Wednesday, in Slate, Phillip Carter looked at what he called the first post-surge offensive by the U.S. military. Roughly 10% of American forces in Iraq are conducting operations in the the Diyala province. However, as Carter cautions, this is “an attempt to clear an area without there being a sizable number of troops available to occupy it afterward.”
Carter documents that this is a sizable offensive force — bigger even than what the US employed in November 2004 during the second assault on Fallujah. Unfortunately, the size of the force will not guarantee mission success:
One truism about the surge has been that where we deploy sufficient numbers of U.S. troops, we prevail. There is no doubt that this quantity of U.S. troops will clear this small area of insurgents and al-Qaida fighters. The only question for the near term is whether our troops will kill, capture, or merely push those fighters out of the breadbasket. This has been the pattern for U.S. military operations since 2003, and yet the insurgency continues. The more important question is whether the U.S. military—and its partners in the Iraqi army and police—can secure the area for the long term, and do so with fewer and fewer U.S. troops as the surge ends.
Though the local civilians — and presumably the insurgents — could monitor recent helicopter activity in the area to predict the offensive, the US military apparently did not tell the Iraqi military about it and is apparently not making much use of Iraqi forces in the fight.
Didn’t the surge emphasize cooperation between US and Iraqi forces?
The most recent news reports, in fact, show that this attack is modeled after the war’s start — shock and awe. From The Washington Post, January 10:
U.S. warplanes unleashed one of the most intense airstrikes of the Iraq war Thursday, dropping 40,000 pounds of explosives in a thunderous 10-minute onslaught on suspected al-Qaida in Iraq safe havens in Sunni farmlands south of Baghdad.
The mighty barrage _ recalling the Pentagon’s “shock and awe” raids during the 2003 invasion _ appeared to mark a significant escalation in a countrywide offensive launched this week…
Maj. Alayne Conway, a spokeswoman for troops in central Iraq, said the amount of ordnance dropped in 10 minutes nearly exceeded what had been used in that region in any month since last June.
Conway said the air attack “was one of the largest airstrikes since the onset of the war” in March 2003.
Given these events, Carter rightfully calls this a post-surge operation. The troops are not on the ground, living among the people, providing order. They are not working with local populations. Here’s what General Petraeus said just a couple of days ago:
“Relationships are what this is all about. I think, in truth, relationships are what everything is all about, whether our own home life or international relations,” he said. “And all we are trying to do is, sort of, one handshake at a time or one smile at a time, one Beanie Baby at a time, to add a little joy and strength to this relationship.”
So why is the US bombing parts of Diyala back to the stone age?