Small Wars Journal

Understanding Current Operations in Iraq

Tue, 06/26/2007 - 8:11am
I've spent much of the last six weeks out on the ground, working with Iraqi and U.S. combat units, civilian reconstruction teams, Iraqi administrators and tribal and community leaders. I've been away from e-mail a lot, so unable to post here at SWJ: but I'd like to make up for that now by providing colleagues with a basic understanding of what's happening, right now, in Iraq.

This post is not about whether current ops are "working" — for us, here on the ground, time will tell, though some observers elsewhere seem to have already made up their minds (on the basis of what evidence, I'm not really sure). But for professional counterinsurgency operators such as our SWJ community, the thing to understand at this point is the intention and concept behind current ops in Iraq: if you grasp this, you can tell for yourself how the operations are going, without relying on armchair pundits. So in the interests of self-education (and cutting out the commentariat middlemen—sorry, guys) here is a field perspective on current operations.

Ten days ago, speaking with Austin Bay, I made the following comment:

"I know some people in the media are already starting to sort of write off the "surge" and say 'Hey, hang on: we've been going since January, we haven't seen a massive turnaround; it mustn't be working'. What we've been doing to date is putting forces into position. We haven't actually started what I would call the "surge" yet. All we've been doing is building up forces and trying to secure the population. And what I would say to people who say that it's already failed is "watch this space". Because you're going to see, in fairly short order, some changes in the way we're operating that will make what's been happening over the past few months look like what it is—just a preliminary build up."

The meaning of that comment should be clear by now to anyone tracking what is happening in Iraq. On June 15th we kicked off a major series of division-sized operations in Baghdad and the surrounding provinces. As General Odierno said, we have finished the build-up phase and are now beginning the actual "surge of operations". I have often said that we need to give this time. That is still true. But this is the end of the beginning: we are now starting to put things onto a viable long-term footing.

These operations are qualitatively different from what we have done before. Our concept is to knock over several insurgent safe havens simultaneously, in order to prevent terrorists relocating their infrastructure from one to another, and to create an operational synergy between what we're doing in Baghdad and what's happening outside. Unlike on previous occasions, we don't plan to leave these areas once they're secured. These ops will run over months, and the key activity is to stand up viable local security forces in partnership with Iraqi Army and Police, as well as political and economic programs, to permanently secure them. The really decisive activity will be police work, registration of the population and counterintelligence in these areas, to comb out the insurgent sleeper cells and political cells that have "gone quiet" as we moved in, but which will try to survive through the op and emerge later. This will take operational patience, and it will be intelligence-led, and Iraqi government-led. It will probably not make the news (the really important stuff rarely does) but it will be the truly decisive action.

When we speak of "clearing" an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation. If we don't get every enemy cell in the initial operation, that's OK. The point of the operations is to lift the pall of fear from population groups that have been intimidated and exploited by terrorists to date, then win them over and work with them in partnership to clean out the cells that remain -- as has happened in Al Anbar Province and can happen elsewhere in Iraq as well.

The "terrain" we are clearing is human terrain, not physical terrain. It is about marginalizing al Qa'ida, Shi'a extremist militias, and the other terrorist groups from the population they prey on. This is why claims that "80% of AQ leadership have fled" don't overly disturb us: the aim is not to kill every last AQ leader, but rather to drive them off the population and keep them off, so that we can work with the community to prevent their return.

This is not some sort of kind-hearted, soft approach, as some fire-breathing polemicists have claimed (funnily enough, those who urge us to "just kill more bad guys" usually do so from a safe distance). It is not about being "nice" to the population and hoping they will somehow see us as the "good guys" and stop supporting insurgents. On the contrary, it is based on a hard-headed recognition of certain basic facts, to wit:

(a.) The enemy needs the people to act in certain ways (sympathy, acquiescence, silence, reaction to provocation) in order to survive and further his strategy. Unless the population acts in these ways, both insurgents and terrorists will wither, and the cycle of provocation and backlash that drives the sectarian conflict in Iraq will fail.

(b.) The enemy is fluid, but the population is fixed. (The enemy is fluid because he has no permanent installations he needs to defend, and can always run away to fight another day. But the population is fixed, because people are tied to their homes, businesses, farms, tribal areas, relatives etc). Therefore—and this is the major change in our strategy this year—protecting and controlling the population is do-able, but destroying the enemy is not. We can drive him off from the population, then introduce local security forces, population control, and economic and political development, and thereby "hard-wire" the enemy out of the environment, preventing his return. But chasing enemy cells around the countryside is not only a waste of time, it is precisely the sort of action he wants to provoke us into. That's why AQ cells leaving an area are not the main game—they are a distraction. We played the enemy's game for too long: not any more. Now it is time for him to play our game.

(c.) Being fluid, the enemy can control his loss rate and therefore can never be eradicated by purely enemy-centric means: he can just go to ground if the pressure becomes too much. BUT, because he needs the population to act in certain ways in order to survive, we can asphyxiate him by cutting him off from the people. And he can't just "go quiet" to avoid that threat. He has either to come out of the woodwork, fight us and be destroyed, or stay quiet and accept permanent marginalization from his former population base. That puts him on the horns of a lethal dilemma (which warms my heart, quite frankly, after the cynical obscenities these irhabi gang members have inflicted on the innocent Iraqi non-combatant population). That's the intent here.

(d.) The enemy may not be identifiable, but the population is. In any given area in Iraq, there are multiple threat groups but only one, or sometimes two main local population groups. We could do (and have done, in the past) enormous damage to potential supporters, "destroying the haystack to find the needle", but we don't need to: we know who the population is that we need to protect, we know where they live, and we can protect them without unbearable disruption to their lives. And more to the point, we can help them protect themselves, with our forces and ISF in overwatch.

Of course, we still go after all the terrorist and extremist leaders we can target and find, and life has become increasingly "nasty, brutish, and short" for this crowd. But we realize that this is just a shaping activity in support of the main effort, which is securing the Iraqi people from the terrorists, extremist militias, and insurgents who need them to survive.

Is there a strategic risk involved in this series of operations? Absolutely. Nothing in war is risk-free. We have chosen to accept and manage this risk, primarily because a low-risk option simply will not get us the operational effects that the strategic situation demands. We have to play the hand we have been dealt as intelligently as possible, so we're doing what has to be done. It still might not work, but "it is what it is" at this point.

So much for theory. The practice, as always, has been mixed. Personally, I think we are doing reasonably well and casualties have been lower so far than I feared. Every single loss is a tragedy. But so far, thank God, the loss rate has not been too terrible: casualties are up in absolute terms, but down as a proportion of troops deployed (in the fourth quarter of 2006 we had about 100,000 troops in country and casualties averaged 90 deaths a month; now we have almost 160,000 troops in country but deaths are under 120 per month, much less than a proportionate increase, which would have been around 150 a month). And last year we patrolled rarely, mainly in vehicles, and got hit almost every time we went out. Now we patrol all the time, on foot, by day and night with Iraqi units normally present as partners, and the chances of getting hit are much lower on each patrol. We are finally coming out of the "defensive crouch" with which we used to approach the environment, and it is starting to pay off.

