Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has come out with another insightful analysis of the war in Iraq. If you really want to know what's going on there, you need to read Cordesman's reports.
Cordesman points out that Petraeus' new counter-insurgency tactics are meeting with some success:
There are many elements of the current US campaign in Iraq that are very impressive. The US military has steadily shifted from a force oriented towards conventional war to one that can also fight counterinsurgency campaigns. It has greatly improved its tactical, intelligence, and targeting skills to attack dispersed networks of insurgents like the Sunni Islamist extremists that include Al Qa'ida's various affiliates. It has shown it can win tactical battles with a surprisingly low ratio of forces to opponents.
It is also a fact that the US, its Coalition allies, and the Iraqi government cannot win any form of security and stability if insurgent movements can keep large areas of Iraq unstable and constantly exacerbate Iraq's civil conflicts. Tactical success is an important element of victory.
Cordesman also points out the foolishness of relying on body counts as an indicator of success:
It also really doesn't matter if insurgent casualties are much higher than our own unless such casualties include substantial cadres of leaders and experts that cannot be easily and rapidly replaced. The insurgents can simply disperse, stand down, and regroup. The domestic political realities in the US also make it clear that unless the US is successfully taking out cadres and insurgent infrastructure, the US is now so sensitive to American casualties that tactical victories can result in the same kind of political and strategic defeat that occurred in Vietnam.
If, as the general (Odierno) said on June 22nd, some 80 percent of the top Qa'ida leaders in Baquba fled before the American-led offensive began, it is not clear that it matters if "80 percent" of the recruits remained when the offensive attacked the western half of the city. It also is silly to call the leaders and cadres who leave "cowards." Iraqis are not foolish and they understand that such actions are an inevitable insurgent reaction to US military superiority and a key element of asymmetric warfare.
Not only have such estimates of "stay behinds" been badly exaggerated in past fighting, along with the capacity to keep them from infiltrating out or hiding, it is all too easy to move on to the next area and city and recruit more, and exploit the hostility following urban combat operations and large-scale detainments. Moreover, no major US-led or Iraqi operation will ever take place without enough signs, leaks, and infiltration to provide leaders and cadres with advanced warning.
Cordesmann continues on to point out that any measure of success on the battlefield by US forces must be matched by progress in the Iraqi political scene and in the creation of an effective Iraqi army and police force. This is something I have been repeating over and over and over again but which is completely lost on our friends in the right-wing blogosphere who imagine that the objective of the surge is military victory over Al Qaeda. That is most certainly not the objective, and it will most certainly not be a result of the surge because there aren't nearly the number of forces in Iraq required to achieve that. With a fresh supply of Al Qaeda fighters streaming across the Syrian and Jordanian borders on a daily basis it's nonsense to even imagine that Al Qaeda in Iraq is going to crumble at this point. And, once again, it creates false hope among the American people that will certainly be dashed when Al Qaeda stages a surge of its own.
The key to defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq lies with the Iraqis themselves. They know the territory, speak the lingo and can pick the Al Qaeda out of a crowd. But the Sunnis who have given them safe haven won't turn fully against them until we pull out and they get a fair powersharing deal from the Shiites. In the meantime, our troops continue to make sacrifices so that Bush won't have to admit he's made a mistake. Enough is enough. Out of Iraq now
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