All three towns had become strongholds of the insurgency, military officials said, as well as key command centers for the guerrilla-smuggling pipeline from Syria. Marines carried out an offensive in the Ubaydi area last May, only to see insurgents filter back in once American forces had left.
This time, the Marines intend to leave a permanent presence of American and Iraqi troops in the town, military officials say.
The sweeps of Husayba and Karabila ended on Saturday. In contrast to most other American military operations in Anbar, the Marines remained in both towns following the offensive and immediately set about building permanent garrisons there.
Each will be manned by at least two battalions, with at least one from the Iraqi Army, officials said. Joint American-Iraqi squads have already begun to patrol the streets. Residents, most of whom abandoned the towns in advance of the assault, began to return to their homes over the weekend.
It sounds hopeful. I’ve given my reasons for skepticism, but this really does seem to imply that the Marines are serious about maintaining a presence in cleared areas. The use of American forces in holding operations in conjunction with Iraqi forces is a very good idea. I wonder how much the Army has been willing to commit itself to this kind of operation.
In other news, Mickey Kaus actually has an interesting thought:
There’s one thing I don’t understand about the growing support for an “oil spot” strategy–which would have the U.S. military in Iraq “focus less on trying to secure the whole country and more on shoring up protection of major population centers.” That might make great sense if all we were trying to do was pacify Iraq. But how does it make sense if there are terrorists running around the Iraqi hinterlands using them as a base from which they can attack lots of other countries, including possibly our own? Are we supposed to cede Zarqawi the territory outside the “major population centers”?
It’s worth thinking about. The Iraqi insurgency is different in tactics and composition than other insurgencies. That’s not terribly shocking, since all insurgencies have their own characterisitics. However, the Iraqi insurgents seem much more willing to use low cost/high yield terrorist attacks (a few suicide bombers with bombs that can kill a lot of people) than most other insurgencies. This suggests that their overhead may be a bit lower than that, say, of the Viet Cong or Sendero Luminoso. In other words, the insurgency might be able to survive and cause damage with a fainter heartbeat than some other insurgencies. Another difference is that some portion of the Iraqi insurgency is made up of genuine terrorists who aren’t particularly interested in stability, amnesty, democracy, economic opportunity, and the other things that can induce insurgents to give up. Even if we manage to defeat the “negotiable” portion of the Iraqi insurgency, there will be plenty of diehards and foreign fighters left to continue the fight (inside or outside of Iraq) at some level.
However, I don’t think this changes the strategy. It’s unfortunate, but the focus has to be on defeating and/or reconciling with the Sunni insurgency. Once that is accomplished, attacking the genuine terrorist groups will become much easier. Until then, at least, we and the Iraqis will have to endure increased terrorist activity.
Incidentally, I think that the above applies whether or not the United States remains in Iraq. If we withdraw tomorrow, the Iraqi government will have to defeat the insurgents and the terrorists. If we don’t, then we’ll have to fight them. The basic task remains the same.