When the money runs out

Now that Congress has passed the Iraq Accountability Act, one of the best questions that I have heard is: "when will the lack of funds start hurting the troops?"  This is not a hypothetical question.  As a matter of fact it has happened before.  Most have forgotten this fact.  Allow me to refresh your memories. 

In September 2003, the money in Iraq was frozen in a battle for the 87 billion dollars that was allocated to the war by Congress.  "What fight?"  You ask.  Most people will not remember.  The fight over funds was not advertised in the media very well at the time; but the effects on the troops were significant just the same. 

One distinction between then and now must be clear.  The fight then over the money was between the State Department and the Department of Defense.  The argument was over who would control the funds.  But the effect on the troops and the mission was immediate.  Even after the money started to flow again in December 2003, the pernicious effects that the lack of funds initiated continued unabated. 

I would argue that it was this lack of funds that started the slide that has until recently just reversed through the implementation of the surge.

Here is what happened in October 2003.  At the time I was the commander of Forward Operation Base Regulars.  One day we were building protective barriers, billets, dinning facilities, electrical system grids, motor pools, sewer systems, armoring vehicles and the like.  The next day the money was "suspended." 

We managed to convince some of the contractors to keep working by giving them IOUs, but most could not continue work.  For almost two months the money was unavailable.  Work stopped, protection improvement stopped.  The daily attacks continued.  The fighting continued; but we were not making any improvements. 

In counterinsurgency there are no timeouts.   Money is the most important ammunition of the counterinsurgent [ref. Field Manual 3-24 (Counterinsurgency), paragraph 1-153] 

If the population that you are attempting to influence sees no improvement, they turn to someone else. That someone else usually is the insurgents.

Trust is lost immediately.  In the Iraqi culture, failing to provide what you have promised is equal to lying.  The insurgents use the lack of progress to drag the population back towards them through promises, intimidation, attacks, and lies.  It is truly one step forward and two steps back.  Months of forward progress were lost in days.

So, what will happen starting on 15 April 2007?   Just look at September and October 2003.  Better yet look are November and December 2003.  (It shows how the lack of progress actually slipped into backward momentum.)  The bit of progress that we have made over the last 6 weeks will immediately start to crumble.  Trust that has been built over years will fade rapidly.  The insurgents will use the lack of progress to convince the Iraqi population that we have lied, and quit, while simultaneously increasing attacks that will show the people that the Iraqi government and the coalition can't protect them.

If the money dries up in less then two weeks the violence will rise.  Our troops will start to lose the intelligence that the population is giving them to target.  The attacks will increase on our forces as well as the Iraqi forces, and the members of Congress and media that oppose the war will take the opportunity to crow about how the surge is a failure.  Don't expect them ever tie it to the true friction, which will be the lack of money.

Gerd Schroeder is a Major in the US Army. He does not speak for the Army or Department of Defense. Major Schroeder has served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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