rides roughshod over a less dynamic defense secretary--as a Democratic administration appears to promise--would only compound the problems created by the Bush administration, in which the opposite has occurred. The two secretaries must work in unison, planting significant numbers of State Department personnel inside the military's war-fighting commands, and defense personnel inside a modernized Agency for International Development [emphasis added].

I don't buy Kaplan's idea that troop-lite is always better than lots of boots on the ground. A glance at the reader-supplied chart over at Wretchard's conveniently summarizes troop to population ratios in various occupations and showcases that Iraq is on the low end (particularly where one faces a significant insurgency). Here's more in that vein:

When NATO forces went into Kosovo in 1999, they followed the same proven formula: 50,000 troops for a population of 2 million, one soldier for every 40 inhabitants. A recent Rand Corp. study by military analyst James Quinlivan concluded that the bare minimum ratio to provide security for the inhabitants of an occupied territory, let alone deal with an active insurgency, is one to 50.

In Iraq today, coalition forces number about 160,000, or one for every 160 Iraqis. (Even adding in an estimated 20,000 civilian security contractors working in Iraq, that still translates to one for every 140 Iraqis.) In response to the unremitting attacks and continuing instability, U.S. commanders have now canceled plans to cut troop strength by some 20,000 this year. It is a significant about-face, and one that has unquestionably put a severe strain on both regular and reserve units whose deployments have been extended well beyond what they had originally been told.

But it is still a drop in the bucket compared with what’s needed. “U.S. Troop Levels in Iraq to Remain High,” read a headline in The Washington Post this past week. Yet these levels are “high” relative only to the fantastically optimistic plans that the Defense Department had doggedly clung to as recently as a month ago.

The real tragedy of the current chaos in Iraq is that many military experts, historians and Army officials warned long before combat began that the projected number of postwar troops was utterly unrealistic. Army planners said they needed an initial occupation force of 250,000, which would still be half the number that the historically proven formula called for. Had they been listened to, and a robust force moved in at the start to establish firm control of the country and disarm the militias of political factions, it is possible that a rapid drawdown of U.S. forces could have followed, as civilian institutions began to function and life returned to normal in Iraq.

But, as I said above, this isn't really a post about the scarcity of sufficient troops in Iraq. Rather, it's about the lack of a sufficient mix of U.S. forces in our armed forces generally.
Part of a possible solution, in my view, is the creation of what some have called a Colonial Corps. These would be forces, familiar with the indigenous terrain and mores, better suited to the complex mix demanded by hunting the bad guys, getting intelligence, safeguarding local agriculture and schools to win some hearts and minds, separating belligerents the next day, adept at public communications.

General Charles Krulak, whom I heard speak in London last year at a CFR shin-dig, has talked about the need to have U.S. forces ready to fight what he calls the "three block war":

Modern crisis responses are exceedingly complex endeavors. In Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia the unique challenges of military operations other-than-war (MOOTW) were combined with the disparate challenges of mid-intensity conflict. The Corps has described such amorphous conflicts as -- the three block war -- contingencies in which Marines may be confronted by the entire spectrum of tactical challenges in the span of a few hours and within the space of three contiguous city blocks. The tragic experience of U.S. forces in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope illustrates well the volatile nature of these contemporary operations. Author Mark Bowden's superb account of "The Battle of Mogadishu," Blackhawk Down, is a riveting, cautionary tale and grim reminder of the unpredictability of so-called operations other-than-war. It is essential reading for all Marines.

The inescapable lesson of Somalia and of other recent operations, whether humanitarian assistance, peace-keeping, or traditional warfighting, is that their outcome may hinge on decisions made by small unit leaders, and by actions taken at the lowest level. The Corps is, by design, a relatively young force. Success or failure will rest, increasingly, with the rifleman and with his ability to make the right decision at the right time at the point of contact. As with Corporal Hernandez at CP Charlie, today's Marines will often operate far "from the flagpole" without the direct supervision of senior leadership. And, like Corporal Hernandez, they will be asked to deal with a bewildering array of challenges and threats. In order to succeed under such demanding conditions they will require unwavering maturity, judgment, and strength of character. Most importantly, these missions will require them to confidently make well-reasoned and independent decisions under extreme stress -- decisions that will likely be subject to the harsh scrutiny of both the media and the court of public opinion. In many cases, the individual Marine will be the most conspicuous symbol of American foreign policy and will potentially influence not only the immediate tactical situation, but the operational and strategic levels as well. His actions, therefore, will directly impact the outcome of the larger operation; and he will become, as the title of this article suggests -- the Strategic Corporal.

