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25 November 2006

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FDR_Democrat

Colonel Lang -

Thank you for the excellent analysis. However, I wanted to pose what I hope will be a thought-provoking question.

The current debate over whether we have enough active duty forces for Iraq and Afghanistan brings to mind Abraham Lincoln's admonishment to Union General McDowell in 1861 when he balked at advancing on the rebel positions across the Potomac. McDowell complained that his troops were green. Lincoln replied, "yes and so is the enemy. You are all green alike."

Here are the questions. Are the relative qualities of the two opposing military forces more important than whether one army has attained a particular level of training? And given that the US is conducting low intensity warfare against irregular forces, do we need to train our soldiers to the same levels we did when the Warsaw Pact was the enemy?

I am not advocating this approach, per se, but I am interested in what you think.

W. Patrick Lang

Grimgrin

Among the major American mistakes in VN:

- No unit rotation out of the line of operations. Units committed in 1965 fought continuously until withdrawn in the early '70s. Individuals were rotated home after a year or got a week's leave after six months.

- Battalion and brigade commanders held command for only six months.

- Very little in-country training of US units took place. As a result UNIT effectiveness declined sharply as time passed. Units could have been taken to the Phillippines for rest and re-training but they were not.

- No effort was put into keeping men together in the same units, quite the opposite.

IMO rotation should be by brigade/regiment. Little units have no real solidity as command and control centers and the little units need to fit into a stable structure of command and control. pl

W. Patrick Lang

Duncan

Yes insurgents have organization and yes they can be attacked if one can find them. pl

W. Patrick Lang

Franklin

Of course, McDowell was defeated and it would have been decisive defeat if Jeff Davis had listened to Jackson and allowed an advance INTO Washington right after the batttle.

It may be that the Confederate volunteer army that had been trained at Manassas was not as green as Lincoln thought. A lot of the units were created by incorporating pre-war militia units that had existed for quite some time. The 17th Virginia Infantry would be an example. Six of the nine companies in the regiment had been the 6th Virginia Militia Battalion in the Alexandria area for many years. The senior officers were all officers of that militia battalion before the war.

I do not know if the volunteer units of McDowell's army had a similar history.

The amount of training I was estimating was what I would consider to be a minimum. It is actually MORE difficult to fight a counter-guerrilla war than a conventional one. We are re-learning that lesson.

I can train a guerrilla battalion in six months maximum starting from "scratch" with people with no military experience. That unit will fight in the right circumstances but it will be unreliable under stress and very hard to control. It will also be poorly disciplined. The main issue in training troops up to regular standards is command and control. You have to have it and it takes a lot of intensive work to get it. pl

Rider

We have now been in Iraq longer than we were in WW II. Today's NYT article about the insurgency's financial self-sufficiency, even accepting Col. Lang's misgivings about the underlying report, invites another invidious comparison to WW II. Although we were late getting into that war, Germany and Japan ultimately could not stand up against America's industrial capacity once it got cranked up.

The insurgents in Iraq seem to be operating ("Are they hampered by lack of funds? I see no evidence that they are." - Col. Lang) on a couple hundred million per year while it costs us $8 billion per month to fight them. How long can that continue? How much do additional units add to the monthly tab?

Frank Durkee

If an increase calls for more help in training Iraqui units will that area become a 'fast track' promotion area? Whether that happens or not will the training units be of a higher quality than at present? could the training the area in which the additional forces be placed. If the last is so how does that relate to the leader at the beginning of this post?

Arun

Sunni and Shias alike must rely on the various militias to keep them safe (or at least, to avenge their being blown to bits). Unless Americans can provide security - which they have not been able to do so far - an attack on a militia will be seen as an attack on the population that militia "protects".

A political solution where the militias willingly disarm is possible only if the people have the belief that the Iraqi government or the Americans will provide security - and there is no basis for this faith.

IMO, what happened in Afghanistan is likely to happen in Iraq - namely, various warlords are going to fight it out for power, and then a totalitarian-fundamentalist outfit like the Taliban will arise and impose order on the country, and people will not resist them simply because they keep the peace.

jonst

Every time I watch Ret., or active, Gens speaking on TV I get a clearer understanding of why the military is in the shape it is in. Latest example was a man named Michael DeLong. He seemed clueless, or disengenous, or both. Some guy name Granger was only slightly better.

I mean it is sounds silly of me to note that. Look at their training and experience....but they just seem like fools. And, as hard as this is to believe, they seem to understand Iraq, and, gasp, military tactics, even less than I do. I doubt that is possible. So they must be disengenous...or else simply fooling themselves.

zanzibar

Arun, excellent points. Without security and a strong state militias will not disarm - they have no incentive when they are still fighting for power. And the Afghanistan example is spot on except that the Taliban were created, trained and funded by the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies. The Northern Alliance with Russian support were not defeated by the Taliban and controlled their territory. In Iraq with multiple external sponsors it will be difficult for any entity to roll over the others. One possibility that I see is if the Shia unite and defeat the Sunni and control Anbar and Baghdad with an iron fist. But that is not going to happen with all these Shia factions from Iranian supported SCIRI & Dawa and the more Iraqi Sadr's groups fighting each other too for power. The way this resolves itself in my opinion is sheer exhaustion but the death and destruction will not be forgotten for many generations.

zanzibar

A question I'd like to bring to this discussion of "Going Big" is who is the enemy?

It seems each day our military is fighting numerous actors going after us and each other. As PL stated so aptly its a "war of all against all". And the US military is just another actor in this tragic drama.