It will be a long, hard summer, with much pain and loss to come, and things could still go either way. But the population-centric approach is the beginning of a process that aims to put the overall campaign onto a sustainable long-term footing. The politics of the matter then can be decisive, provided the Iraqis use the time we have bought for them to reach the essential accommodation. The Embassy and MNF-I continue to work on these issues at the highest levels but fundamentally, this is something that only Iraqis can resolve: our role is to provide an environment in which it becomes possible.

All this may change. These are long-term operations: the enemy will adapt and we'll have to adjust what we're doing over time. Baq'ubah, Arab Jabour and the western operations are progressing well, and additional security measures in place in Baghdad have successfully tamped down some of the spill-over of violence from other places. The relatively muted response (so far) to the second Samarra bombing is evidence of this. Time will tell, though....

Once again, none of this is intended to tell you "what to think" or "whether it's working". We're all professional adults, and you can work that out for yourself. But this does, I hope, explain some of the thinking behind what we are doing, and it may therefore make it easier for people to come to their own judgment.

David Kilcullen is Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser, Multi-National Force—Iraq. These are his personal views only.


Mohammed AL-Saedi (not verified)

Tue, 10/19/2010 - 10:21am

Death squads and terrorists in the Iraq, under whom suproirty are they operating ?

At the very earlier time of the invasion of Iraq, the death squads were operating under the suproirty of U.S invaders and groups which were empowered as Coalition Provisional Authority which was established on January 20, 2003 by the U.S invaders. Since then the premeditated massive genocides and assassinations had begun.

The appearance of death squads was first highlighted in May this year, when over a 10-day period dozens of bodies were found casually disposed of in rubbish dumps and vacant areas around Baghdad. All of the victims had been handcuffed, blindfolded and shot in the head and many of them also showed signs of having been brutally tortured. On 5 May 15 bodies were discovered in an industrial area.

A New Death Squad in Iraq

"All these guys want to do is go out and kill bad guys all day," he says, laughing. "These guys are shit hot. They are just as good as we are. We trained 'em. They are just like us. They use the same weapons. They walk like Americans."

Terrorism is led by CIA agent Allawi !

"Iyad Allawi had contact with people the agency thought would be useful to us in the future," Mr. Pollack said. "He seemed to have ties to respected Sunni figures that no one else had." The Hussein government was dominated by Sunni Muslims.

The bombing and sabotage campaign, the former senior intelligence official said, "was a test more than anything else, to demonstrate capability."

Allawi is not believed to have ever spoken in public about the bombing campaign. But one Iraqi National Accord officer did. In 1996, Amneh al-Khadami, who described himself as the chief bomb maker for the Iraqi National Accord and as being based in Sulaimaniya, in northern Iraq, recorded a videotape in which he talked of the bombing campaign and complained that he was being shortchanged money and supplies. Two former intelligence officers confirmed the existence of the videotape.


Death Squads in Iraq

Ex-C.I.A. Aides Say Iraq Leader Helped Agency in 90's Attacks

Media Disinformation and Death Squads in Occupied Iraq

Iraq's New Death Squad

Well said, I agree with you on most of what you said. The normal, working population of Iraqi people have to almost (like you said) coincide with militias to keep them going. In some cases, we were able to make some people comfortable enough to lean more towards helping us and being a hindrance to the the insurgency and it helped tenfold. So that is a major thing and its nice to see someone else see it, and post about it.

MSG Proctor

Sun, 07/20/2008 - 5:04am

"B)With a catastrophic drop in enlistments, soldiers were forced to do repeat tours in Iraq."

Wrong. Enlistments are above 95% for all the services and reenlistments are at record-breaking rates.

The real problem is with those (apparently such as yourself) who lobby to cap our endstrength of active duty military authorizations. It was the Bush administration that pass the authorization for 74,000 additional Army/Marines in 2006. What actually 'forced [Soldiers] to do repeat tours in Iraq.' was the squeamish left-leaning lobby in Washington, DC that refused to man the military with levels of troop authorization commensurate with the threat.

Whitescale (not verified)

Thu, 07/17/2008 - 4:05pm

I would like to comment on the lack of historical knowledge of some of the people posting comments. Germany was considered a liberator coming into the Ukraine, but once the first waves of Wermacht units passed through, thats when Hitler's death squads came in to sub due the population by whole sale slaughter. If they had not terrorized and slaughtered the population, the German army would have been able to recruit/produce several more divisions to throw at the Russians. I am not saying that this would have won them the war against the Russians, but with this and some different strategic choices might have made a big difference in the out come of the Eastern Front. Thank God that those choices were not made. Please, when you want to make a political point using military history, know what the facts/theories are. Yes, I am a history nerd, and forrmely served. My hobbie is historical miniature war gaming, which takes a lot of research for recreating the battles on the table top. You do not have to be as nerdy as myself, but basic knowledge goes a long way.

Thank you.


Mon, 01/21/2008 - 11:36am

Several indications in Wash DC and Baghdad circles
lead me to expect an "October Surprise" from GW Bush
as a result of the Iraq "troops surge." Anyone
studying the temporal correlations between radical
Bush step backwards, disentangling the US a little bit
more from Iraq, and upcoming 2004 and 2006 US national
elections will recall that there is much precedent for
the heads-up White House staff provided this week in
suggesting that before he leaves office Bush's
popularity polls will-- speaking to relatively where
they are now-- skyrocket to over 45%. What would make
this possible is yet another illusion of "Mission
Accomplished." This time, it is a real possibility,
would Bush be willing to impose limits on the "bottom
line" of those who pushed him into war for their
personal gain.

Just as Bush suddenly opened his cavernous cranium to
the idea of "more boots on the ground" after
harvesting total chaos from five years of war in
Iraq-- having nothing to lose after a catastrophic
2006 Congressional election-- he now accepts that an
Iraq solution is only part of a Middle East solution.
This requires first and foremost recognition that 9/11
happened because of Bill Clinton's almost pathological
belief that he can politically finesse it so that he
could have it both ways politically on any issue and
so would never have to make a stark-- and politically
costly-- decision. Thus, brilliance was squandered
over eight years trying NOT to have to make painful

The character of Clinton's Mideast policies was indeed
"immobilisme" as the sum total of his: yes, but on the
other hand, no....However, unable to top the golden
opportunities for peace provided him by Carter and
Bush 41, he just coasted on the residue good will from
the region's condition, terrorism not withstanding,
until a sense of history hit him and he became
determined in the last minute of his term to pull off
a take-off in the Middle East and win a Nobel Prize
with which to cover the cum-spot on Monica's dress and
on his Presidency.

For every radical action that brought great hope to
one side of the Mideast Crisis, he did something
radical to assuage the other side. In the end, he had
both the neocons and alQaeda out to do him in.

As one guided into the presidency by Prince Bandra,
the Saudi Ambassador, per Poppy Bush's request of the
Prince, GW decided to focus on grand geostrategic
issues such as surrounding China and coming to terms
with Russia and Europe. As a result of disregard by
two administrations, Clinton and Bush, binLaden sought
attention by sponsoring a second attack on the World
Trade Center.

This attack was based on two assumptions: (1)security
against skyjacking had so deteriorated in US
jetliners, that by ridding First Class, the
presumptive-shahids would always be able to see the
inside of the pilot's cabin as the door was ALWAYS
open in VIOLATION of Federal rules. Even after dry
runs, the airlines never bothered to tighten security;
that just ate into their profits. (2) So preoccupied
with great powers conflicts was the US that it would
never do more than the proforma anti-US terror
reactions of the Clinton Administration. binLaden, we
now know, believed that Bush would be stopped from
serious assault on Muslim lands by the very Arab
leaders the US depended on for a constant cascade of
oil....hence binLaden's insistence that terrorism
never be directed at the oil wells.

