Small Wars Journal

Mansoor on The Surge (Updated)

How The Surge Worked by Peter Mansoor, Washington Post, 10 August 2008.

Pete Mansoor served as General David Petraeus's executive officer at Multi-National Force - Iraq from February 2007 to May 2008. He holds the General Raymond Mason Chair of Military History at Ohio State University and is the author of the forthcoming book "Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander's War in Iraq."

Mansoor is also the founding director of the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Under his leadership, the Counterinsurgency Center helped to revise the final version of the new Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, which was published jointly by the Army and Marine Corps in December 2006. This document was the first revision of US counterinsurgency operations in more than 20 years, incorporating lessons learned during conflicts throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

In 2003-04, Mansoor served as Commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, in Iraq, which was responsible for security and stability in the Rusafa and Adhamiya districts of Baghdad, an area of 195 square kilometers and 2.1 million people. After the April 2004 uprising of militia loyal to the Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, Mansoor's brigade combat team restored the holy city of Karbala to coalition control within three weeks, an operation that earned the organization a Presidential Unit Citation for collective valor in combat.

Pete Mansoor on The Surge (italicized emphasis SWJ):

Given the divisive debate over the Iraq war, perhaps it was inevitable that the accomplishments of the recently concluded "surge" would become shrouded in the fog of 30-second sound bites. Too often we hear that the dramatic security improvement in Iraq is due not to the surge but to other, unrelated factors and that the positive developments of the past 18 months have been merely a coincidence.

To realize how misleading these assertions are, one must understand that the "surge" was more than an infusion of reinforcements into Iraq. Of greater importance was the change in the way US forces were employed starting in February 2007, when Gen. David Petraeus ordered them to position themselves with Iraqi forces out in neighborhoods. This repositioning was based on newly published counterinsurgency doctrine that emphasized the protection of the population and recognized that the only way to secure people is to live among them...

The arrival of additional US forces signaled renewed resolve. Sunni tribal leaders, having glimpsed the dismal future in store for their people under a regime controlled by al-Qaeda in Iraq and fearful of abandonment, were ready to throw in their lot with the coalition. The surge did not create the first of the tribal "awakenings," but it was the catalyst for their expansion and eventual success. The tribal revolt took off after the arrival of reinforcements and as US and Iraqi units fought to make the Iraqi people secure...

The Iraq war is not over, but our war effort is on a firmer foundation. In the end, the Iraqis, appropriately, will determine their future. The surge has created the space and time for the competition for power and resources in Iraq to play out in the political realm, with words instead of bombs. Success is not guaranteed, but such an outcome would be a fitting tribute to the sacrifices of the men and women of Multi-National Force-Iraq and their ongoing efforts, along with their Iraqi partners, to turn around a war that was nearly lost less than two years ago.

More at The Washington Post.

Update: The Importance of The Surge - Max Boot, Contentions

By now the improvement in conditions in Iraq is undeniable. But opponents of the surge are still loath to give credit where it's due. Too often we hear that the "surge" was just one factor among many--and not necessarily the most important--in the improving security situation. Other factors are often cited, including the Sunni Awakening, the growing size and effectiveness of the Iraqi Security Forces, and Moqtada al Sadr's retreat. Those other developments are real and important, but they would not have been game-changers were it not for the additional influx of American soldiers and a change of strategy in how they were employed.

Flashback: Don't Confuse the "Surge" with the Strategy - Dave Kilcullen, Small Wars Journal, 19 January 2007

Much discussion of the new Iraq strategy centers on the "surge" to increase forces in-theater by 21,500 troops. I offer no comment on administration policy here. But as counterinsurgency professionals, it should be clear to us that focusing on the "surge" misses what is actually new in the strategy - its population-centric approach...

What matters here is not the size of forces (though the strategy will not work without a certain minimum force size), but rather their tasks. The key element of the plan, as outlined in the President's speech, is to concentrate security forces within Baghdad, to secure the local people where they live. Troops will operate in small, local groups closely partnered with Iraqi military and police units, with each unit permanently assigned to an area and working its "beat".

This is different from early strategies which were enemy-centric (focusing on killing insurgents), or more recent approaches that relied on training and supporting Iraqi forces and expected them to secure the population.

The new strategy reflects counterinsurgency best practice as demonstrated over dozens of campaigns in the last several decades: enemy-centric approaches that focus on the enemy, assuming that killing insurgents is the key task, rarely succeed. Population-centric approaches, that center on protecting local people and gaining their support, succeed more often.

The extra forces are needed because a residential, population-centric strategy demands enough troops per city block to provide real and immediate security. It demands the ability to "flood" areas, and so deter enemy interference with the population. This is less like conventional warfare, and more like a cop patrolling a beat to prevent violent crime.

This does not mean there will be less fighting indeed, there will probably be more in the short-term, as security forces get in at the grass-roots level and compete for influence with insurgents, sectarian militias and terrorist gangs. But the aim is different: in the new strategy what matters is providing security and order for the population, rather than directly targeting the enemy -- though this strategy will effectively marginalize them...