I know that some members of the active services fear that some kind of "warrior ethos" in soldiers will suffer if they are primed for humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping (or even peacemaking) duties. Building kindergartens and stuff--not good for guys who need to go out and kill. Indeed, I've spoken to West Pointers far from enamored by the prospects of confronting such tasks. Unfortunately, however, our times demand that very junior soldiers become increasingly sophisticated in their ability to hug babies one minute, kill a jihadist the next, and control a riot or separate belligerents the next (I'm exaggerating about the hugging babies part--but you get my point).

This is where Kaplan's notion of fusing elements of State and Defense is quite interesting. Particularly, as Wretchard touches on too, given the manifest need for strategic communications to accompany military actions--particularly in the age of satellite television, far-flung media networks, the Internet:

Strategic communication -- which encompasses public affairs, public diplomacy, international broadcasting, information operations, and special activities -- is vital to America’s national security and foreign policy. Over the past few decades, the strategic communication environment and requirements have changed considerably as a result of many influences. Some of the most important of these influences are a rise in anti-American attitudes around the world; the use of terrorism as a framework for national security issues; and the volatility of Islamic internal and external struggles over values, identity, and change. ... America needs a revolution in strategic communication rooted in strong leadership from the top and supported by an orchestrated blend of public and private sector components.

On Iraq, would a Colonial Corps, say, back-stopped by State guys with more regional experience spearheading the strategic communications and the like, and with military officers (including junior ones) trained in 'three-block wars' to boot--would any of it had made a difference? You betcha. But such a sophisticated force mix would take years and years to train. And, contra Kaplan, I still think we would have needed to send many of them; not just a few gaggles. Lots of people point to Afghanistan as an example of troop-lite working out pretty O.K.--arguing for the same in Iraq. That's not apples to apples. Afghanistan had and has major warlords still in control of their fiefdoms (Khan in Herat, Dostum in the North, for instance). Iraq had one warlord--Saddam's Baath party. When he and his party were unseated--a mega-security vacuum resulted. This kind of power vacuum was much less significant in Afghanistan with the exception of southeastern parts of the country--where, not coincidentally, the violence is the worst. This debate aside, however, Kaplan, Krulak, Chester and Wretchard all make important points that, pun intended, need to be thrown into the 'mix' as we think about the future of the U.S. military in an era that looks to be defined by a Long War.

Posted by Gregory at January 14, 2005 04:47 AM

This is so Thomas Barnett, SysAdmin force. Read the book. It's good.

Posted by: praktike at January 14, 2005 06:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We seem to occupy Afghanistan pop. 23 million with a lot fewer troops than Iraq.

In Iraq, we need to truly handle the Sunni areas...

Might also be a case where in Muslim countries less US presence is better...

Posted by: Aaron at January 14, 2005 08:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Everyone leads off with this same ridiculous quote: "And 130,000, as in Iraq, constitutes a mess that nobody wants to repeat..." As if the large number of troops in Iraq were the cause, rather than the result, of the difficulty of occupation. This risible sentence tarnishes Kaplan's whole case.

Posted by: Sammler at January 14, 2005 08:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have come to believe, since the April Falluja attack, that ONLY Iraqis can "win" in Iraq. I fully agree that had Rumsfeld ordered the troops to kill more unarmed/ looting Iraqi "civilians" after Saddam disappeared, the US would have been seen earlier as a stronger horse. Had Rumsfeld opted for honest Occupation instead of Liberation.

I don't believe such Occupation would have reduced the anti-democracy Death Squads. And there is no recent historical evidence to show it (either way).

It seems to me more a failure to have local elections, for "sherif/ mayor", and have the US troops support the locally elected Top Security Guy. We need to have lots of "our bastards" in control of little areas. The big, completely unaddressed problem is that immature, and mature too, democracies invite corruption by gov't officials.

The model we need, that doesn't exist but this critique avoids discussing, is how to help develop "good" transition government, with enough power to provide security and reasonable justice, but not obviously immorally corrupt.

And that's prolly a job for Condi and State.

I also believe that, had Rumsfeld pushed for a big increase in US troop levels, needed for more bodies in Iraq, that the political cost may well have made Ohio vote Kerry, and make Bush lose. Yes, I'm blaming Leftist bias for the political inability of Rumsfeld to honestly take the position you say he should have (I'm not convinced it's better than the one he did take.)