9/11 backfired as binLaden had totally misread Bush.
And that would have been the end of binLaden and
alQaeda, were it not for a basically intelligent man
turned into an idiot by avarice for the presidency,
Donald Rumsfeld, and his faithful dog, Dick Cheney.
Refusing the SecDef post, when offered to him in 2000,
because he wanted to be CIA Chief, Rumsfeld was
massaged by the neocons into taking the job, running a
clean fast and oil rewarded war against Iraq and then
reaping the benefits of neocon cash and connections to
become President in 2004. No one could avoid believing
that, through the Bush Administration, Rumsfeld was to
be the object of God's wrath, given his fate and that
of his war until he left government in 2006.

But Bush, with secret help from Poppy's friends,
turned Rumsfeld and Cheney into zombies and literally
embalmed the neocons. Their fate, resulting from their
later denunciations of Bush, only bespoke of Rove's
amazing ability to inflict pocks and pustules on all
who turn on Bush. The neocons to this day walk about
looking like Job, thanks to Rove. If it is true, as
some have claimed, that Job suffered from Syphilis,
then one could really insist that the neocons got
"screwed" by Rove. Not only did Rumsfeld disappear
into the darkness, but Cheney also was rendered
invisible in the light.

But Bush had no way of reversing the utter
recklessness which he had been blackmailed into
acquiescing to on Iraq. His solution was to use the
power of the Oval Office exactly as he used booze: to
block access of bad news to his consciousness during
the limited time of the day when it was awake.

It is very hard to concoct an argument for some sort
of "change" in Bush's surge strategy. In fact, he
benefited from all the catastrophes that befell
previous Western ventures in the so-called Third
World. Our COIN success, the PRTs and the "more boots"
tactics of Petraeus bespeak command mediocrity allowed
independence from imbecilic civilian rule (as under
Rumsfeld). Five years later, we do a few things that
reverse our failures-- but not by design but by
desperation and limitations due to lack of assets.

(A)With most of our vehicles blown to bits by IEDs, we
resorted to foot patrols. With the "surge" the
distance between outposts became short enough so they
could cover each other.

(B)With a catastrophic drop in enlistments, soldiers
were forced to do repeat tours in Iraq. As a result,
US soldiers acquired a "blend in" gone-native skill
that made them other than the intel blind
shoot-at-everything-that-moves trigger pullers they
had been over the first five years of the Iraq War. We
saw this in Vietnam too where CAP and MAT teams would
live with the peasants in the Viet Cong dominated
villages, turning them into self-defense forces that
rejected Hanoi's land collectivization policies.
Similarly, many Anbar Province Sunni tribes accepted
US advisers enabling them to reject radical Sharia.

(C)In the cities, someone must have realized that the
enemy is not really the enemy. For example, during the
Indochina War of France against the Viet Minh
Stalinists, Gen. Chanson's expeditionary force
destroyed the Communist infrastructure and made the
countryside even more secure than under the US. But
what the French failed to appreciate is the "piaster
scandal" by which the French occupation was funding
Asia wide piaster traffic and criminal gangs in the
cities and how strong it made the gangs. Finally, it
was gangsters that killed Gen. Chanson, not the Viet
Minh Communists. But in Baghdad, the US forces that
had spend five years clumsily trying to play Shi'ite
factions (Sadr vs. Hakim) and Sunnis, one against the
other, in hope of erecting a puppet government that
would legitimize our great oil suck and bases, sought
to end the killing of Americans by stationing its
troops as a sort of roving constabulary while dividing
up the city between the various militia; the latter,
in turn, would kill criminals instead of each other.
Thus, Petraeus can walk the streets without the same
chance of assassination as faced Gen. Chanson of the
French Expeditionary Forces in Indochina.

(D)Squeezed between the Arab Iraqis and the Turks, the
Kurdish gangsters can no longer expect to run Mosul
and Kirkuk. Instead, their Peshmerga militias will
have to integrate with the Shia and Sunni militias as
they are doing in Baghdad under Petraeus. That this is
inevitable is proven by the British withdrawal from
Basra in the South. If democracy is the standard, then
the British war in the South was a total failure. But
in demanding that the militias clean up their act,
going after criminal gangs instead of after each
other, to gradually develop some sort of political
order, the British have bought quite a bit for their
mere withdrawal.

(E)Iraqi fatigue after so much war for so long is
certainly a factor. But far more important is the
joint Arab-Iranian demand of Bush on his visit: you
made such manure of the Middle East, so why don't you
provide us with an American overflow force, just in
case we decide to go after each other's throats, in
return for which we'll give you oil and buy your war
toys at over-valued prices. Ironically, in exchange
for a magical NIE that defined Iran as no longer a
nuclear threat to be attacked, Bush got himself an end
to Iran's interference in Iraq.

(F)Israel feels very much abandoned, especially given
how it started a terror war from the air against
Lebanon at Bush's request. But Olmert-- unlike Bush--
chose to value to lives of Israelis over his political
career, so he ended it without the expected attack
Lebanon-->Syria-->Iran, to justify the US jumping in
to save Israel by pulverizing Iran. As a result, Bush
had no choice but to accept an Iranian truce in Iraq
instead of a war for the nukes. Annapolis is merely an
attempt to give Palestinians hope so they would not
turn to Hamas as a way of cutting off your nose to
spite your face out of rage over how miserable is
their lot. If nothing else, it signals a Quartet
reinvestment in Gaza and Israel paying off on the
billions of $$$ it will get in what's left of the Bush
term so long as it acts humane towards the

One may denounce all this as a house of cards. But it
is a house of cards into which everyone in the region
is invested. Is this an act of Bush brilliance we had
underestimated? I would rather recall what a great
popular science writer once said: if you put three
monkeys to bang each at a typewriter (much as I am
doing now) into infinity, you are bound to come up
with the play-script of Shakespeare's Hamlet. In the
same way, random proteins from space assembled
themselves to create life. Is it "intelligent design"?
I can't say but I am sure GW Bush will insist that it
all is.

Daniel E. Teodoru

Steamboater (not verified)

Sun, 08/26/2007 - 4:34am

What we're fighting in Iraq is in effect a guerrilla war. We should have learned how to fight a war like that after Vietnam but it seems we didn't learn anything. It's not so much Al Queda that we're up against but Iraqies. It's unfortunate that every time an American is injured or killed, Bush blames Al Queda. A camel farts in Baghdad and Bush blames Al Queda. It's certainly makes it easier for Bush to keep this war going if America thinks some outside force is responsible for the deaths of so many Americans.

Regardless, the problem for America in Iraq and in Afghanistan is something that we should have learned from history too. Certainly, the Brits should have taken a good lesson from it but they didn't. No matter what our good intentions Iraqies and Afghans will eventually (if not already) come to resent an occupation and that is exactly what we are--occupiers. The Brits and the Russians were both thrown out of Afghanistan. How in the world did Bush and Blair think a country of warlords, each determined to prop up his own personal power, would welcome for long an Amercian occupation that promised freedom when freedom was not something that was a priority for these warlords? The same applies to Iraq. Freedom and democracy as we know it was never in the cards for the varying groups of Iraqies killing each other and our troops. When you're involved in the middle of a religious civil war that's been going on under wraps for centuries and we move about like on a chessboard of death, with success in one area only to leave it to those who fight us and then return etc, there is no possibility of success, unless we stay in Iraq forever and that won't happen.

