Directions on Iraq: Day 4

Today we have a contribution from new contributor, Nonpartisan Pundit. Here’s a bit of his biography:

I served as an intelligence analyst with the US Navy and Air force for over 15 years. During that time I had a broad range of experience, mostly concentrated on the Persian-Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean littoral. My primary expertise was in support to military planning and conventional and unconventional threat analysis.

His post proposes what appears to me to be a creative combination of revised military strategy and political initiative. His “neighborhood containment” strategy suggests to me an urban adaptation of the “oil spot” strategy that the British employed in Malaysia.

Adjunct post

This New Yorker article, “Knowing the Enemy” by George Packer, on David Kilcullen and his study of Indonesia’s successful campaign against the little-known Muslim separatist insurgency, Darul Islam, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, appears to me to be full of relevant insights. Here’s a sample:

The more Kilcullen travels to the various theatres of war, the less he thinks that the lessons of Malaya and Vietnam are useful guides in the current conflict. “Classical counterinsurgency is designed to defeat insurgency in one country,” he writes in his Strategic Studies article. “We need a new paradigm, capable of addressing globalised insurgency.” After a recent trip to Afghanistan, where Taliban forces have begun to mount large operations in the Pashto-speaking south of the country, he told me, “This ain’t your granddaddy’s counterinsurgency.” Many American units there, he said, are executing the new field manual’s tactics brilliantly. For example, before conducting operations in a given area, soldiers sit down over bread and tea with tribal leaders and find out what they need—Korans, cold-weather gear, a hydroelectric dynamo. In exchange for promises of local support, the Americans gather the supplies and then, within hours of the end of fighting, produce them, to show what can be gained from coöperating.

But the Taliban seem to be waging a different war, driven entirely by information operations. “They’re essentially armed propaganda organizations,” Kilcullen said. “They switch between guerrilla activity and terrorist activity as they need to, in order to maintain the political momentum, and it’s all about an information operation that generates the perception of an unstoppable, growing insurgency.” After travelling through southern Afghanistan, Kilcullen e-mailed me:

One good example of Taliban information strategy is their use of “night letters.” They have been pushing local farmers in several provinces (Helmand, Uruzgan, Kandahar) to grow poppy instead of regular crops, and using night-time threats and intimidation to punish those who don’t and convince others to convert to poppy. This is not because they need more opium—God knows they already have enough—but because they’re trying to detach the local people from the legal economy and the legally approved governance system of the provinces and districts, to weaken the hold of central and provincial government. Get the people doing something illegal, and they’re less likely to feel able to support the government, and more willing to do other illegal things (e.g. join the insurgency)—this is a classic old Bolshevik tactic from the early cold war, by the way. They are specifically trying to send the message: “The government can neither help you nor hurt us. We can hurt you, or protect you—the choice is yours.” They also use object lessons, making an example of people who don’t cooperate—for example, dozens of provincial-level officials have been assassinated this year, again as an “armed propaganda” tool—not because they want one official less but because they want to send the message “We can reach out and touch you if you cross us.” Classic armed information operation.

Hat tip: matoko-chan

Previous installments

Directions on Iraq: Day 3
Directions on Iraq: Day 2
Directions on Iraq: a Blogging Colloquium

7 comments… add one
  • Hi Dave,

    A great post from non-partisan pundit. It would have been a great plan two years ago. Unfortunately, to succeed now it would require magically creating an honest and non-partisan Iraqi police force, a dedicated Iraqi army unpenetrated by militias and a miraculous reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure. None of these are likely to happen in time to make a difference, if at all.

    Let’s not forget that, two years ago, the CPA were telling us all that militias wouldn’t be a problem.

    By the way, and further to a recent convo in comments to another of your posts, have you seen this report from the BBC? It says that Afghanistan has arrested a Pakistani ISI agent who has confessed to being the ISI’s liason with Al Qaida.

