Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Insurgency Revisited

Dan Darling links to an analytic piece by Newsweek on the origins of the Iraqi insurgency, some aspects of which resemble an old Belmont Club post, which I have juxtaposed for comparison.  Here are some of the similarities with the Newsweek article.

Unmasking the Insurgents By Rod Nordland, Tom Masland and Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, February 1, 2005 War Plan Orange, the Belmont Club October 25, 2004
A NEWSWEEK investigation shows that long before U.S. and other Coalition troops blasted across the border into Iraq on March 20, 2003, Saddam had put aside hundreds of millions of dollars (some sources claim billions) and enormous weapons caches to support a guerrilla war. Faced with an invasion of Iraq in 2003, Saddam carried out his own sideslip maneuver into a redoubt. The Duelfer report notes that Saddam may have begun moving his WMD materials into Syria as the US vainly attempted to get UN authorization to topple his regime. ...

At least some of that was the key munition of modern terrorist warfare -- money. ...

About 600,000 tons of munitions were dispersed throughout the country of which 100,000 tons -- five Hiroshima bombs worth of explosive -- were taken to Anbar province in the Sunni Triangle alone.

Those contacts and networks that Saddam's key cronies began developing months before the invasion now paid off. An understanding was found with the Islamic fanatics, and the well-funded Baathists appear to have made Syria a protected base of operations. Nor was there any shortage of men to use these weapons. Former CPA Administrator Paul Bremer noted that 100,000 convicted criminals were released just before US forces overran the cities, ready to be officered, along with many Sunnis, by either the cadre of the former Ba'athist dominated armies or international terrorists flooding in from Iran and Syria.
"They were moving aboveground before April 9 [2003], and they just moved underground after," says Iraqi national-security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie.

By July 2002, Saddam had distributed a circular to his top leadership, warning that if and when the United States attacked, "Iraq will be defeated militarily due to the imbalance in forces," but could prevail by "dragging the U.S. military into Iraqi cities, villages and the desert and resorting to resistance tactics."

The major modern innovation of the Arab Way of War has been its radical new conception of defense in depth. The concept made its debut in Algeria; it was subsequently refined in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Checnya and the West Bank. Unlike Ushijima's Shuri Line with its tunnels in rock, the Arab redoubt was founded on establishing an underground of terror in the civilian populace. From the anonymity of crowds, they could emerge to attack the enemy from the rear as the Imperial Japanese Army once had done from tunnels. Faced with superior United States forces, this 21st century War Plan Orange was the natural choice of the Arab strategists. By denying the United States proof of its WMDs and grinding them down through occupation warfare -- the one mode of combat at which they excelled, they had a reasonable hope of holding America until a politician willing to treat with them was elected into office.

One of the key things the Newsweek article misses but which War Plan Orange emphasizes was the role played by the delay caused by seeking permission from the United Nations to topple Saddam. It is a factor given far too little emphasis in retrospective analysis, although it did not escape Mark Steyn, who wrote this Iraq is going to be just fine.

The bulk of the military were already in place, sitting in the Kuwaiti desert twiddling their thumbs. But Bush was prevailed upon to go ''the extra mile'' at the United Nations mainly for the sake of Tony Blair, and thanks to the machinations of Chirac, Schroeder and Co., the extra mile wound up being the scenic route through six months of diplomatic gridlock while Washington gamely auditioned any casus belli that might win the favor of the president of Guinea's witch doctor. As we know, all that happened during that period was that the hitherto fringe ''peace'' movement vastly expanded and annexed most of the Democratic Party.

What made the 'insurgency' possible was the gift of time. Another important factor was allowing enemy cadres to settle into their new clandestine positions in the Iraqi northwest undisturbed. Newsweek correctly observes that the core of the 'insurgency' -- which according to their own article is more or less a fancy name for Saddam's henchmen, augmented by international terror -- was struggling to get things together in the early days of the invasion, when they were making the transition from aboveground to underground.