The points about a Strategic Corporal are good -- but are based on a Liberally biased anti-American press holding the double standard of blaming America BOTH for too much action, and too little.

Your own desire to boot Rumsfeld, with much less reason than CBS has to boot Rather and his boss Heyward, is supportive of the Unreal Perfection standard implicit in so many anti-American rants. I think you need to try set performance indicators, in advance, to judge Rumsfeld’s results. For me, if Iraq becomes a democracy after fewer than 2500 American casualties, I’ll give Bush an A, and Rummy too.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at January 14, 2005 09:38 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Very well said, Sammler.

And of course, they neglect to mention these guys...


Which, of course, puts us at about 1 to 35... and dropping.

Sorry you wasted all that time on a baseless premise, Mr. Kaplan...

Posted by: Art Wellesley at January 16, 2005 02:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tom Grey

As an aside - here's a liitle insider info from my mates in the G1 shop.

About a third of those (current) 1300 KIA's are from blunt force trauma, aka motor vehicle accidents. IOW, the price of doing business with a 500K military with over a million working parts. Army KIA from direct enemy action = about 600.

Where's the expose on THOSE numbers? Surely ready to run on 60 Minute tonight, huh? (G)

Posted by: Tommy G at January 16, 2005 03:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's an interesting vision, but what's it all about?

Our state department is organised mostly to talk to other governments. And our military is organised mostly to fight other governments. So now we're supposed to mix them together so we can move into places that have an anarchy? What do we hope to accomplish by doing that?

It's a beautiful dream. Send squads of elite soldiers into each area that's infested with small competing militias. They know the local languages and the terrain and the people. They make friends and play the militias off against each other. If they get massacred we move in a *big* force that knows the languages and we interview the locals until they reach a consensus about who did it, and then we slaughter whoever got the blame, and then we send in a new squad. Over time we get them to fight less and to vote more, and eventually the place settles down into some sort of democracy. Presumably the american squad settles down with local wives and provides a pro-american influence for a long time. Depending on just how many super-diplomat super-soldiers we have who're great at learning languages and handling foreign cultures, it might make a tremendous difference in anarchic areas.

But then, we need to deal with foreign governments too. Ah! Now I see it! First we move in and smash the foreign governments, and *then* we can send in the isolated squads to deal with the anarchy!

The occupation numbers are a little bit deceiving. Look at it this way: How big a standing army can a nation afford? Most nations can't do much over 1% of the population. They can draft more men on paper, but train them and equip them? For the USA that would be an army of less than 3 million soldiers. We have a great economy, we could do 6 million if we wanted to. We've done a lot more than that but it was for world wars, not something we'd sustain. To run a successful occupation, though, we move in enough solders that they're 2% of the local population (1:50) or 2.5% (1:40). If they wanted to raise an army to match that it would be hard for them even if they weren't under occupation. 1:50 is overwhelming force. Occupy at that level for 10 years and more than 1% of the women are likely to marry american soldiers and go to america.

What percent of our population can we have occupying other nations? 2%? Then we can't use that method to occupy more than about 600 million people total. But 2% of our population is much more than 2% of our young men. We'd be having a whole lot of foreign brides, and a whole lot of young american women would be left marrying foreigners. This isn't a bad thing unless you have something against immigration and cultural diffusion. But it isn't trivial. It's a great big cultural thing, shaping the genes and the culture of future generations.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 16, 2005 04:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Aaron, we aren't exactly occupying afghanistan. We're more like visiting firemen in afghanistan.

It's a bunch of competing hill-barons who see they can do whatever they want so long as they say they're doing what we want.

We can't do it that way in iraq because we care how much oil actually gets pumped out of iraq.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 16, 2005 04:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The points about a Strategic Corporal are good -- but are based on a Liberally biased anti-American press holding the double standard of blaming America BOTH for too much action, and too little."

It isn't a matter of blaming America, it's a matter of blaming the Bush administration.

And it isn't a matter of blaming them for doing too much or too little, with the sweet spot of just the right amount somewhere in between. It's a matter of blaming them for doing completely wrong boneheaded things that have no relation to what needs to be done.

Less -- much less -- of what they *have* done, and more -- much more -- of what they should have done.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 16, 2005 04:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tommy, the number to be concerned about is casualties from all causes -- where a casualty is an soldier who is no longer effective in his job. In that context Graner and Lydee are casualties too.

