Monday, August 08, 2005

The Fallacy of Troop Number

There have been numerous articles, blog’s postings, and editorials about the inadequacy of troops in Iraq. One after another, the authors call for an increase of troops in Iraq. They question the Bush Administration and the Pentagon for putting too little troops on the ground – that the generals’ opinion and need are suppressed. Nonsense! I do believe we need more troop level in the US Army so that soldiers do not have to deploy as often as they currently do (many served in Iraq every other year). But the troop number in Iraq is not the problem. Simply putting more people with guns on the ground does not solve the problem we currently face. There is no added value to having more troops in Iraq. At the height of the insurgency, there was at maximum 20,000 insurgents – one sixth the number of the US forces. With a radio of 6 to 1 in our favor, we do not need more troops.

This example will illustrate the irrelevancy of troop quantity. Somewhere in the Sunni Triangle, Abu Qasim (the name is completely fictitious; any similarity to a real person is purely coincidental) is a merchant at the market. Every time a US convoy goes by, Abu Qasim would waive and smile at them. He even offered his food to US soldiers for free. Every time he speak to a US soldier, he would tell them how much he hates Saddam Hussein and how much he appreciates the US for freeing Iraq.

Abu Qasim seems like a really friendly and jovial guy – except that he is also a local terrorist cell leader. Qasim runs a network of 50 local terrorists who have killed a few US soldiers and wounded many others. He also orchestrated the assassinations of many Iraqi officials and polices. Qasim never participate in any operations himself, leaving that to the foolish Iraqis who are paid $100 – 200 per attack. He does not even plan the attacks. He simply finances the operation, provide strategic direction, and leaves operational detail to trusted underlings. Many terrorists never met Qasim; they receive order through middlemen.

This is the nature of the War in Iraq, faceless, nameless enemies who strike without showing their faces. Adding a hundred thousand additional US soldiers to Iraq change absolutely nothing. They just all drive by and wave happily to Abu Qasim, totally ignorant of his true identity. And there are others faceless and nameless terrorists in Iraq ranging from the leadership type of Abu Qasim to demolition engineer who built Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). Even the bottom of the food chain insurgents who place the IEDs on the road and detonate them do so discretely. A US soldier would not know who the insurgents are unless they were lucky enough to be caught in the act. Even then, only the lowly terrorists of little value are captured.

The issue of Iraq is not enough troops but not enough of the right kind of troops – Civil Affairs, Psychological Operation, Intelligence (particularly HUMINT), and Special Forces; Each with a unique skilled set and capabilities that will help to identify key terrorists like Abu Qasim. The first two elements win heard and mind providing the friendly environment the last two elements to collect intelligence and capture key leaders. I call them soft elements. The soft elements currently consists of a very small percentage of US troops in Iraq – far from being sufficient to win the war.

Except in the province of Al-Anbar, We do not need more troops in Iraq. In fact we can do with far less if we can get more specialized troops – the soft elements I mention above. Unfortunately, the number of soft element is finite and we are deploying them to the max. Both Psychological Operation and Civil Affairs exist only within the Reserve and all of them have been on deployment since early 2003. We need to expand those assets and include them within the active duty force. That of course takes time. A concurrent solution is turning the war over to Iraqis. Who better at finding and fighting Abu Qasim than his own countrymen whose speak his language and know his culture? Of course that includes a laborious process of turning the Iraqis Military into an effective force – a task that we did half-heartedly until recently. Therefore training, equipping, and mentoring the Iraqi Armed Force should be the priority number one.


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We need to expand those assets and include them within the active duty force. That of course takes time.
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