    Regards, C

  • Cernig,

    I agree this plan would have a much greater chance for success had it been implemented two years ago, but I believe there is still an opportunity to turn things around. That’s just my conjecture though in many historical insurgencies counter-insurgent forces initially did poorly only to learn and eventually turn things around. I still believe that most Iraqi’s would choose a strong central government if it could demonstrate a somewhat competent ability to provide security and essential services.

    In any event, it’s looking like the President is leaning toward surging in an attempt to secure all of Baghdad which has a dubious chance for success in my opinion.

  • Andy,

    Agreed on the “surge”. They already tried a surge. It didn’t work. I don’t see that the answer is therefore a bigger surge, especially when it still won’t reach anything like the force ratios needed (like, say, those at Tal Afar under McMasters). It doubly won’t work while the forces to surge have still to assimilate the new COIN manual and its concepts (like you, I’m wading through the PDF).

    I’ve ben saying for 2 years now that the US had to abandon the confrontational Israeli model of COIN – which simply leads to whack-a-mole – and adopt a more British approach: language and culture training for every squaddie, carefully targeted raids which minimize collateral damage and always preserve more moderate voices, concentration on dislocating the support of insurgency by material aide (reconstruction), more integral and focussed intel, etc. Its nice to see the authors of the new manual appear to have agreed.

    BUT…and its a big but…I don’t think the new manual or even your great plan can have an effect in time to prevent a runaway critical mass. As I read Iraq now, the chain reaction leading to meltdown and regional spillover is unstoppable although maybe its effects can be somewhat mitigated.

    For that, I place the blame squarely on the CPA. They set the Iraqi govt. up to be subtly controllable by the US (via a monopoly on logistics, intel provision, pressure for preferred candidates, requiring voting “super-majorities” etc) and thus set it up to fail as a sovereign state – they deprived it of streetcred legitimacy before it even began. That plus their incompetence in firstly, dissolving the army in toto and secondly, encouraging the militias to join the security forces (often as entire units) created the conditions for the current perfect storm.

    Regards, C

  • Good post by non partisan pundit, indeed. But as cernig has already pointed out, the training and building up of a non-partisan police force from the ground up is not exactly a viable prospect that might happen in the near future. Nevertheless, non partisan pundit did add that his approach would take considerable time and gargantuan effort to allow the results to manifest. But what we don’t have on our side in Iraq is time.

    His proposal seems to place quite a fair bit of onus on the Iraqi government – and that is obviously our long-term strategy in order to relieve our troops over there; but we should not mistakenly place too much faith and expect that much from Maliki now, not when he’s hamstrung by the Sadrists and Badrists in government. What we should be doing to mitigate the crisis that is perpetuating right now is to deal with the militias and the corrupted police force by persecuting and trying anyone who dares to destabilise the security situation in Iraq – Sadrist or Badrist, civil servant or citizen, Sunni or Shiite.

    The surge – we definitely don’t want to provide more targets for the death squads and insurgents to shoot at, but at the same time, troops should be relocated to the Iranian and Syrian borders and away from policing/patrolling duties. The surge would be better employed if it were specifically assigned to fulfil border reinforcement and QRF responsibilities – adopt the ROE of the land, of the militias.

  • Cernig,

    That’s a great point about critical mass and whether we are past the point of “saving the patient” so to speak. I still believe the situation can be salvaged, but I admit it’s rather bleak and the prospects aren’t good. It’s certainly possible we’re at the point where a slide into chaos can’t be prevented by US power, military or otherwise. All I can say is that I hope you are wrong about that.


    I’m glad you mentioned border enforcement, because that is another key piece of defeating the insurgents. In large measure the insurgency in Afghanistan would be over were it not for the difficulty in controlling the border with Pakistan. In Iraq, I agree that US troops should bolster the border to at least hinder cross-border insurgent activity.

    Finally, I’ll probably be offline for a while. I’m currently stuck in an airport because of the weather in Denver and unfortunately I forgot to bring the power cable for my laptop.

  • hmmm
    dave, are u going to a conclusion, a roundup?

  • Yes, I had planned to have it out yesterday (Wednesday) but I was shilly-shallying around to see if John would complete the third installment of his guide to the players. I’ll try to have it up today.

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