A Power Line reader who has served in Iraq responds to my analysis as follows:
I appreciate your measured – and responsible – approach to potential solutions in Iraq. And while I still believe, adamantly, that adding substantially more troops is ultimately the only approach that would give us the chance to win (let along avoid defeat) in Iraq, I respect your responsible analysis.
However, I take issue with one crucial point in your analysis, “A friend who served in Iraq (Ramadi and Baghdad) during 2005-06 assures me that there is a clear distinction between these two types of missions. He adds that the second kind — real targeted military operations — tend to be (a) more effective and (b) less deadly for Americans than policing. According to my friend, American losses tend to occur not when we’re striking decisively at the enemy but when we’re rolling predictably down the streets of Baghdad or Ramadi on patrol duty.”
Your friend is correct, targeted military operations based on intelligence are always the preferred method of engagement. These raids minimize friendly casualties, as well as collateral and cultural damage to Iraqis. However, the most important factor in targeted operations is intelligence. We have to know who the enemy is, where he is, and how long he will be there.
Intelligence is, as I’m sure you know, not an easy thing to come by. Signal and digital intelligence are very important, however, they are rarely sufficient. Human intelligence, manifested in Iraqi informants, is the best and the most accurate form of intelligence.
And the only way to gather human intelligence is to have regular interaction with the local populous. U.S. troops must establish mutual trust, familiarity, and a track record of results before meaningful relationships are formed. And relationships fostered during “policing” and regular patrols are oftentimes the only thing that provide ground units with actionable intelligence. We mustn’t be lulled into a belief that we can just sit on our sprawling bases and meaningful intelligence will fall into our laps.
The successful completion of any counterinsurgency campaign must result in a political solution; and it is the job of the military to set the conditions for a political solution. I believe we have yet to sufficiently set the conditions, with Shiite militias and Sunni networks still controlling large areas in and around Baghdad. More troops, allocated aggressively throughout Baghdad and Anbar Province, would mean more U.S. casualties; however, they would also mean more relationships, more intelligence, more dead insurgents, and ultimately the necessary political conditions for stability.
Keep up the great work at Powerline!