Trust is the key to winning and if we can't trust Iraqies on a daily basis to fight on our side then the war is lost.

What happens when we leave is up to the Iraqies. They either act responsibly and peacefully resolve their problems with UN help if they desire that help, or recklessly slaughter each other. We've done enough damage so our role should be over with. Now, the consensus is that democracy for Iraq was and is a pipe-dream. No American should have to die for a theocracy which is about all that's left for Iraq.

Brit (not verified)

Sat, 08/25/2007 - 5:49pm

John-Michael, you're right to question my interpretation. In fact the whole thing was based on a misreading. Somehow I failed to notice the first "to" and read it as "We know that the surge has come to an end."

So that explains my comment.

Brit (not verified)

Wed, 08/15/2007 - 8:06pm

I have great respect for Col Kilcullen, for his openness and willingness to engage those outside the MNF staff.

So I hope he won't interpret my comments as facetious or mocking. They aren't. But I am baffled.

Col Kilcullen relates in this blog, on June 26, that in a conversation ten days previously he had said: 'We havent actually started what I would call the "surge" yet.'

He quoted Gen Odierno saying at the end of June: 'We have finished the build-up phase and are now beginning the actual "surge of operations".'

Today (Aug 15) the LA Times quotes Gen Petraeus saying this:
"We know that the surge has to come to an end, there's no question about that. I think everyone understands that by about a year or so from now we've got to be a good bit smaller than we are right now.",0,1…

So that was it? That was the Surge?

John-Michael (not verified)

Thu, 08/16/2007 - 1:59pm


Are you interpretting Petreaus' remarks as saying the surge is over? I am not sure where you are coming from. Petreaus said they cannot maintain current troop levels for more than another year. So the Surge with its current troop levels can and probably will last for 12-13 months. The strategy part of the Surge will probably be a mainstay of our time in Iraq well beyond that.

Catharsis (not verified)

Fri, 07/20/2007 - 10:37am

It would be interesting to see a comparison to post WWII Germany and the condition it was in after four years of post MCO although their male population had been decimated.

I maintain an Army does not "fight for democracy" nor should those sworn to "protect and DEFEND" the constitution and our way of life be used to fight a war of aggression allowing our corporations to run freely raping the land. Having served there, I've seen many of the "products" they provide with our funding. We wouldn't accept here, why do they get away with that type of service there -- profit.

As an Army retiree I'm offended at the continued instability maintained by our administration allowing corporations to record record profits. Its also embarrassing to watch how we impress our will on THEIR government and then expect them to stand up and take responsibility. I wonder how Americans would cope had the Russians settled into Washington and forced their policies into our "Democracy." Woe be unto the conquered (And we WONDER why).

I worked under Petraeus in Mosul and believe in HIS capability. I'm impressed by what I have learned of Kilcullen. My concern lies with everyone they report to and takes orders from that do not share the same intrests. The tactical battles can be won, but the war lost. This will be another president's issue to solve.

No, we aren't leaving anytime soon, there's more to be taken, while our soldiers die for "democracy" in a country that did not ask us for it and our reputation in the world plummets all at the behest of one of our nations worst presidents in historical record. Luck to you Kilcullen! Change all that you can on the ground. But keep in mind the people remain when we pull out and the longer we, as the imperial occupiers, remain, the less cooperation we will have in the Middle East with the West.

NPR (not verified)

Tue, 07/17/2007 - 5:40pm


National Public Radio's nationwide show "Day to Day" is interested in interviewing you. Please feel free to contact me at hbridger at . Thank you and best wishes.

Al P. (not verified)

Sun, 07/15/2007 - 11:55am

Hello, folks. Newbie here, drifting in from another blog (had ref. Nance's article) that...well...ahem....

Am continuously looking for scholarly sites that provide thoughtful analysis backed by facts (not just rhetoric), and can offer me at least 'nuggets of truth', 'credibility'. In reading a couple of threads, looks good so far to me. :) And this place gets big-time brownie points in my book, in that there's 1) practitioners of 'small' here, who 2) apparently aren't so self-absorbed they necessarily think themselves infallible. Or want me to think that. I prefer / can handle the truth, warts and all.

Ex-mil myself (USA), have a very dear appreciation for the work grunts do, break out in hives when in the company of REMF-minded folk, and benefitted (?) by having a 'very close' connection during OIF-4. Coupled with my independent research, this last item holds a lot of sway for me in my thoughts of Iraq [I think I'll be able to get him to participate here from time to time]and what's possible there.

Great article, and excellent commentaries (even those that I cannot support, knowing what I think I know). SteveL, Bruz (your last line, first post), Jim Faulkner, Bubbles - good notes, I agree with your thrusts. TankerSteve...most excellent comments, and they dovetail with my understandings. You're calling a spade 'a spade', and you're on-target. Thanks!

And thanks to all of them 'there', and the folks here that bother to take the time to inform themselves and the citizenry through this medium. Regs - Al


Mon, 07/09/2007 - 5:21pm

My last post edited to add something I've just found from a BBC Interview with Lt Gen Petraeus:

"The head of US forces in Iraq, Lt Gen David Petraeus, has told the BBC that fighting the insurgency is a "long term endeavour" which could take decades.
Speaking to the BBC's John Simpson in Baquba, Gen Petraeus said there was evidence that the recent troops surge was producing gains on the ground.

But he warned that US forces were engaged in a "tough fight" which will get "harder before it gets easier".

His comments come as US calls for a rapid troop withdrawal gather strength.

Gen Petraeus was keen to emphasise that the ongoing unrest in Iraq is not something he expects to be resolved overnight:

"Northern Ireland, I think, taught you that very well. My counterparts in your [British] forces really understand this kind of operation... It took a long time, decades," he said."

Of course he may well have just mentioned NI because he was talking to the BBC, but I'd like to think he was cleverer than that.

Sadly, we really do 'understand' this kind of operation.

And when he says 'a long time' I can identify with that. I did 5 years in NI, including a year, or part of a year, from 1984 to 1992.

Even more sadly, I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Mon, 07/09/2007 - 4:44pm

This is all good stuff, but what is truly shocking is how long it has taken for the US to come around to this way of thinking. I'm astonished that a nation with no (I admit I might be wrong, but I don't think I am)experience of winning a counter insurgency campaign doesn't credit well found British experience (Thompson et al) with some fundamentally successful COIN doctrine. After all, the French LOST in Algeria.

For all of those out there who deride the British approach, I would say it has been more successful than the US, admittedly in (only slightly) more benign circumstances. Our experience (and I'm a serving soldier) is less wedded to overwhelming firepower (unless required) than yours and more connected to direct contact with indigenous forces. This is clearly something that has only just been learnt, in some US HQs, formations and units at least. If this is true after 4 years then your 'Lessons Learned' (or 'Lessons Identified' as we term it) process needs to be reviewed, not only for this campaign but for all those that went before. I honestly can't believe that you're only just seeing the benefit of patrolling on foot?