Our casualties are above 10,000.

If the insurgents have been taking casualties at 7:1, which they should have if we've been doing adequately at giving them casualties, that would be about 70,000 insurgent casualties. Does that seem low or high to you?

Our casualties have been going up. Supposing we can keep them at current levels it would be something over 10,000 a year, which we can handle. 70,000 a year would be very hard for insurgents to handle since our estimates have always been that there are no more than 20,000 of them, and a pool of maybe 200,000 passive supporters. Supposing that our estimates are right (and my 7:1 estimate is right), unless the insurgents give up we'll have killed them all in less than 3 years.

Does this look like a workable strategy to you?

Posted by: J Thomas at January 16, 2005 04:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


You're right about the Over 10K. CAS + KIA both theatres is at about 14 or so. Military Times publishing is putting together an insert (which is suppossed to be pretty good - USA Today-esque) that should be publically available shorty in all of their pubs. People can watch for it at Amry Times, Navy Times etc, plus Defense Weekly and AFJ (monthly). Most sites are non-sub friendly.

That said, more than half the WIA's are RTD's, with even larger % of bluntTras than the KIA slice.

70K insurgents? I want to say it sounds right, but I'm going to have to go Sunday-talk-show on you (sorry) and decline to answer. I've grown up in a culture that is very, shall we say "gun-shy", about KIA claims.

As to workability. Yes - I absolutely agree with your characterization. ('most' not 'all', incase someone else decides to come in all snarky, but yeah - agree) But, it'll be Egypt-esque by 2008, no doubt.

To many academic reasons to list here now, but ME watchers should take a good, long, hard look at the proud men in this picture:


Click on the Mechanized Police Brigade hotlink

"Colonial Troops", Greg? Not when you've got locals like these - take a good look at those faces, these people are Citizens of the new Republic of Iraq.

Posted by: Tommy G at January 16, 2005 06:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tommy, I'm not talking about insurgents KIA. I'm talking about insurgent casualties from all causes, just like Coalition casualties from all causes. It doesn't matter whether we kill them or they die of cholera or they lose limbs in shootouts with apolitical gangsters and become noncombatants, they're casualties regardless.

My concern is that the numbers don't add up.

It would be absurd for the insurgents to take less than 70,000 casualties when we take 10,000+. Their medical care is no better than iraqi civilians, short on everything. Things our guys can recover from easily would be casualties for them, just like iraqi civilians are dying of easily-preventable stuff. Things that are minor infections for us aren't minor for them.

But our estimates of insurgent numbers have never been above 20,000. The russian army took 12 million casualties from the nazis when they never had more than 3 million men under arms at one time. But that was over 5 years. If the insurgents are taking 70,000 casualties with no more than 20,000 operating at once in less than 2 years, that's worse than the russians and they're still going strong. Maybe they're taking far fewer casualties than they ought to -- which would be bad. Or maybe there are a lot more of them than we estimate which would also be bad.

Now, suppose the 70,000 number is close. If we've killed 70,000 insurgents mostly in cities, why would anybody think we'd killed less than 100,000 civilians? Doesn't 140,000 excess civilian deaths seem completely plausible, in that case?

My guess is that something more than half of the sunnis in iraq are passively supporting the insurgency, and about a tenth of those are available to become active supporters. Call it 2.5 million passive supporters and 250,000 active. If I was them, I'd be calling up the active supporters and training them and sending them out to blow up fuel trucks etc, and after a few missions send them home again. Increase the number with combat experience as fast as they can be trained. But don't use them up now, keep increasing the pool of reserves so there will be planty when you need them.

The idea that there are only 20,000 of them doesn't fit with them taking over iraqi cities. It doesn't fit with them infiltrating the police and IDF. If it was true then 10% of them would have to join the police etc to get 1% infilitration. But it does fit with the number of attacks. At 150 attacks a day on coalition forces and 500 attacks a day on IDF and police, figuring attacks by little squads of 5, that would have each insurgent on average participating in one of these little attacks about once a week. If there were 10 times as many of them they'd only be attacking on average about once every 2 months. Hardly enough to keep in practice.

So assuming they're resolute, we'll probably have to kill about a quarter million combatants and maybe a half million or more sympathisers before they know they're beaten. Plus however many uninvolved civilians happen to die in the process. Assuming we can do that at a 10:1 casualty ratio that would be about another 25,000 casualties for us.

