David Kilcullen writes in Small Wars Journal on what is going on with the surge. Kilcullen is an advisor to the Multinational Forces – Iraq, and provides the kind of explanation that the media has thus far failed to provide:
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.
It’s still going to be a lengthy and difficult process. For one, the Iraqi Police aren’t nearly as well-prepared as the Iraqi Army, so the US will need to provide some significant assistance to get them into a position where they can be effective. Right now the military operation in Diyala Province continues as part of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, which is an operation designed to entrap and destroy the al-Qaeda members who fled Baghdad during the early phases of the surge.
The difference between this operation and previous operations is that it used to be that one terrorist haven would be cleared out and then the terrorists would relocate and set up shop in another. This isn’t happening anymore. For one, al-Anbar is much less hospitable to AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) than it has been in the past. The local Sunnis are sick and tired of being used as human shields, and the failed “Islamic State of Iraq” only added to the miseries of the people there. The ridiculous fatwas of the local AQI muftis (such as not putting tomatoes and cucumbers in the same bag since tomatoes are feminine in Arabic and cucumbers are male) only further inflamed tensions. In recent months, local tribal leaders have been ejecting al-Qaeda fighters.
This is notable, because it forces those fleeing coalition operations in Baghdad away from the west and al-Anbar and towards the northeast, in Diyala Province — specifically Baqubah. However, just as they’ve fled there, AQI fighters have found themselves walking into a trap — and now Arrowhead Ripper is springing that trap. Some of the heaviest fighting in the war so far is now going on in Diyala, but the result will be a much weakened presence of AQI not only in Diyala, but across Iraq.
(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.
These two factors are crucial. Al-Qaeda can move around, but they’re more like parasites than predators. Their tactics are predicated on being able to blend in with the surrounding population, either through bribery or intimidation. If that fails, they can’t blend in and then US forces can quickly identify and destroy them. That’s the problem that al-Qaeda is having in al-Anbar now that the tribal leaders — the glue that holds al-Anbar together, rejects them. There are only a limited number of places where AQI can run — the Kurds are too strong in the north and the Shi’a are too powerful in the south. If this strategy works — and there are indication that it is working, AQI is going to face a situation where there is no room left to hide.