Sunday, April 24, 2005

 

A Liberal Avenger Responds

I received another response to my discussion with Steve Gilliard, this time from The Liberal Avenger. His argument is much better, much more persuasive, but still wrong I think.

The Liberal Avenger wrote:
I'm glad to hear that you think things aren't as grim as they sound.

There are some problems with your response, however:

You also point out that, in Vietnam, soldiers could move about the cities, bars and restaurants, flophouses and the like. That's no doubt true, but your argument is disingenuous. We don't want to have that kind of presence here, Iraqis wouldn't like it.

This is disingenuous of you. What Gilliard points out is is no less true simply because you say that we don't want that kind of presence in Iraq. We may not want that kind of presence, but we most certainly do not want the extant security situation that would prevent us from having that sort of presence had we wanted it.

A: "Downtown Metropolis is a lawless place where heroin addicts and anarchists ply their trade."

B: "That's OK. We don't want to go there anyway."

...they have very little by way of success to point to and mostly can only fall back on killing civilians or lightly defended Iraqi security forces.

The guerrillas are absolutely no match for US forces. The invasion and toppling phase of the war demonstrated the awesome strength and power of our fighting men and women and technology.

The guerrillas haven't "fallen back" om Iraqi civilians and "lightly defended Iraqi security forces..." This is their strategy. You speak of the daily vicious assaults on the Iraqi civilians as if it is a desirable state of affairs. (I realize that you are not saying that it is good that Iraqi civilians are being killed.) From your perspective, of course, it is good that you and your fellow soldiers aren't being engaged on a regular basis - but that's beside the point.

The guerrillas appear to be sitting on a virtually inexhaustible supply of weapons and munitions and their game is about waging an asymmetrical game of terror against vulnerable targets.

If their strategy is to explode IEDs on a daily basis hitting US convoys, Iraqi security forces and Iraqi civilians indefinitely, are they not essentially in a position to do so for the time being?

My final point is that since the guerrillas needn't be skilled at the level of US forces in order to be effective at setting off bombs, the cost for "the insurgency" to replace a fallen guerrilla is incidental when compared with the cost of replacing a fallen coalition member or Iraqi security force member. Indeed, even if we kill or wound a dozen guerrillas for every coalition member killed or wounded, putting a new asset in the field to hide and explode IEDs requires little training beyond showing up while spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and months of training to bring every one of our fighting assets into play from the other side of the earth.

Check out this articlefor some thoughts on troop replenishment for both sides.

My question to you:

In November, we engaged in an assault of Fallujah that promised to "break the back of the insurgency." This was an "expensive" exercise in lives on both sides, civilian casualties and infrastructure damage (by some accounts, we "laid waste" to the city of Fallujah). This was by far the biggest post-invasion military operation to date.

Did Fallujah "break the back of the insurgency?" Why not?

If we can engage in a military exercise on the scale of Fallujah without making inroads against the overall guerrilla war (as evidenced by the frequency of bombings and other attacks that have taken place since November), what lies ahead if we wish to stop the bombings?

I am of the opinion that the guerrillas can sit on their weapons stockpiles and engage us (cowardly) with IEDs for as long as they want to.

Here is my short piece on the topic. I am not a military analyst nor am I in Iraq. My take is decidedly negative on the situation. If you do not wish to read a very liberal, admittedly anti-war opinion on the subject, don't click through, it will only make you angry.

I hope you and everyone around you stay safe and I am looking forward to the day where everyone can come home.

--
Posted by The Liberal Avenger to Dadmanly at 4/24/2005 04:43:07 PM

My Response

Liberal Avenger,

I'll admit, I don't read much anti-war pieces -- I get angry enough about the day-to-day without adding fuel to that particular fire -- but I did read yours. I found it rational, sensible, and well argued. If I accepted the premises of your argument, I could very well agree with the flow of your logic. At the least, I appreciate the opportunity for a civil discussion, there's far too little opportunity for that on both sides.

