Scorecard #2: How well are we doing in Iraq? Afghanistan?

Iraq

Have the Iraq “insurgents” gained, for now at least, a superior position?

  1. Based on public sources, apparently the Coalition still does not know the nature of the opposition: leaders, goals, ideology, numbers, etc.
  2. Insurgent attacks demonstrate the operational resources to strike at will in central Iraq, and on occasion anywhere in Iraq.
  3. The increasing frequency of attacks against Coalition forces and its “collaborators” indicates growing resources for the insurgents, with attack rates of 25 – 30 per day.

The increased sophistication of attacks demonstrates the insurgents growing experience and the Darwinian nature of guerilla warfare, culling the slow learners from insurgent forces. Note the improvised and camouflaged missile launcher which attacked the Rashid Hotel, one of the best guarded sites in Iraq. Built by the insurgents, it fired two different types of missiles – one designed for use by helicopters. Probably the next attack will be designed better and executed more successfully.

We can only guess, probably poorly, at the insurgents’ ultimate goals. Still, they have accomplished important objectives.

  1. Stripping the Coalition’s support by UN and non-governmental organizations, such as the Red Cross.
  2. Limiting the Coalition’s ability to recruit other nations, such as Turkey and India, who could provide diplomatic support and military forces.
  3. Perhaps most important, they have gained the initiative. Coalition operations appear almost totally reactive.

The result:  Coalition forces appear to have lost the vital connection between strategy and tactics. Clear and feasible goals drive strategy, which drives tactics. Also, Coalition leaders lack clear and popular goals to maintain domestic support for the War. Feasible strategy and tactics maintain domestic confidence in Coalition leadership. With popular support success in long and painful conflicts becomes possible.

What are the Coalition’s goals and strategy? If these are in fact uncertain, as they were in the Viet Nam war, development of successful tactics becomes difficult. Maintaining domestic support and confidence becomes problematic.

Fortunately, the public in Coalition nations does not seem to know the odds against us. In modern times, insurgents’ successes far outnumber the few successes of western nations. Also, the western wins come at a large cost in resources and lives – guerillas, defenders, and civilians. Note the US experience in the Philippines (1899 – 1902, with “pacification” continuing until 1932) and the British in Malaya (1948 – 1961).

Afghanistan

Many reports indicate that the Taliban appears ready for Phase 2 operations – holding significant territory and fighting with company-size units.

Update on 3 November 2003

The successful downing on Nov. 2 military of a transport helicopter perhaps marks another advance for the insurgent forces – an arbitrary but important point around which the situation qualitatively changes.

US forces rely on helicopters to provide rapid response to transport troops, to apply firepower, and to evacuate wounded. Restricting their use could significantly degrade our military superiority over insurgent forces. From the November 3 Financial Times: “The attack was the fourth time Iraqi fighters have succeeded in bringing down a US helicopter, but the first time there have been casualties. A Black Hawk crash-landed in Tikrit on 10/25 after it was targeted by a rocket-propelled grenade and on October 14 a helicopter was forced to land near the Syrian border.” Watch to see if this they can contest the Coalition’s control of the sky.

As in the Russian-Afghanistan war, insurgent use of surface to air missiles demonstrates their progress along the learning curve. They’re using more powerful and sophisticated weapons. More evidence: this week’s destruction of an Abram’s tank and the death of 2 crewman, the first reported in the “post-war” conflict.

Lastly, the increased tempo and skill of insurgent attacks means that we should prepare for a major increase in Coalition causalities The insurgents can also use “stand-off” weapons. Expect more attacks, better executed – such as mortar attacks on our bases and missile attacks on large aircraft. While most will fail, incidents with 10 – 50 causalities could become more common.

Results: The tentative evidence available suggests that Coalition forces have been pushed onto the defensive. Worse, our civilian administrators seem increasing isolated from the Iraq people, our military increasingly viewing the local people as potential assailants and/or targets.

Watch the reaction of US popular opinion to this rise in causalities. It might reveal much about the Coalition’s ability to win a protracted conflict.  Whatever “new” strategy Coalition forces had as of October 1, it might already need revising. The insurgents OODA loops run quickly. We will see whose runs faster.

Also interesting, see “Blueprint for a Mess” in this week’s New York Times Magazine.  It describes pre-war US planning errors. Much of this supports those who view the Pentagon as a “Versailles on the Potomac” where internal battles for status and power take precedence over external realities.

Please share your comments by posting below.  Brief!  Stay on topic!  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information about the Iraq War

  1. My posts about the war
  2. Important articles about the Iraq War
  3. Our goals and benchmarks, and reports about progress towards them

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