I’m as skeptical of the latest offensive effort as of just about all the other offensives that US forces have launched in Iraq, and I’m wondering whether the planning and execution of this operation reveals some frustration in the Army with the Surge. The very first thing that a counter-insurgency expert will tell you is that sweeps don’t work; the insurgents always manage to escape, and there’s no way to cover all of the exits:
Taking the fight to insurgents from Al Qaeda did not so much destroy them in Anbar Province as dislodge them, prompting the fighters to build up their strength elsewhere, including Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province.
So the planners of this latest operation are attempting to plug the holes that have allowed the insurgents to escape in the past. The goal is not merely to reclaim western Baquba from insurgent control, but to capture or kill the estimated 300 fighters to 500 fighters who are believed to be based in that part of the city.
Now, maybe this offensive will achieve what no other counter-insurgency offensive has achieved (barring perhaps some minor local successes), and actually trap the 500 or so fighters that look like everyone else amid a civilian population that hasn’t fled. If history is any guide, however, they won’t; they’ll catch and kill some, many more will escape, plenty of civilians will either be killed or have their houses destroyed, and little of any significance will be accomplished.
Part of the point of the Surge was to allow the possibility for traditional counter-insurgency operations, in which insurgents were forced to launch their own offensives against American forces, and consequently be destroyed. This was, given the trivial size of the Surge compared to what Petraeus own counter-insurgency manual demanded, a forlorn hope. That the US has apparently returned to pointless and destructive sweep operations may be a recognition of that within the command structure. These operations are emotionally satisfying, but by and large have never worked, and almost inevitably cause more damage than they prevent.
Cross-posted to TAPPED.