Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The real lessons of Iraq: for now

An important note of caution from Charles Dunlap Jr. in the NYT.
Many analysts understandably attribute the success to our troops’ following the dictums of the Army’s lauded new counterinsurgency manual. While the manual is a vast improvement over its predecessors, it would be a huge mistake to take it as proof — as some in the press, academia and independent policy organizations have — that victory over insurgents is achievable by anything other than traditional military force.

Unfortunately, starry-eyed enthusiasts have misread the manual to say that defeating an insurgency is all about winning hearts and minds with teams of anthropologists, propagandists and civil-affairs officers armed with democracy-in-a-box kits and volleyball nets. They dismiss as passé killing or capturing insurgents.

Actually, the reality is quite different. The lesson of Iraq is that old-fashioned force works. Add 30,000 of the world’s finest infantry to the 135,000 battle-hardened troops already there, as we have done, and the outnumbered insurgency is in serious trouble. Detain thousands more Iraqis as security threats, and the potential for violence inevitably declines. Press reports indicate that the number of Iraqis in prison doubled over the last year, to 30,000 from 15,000; and while casualty figures are sketchy, military officials told USA Today last September that the number of insurgents killed was already 25 percent higher in 2007 than in all of 2006.

And while the new counterinsurgency doctrine has an anti-technology flavor that seems to discourage the use of air power especially, savvy ground-force commanders in Iraq got the right results last year by discounting those admonitions. Few Americans are likely to be aware that there was a fivefold increase in airstrikes during 2007 as compared with the previous year, which went hand in hand with the rest of the surge strategy. Going high-tech once again proved to be highly successful.
Nothing is new in this line of work; it just gets forgotten by peacetime leaders.

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