Strategy and Policy

Handel4 "The commander, Gen. Ray Odierno, said American troops would remain at numerous security outposts in order to help support and train Iraqi forces. “We believe that’s part of our transition teams,” he told reporters in Balad while accompanying Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who arrived on an unannounced trip Saturday.

General Odierno declined to say how many American troops might remain in Iraqi cities past the summer and said the number still remained to be negotiated with the Iraqi government under the terms of the so-called "status of forces agreement."  “But what I would say is we’ll maintain our very close partnership with the Iraqi security forces throughout Iraq even after the summer.”"  Bumiller in Wapo


This is not a change in policy, a variation from what Obama has been saying, or any different from what I have been saying will inevitably be the force posture in Iraq in the interim period between withdrawal of American combat units from the cities and the more or less complete departure of such units from the country in the time frame specified in the SOFA and strategic relationship agreements.

People in the press seem incapable of expressing a complex thought.  When they speak of the intelligence world they always talk or write about "information gathering" as a description of the intelligence process.  When they do that, they condition the public to imagine that the intelligence process is something like a pack of bloodhounds on the trail of information.  In fact, the intelligence process is a cycle of collection-analysis-dissemination-re-tasking-collection-analysis, etc.  In the same way, the press keeps saying that American forces will be out of the towns by next summer when what has been agreed is that major American COMBAT UNITS would be out of the towns by then.  "Combat units" means battalions, brigades, regiments (marnies).  Get the picture?  It was never going to be agreed, nor was it, that advisers (called transition teams here), trainers, supply people and other odd support folks were going to be out of the towns for a couple of years.  That might have made sense politically to some people but it would not make sense in the context of continuing to create security forces for Iraq.  Odierno seems to have a less than felicitous way with the language (English) but I doubt if he and Gates will differ much on this issue.

Someone wrote to me about Afghanistan saying that an "economy of force" and limited resources strategy that employs a lot of Afghan government and tribal forces might be appropriate for Afghanistan rather than a continuation that centers on A LOT MORE American conventional forces.  I think that is right, but that is a POLICY DECISION that should be made by the elected US Government.  The key factor in making such a decision should be a clear vision of the US goal in Afghanistan.  Once that is decided, then it will not be difficult to decide what kind of strategy should be followed.  pl

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21 Responses to Strategy and Policy

  1. Andy says:

    You’re right, of course. I spend a lot of time on military forums which discuss strategy and tactics in Afghanistan. Inevitably, these discussions expose the truth that the problem with Afghanistan lies at the policy level. This problem is only exacerbated by disagreements with NATO and the lack of unity of command. I hope the new administration articulates a clear policy and soon – ideally before operations pick-up in the spring.

  2. par4 says: it worthwhile to even keep advisers,trainers and support troops in what is considered one of three most corrupt countries in the world?

  3. Patrick Lang says:

    IMO judgments like that should be made on the basis of US interest and not on the basis of a moral position concerning norms in a particular cultural environment. If we judge on the basis of the morality of financial honesty we will have little choice but to withdraw from the world and try to clean up Illinois, etc. pl

  4. Ormolov says:

    The next logical step would be:
    Policy proposals? Anyone…?
    Having never seen the inside of a military academy, I’d still assume that Afghanistan scenarios (and particularly exit strategies) must occupy some rarefied land of extra credit coursework, since as far as I know, a successful exit has never been accomplished.
    So what can we do that so many others could not? I think Genghis Khan probably had the best time of it there. But the movie I’ve been proposing to write for the last two years has been about Dr. William Brydon. You know, as a cautionary tale.
    William Brydon CB (10 October 1811 – 20 March 1873) was an assistant surgeon in the British East India Company Army during the First Anglo-Afghan War and is famous for being the only European of an army of 4,500 men to reach safety in Jalalabad after the long retreat from Kabul.
    What exactly can we do to exit Afghanistan, especially since the Al Qaeda command structure is still intact? The recapture of Afghanistan at this stage by the Taliban seems a fait accompli. How do we exit well?
    Transition to a UN Force, build a few hospitals and universities and raise a few statues, then kiss off the place and put all our hope in UAVs flying over the Pakistan Frontier, hoping one day we can send a Hellfire up Osama’s ass?
    What about heroin? What about jihadi training camps? What about the women?
    And if we perform a measure of operational aikido and join with the tribes and work alongside them, how do we keep from getting pulled into their feuds? After seven years, and a number of bombed-out wedding parties, we still haven’t learned how to navigate the clans.