So, 'Papa Ray', when you say:

"I'm glad there was no one body that was able to surrender to the British when we were sorting out the government of this Republic."

I'd like to know what you base that on other than some kind of basic distrust of 'not invented here' syndrome.

Standing by for US incoming (nothing new there then).


Thu, 07/05/2007 - 6:32pm


Yes, Tal Afar did fall under GEN Petraeus's area of operations, when he commanded the 101st there in 2003/04. And the city had excellent success with his forces. However, the Army reduced the presence to a battalion of Strykers who couldn't cover all there was to do there. Then 2 battles were fought in the city to reclaim it before 3ACR, under COL McMaster, fought a deliberate, thorough, and precise battle to eventually reclaim it.

Before everyone gets excited over what he did, remember this one rule: There is no overarching panacea in Iraq: wherever you are, when you are there, you are dealing with a unique combination of locals, ISF, attitudes, economic conditions, insurgent activity and leadership, weather, etc. What works in one area at one particular time will probably have different effects in another area.

COL McMaster had a fairly small city with a large amount of troops, both US and Iraqi (many of which were Kurdish who fought fairly well), along with a city that had a nice round shape with fairly simple to define boundaries. Yes, he applied his force using some very sound principles-isolate the city, protect the people and infrastructure, develop good intel, etc.

COL McMaster also had one of the greatest troop/local population ratios anywhere in Iraq. Lots of troops can make life easier. His command was also designed as an independent brigade, a Cavalry Regiment (the last heavy one in the Army). Therefore, he owned some robust assets, including aviation and a large intel cell, bigger than any normal army brigade that depends on these assets from their division headquarters. Some of this may have changed with the new brigade design but they still won't have as robust a construction, especially the aviation assets.

Much is made of our success in Ramadi dealing with the local sheikhs. However, some of our unique conditions are: No real sectarian issues as the area is completely Sunni. Tribes pushed to the limit by AQIZ killing a sheikh and hiding the body. A large, reinforced heavy Army brigade, well-supported by the Marines (except for money to pay informants) who had a manageable task. The unit had had the opportunity to cut its teeth in Tal Afar, working out the bugs/kinks in SOPs and TTPs that can get you killed when you walk into a mess like Ramadi.

We had a lot of success dealing with the tribes and building up their forces into legitimate IPs and Provincial Security Teams (I think they call them this now, they used to be Emergency Response Units). However, who knows which side they will end up on over the long term, especially if the government in Baghdad continues to delay in sending support and money to rebuild the area.

So why wouldn't this necessarily work in a Baghdad neighborhood or suburb? Sectarian strife could be a problem - multiple factions, with possibly many with which we want to work. Also the terrain can be tough - are the people fed up with AQIZ or haven't they really pissed them off yet? Gotta get sheikhs who say to you 'we are ready to fight with you' and not mumbling partial acceptance of your plan. Oh yeah, and you have to have enough forces to seize, and hold, physical terrain. Then you can influence the area and people around you.

OK, rambling a bit, but this is a tough fight and we all want to win. We made this mess, and I do feel an obligation to the Iraqis I have met to help them sort things out and let their kids grow up in an environment that is secure.


Jack (not verified)

Sun, 07/01/2007 - 11:19am

Fascinating stuff. David Kilcullen, in one post, made a better case for what the US is trying to do in Iraq than the President, the Secretary of Defense, or any of their spokespersons have. As a left-of-center doubter of our chances of success in Iraq, the Administration should take a real lesson from Kilcullen: the American people can have a little more patience if given some facts that are presented to them without childish attacks and insults.

William Kristol compared Kilcullen's post with Sen. Lugar's speech in a recent Weekly Standard article. Kristol now wants thoughtful analysis from war discussants. Amazing! Where were his thoughtful analyses before the war began?

Regardless, with Kilcullen, at least we have one honest and thoughtful practitioner in the field.

nce (not verified)

Sat, 06/30/2007 - 9:58am

Tanker Steve,

I think that the difference is not what is being done at the platoon, company or even battalion level, but now someone has taken those decentralized tactics and is syncronizing them across the MND's so that there is actually a main effort with shaping operations being executed simultaneously. Of course there are more outposts than when I was there so you have to drive less to get to your areas and the presence in them is bolstered.

RobertD (not verified)

Sat, 06/30/2007 - 3:19am

This site is a great find after I had already started my own blog and my first two post were on FM 3-24. (<a href="; rel="nofollow nofollow nofollow"></a&gt;). My qualifications are far less than those posting on this site, my qualifications being only a career in the Navy (retired in 1975), a lifelong interest in military history, and desire to find a better way to exit Iraq.

Ive read some of the COIN books and am just now reading FM 3-24. I believe the manual accurately expresses the requirements to fight many of the insurgencies that I am sure will face us in the future (I've read about 40%). My primary negative comment is that the manual, while stressing an understanding of the civilians, appears to treat the population as somewhat monolithic.

In the case of Iraq, there are at least four insurgent factions: Sunnis, jihadists (with and without Sunnis), Shias, and criminals. Two of these factions are often supported by their own communities and Im not sure how COIN forces can handle that situation. A future problem may be that some failed or failing states have a similar situation.

I am not so sure the concepts of FM 3-24 can be applied to Iraq at this stage, but I found hope in Kilcullens post. At least there is an attempt to do it right. However, I do think the escape of 80% of insurgents (from Baquaba I assume) is important, though unavoidable with intelligence leaks. As Ive noted in my blog, Baquaba has more than enough U.S. troops to meet Quinlivans ratio of troops to civilians. This leaves five brigades to cover all of Iraq outside of Baquaba and Baghdad (I count 15 brigades in the Baghdad/Baquaba area).

Most of Iraq, except possibly the Kurd areas, remains open to all insurgent factions. In the long run and with failed states neighboring failed or failing states, insurgents can easily move out of range of a limited force. In the case of the Mahdi Army, they can re-assimilate with the Shia population until the COIN force stands down.

I sincerely hope to be proven wrong and I do hope the current operations prove a valid test case for this new concept. I do not hold much hope for Congressional or public support or even understanding of the needs of COIN, but perhaps implementing the concepts might force our civilian leaders to think before attempting another foreign adventure.

Tankersteve -
Was Tal Afar under General Petraeus command in 2003-2004? I know he commanded Northern Iraq, but didn't know if Tal Afar was in his area. (Sorry, I don't know the official military terminology)

David Tomlin (not verified)

Thu, 06/28/2007 - 10:46pm

Kilcullen assumes that the opponents of American objectives in Iraq are 'extremists' that the U.S. can 'marginalize', because the people are 'intimidated and exploited' by them rather than being in political sympathy with them.

If this were true, the U.S. would not be in the situation it is in. Thus it is obviously false, and Kilcullen's piece is just lame propaganda.

Thanks to Black Five for sending me over here. I had not come across SWJ before, but I now link to it from my own site.

The article by Col. Kilcullen is a must read for anyone with enough intellectual curiosity to find out what actually IS happening in Iraq.

Just one question I hope someone can answer...
Earlier this week I came across a piece of news, I don't remember where, in which an American general was saying that the Iraqi police do not have sufficient ammunition to fulfill the role of "holding" in Baqubah. If that is true, someone better figure out how to get it done quickly. Has anyone seen or heard this?