"During the initial period after the invasion, the Baath and its security apparatus was in total disarray, and our security apparatus became more focused on the terrorists and foreigners," said Barham Salih, the Iraqi government's deputy prime minister, who is in overall charge of security affairs. This, he said, was a miscalculation.

But Newsweek neglects to identify the key enabler of this maneuver: the diplomatic veto, courtesy of America's allies at the UN,  which ensured that the most powerful unit of OIF was absented from the battlefield in these crucial early days, so that when it finally arrived, it was too late; and in any event in the distant south, far from the Sunni areas it was originally scheduled to assault through. The War Plan Orange post put it thus:

If MacArthur's delaying actions at the Agno and Pampanga Rivers enabled him to get his forces into Bataan intact, the successful campaign to prevent the US from pushing the 4ID down from Turkey gave Saddam the time and space to move assets into Syria and disperse munitions and men into the Sunni Triangle.

One of the principle differences in the Newsweek analysis and the War Plan Orange post is in the interpretation of the strengths and weaknesses of each side. Newsweek, for example, seems to regard the growing use of untrained attackers as a sign of strength.

The typical profile is much like Ahmed al-Shayea's, twentysomethings and even teenagers from comfortable middle-class families. "They have got no experience, they are not trained," a Palestinian jihadi told NEWSWEEK. "They just have to drive the vehicle. But these boys—17, 18 years old—are important." What motivates them? "I think their religion is better than others'," he says. "They are rich, they are educated, and they need nothing, but they see that in this fight they will win either victory or heaven. This is their ideology. Either way, they win."

The War Plan Orange post inferred that this was going to happen, but saw it as a sign of weakness. It predicted that the differential attrition would manifest itself in a growing experience and skill gap.

In essence, Ba'athist-terrorist coalition was unable to inflict the losses necessary to disrupt the organizational learning curve of the American forces. Unlike the conscript Soviet Army, the American Armed Forces were a professional force that retained its core of officers, NCOs and to a large degree, even their enlisted men. Forces were rotated out of Iraq largely intact, where they incorporated lessons learned into the training cycle in CONUS; and relieving forces were improved accordingly. In 1980s, the Al Qaeda and not the Soviet Army had turned Afghanistan into a training ground but in 2003-2004, it was the US Armed Forces and not the terrorists that were coming away with organizational memory. Simply not enough of the enemy survived to pass on their experience and simply too many American lieutenants left Iraq to return as captains. The terrible enemy losses on the battlefield could not be wholly overcome by media plaudits which they received. At least 15,000 enemy cadres have been killed in the 17 months since OIF. Recently, the remains of a French jihadi were identified in Fallujah and his fate is probably a common one. While Afghanistan was once where the young fundamentalist fighter went to get experience, Iraq was now where the fundamentalist fighter went to die.

The 'fifteen thousand' figure was reached in October by back of the envelope calculation and was my best guess from various sources at the time. It was off, but thankfully not by much. Reuters reported on Jan 26, 2005 that:

"If you look back over the last year we estimate we have killed or captured about 15,000 people as part of this counter-insurgency," Casey, the only four-star American general in Iraq, told reporters. "Just in this month we have picked up around 60 key members of the Zarqawi network and key members of the former regime," he said, referring to the group led by al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

But I think the main problem with the Newsweek analysis is that first, it doesn't fully recognize the significance of the economy of force operation against the Sunnis in April, 2004 as the US dealt with Sadr first in mid-year before returning to crush the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah by year-end. It was a classic example of using a small force to defeat a numerically superior foe by attacking them in detail. I hope future historians give it its due. Secondly, Newsweek almost ignores American political warfare. The establishment of the Interim Governing Council and the Elections had huge military implications from the start, something which is only being belatedly recognized. The strategic center of gravity of the American thrust into the Middle East was not Iraq the geographical entity, as so many have I believe, mistakenly put it, but the Iraqis. The war aim was access to an alliance with an unlimited pool of Arabic speakers, not a puddle of oil in the ground. The return of Iraqi security and intelligence forces will be a nightmare for regional dictators in the short term; but the advent of even a quasi-democratic Iraqi state will, without exaggeration, be their death-knell.