  5. Mad Dogs says:

    Pat wrote: Odierno seems to have a less than felicitous way with the language (English) but I doubt if he and Gates will differ much on this issue.”
    There be understatement! *g*
    And Pat wrote “…that is a POLICY DECISION that should be made by the elected US Government.”
    Though written in regard to Afghanistan, I would point out that it sure seems like both Petreaus and Odierno have been making POLICY DECISIONS vis a vis Iraq instead of Commander Bunnypants and company in the Executive branch.
    I hope the Obama Administration will rectify this Executive branch failure for both Iraq and Afghanistation, but I’m not holding my breath.
    With Petraeus as CENTCOM and Odierno as CG MNF Iraq, the die has been deliberately set to inhibit policy changes under a new Democratic Administration and Congress.
    Anyone have any idea what the Iraq and Afghanistan policy viewpoints are of Obama’s National Security Advisor Gen. James L. Jones?
    I know that he was a former Marine Corp Commandant, served as SACEUR, and had/has an advisory relationship with Senator John McCain, but that does not necessarily shed authoritative light on his views with regards to policy going forwards in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    While again not holding my breath, I’m hoping that the new Obama Administration realizes from the get-go that having a policy that comports with our interests is far better than shooting from the hip/lip, and that simply maintaining the status quo is also not a policy.

  6. TJ says:

    I’ll defer to your prediction powers, but I will say I wouldn’t want to be the non-combat troops left to man Fort Apache after the last five years of goings-on.

  7. Patrick Lang says:

    There are no “non combat troops” except for chaplains and medical corps personnel.
    If you mean mean soldiers in other than combat units, i.e. infantry, armor, artillery, SF, aviation units, well, the extent to which these soldiers are to be exposed to the risk of being over run is, once again, both a policy and a command decision bearing the responsibility for such a decision.
    I have predicted nothing in this matter. pl

  8. b says:

    PL writes: “IMO judgments like that should be made on the basis of US interest and not on the basis of a moral position concerning norms in a particular cultural environment. If we judge on the basis of the morality of financial honesty …”
    So US interests are in contrast to morality and financial honesty?!
    That seems right judging from observed behavior. But is this contrast helpful in terms of real long term US interest?

  9. adam says:

    “I have predicted nothing in this matter”
    Well did you did say that major combat units will be gone, and said that – among other things – the other support people would remain.
    TJ was, quite reasonably, pointing out that if say, someone from oh, a Combat Support battalion (rather like Jessica Lynch) was looking outside the wire they would look a little concerned if the unit that was protecting them wandered off and left them behind in an Iraqi town, surrounded. There might be odd qualm or two among the troops.
    Trainers, and their technical support, are a tiny number of soldiers, perhaps a good few hundred, but surely not many thousands. For example US forces quit Saudi a while back, but there are still some 500 left providing training. If memory serves there are still some 300 UK soldiers in Sierra Leone on a training mission.
    On the other hand getting excited about 500 or even a thousand soldiers spread all over Iraq is pretty hard. There just aren’t enough of them to protect themselves if (when?) things go pear-shaped.

  10. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Policy? Oh that…
    Afghanistan is the new flavor of the month in DC with lots of accompanying buzz. Lots of “experts” (poseurs?) holding forth these days.
    Here is one example, which General Jones and Amb. Pickering co-chaired, from a think tank. There are others from other think tanks with a range of connection to reality:
    And what do folks in the neighborhood like Tehran, Moscow, Beijing, and Delhi for example think about all this?

  11. Patrick Lang says:

    I prescribed that withdrawal should be gradual and that the withdrawal should proceed with a first withdrawal from major population centers to garrisons outside the cities while support units would have to be left in their roles as advisers, etc. for a while. Prescription is not the same as prediction. Lynch was in a “combat service support” unit, not a “combat support unit.” Look it up. My prescription envisions the nearby retention of some combat power in country until the support people are withdrawn.
    To do otherwise would be foolish. pl

  12. Patrick Lang says:

    Come now! To say that one’s policy should not be based on something is not the same as saying that one’s policy should be based on the opposite. pl