Shantih (not verified)

Thu, 06/28/2007 - 4:42pm

I have no military experience and have not served, but my reaction was similar to tankersteve's. I wondered just how different the surge plan is to what we have been doing.

But more to the point, what I worry about is whether our enemies' strategy be any different or any less effective? Again, I am far from an expert and I am relying on info from the media. However, it seems to me that what we are up against is a welter of militias and terrorists. They are not centralized. They know that in conventional fighting they don't stand a chance against us. So what they do is, blend into the population so we can't find them or tell who they are, and occasionally pop out with suicide attacks, bombings, sniper attacks and ambushes.

Can't they still do this even if we use the surge strategy outlined in the article? Granted, it will be harder--our enemies may have to lay in wait outside major population areas a la Castro or Mao. But I doubt even that--as long as some people are intimidated by or sympathize with our enemies in "hold" areas, can't our enemies remain even in areas we take by surge?

What troubles me is that it seems to me the variable that will decide this is time. The only way this strategy will work is if we stay for years. Otherwise our enemies can wait us out. They can fight this way indefinitely.

Since many posters here have military experience, I'd like to hear what you all think. And although I am a skeptic about the war, I am a supporter of those who are serving in it and an admirer of their dedication to their mission. I have volunteered to visit troops at Walter Reed, and they are as honorable and decent a group of people as I have met.

Rufus T. Firefly (not verified)

Thu, 06/28/2007 - 2:21pm

whoermann --

You are quite wrong about this:

"Just 65 years ago Germany's armies liberated the suffering masses of the Ukraine, who had just been through of one of the worst genocides in history, from the hands of a mad dictator, Josef Stalin, who was not even a Ukrainian. Yet, instead of greeting the liberating troops with flowers, they continued to fight the new overlords with Guerilla tactics, not unlike the insurgents in present day Iraq."

In fact, the Ukrainian people DID greet the Germans as liberators. And somewhere -- perhaps not online, but I have definitely seen it -- there is a semi-famous photo of Ukrainian girls showering German soldiers with bouquets of flowers.

It was not until later, when they realized they had exchanged one brutal dictator for an even worse oppressor, that they turned against the Germans. And even then, coerced or not, over 200,000 Ukrainians served with the Wehrmacht. In fact, there was an entire SS Division (the Galician, I think, raised as late as 1943) composed primarily of Ukrainians.

As Casey Stengel said, "You can look it up!"

I think a point you and some others are missing here -- one of many -- is that we are not fighting against the Iraqis. If we were, there would not be over 300,000 of them in uniform fighting side by side (at least a good part of the time) with Coalition soldiers.


Thu, 06/28/2007 - 1:26pm

Having served in CJTF-7, in Iraq in 2003, and having just commanded a company in Tal Afar and Ramadi (two areas quoted often as having shown great success in Iraq), I feel I have had some unique experiences in this conflict. However, I do have one question.

Is it true that other units were not patrolling actively, mounted and dismounted prior to the 'surge'? Were they not living out in their respective AOs, conducting training and patrols with the IA and IP, sharing intel with both, maintaining a high optempo, and keeping the insurgents on their heels, while simultaneously conducting CMO projects so the people saw not only security as a result of coalition forces but long-term improvements in their lives? What was the mindset of senior leaders and how did they rationalize any 'defensive' posture?

Or is all of this true and we are not really doing anything different now from before? I don't know, for all I know is that for 7 months in Tal Afar, my company lived 24/7 in the exact center of the city, patrolling what was purported to be the worst neighborhood. After moving to Ramadi (really the outlying area of Jazeera, to the north of the city) we spent an additional 6 months working with IPs, increasing security and getting local tribal forces legitimized by recognition from the central government. In 2005 and 2006, isn't this what we were all doing? If not, then why not and what were we doing?

Just looking for some explanation on how what we are doing now is 'different'.


David Flory (not verified)

Thu, 06/28/2007 - 12:44pm

Comment on numbers and statistics. "Every death is a tragedy", he gets it!

Someone else complains about stats. How can we, manageably, talk about things like this without using using stats like X no. of ytype deaths in a specified time period. Would statcomplainers require that we list the name and location and type classification of each fatality every time we speak about this? Irational poppycock!

About the 'price' or seriousness of deaths. In my mind every dead is dead and each is equal. Where are the folks who rant on about 3500 troop deaths when we kill at least 10 times that many at home by drinking and then driving. Do these deaths at home for no reason at all cause less pain to loved ones than those that take place in a combat zone? I just can't understand the thinking of some people. Perhaps they aren't thinking or don't understand logic.

liontooth (not verified)

Thu, 06/28/2007 - 1:46am

<i>in 2003 only Americans believed their government's propaganda that Iraqi's would greet the American army as their would be liberators.</i>

In this example your wrong. The non-Sunnis did look upon the US as liberators. That goodwill was lost because there was no plan to stablilize the country. Then the US threw gasoline on the smoldering embers by disbanding the army and insisting on complete debaathification.

Goesh: " I never thought our troops were in Iraq fighting for us here at home" After I thought about it, I came to the realization that each terrorist they get rid of over there is one less we have to deal with over here.

Whoermann: "you are never welcome when you come with tanks" Perhaps you should read this article*, a rare find in the MSM I might add. Things have changed, my friend. The al-Anbar Province was declared a "loss" a few short months ago, but after AQI started trying to impose their radical lifestyle on some of the Iraqis the tribes took a step back, looked at the situation and saw that the U.S. truly is trying to help them. Hence, The Awakening. Once I stopped listening to the MSM and started doing research for our blog, I started getting the true picture.


whoermann (not verified)

Wed, 06/27/2007 - 5:15pm

liontooth wrote:
"Where is there any evidence that in 1941 anyone who was non-German believed that an invading German Army would be liberators?"
Exactly my point:
Just as in 1941 only the Germans believed their government's propaganda, in 2003 only Americans believed their government's propaganda that Iraqi's would greet the American army as their would be liberators.
Both were suckered in by their "leader".

Jim Faulkner (not verified)

Wed, 06/27/2007 - 4:56pm

Thanks for the great article & comments. Exremely informative. Civilian here, also via Few questions/comments:

1. PR/Education. Seems both the US administration and the military have done a poor job explaining the points in this article to us civilians. Public ignorance (incl. mine) of CI and military ops combined with negatively biased data and commentary from media severely undermines support for Iraqi military ops. PR/education 'surge' needed before $ cut & premature withdrawal ordered. PR/education in middle east & Iraq seems poor also--vast majority see MNF as 'occupiers', a label that brings hatred and all manner of resistance.
2. Iraqi Sympathies. Author states that CI depends on ending Iraqi citizen sympathy, acquiescence, fear of MNF enemies. This seems readily achievable in some areas with certain insurgents who are the least popular (eg al Qaeda in Anbar). But the vast majority of insurgents and militias seem to garner far more citizen sympathies than MNF 'occupiers'. Didn't polls say 70+% of Iraqis say it's OK to kill US/MNF troops?
3. "War". As experts, can someone tell a dummy like me why you call it the Iraq "war"? Saddam's army was defeated in the war and it seems to be a security/policing operation now against dozens+ disparate groups of thugs, extremists, militias, tribal fighters, terrorists, et al. These groups are relatively small and independent, not a large cohesive army to fight a "war" against. Thus, it seems US military/MNF won the war against Saddam, but US/MNF/Iraqis have not been able to secure or police parts of Iraq adequately after the war ended. US military not designed for policing, local political organizing, and economic development, right? Seems we should continue to be proud of courageous and effective US military, while cognizant of administration and top brass design and execution flaws in this effort.
Jim, NH 'Live Free or Die'

liontooth (not verified)

