Saturday, March 15, 2008

Counterinsurgency Firepower in Iraq

Sunday's New York Times has a five-year symposium on the Iraq war. The compiliation includes nine brief articles, of which I've read about half so far. The Bush adminstration's not coming out looking so well, and I'm waiting to read Paul Bremer's contribution until morning.

In the meantime, I think
Frederick Kagan addresses the most important point of the war: the shift to an aggressive and effective counterinsurgency strategy that may indeed prove to be the saving element of the entire enterprise:

FROM the moment the Bush administration took office, I argued against its apparent preference for high-tech, small-footprint wars, which continued a decade of movement in that direction by senior military leaders and civilian experts. In 2002, I questioned the common triumphalism about American operations in Afghanistan, and particularly the notion of applying the “Afghanistan model” of low-manpower, high-precision operations in Iraq. I supported the 2003 invasion despite misgivings about how it would be executed, and those misgivings proved accurate.

However, the most surprising phenomenon of the war has been the transformation of the United States military into the most discriminate and effective counterinsurgency force the world has ever seen, skillfully blending the most advanced technology with human interactions between soldiers and the Iraqi people. Precision-guided weapons allowed our soldiers and marines to minimize collateral damage while using our advantages in firepower to the full.

Once we pushed most of our combat forces into close interactions with the Iraqi people, the information they obtained ensured that the targets they hit were the right ones. Above all, the compassion and concern our soldiers have consistently shown to civilians and even to defeated and captured enemies have turned the tide of Iraqi opinion.

Within a year, our forces went from imminent defeat to creating the prospect of success, using a great deal of firepower, killing and capturing many enemies, but binding the local population to us at the same time. The intellectual framework came from Gens. David Petraeus and Ray Odierno and their advisers. But the deep understanding, skill and compassion that made it work came from service members and the many civilians who put their lives at risk for the benefit of their country and Iraq.
See also the new American Interest for another set of brief and varied essays on Iraq five years on.