I try to figure what I'd do if I was in their place. I'd want to preposition lots of munitions in small caches, and train irregulars. The last I heard about 1 supply convoy in 4 got attacked. I'd wait until we had enough teams ready that we could attack *every* supply convoy multiple times, and keep that up for a month. The goal would be to hit every single fuel tanker. No Coalition fuel tanker moves north of Nasiriyah for a month. It would be nice to have some sort of anti-air attacks too beyond the RPGs, but I don't know whether those would be available.

What do you think, could they make us take embarrassing losses with a plan like that?

What would the shia etc do? My guess is the kurds would help us in the north, and if we could get supplies in from turkey a lot of them would get as far as Mosul or even further. The shia would probably want to argue about it, and would tend to sit it out. Every casualty on either side would leave them stronger. If they felt supremely cynical they might follow our example from the iran/iraq war and aid whichever side looked weaker at the moment. "It's a shame they can't both lose."

What do you think? Given my assumption about their numbers, does this look like a plausible plan?

Posted by: J Thomas at January 17, 2005 06:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I never fully made the connection that the Iraqi insurgency as analagous to the LA gang problem until I read this post. LAPD's problems to a large extent stem from having too few officers - meaning that they rely overly much on firepower and shock and awe sort of tactics. Sad.

Posted by: benton at January 17, 2005 06:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Sorry for the delay - busy.

Again, the plan is not only plausible, it is the most likely course of action (MLCOA)

Two things of interest to me in your last post.

a: The math on your numbers won't work out in the long run. It's not your logic, it's the percentages.

b: Of greater interest is this: there is very liilte difference between our current most dangerous COA (MDCOA) and your MLCOA. This is good news for the OR types. And, actually, good nerws for the operators as well - becasue it implies that we're working of a solid OPORD with good assumptions. But back to (a) ...didn't mean to leave you hanging.

While the casualties will most likely climb to 25K (3/22) the non-native coalition population goes down each day. Steadily and significantly now, as upwards of 4K of Iraqi Citizens are joining some form of uniformed service weekly, and dramatically as the non-native coalition members begin drawing down.

Sad but true dept: You and I care about each and every US serviceperson's well-being, but the general public will increasing see the endeavor as becoming more successfull each month as the CAS rate of US personnell continues it's rapid drop.
It's what the Realpolitik crowd calls a win-win.

Posted by: Tommy G at January 20, 2005 02:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Whoa, Tommy.

I'd be interested in where my percentages go wrong. I made a pessimistic assumption about how long the insurgents would hold out, but see, they get to decide when to give up. We don't get to decide when they're beaten, they do. We might very well have to give them a whole lot of casualties before they quit, and as we do collateral damage more undecideds will be hardened against us even while others get psychologically defeated.

I don't see that my simple calculations from public data are good news for anybody -- I hope the official thinkers have better information to work with.

You're saying we'll take less casualties because the iraqis on our side will take more. But consider those numbers. We ought to be dishing out something like 10:1 casualty ratio. We *have* to do that to keep our casualties acceptably low. But the collaborating iraqis can't do it, they'll be lucky to get 1:1. When insurgents ambush one of our convoys there's a good chance we won't take any casualties. Pretty often we get damage to a vehicle and no casualties, or even minimal damage. RPGs that hit too soon don't explode etc. But the ARVN guys have essentially no armor, and no air transport. They're sitting ducks. Their body armor isn't as good as ours, when they have any, so they'll take more dead and less wounded. (Plus they don't get our great medical services.) In every respect I can think of they're about on a par with the insurgents, except that most of them lack combat experience and lack training. (I don't know how good the insurgent training is, maybe the IDF etc are just as good that way.)

Did I say ARVN? I mean iraqi. The insurgents probably have better intelligence, but they probably aren't as quick to get it where it needs to go, so that's mostly a local advantage. The insurgents probably aren't as good at large-scale operations. Neither side has done any of that yet. All in all it looks something like a 1:1 ratio assuming the government forces actually stand and fight well. I note that Biden claims about 4,000 iraqi forces actually dependable so far. Another undependable source in iraq says 8,000, plus police. That number will rise, but how fast? How many iraqis will be ready to die for us?

Suppose we're honest about it, and we follow a process of disbanding nonfunctional battalions and merging the promising soldiers from them into new battalions and trying again -- how long before we get enough reliable troops to slug it out with a quarter million insurgents at 1:1?