Wed, 06/27/2007 - 4:50pm

Bruz wrote,

<i>...statistics that should obviously help downsizing totally increased casualty figures; why not simply give the true numbers of all dead and wounded and crippled war-casualties instead of this mathematics?</i>

How can anyone judge whether the new strategy is improving or not in Iraq except by looking at the casualties and interpreting them?

liontooth (not verified)

Wed, 06/27/2007 - 4:31pm

<i>65 years ago Germany's armies liberated the suffering masses of the Ukraine... Yet, instead of greeting the liberating troops with flowers, they continued to fight the new overlords with Guerilla tactics, not unlike the insurgents in present day Iraq.</i>

Where is there any evidence that in 1941 anyone who was non-German believed that an invading German Army would be liberators?

whoermann (not verified)

Wed, 06/27/2007 - 3:49pm

It seems that David's assessment of the situation, as well as that of the majority of armchair warriors participating in this debate,is more the result of wishful thinking than actual consideration of the facts.
One has only to look into history to learn that our approach to free Iraqis from a horrible tyrant are destined to fail, no matter how superior our military force is. Just 65 years ago Germany's armies liberated the suffering masses of the Ukraine, who had just been through of one of the worst genocides in history, from the hands of a mad dictator, Josef Stalin, who was not even a Ukrainian. Yet, instead of greeting the liberating troops with flowers, they continued to fight the new overlords with Guerilla tactics, not unlike the insurgents in present day Iraq.
The lesson is simply that you are never welcome when you come with tanks and that the locals prefer their own tyrants over any newcomer.
The "surge" is simply a ploy to continue transferring money from the productive citizens of America to those, who get only paid, if the Iraq carnage continue.
And they are supported by those, who love to watch and root for "their team", as long as they do not do the dying and paying.

As a civilian, I never thought our troops were in Iraq fighting for us here at home, but more for the liberation of the Iraqi people and helping them sustain a viable alternative to despotism at the hands of those who can only retain power by violence and threat of violence, be it Baathists, al-Qaidah or insurgent criminals out for only personal gain and power. Indirectly that is for our well being here at home too, but that is secondary. It appears the wish of some that our troops leave Iraq is coming to slow fruition but having voiced your objection to the US presence and action in Iraq, you are at morally free from any concerns and worry over what will befall the average Iraqi upon our departure. The massive numbers of waving purple fingers tells us they instinctually know there is something better for them than despotism. It demonstrates nothing more than down-and-out hope for their children because you are right, it is bloody and chaotic on the ground. However you have missed some of the points Mr. Killcullen makes - freeing them from the influence and forces that willingly slaughter them in markets and the streets for the main purpose of convincing people like you that our sacrifice there is hopless and meaningless. Think about that because if the insurgent thugs weren't butchering civilians, you wouldn't be posting your objections here. The bombs at the markets sure the hell aren't intended to sway me and I can sleep well at night knowing that.

Papa Ray (not verified)

Wed, 06/27/2007 - 1:09pm

I'm not a military expert, I'm just an ordinary private citizen and taxpayer, who linked to your article from

<b>Your right, your NOT a military expert, so you might remember that and believe our Military before you believe those that are not, including those "think tank" experts and others.</b>

<b>The amount of things and information that you know and don't have concerning Iraq and the Afghan, would stagger you, except for the fact, that you don't know that you don't know it.</b>

<b>But I suspect that you don't want to know it.</b>

But I have to say: You haven't convinced me. Not one bit. And I'll bet that would be the reaction from a lot of other ordinary citizens too. For the following reason:

<b>It's too bad that you can't be convinced that you have wrong thinking. Because of that and the millions like you (and the wrong thinking members of our Congress) you and them may be to blame for losing the first battles in this long war.</b>

<b>Yes, Iraq and the Afghan are just battles, not the actual war, but the first battles in the war against the radical Islamics that number well over ten million.</b>

From what you described, our men and women in uniform could do everything expected of them and more--and yet the war can still be lost if the Iraqi government itself and the various factions don't start thinking of themselves as a nation, and if the Iraqi government cannot make sufficient political progress. In other words, in your model, the fate of this war is largely out of our hands.

<b>They (the Iraqi government) could make it last years longer, while they go through the same processes we and other nations went through determining the final form of their government. I'm glad there was no one body that was able to surrender to the British when we were sorting out the government of this Republic.</b>

I don't like wars like that.

<b>Well, big deal, that tells me a lot about your thinking. Wars (or battles) are not supposed to be "liked", wars are to be won or lost. I can see that you don't understand that. But seeing as how you are too young to have been involved in the last wars we won, it is not a surprise.</b>

And I would prefer to look at other solutions.

<b>Your other solutions would only work against rational actors, not against rabid, radical Religion and hate driven maniacs. To prove that, look at all of the failed efforts of the last forty years.</b>

So if you care what the ordinary American citizens think, maybe you should ask them what they consider to be most important here. After all, it's on their behalf that you are fighting.

<b>It would be good to have national discussions and knowledge driven forums and a general education of the American Public, God knows that the Bush administration has not even tried to do that. In place of that, please listen to those that are fighting this war and do know what they are talking about.</b>

Posted by Steven L. | June 26, 2007 6:09

<b>The one thing that we as a nation have lost in the last forty years is respect and fear of our Nation. Multiple U.S. Presidents, Congresses and their State Depts. have seen to that.

Bullys, Radicals and Tyrants will not go willingly to democracy or peace, it's up to the strong to defeat them and enable freedom of choice and respect for people and their property to begin and florish.</b>

<b>Will you and people like you start to understand that? Will you support the protection of our Republic and the advancement (by force if necessary) of democracy world wide?</b>

<b><i>I really doubt it</i> and because of that millions will die before we can prevail.</b>

Papa Ray
West Texas

liontooth (not verified)

Wed, 06/27/2007 - 8:56am

Steven L. wrote,
<i> In other words, in your model, the fate of this war is largely out of our hands.</i>

Unless the US is going to occupy Iraq as a colony and subdue the population by force, who's hands would it be in? It's always been in the Iraqis hands.

<i>I don't like wars like that.</i>
That's the war we've got. You either do what you need to and suceed, or you do the Rumsfeld denial and 4 years later, you have the current mess.

<i>And I would prefer to look at other solutions.</i>

If you study counter-insurgency warfare history, what Dave Kilcullen wrote above is the solution. The real question is why did it take the Pentagon 3.5 years to finally implement what they knew worked in Vietnam?

Sarah (not verified)

Wed, 06/27/2007 - 4:19am

Bruz, right with you - not just 40 years ago but also in the Balkans. Shame we learnt little from there and again rushed headlong into elections rather than concentrating on stabilizing the economic and security sides of life - offering real alternatives to joining militias.
But as a military strategy taken somewhat in isolation, it's getting there. How are the Iraqi police doing these days - I'm still hearing bad things about them; lack of trust from population, split loyalties. Any comments on perception versus actual capability to carry out CI?