  13. David Habakkuk says:

    Clifford Kiracofe,
    As to what the ‘folks in the neighborhood like Tehran, Moscow, Beijing, and Delhi’ think about this, an interesting article following Medvedev’s recent visit to India by the former Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar suggests that Delhi may be throwing its weight behind Russia’s initiative to involve these countries through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
    A revitalisation of the old alliance between Russia and India is underway, Bhadrakumar argues. The Mumbai attacks have given additional impetus to this, he suggests, since given its need for cooperation from Pakistan in Afghanistan the U.S. is simply in no position to satisfy Indian anticipations that it put pressure on Pakistan.
    Another important feature of the Russian-Indian joint declaration, Bhadrakumar comments, is its ‘deafening silence on the U.S.-sponsored talks with the Taliban’ — based upon a common scepticism about the notion that there are ‘moderate’ Taliban leaders who can be assimilated into the Kabul government, as long as they disown Al Qaeda.
    The ‘punch line’ in the joint declaration, Bhadrakumar suggests, ‘comes almost innocuously.’
    ‘Sharing their concern over the “deteriorating security situation” in Afghanistan, India and Russia called for a “coherent and a united international commitment” to dealing with the threats emanating from that country. The implied criticism of the US-led war is obvious as also the rejection of the US strategy to keep the war strategy as its exclusive prerogative. The Joint Declaration then goes on to say, “Both sides welcome Russia’s initiative to organize an international conference in the framework of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, involving its Member states and Observers.”
    ‘New Delhi has come out into open support of a regional initiative on Afghanistan, which Washington would have loved to stifle in its cradle. The Indian stance is significant for various reasons. India has decided that there is no need to mark time until the Obama administration finalizes its own new Afghan strategy. It is asserting its own stakes independent of the US strategy. Two, India is identifying with Russia, China and Iran, which is an immensely significant happening in regional politics. Three, India is siding with a Russia-led regional initiative on Afghanistan at a time when various influential American opinion-makers have been floating the idea of a US-led “regional approach” to an Afghan settlement that virtually allows the US to be on the driving seat.’
    This Bhadrakumar argues is liable to make the U.S. policy of keeping the SCO out of Afghanistan problematic, as if Russia, China, Indian and Iran are associated with an initiative for its involvement, the onus is on the U.S. and Pakistan to explain why they should disassociate.

  14. isl says:

    Just to add my two cent predictions, (and I think the Maliki-US wrangling that pushed SOFA to after the US election supports the goal). IMO, the shape of the US forces in Iraq in the future will be in no small part be determined by Iraq political forces, which in effect means significant input from Iran.

  15. Okay my two cents on Iraq strategy. I would toss the whole current approach and adopt a new one. The key problem for Iraq as a future stable nation is going to be its economy and relationship with its neighbors. So what should the US do with its forces, all of them for however long needed. It should help Iraq to police its own borders, including customs adminstration, enemy infiltration, immigration–legal and illegal, export and import control systems including weapons. From the perimeters of Iraq we can watch what happens in the interior and follow the progression of events. Do we believe for a minute that Iraq has abandoned all foreign ambitions? Kuwait, its missing province for example? The Shia and their co-religionists? The Sunnis and Kurds? No this country which we seem to want it to be as a unified whole can only become so if there is integretity to its borders. Get the heck out of the Green Zone and leave the $1B Embassy to some other function. The strategy adopted is going to only allow the few vital functions of Iraqi political life to continue to fail. We cannot truly even give life support with the current plan. Oddly the US was once known for its strategic sense, all the current program in Iraq I label tactics not strategy. And the real tactic is not to empower Iraq as a nation but to stave off US casualties and make our exit which is inevitable with current planning very close to the embassy roof scene in RVN in 1975. How may Emergency Supplemental Appropriations to support Iraq ops will there be after we have reduced our forces to below 40,000 men and women no matter what the labels. As to Afghanistan I would give the whole thing to the powers that lead the Eurasian land mass and NATO without US. Yes, bite the bullet and join the Brits and the Russians as having been defeated by the culture and people and religion of Afghanistan. But draw a line. If the Islamic World does not support secular nation states then really start to treat Islam as all religions should be, really just another system of political beliefs when they advocate violence and power over others. I believe in a GOD but not one that imbues his/her/its believers in the notion that violence is religiously justified under any circumstances. And on that score and only because of the season it has always fascinate me that believers in Christ (as I do) split between those who view his birth as more important than his death or vice versa, and don’t view it as the contiuum that I do. Turn the other cheek. Render unto Ceasar what is Ceasars (always arguable to many of course). Treat Islam as a whole with dignity and respect but require the disavowal of violence. Also as to Jews and Christians.

  16. Barry says:

    Posted by: isl
    “Just to add my two cent predictions, (and I think the Maliki-US wrangling that pushed SOFA to after the US election supports the goal). IMO, the shape of the US forces in Iraq in the future will be in no small part be determined by Iraq political forces, which in effect means significant input from Iran.”
    A very good point; if Obama has a clue at all (and Petraeus), they’ll be negotiating with Iran, to arrange for a peaceful drawdown.
    After all, the government of Iran has won the Iraq War: the gov’t of Iraq is dominated by Iranian-backed factions, the anti-Iranian Shiite factions have been repressed; the Sunni Arabs have been weakened by ethnic cleansing, and Al Qaida finally pissed them off and failed. The USA will not be using Iraq as a staging area for attacks on Iran.
    At this point there’s grounds on both sides for a resolution.