It looks like our method to control insurgent mobility is checkpoints. Their method to control government mobility is ambushes. Which is more effective?

Their guys are secret, ours are in uniform and under observation all the time. They can and do assassinate the most capable commanders at all levels -- but they leave the mediocre ones in place.

It doesn't look good. The only real possibility I see comes if the bulk of the people decide to back the iraqi government. If somebody is a passive insurgent and all his neighbors tell him they aren't going to put up with it, he's likely to quit. And if not they can turn him in. Clear up the mixed areas and maybe let the places that are solidly insurgent secede or something.

But how likely is it the population will back the government if it doesn't tell us to go away? Essentially everybody but the kurds wants us gone. I don't blame them. Imagine the USA with a period of instability and the chinese army occupying us to help us get settled, and they shoot anybody who gets within 30 meters of their vehicles. Would we put up with that a month longer than we had to? They point guns at random people on the street, they're edgy and shoot everybody in sight when they think they're being attacked? They break into your house looking for republicans, scare everybody and shoot the dog, and maybe carry somebody off to be interrogated?

I just don't see the iraqi army effectively replacing us until after we're gone. But we say we aren't going to go until they can replace us. A chicken-and-egg problem.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 20, 2005 09:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Iraqi army starts replacing us MUCH more, after the elections, so that the Iraqis in power are elected by Iraqis.
Big Shi'a turnout; big Kurd turnout; lower (how much lower?) turnout by intimidated by/ supportive of Death Squad Sunnis. 20%.

Abu Ghraib will be turned over to Iraqis, etc. Once the majority Shi'a get power, they are likely to make it clear, perhaps very very clear, that Sunni Death Squads will NOT be tolerated.

This inevitable democratic reality is a big reason so many Sunnis resent the change -- loss of power.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at January 20, 2005 03:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tom, that makes sense. That's why I figure we ought to give it at least 3 months after the election to see if things are turning around, before we bug out.

My concern is that the new government might look too much like a puppet government that doesn't actually have sovereignty. It looks like the litmus test is how fast they can get the US military out of there. If they can get us out pretty quick then the iraqi public will think they're actually in charge of the country. Otherwise not.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 20, 2005 04:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ok, Thomas - I thought I was agreeing with you. The results will be similar - but your numbers are wrong. No more back and forth - maybe this, and I know I'm right that - wrong.

Where in the world are you getting 4000 Iragi security forces? Did you not read the link Art posted? I assumed, in good faith, that you knew what you were talking about. If you don't, this is all very silly.

For accurate numbers from persons other than, say, Joe Biden, please check the following, and then get back to us:


Posted by: Tommy G at January 20, 2005 10:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tommy, first here's the transcript of the discussion I'm referring to.


BIDEN: [....] Now, I've made four trips there. Three since Saddam has come down. I've spent a lot of time. I've gone to the training facility for police in Jordan. With the American head trainer, I said without anybody there and I believe my friend and person who has an ideological bent considerably different than mine, my friend from South Carolina was there. I said, There's no one in the room. Please cut all the malarkey. Is this training program worth a darn? And the answer was no -- from our own trainer. I asked the head of the Jordanian police force who was there and the Canadian Royal Mounted Policeman who was there as the triumvirate running the operation. I've been back and spoke with a General Petraeus on two occasions. He is a first-rate soldier. He has indicated he's just basically beginning. How many -- and this is my last question. How many security forces do you think are trained that can shot straight, kill and stand their ground? I don't mean in a uniform. I mean real, live guys that our Marines. I was spent four hours in Fallujah. Our Marines are not real anxious to stand next to and count on a lot of Iraqi forces except the few that were trained as special forces. Now, how many do you really think are trained that Allawi can look to and say, I can rely on those forces ? [....]

RICE: RICE: Senator, I have to rely on what I get from the field. And by the way, I think that the trips that you've made and the trips that the others have made have given us information that we can go back with. And I appreciate your doing that. We think the number right now is somewhere over 120,000. We think that, among those people, there clearly continue to be questions about on-duty time, that is, people who don't report for duty. And so this is being looked at. [....]

BIDEN: BIDEN: Well, I thank you for your answer. I think you'll find, if you speak to the folks on the ground, they don't think there's more than 4,000 actually trained Iraqi forces. I strongly urge you to pick up the phone or go see these folks. And the reason I press it is not that the Iraqis aren't sacrificing. They are. But that's almost irrelevant in one regard. The exit strategy for America is a trained force of several hundred thousand people. We're talking about a year or more to get anywhere close to that. We should level with the American people about it. [....]