You are right, I am more hopeful and cautiously optimistic that we have turned the corner in our efforts here, in terms of: building democratic institutions, rebuilding and indigenous military and police, and breaking the organizations of both the native and foreign components of those who fight against us. My personal vantage point is more limited perhaps than you might think, but I do regularly access information from broader sources here, so I am fairly well informed. I would like to explain the particulars, but of course I can't in a non-secure setting.

Today I ran into one of our soldiers who works quite closely with Iraqi Security Forces, just after a rather brazen attack of multiple VBIEDs. Many Iraqi Security Force members were killed or wounded. The training of some new recruits may be delayed for a time while these forces recover and regroup. This is not the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last.

I mention this for three reasons, or rather from the reactions I see on three sides of these type of events.

The American soldiers and non-Iraqi training contractors I run across never seem to lose hope or express frustration with their Iraqi charges. They admire the way, when 100 soldiers or police are killed in an attack, 500 show up to take their places the next day. These are men of incredible courage and determination. They are green in many cases, they are learning, but they have a great desire to succeed, and they seem more than willing to risk their lives in the process.

On the flip side, the citizenry even in areas hostile to our presence are turning against the insurgency, and more and more tips are leading to weapons and munitions caches and IED materials. The point I made with Gilliard was that the insurgency is increasingly driven to use lower quality and less reliable armaments. What I didn’t say, was that for every IED that actually explodes, there are 10 that are discovered before detonation. For every 10 IED that go off, only one leads to any injuries. If those numbers are even remotely accurate, that roughly translates into a 1% effectiveness. And those 99 ineffective attempts in many cases lead to apprehension or death of IED makers or attack participants.

So no, I don’t at all see any evidence to suggest that either munitions or minions are inexhaustible. Yes, we are witnessing a recent uptick in frequency and apparent urgency of attacks, but surely this is entirely consistent with the proposition that the last vestiges of the insurgency are desperate to achieve a kind of Tet Offensive Victory in the media campaign, rather than a growing and strengthening insurgency. (Which by the way, I find very few knowledgeable military people who share that assessment.) We all shall see soon enough which assessment is correct.

As far as Fallujah goes, I don’t have any first hand knowledge. What I read from participants of the fighting there was that it was an astounding success. Many of the military bloggers who have reported are fully capable of skepticism and finding fault when due, and the strong consensus is that this type of response was long overdue. I think if civilian casualties and destruction were as bad as you allude, I really think there would be distraught, soldiers with tortured consciences, and I have to tell you I have neither heard nor seen anything of the kind. Just one soldier’s opinion.

The article you link by Stirling Newberry to makes at least one very large bait and switch with his numbers. When speaking of the rate attrition, he contrasts overall losses against the smaller subset of the “elite warrior pool.” This may sound reasonable, but given the concentration of attacks on the MSRs, this means that these combat casualties are far more often combat support and combat service support soldiers than “crack warriors.”

As to the loss ratios between Iraqi Security Forces and the Insurgents, I think as Newberry states, “These numbers are still difficult to get hard data for. More over, then, as now, Iraqi security forces killed or wounded and not returned to duty were not counted, or reported. Neither the Iraqi Interior Ministry, nor the Iraqi Defense Ministry provided this information, and what information there was was not compiled.” I think the numbers could go either way, there is no way to tell at present.

Again, from anecdotal reports, Iraqi Army forces participate in leading roles more and more often, and have had some very significant successes. If trends are any indication, civilian populations are turning more and more against the insurgents, local authorities and Security Forces are growing stronger, and insurgents are losing funding, manpower, and materiel.

I very much appreciated the opportunity you’ve taken in opening a dialog; as I said, I appreciate the opportunity for a civil discussion.

Thanks for the good wishes, good luck to you sir.

Dadmanly

As before, I will keep you posted on any response.



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