  17. curious says:

    The asian big player is betting Obama will continue neocon hawkish policy.
    Russia Sells SA-20 to Iran
    Irrespective of Kremlin denials, Iran is buying the Russian-built SA-20 strategic-range air defense system, say senior U.S. government officials.
    Deployment of the system – a threat previously thought to be only a bargaining tool – would mark a capability leap in the Middle East and considerably improve Iran’s ability to defend its nuclear facilities. Western officials are concerned that Tehran is pursuing nuclear weapons.
    “The Iranians are on contract for the SA-20 [which NATO designated ýýýGargoyle’],” says one of the U.S. government officials. “We’ve got a huge set of challenges in the future that we’ve never had [before]. We’ve been lulled into a false sense of security because our operations over the last 20 years involved complete air dominance and we’ve been free to operate in all domains.”
    The proliferation of so-called double-digit surface-to-air missile systems – such as the Almaz Antey SA-20 (S-300PMU1/S-300PMU2) – poses an increasing threat to nonstealthy aircraft, and will force changes in tactics and operational planning. The SA-20 has an engagement envelope of roughly 100 mi., and Iran may be signed up for the S-300PMU-2 variant with even greater range.

  18. Curious says:

    von Clausewitz already said it two centuries ago. Politics, economy (policy) and military strategy are intertwined. Otherwise things will step on each other toes, morale goes down, and everything depleted. Before long it will unravel.
    It’s common sense. War is not just how to shoot gun, but total policy.
    It’s not possible to support Pakistan action at the border and messy internal politics than expect Afghanistan will get better. (logistic line and intel support being one) Nevermind social stability and long term economic cost of the war.
    It is also not logical to support Israel blindly, then expect Iran not to react (Iraq, Afghanistan)
    These are bordering country with intricate history and ethnicities all inter-relate.
    The view of Afghanistan in Pentagon, is of minor technicality and using proper military techniques.
    But it is not. Afghanistan terrain and demographic is some of the most difficult in the world. Everybody in there knows what guerilla war is. Everybody understand guerilla politics, logistic, movement, etc. It’s what happen in a country with 4 decades of continuous low intensity war.
    historically, empires go to die in central asia.

  19. curious says:

    Iran actually assembles their own S-300. This definitely change the balance of power. Israel alone won’t be able to attack Iran now.
    Russia has started the supplies of components for S-300 air defense systems to Iran, a senior Iranian lawmaker said on Sunday.
    Esmaeil Kosari, deputy chairman of the parliamentary commission on national security and foreign policy told the Iranian news agency IRNA that Iran and Russia had held negotiations for several years on the purchase of S-300 air defense systems and had finalized a deal.
    Kosari said the Islamic Republic would deploy S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to strengthen national defense on border areas.

  20. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    David Habakkuk,
    Thanks for pointing out the article by the Indian diplomat. He makes good points.
    Afghanistan seems to be the new flavor of the month inside the Beltway with a flurry of think tank “experts” holding forth. They wax poetic on their favorite method for Americans social engineering Afghanistan into a tribal Paradise. The main instrument of social engineering appears to be US military “power” teaming up with the semi-failed state of Pakistan and its deep pocket Saudi backers.
    It seems to me what is lacking in Washington is what the Indian diplomat points out: a regional and global approach to the problem. If Russian, Indian, Chinese, and Iranian vital interests are affected is it not logical that the US should engage diplomatically with these countries? And what about the role of the UN?
    Is Afghanistan a VITAL national interest of the United States? For those who think so, I would like to hear a precise explanation as to just why.
    Seems to me these days one could argue that the most immediate and proximate threat, a “clear and present danger”, to our vital national interests which include internal security is Mexico as a disintegrating and failed narco-mafia state.
    It is not difficult to understand India’s profound concerns about neighboring Pakistan, a failing narco and terrorist haven state. Thus, India’s regional diplomacy, as described by the diplomat you cite, seems logical, reasonable, and predictable.

  21. curious says:

    the tit for a tat game continues.
    – Russia supplies SP-300 to Iran and Mig to Lebanon
    – Bush signed “enhanced’ treaty with ukraine and Georgia.
    This is very important, as one would notice Russia knows weapon and guerilla war. If push comes to shove, they will start supplying weapons to central asian groups that don’t like as and play stupid.
    suddenly we have manpad, armor piercing bullets and anti tanks floating around.
    I for one think, the central asia/midle east game are about to enter new stage of complexity. Russia and China are playing more actively.
    The accord, similar to a strategic agreement Washington signed with Ukraine last week, risks raising tensions with Russia, which earlier this year fought a brief war with Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
    The US and Ukraine signed a strategic accord on Friday that outlined “enhanced cooperation” between the two countries and called for a US diplomatic post in Crimea, a Russian-speaking area where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based.
    The US signed similar strategic partnerships with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1998, when the three countries were seeking to join NATO in the face of fierce opposition from Moscow.

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