Biden later revised his estimate from 4,000 to 14,000.

When the number we're looking for is fully-trained, fully-equipped, effective forces -- versus names on payroll -- it has to be lower than the official estimates but nobody's estimate will be very good. Biden got his estimates from experts in iraq but there's still a wide variance from day to day.

I looked at your general links. The 2nd refused to talk to me, the 1st wasn't organised in a way that let me find anything useful, but I found this from the 3rd.

global securith

"The US has made essentially no progress in increasing the number of Iraqi forces during the year 2004, with the total number of troops on hand continuing to hover at about 200,000. The situation in January 2004 looked fairly good, with 210,400 troops on hand, versus a desired end-strength of 226,700 -- ie, about 90% fill of desired endstrength. By October 2004 things did not look so good, with with 181,200 troops on hand, versus a desired end-strength of 346,700 -- slightly better than 50% of desired end-strength.

"Even more striking are the changes between August 2004 and October 2004, following the troops to task analysis completed in August. Over this three month period, the objective end-strength of Iraqi forces increased from 265,900 to 346,700, while the shortfall of troops increased from 30,100 to 165,500 over this same period. In September 2004 the Police end-strength objective increased from 90,000 to 135,000, while in October 2004 the Police forces on hand dropped from 84,900 to 43,900."

"All of these numbers include the Facilities Protection Service, charged with guarding buildings and preventing looting. We know that this outfit is still in existence, since on 04 December 2004 it was reported that a car bomb plowed into a bus carrying members of the Iraqi Facilities Protection Service as they traveled from the Kurdish city of Irbil to Mosul. According to one report, 13 to 15 members of the force were killed. But the roughly 75,000 members of this entity were dropped from reporting in the May timeframe, for no apparent reason.

The Facilities Protection Service seems to have been easy duty, since the FPS never had trouble meeting its quota. Indeed, in late 2003 and early 2004 it was chasing people away. The worst month was January 2004, when the FPS had 97,000 people on the payroll, versus a desired end-strength of 50,000.

If the Facilities Protection Service is removed from the equation, things don't look so good. From October 2003 through November 2004 the objective end-strength of Iraqi forces appears to have more than doubled, increasing from 148,000 to 273,600. The actual number of forces on hand increased from 79,500 in October 2003 to 165,800 in September 2004. But the actual number of forces on hand fell to 107,200 in October and to 114,000 in November 2004. The shortfall of troops increased from 69,400 to 159,000 over this period. "

In a way this may be promising. If the least-reliable iraqis are dropping out then maybe the survivors are better. But it doesn't look very good.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 21, 2005 08:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry, my links didn't go through.

Here's page 21 of the Rice confirmation transcript:

Here's globalsecurity's take on iraqi recruitment levels.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 21, 2005 09:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thomas -Thanks for taking the time

Sorry about the Centcom site - it's really good and has only recently gone "black" I can only get it from work now, even with my logon. But John's GS is, truth be told, often just as good as any of ours.

Now that we're both working off the same set of numbers, I find we're almost completely in agreement. Barring any unforeseen catastrophies, we can both come smuggly back in January of 2008 and congratulate ourselves.

Perhaps you can send Joe an update?

Posted by: Tommy G at January 22, 2005 01:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tommy, if you read carefully, Biden asked how many fully-trained troops were available that Allawi could depend on. His estimate now is about 14,000. Does that seem off to you?

If there were 114,000 of them in November and 100,000 of them were partly-trained or unreliable, then that would be about right. If we have another 20,000 partly-trained unreliable ones today it would still be about right.

If you read the document with Biden and Rice, she points out that iraqis don't fight well under US leadership, and they're attempting a crash program to get iraqi officers up to speed. They have the Saddam retreads, of course, but new officers take considerable time to train.

Biden gives the estimate that it will take another year to train iraqi forces that can replace ours. I think he's tremendously optimistic there.

Posted by: J Thomas at January 22, 2005 02:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Oh god no, my friend - another year? It's not as if they used to be hair-dressers. I love my job, but I must tell you - it's not rocket science.

Anyrate - this threads to deeply buried now - we can pick up on this later - I'm sure some other post will fit in the next couple of weeks - see you top-side...

Posted by: Tommy G at January 22, 2005 05:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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