So even if we could get many more brigades in theater who would we fight and can we stop the escalating anarchy - this war of all against all?

It just does not make any sense to me anymore. I realize the Decider unleashed it all but is it fair on our troops who are sacrificing in blood every day to fight in an undefined war of all against all? I think not. The best way, IMO, to honor their sacrifice is to bring them home and get out of the middle of the Iraqi chaos.

fasteddiez

Grimgrin,

RE: Unit rotation

This was tried in Vietnam with USMC infantry units 66-67 time frame. The unit goes back to Okinawa, where the Northern Training Area features a challenging jungle environment. Personnel would rotate in and out, causing about a 40% turnover. The unit would then go back to VN or would go afloat off the Vietnam coast, in order to engage in sea-based, heliborne/amphibious operations in the regions to the east of Highway one.

I don't know if it was worth it, but it was sure great for morale. Not every unit got to participate though.

James Pratt

Yes, we can avoid the specific consequences of being dumb by acting even dumber, and suffering other cosequences. At least we know Iran, al-Qaeda and Israel will be happy with a US escalation in Iraq, even though most Iraqis and US military families won't be.
Is the object of the exercise the creation of a perfect seemingly pro-US
smiling Iraqi hypocrite?
I can see a nightmare war of Iraqi resistance fighters commuting from Amman and Damascus. If a US camera by chance finds them in daytime, they will know it is time to flash an apparently friendly smile.
And the Iranian agents in al-Dawa and SCIRI can smile at American cameras, too!
Reminds me of a recent obituary I read in TIME, the passing of TIME's former, ever smiling, top local staffer in Saigon. After the war in Vietnam was over TIME found out he was a colonel in the Viet Cong.

fasteddiez

Mr. Jonst,

The problem with LtGen. DeLong is not one of incompetence, but of his agenda. He was Tommy Franks' deputy during the planning/execution of both Afghani/Iraqi Ops. Ergo He was in like Flynn on the deception from the word go. He cannot seem to be traitorous to "Tommy," so he takes the role of "Lakeitel," while at the same time sounding foolish.
I don't quite know if he was responsible for the brilliance behind Tora Bora, or Shahikot Valley debacles though.

W. Patrick Lang

fasty

I did not know that about training in Okinawa. So far as I know the Army did not try that. pl

John Howley

Who is the enemy?

Saw Abizaid on 60 Minutes last evening. Lara Logan asked about the enemy and Abizaid started with AQ and then went to Iran being "unhelpful" but refused to say flat-out that Iran is killing American troops (despite Logan's prodding -- that's a different story).

No mention or reference to what I assume is the main force of people killing U.S. soldiers...indigenous Iraqis led by a mixture of ex-Army and home-grown Islamists.

I find it bizarre that we can fight a war for three years without properly identifying the enemy to the American public.

Perhaps it's because we know that we'll have to sign a deal with them in the end.

Also, this distortion is consistent with the "War on Terror" line..."War on Iraqis" might get folks thinkin' and we can't have that!

walrus

With the greatest of respect, some of these comments make me want to cry. We threw away the chance of winning years ago.

There is only ONE way to win a counterinsurgency that I know of... gain the trust of the population, so that they give themselves permission to support you and your policies and 'just say no" to insurgency. There is no other way.

We squandered the opportunity to win in Iraq within months, if not weeks, of invading, by destroying any hope the Iraqis had that Americans could produce a secure environment and also demonstrate that they could be trusted.

We squandered these opportunities in Al Ghraib, Fallujah, waterboarding, disbanding the Iraqi army, destroying what was left of the local economy, and of course indiscriminate displays of ferocity everywhere that left friend and foe alike dead.

I thought we were in trouble from the moment I watched a video of a "Thunder run" through Baghdad preceding the final invasion. There was footage on TV of a small toyota utility truck that had the misfortune to be in the same street as the American military. It was cut to to pieces and the occupants killed by some gum chewing, trigger happy, moronic trooper with cannon fire for no good reason at all. There have been many, many similar examples since.

Now the driver of that vehicle was probably a father with kids. The vehicle was his pride and joy, he may have been a tradesman on his way to work. His loss has thrown his family into poverty and despair and his friends and relatives into bitterness and anger.

Multiply this type of mindless stupidity tens of thousands of times and you then perhaps get an understanding why America can never, ever win a counterinsurgency war anywhere.

To put it simply, "collateral damage", isn't.

There is no way we can recover in Iraq, short of hanging Bush and Cheney alongside Saadam Hussien in the middle of Baghdad and beginning a massive program of reparations backed by about 600,000 troops we don't have.

Kevin_r

The surest and simplest way to military victory in Iraq is not being discussed, which is just as well because it would be genuinely evil and probably demoralizing for our military as well as harming our standing in the world even more.
But here it is. Withdraw. Now. As expeditiously as possible. Taking with us everyone who helped us in any way (so as to save some shred of our self-respect). Then wait while the Sunnis and Shias kill each other. When most of those who are now trying to kill Americans in Iraq have just about finished killing each other, we come back to bring peace.
I am not saying we should do this. We should not. It would be heinous. But this is the path to victory.

Sam Thornton

Although I've ranted on this topic before (not here), I can't pretend to be an expert. Still, it strikes me that our "enemies" in Iraq, whoever they may be, first have to become convinced they are defeated before we can claim they are. This doesn't seem to have happened, indeed seems to have gone in the opposite direction regardless of any strategy or tactic we've pursued. My question is, do our current set of leaders and commanders understand how victory in war is achieved? I mean beyond killing people and breaking things which seems not to have worked.

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