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Friday, February 02, 2007

Clear-Hold-Win Public

I participated in an academic panel a couple of days ago regarding the Iraqi Study Group findings and the recent troop surge taking place. It became clearer to me by the end of the discussion that the surge by itself isn't necessarily doomed to failure nor a panacea for US problems in Iraq. I am going to try over the next couple of weeks to share my thoughts on the troop surge taking place in Iraq. First topic the clear-hold-win public strategy.

There is much debate regarding the military's role in any solution for Iraq, which most experts agree must be ultimately solved politically. But history tells us the military and the use of force, or even the threat to use force, is vital to set the conditions for a political solution. But a concern with the plan to surge more troops into Baghdad can be illustrated by the battle for Fallujuh (November 2004). Securing Fallujah led to tens of thousands of refugees and the basic destruction of large parts of the city. The same will happen in Baghdad when US (and Iraqi) forces engage the criminals, militias, death squads and insurgents operating within the city. Using the military in Baghdad can accomplish something as long as there is an immediate ability for reconstruction--not a plan for reconstruction--but an immediate reconstruction capability to move in and work in the very neighborhoods, that once cleared and held, don't degenerate into additional chaos, criminality and violence because the basic urban infrastructure has been destoyed, unemployment spikes, and those remaining in the city become susceptible to the message of the insurgency or driven to commit insurgent or terrorists acts for non-political reasons.

Embedded, I entered Baghdad with US Marines in April 2003 and watched as Iraqis began looting in all directions. To their credit, the Marines set up a table outside of the building they occupied and began fielding complaints from Iraqis frustrated that their neighborhoods were going up in smoke, their homes being ransacked, and family members were being killed and wounded in apparent reprisal attacks for past affiliations or ethnic background. Trouble was, that for days, those frontline Marines had no orders to get involved in any sort of stability operations. We all know what a mess that lack of an immediate follow-on course of action turned out to be. I am simply afraid that when the US troops engage in combat ops in Baghdad, which they are sure to do, without a clear secondary capability, it will accomplish little leading to renewed dissolution in the US and abroad over US actions in Iraq.

Sec State Rice has said there will be a strong civilian component to the surge but unless they are being mobilized concurrently with critical equipment and standing by during the fight, there will be to much time wasted between clear and hold operations and reconstruction, nullifying General Petraeus' ultimate goal to secure the population.