I knew from my research of General Petraeus (for a series of posts on whether or not we should leave Iraq) that he was the right man for this job based on his past experience and writings.

I'm so glad referred to this site and post. I was also glad to see that we are at "the end of the beginning," not to mention the fact that we are finally on the offense instead of defense...with a great plan.

Steven L: I, too, am an ordinary citizen, but respectfully disagree with you. We are engaged in a global War on Terror. However, concerning the portion we are fighting in Iraq:

First, you said, "in your model, the fate of this war is largely out of our hands." That has always been the case. It has always been the plan for Iraq to be returned to the Iraqis, eventually.

Rick Gibson made a good point: "...the Iraqis can screw things up. That is the nature of freedom. A free people are free to, among other things, make dumb mistakes." (Example: Some in Congress are attempting to pull our military out of Iraq prematurely.)

Second, this plan covers the military component.

MAHolzbach also makes a good point: "The purpose of our strategy is to provide the environment that makes progress possible..."

SlimGuy (not verified)

Wed, 06/27/2007 - 12:05am

<p>Bruz got it mostly correct here.
<p>For those not familiar with Galula back in the days of the French situation in Algeria, which has strong historic parallels to Iraq,&nbsp; I highly recommend<a href=""&gt; this article</a>.
<p>It explains well like the author of this post does the principles and basis for counter-insurgency methodology.
<p>It is a worthy read to compliment this post.
<br />

Rick Gibson (not verified)

Tue, 06/26/2007 - 11:11pm

I am delighted to find this article and this journal. I also found it through RealClearPolitics. I have no military experience of any kind, but I try to stay current on what is actually going on. What I hate the most about the mainstream media is not the ideological bias -- you can discount for that -- but the lack of any understanding about what is going on. What I love about this article is that it actually explains the strategy, so you can follow whether it is working or not.

Steven L

You do not like this war. What you really do not like is that, even if our military does everything right, the Iraqi people and government could still screw this up. You want to look at other solutions.

With all due respect, you are not being logical here. We are fighting to bring democracy to Iraq. In other words, the point of our fight is to permit the Iraqis to make their own decisions. If we win, that means that the Iraqis make their own decisions. By logical necessity, that also means that the Iraqis can screw things up. That is the nature of freedom. A free people are free to, among other things, make dumb mistakes.

But that is our goal. These are our values. We believe in freedom. We believe that free people will screw things up less than the alternative approaches.

And what are the alternatives? You say you want to explore them. Well, look around the Mid East and take a look at them. Other than building democracy, as we are trying to do, you have two choices. You can go with corrupt dictatorships -- such as Egypt -- or you can go with crazed theocrats -- such as Iran. Do you think either model is likely to get results we like better?

Or what are your alternatives? We are in the middle of a war. We can not stop, to explore some nebulous alternative. We need a real plan. The current plan has a chance of working. Until I hear something real, as an alternative, I support what we are doing. (No, "run away" is not a plan.)

MAHolzbach (not verified)

Tue, 06/26/2007 - 7:47pm

A great article, mainly because it explains whats going on and does it in a surprisingly easy to read fashion. This should be disseminated widely.

To Steven L.: It is a truism that no matter what your plan is, how brilliant it may be, or how great your soldiers are, the enemy always gets a vote. If one's goal is just to get out as soon as things stabilize, then you could see the Iraqi people and their government as the enemy. But this is a mistake. There is an underlying reason (several actually, but one more than any) why the Iraqi people and their government have a hard time making progress: they are being cowed, on a daily basis, by the terrorists. And that is what our guys are there to stop. THAT is the purpose of this article, to explain that concept. We're not there to cast votes for the Iraqi people and arbitrarily install leaders. The purpose of our strategy is to provide the environment that makes progress possible, not to ram-rod it down their throats.

Look, the Japanese didn't HAVE to surrender after we dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They could have continued to resist, and we could have lost hundreds of thousands of men taking the home islands. If they really had wanted, our job to this day in Japan could be a whole lot more than just some Marines chillin' on Okinawa. But we created an environment that made further resistance intolerable to them. We didn't sign both sides of the surrender documents, just one side. They made that decision.

But this is modern war. We can no longer produce such an environment in a nuclear flash. Now it takes years and years of a slow, hard slog. You say that you don't like wars like that? Well, neither do we. The military personnel who would actually PREFER to grind through something counterinsurgency style rather than blast the enemy, plant your flag in his eye socket, and declare victory, are few and far between, if they exist at all. I'm not one of them. But what I, and my comrades here at the Small Wars Journal are, are professionals who know that you cant always get what you want.

By coming to this site, you've dipped your toe into the cutting edge pool of thought on modern warfare (like it or not). I hope you come back and invite others. We like a well informed citizenry.

Steven L. (not verified)

Tue, 06/26/2007 - 7:09pm

I really appreciate your explanation. But I'm not buying it. Sorry.

I'm not a military expert, I'm just an ordinary private citizen and taxpayer, who linked to your article from

But I have to say: You haven't convinced me. Not one bit. And I'll bet that would be the reaction from a lot of other ordinary citizens too. For the following reason:

From what you described, our men and women in uniform could do everything expected of them and more--and yet the war can still be lost if the Iraqi government itself and the various factions don't start thinking of themselves as a nation, and if the Iraqi government cannot make sufficient political progress. In other words, in your model, the fate of this war is largely out of our hands.

I don't like wars like that.

And I would prefer to look at other solutions.

So if you care what the ordinary American citizens think, maybe you should ask them what they consider to be most important here. After all, it's on their behalf that you are fighting.

Rob Thornton

Tue, 06/26/2007 - 6:08pm

Thanks for keeping us informed, lots of misunderstanding state-side

I think your comments:

"When we speak of "clearing" an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation."

"The "terrain" we are clearing is human terrain, not physical terrain."

really get to the heart of the new strategy, the surge is just the means to do it. Its a shame the media and the politicians either mis understand it, or poorly communicate it. Has there been a chance for either MNCI or CENTCOM to get this on C-SPAN or the media outlets?

Best regards, Rob

Tdog (not verified)

Tue, 06/26/2007 - 6:00pm

Bruz, What's wrong with you? How can you write that you are "concerned about the slight touch of marginalizing the casualties in Iraq?"

The man went out of his way to put in this sentence to preface his remarks about casualties:

"Every single loss is a tragedy."

That is supposed to innoculate him from people who weep crocodile tears about this to support their "surrender now" arguments, and I don't think that includes you, does it?

We have about 3,600 total deaths (combat + others) or thereabouts in Iraq, right? David understands, as do most readers here, that in WWII, with a third of our current population, we on several ocassions lost twice that number in a single day, or even afternoon, intead of four years fighting in Iraq.

Given that the man went to all the trouble to throw everyone several bones on this point, it seems a cheap shot to then post on it as if you feel the deaths of these men more than David does, or for that matter, more than the rest of us who have worn the uniform.

Seaberry (not verified)

Tue, 06/26/2007 - 5:30pm

Excellent read... and ditto on the "Thanks for sharing it"!

slapout9 (not verified)

Tue, 06/26/2007 - 9:39am

Dave, have missed your posts a lot and am looking forward to more. As retired LE I am most interested in the Police operations. Definetly like using them in the role of Counter-Intell. I realize that you may not be able to say that much about these operations but if you can I like reading "ground truth" instead of media fiction. God's Speed