A winning counterinsurgency strategy?

John B. Dwyer in his June 26, 2007 American Thinker piece "A winning counterinsurgency strategy," is very effusive in his praise for the "new" counterinsurgency strategy being implemented in "the surge" in Iraq. Mr Dwyer outlines the strategy as contained in an article in the Small Wars Journal blog titled: "Understanding Current Operations in Iraq" by Dr. David Kilcullen.  Dr. Kilcullen, a retired Australian army Lt. Col., is the senior counter-insurgency adviser to General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and therefore has a very advantageous position from which to evaluate counterinsurgent "progress," as well as a vested interest in the perceived success of the strategy.

While Mr Dwyer goes into some detail in recounting the particulars of Petraeus- Kilcullen strategy in Kilcullen's Small Wars Journal article, the concept that provides the basis for this "new" counterinsurgency strategy actually dates from a 1937 pamphlet, Yu Chi Chan (On Guerrilla Warfare), by Mao Tse-tung covering how to conduct an insurgency.  Mao's famous analogy in that pamphlet which is at the base of the Petraeus- Kilcullen strategy states: "The guerrilla [insurgent] must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea."  Simply stated, the Petraeus-Kilcullen strategy is to deny the fish access to the water. This strategy may or may not be "implementable," but even if successful; the strategy would only deliver a transitory tactical battlefield victory.

Counterinsurgency by its very nature is a strategically defensive strategy, and the surge plan is a tactically offensive strategy within that strategic defensive context.  The tactical offensive success of driving insurgents out of urban neighborhoods in Baghdad could and should decrease the mass slaughter in Baghdad that is the primary weapon in the insurgents' arsenal, for as long as it is politically feasible for the US to maintain over 160,000 troops in Iraq. But as every informed person knows, the political likelihood of sustaining that force level in Iraq is extremely dubious, even if General Petraeus reports surge progress to Congress in September. While tactical victories such as this surge one could be politically important and morally uplifting for the American people, tactical victories don't win wars.  Only strategic victory(ies) that destroy the enemy's center of gravity can cause a belligerent to prevail in war.

The insurgents' center of gravity does not reside in Iraq, instead it is located in the logistical resupply capability in Iran by which the Iranian mullahs control the tempo and course of the war.  Unless this Iranian center of gravity is destroyed, surge-type tactical victories are meaningless in determining the outcome of the war in Iraq.

Col. Thomas Snodgrass, USAF (retired) is Director of Military Affairs for SANE.
John B. Dwyer in his June 26, 2007 American Thinker piece "A winning counterinsurgency strategy," is very effusive in his praise for the "new" counterinsurgency strategy being implemented in "the surge" in Iraq. Mr Dwyer outlines the strategy as contained in an article in the Small Wars Journal blog titled: "Understanding Current Operations in Iraq" by Dr. David Kilcullen.  Dr. Kilcullen, a retired Australian army Lt. Col., is the senior counter-insurgency adviser to General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and therefore has a very advantageous position from which to evaluate counterinsurgent "progress," as well as a vested interest in the perceived success of the strategy.

While Mr Dwyer goes into some detail in recounting the particulars of Petraeus- Kilcullen strategy in Kilcullen's Small Wars Journal article, the concept that provides the basis for this "new" counterinsurgency strategy actually dates from a 1937 pamphlet, Yu Chi Chan (On Guerrilla Warfare), by Mao Tse-tung covering how to conduct an insurgency.  Mao's famous analogy in that pamphlet which is at the base of the Petraeus- Kilcullen strategy states: "The guerrilla [insurgent] must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea."  Simply stated, the Petraeus-Kilcullen strategy is to deny the fish access to the water. This strategy may or may not be "implementable," but even if successful; the strategy would only deliver a transitory tactical battlefield victory.

Counterinsurgency by its very nature is a strategically defensive strategy, and the surge plan is a tactically offensive strategy within that strategic defensive context.  The tactical offensive success of driving insurgents out of urban neighborhoods in Baghdad could and should decrease the mass slaughter in Baghdad that is the primary weapon in the insurgents' arsenal, for as long as it is politically feasible for the US to maintain over 160,000 troops in Iraq. But as every informed person knows, the political likelihood of sustaining that force level in Iraq is extremely dubious, even if General Petraeus reports surge progress to Congress in September. While tactical victories such as this surge one could be politically important and morally uplifting for the American people, tactical victories don't win wars.  Only strategic victory(ies) that destroy the enemy's center of gravity can cause a belligerent to prevail in war.

The insurgents' center of gravity does not reside in Iraq, instead it is located in the logistical resupply capability in Iran by which the Iranian mullahs control the tempo and course of the war.  Unless this Iranian center of gravity is destroyed, surge-type tactical victories are meaningless in determining the outcome of the war in Iraq.

Col. Thomas Snodgrass, USAF (retired) is Director of Military Affairs for SANE.