Inside The Pentagon
by Elaine M. Grossman
September 30, 2004
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Officers In Iraq: War Tactics Offer Little Prospect Of Success
American military officers serving in Iraq are increasingly concluding that, without a change in tactics, the United States has little hope of prevailing over insurgents and restoring stability to the nation, Inside the Pentagon has learned from numerous interviews.
A great many uniformed leaders voice support for the Iraq strategy President Bush has laid out — to use the approximately 138,000 U.S.
troops there to provide security for the near term, train new Iraqi army and police units, and ultimately withdraw as soon those forces are ready. Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry says he supports that fundamental approach.
But many Army and Marine officers on the ground in Iraq and those recently returned also confirm Kerry’s assessment that the situation there is far graver than Bush concedes. A number of leading Republican and Democratic lawmakers involved in foreign affairs have expressed concern in recent weeks about a downturn in Iraq operations.
Growing numbers of officers believe from firsthand experience in Iraq that the military cannot achieve Bush’s strategic objectives using the kind of tactics U.S. Central Command chief Army Gen. John Abizaid and his lieutenants have employed to date, extensive interviews reveal.
In stark terms, the broad strategy for Iraq and the tactics being used to carry it out simply do not match, say officers there. The result is that U.S. forces are making little progress toward subduing the insurgency and setting the conditions for a hand-off to the new Iraqi security forces, these sources say.
U.S. “tactical responses to [anti-coalition force] attacks suggest a breakdown between tactics and operational-level aims,” writes Marine Col. Thomas Hammes in a new book, “The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century.”
Not everyone shares that view.
As Iraq heads toward January elections, “my commanders in the field are confident about the military mission,” Abizaid, the top commander for U.S. forces in the Middle East, said Sept. 26 on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“We’re under no illusions about the entire country being stable, and we’re also under no illusions that the entire country is dangerous. It is a very complex environment,” with relatively stable areas in the north and south surrounding more dangerous sectors “around Fallujah and in the Sunni heartland,” he said.
One officer based in the United States says the recent increase in violence belies “desperation” on the part of the militants and represents their “last-ditch effort.” Some troops returning from Iraq have echoed that impression in recent months.
But that does not appear to be the predominant view among those on the tip of the spear. These officers describe a backslide over the past few months as the insurgents have established more sanctuaries and violence has surged.
“We are losing the war,” says one military officer in Iraq. “Since the transfer of authority in June, attacks all over Iraq have increased dramatically.”
A new study shows more than 2,300 insurgent attacks occurred in Iraq over the past 30 days, taking place in almost every major population center apart from the Kurdish-dominated area in the north, The New York Times reported Sept. 29. Over the weekend, Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged on ABC’s “This Week” that the strength of the insurgency is growing and anti-Americanism in the Middle East is “getting worse.”
The attacks aren’t just on U.S. forces. Although the Pentagon says it does not compile such statistics, estimates are that as many as 15,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the conflict, about half of them since major combat ended in May 2003, according to one independent tracking group. Increasingly the victims of suicide bombs and roadside explosive devices have been innocent Iraqis, according to new reports.
In some cases, militants have targeted Iraqi civic leaders, police and military recruits. The effect has been to frighten many Iraqis from working with the United States and its allies to create new national, regional or local institutions, officers and others in the region say.
“The enemy’s intimidation and assassination campaign is very mature,” said one officer who recently returned. Iraqi troops and police who help provide security for emerging civic leaders “look like American stooges,” this source said. “Terror does work when employed ruthlessly, as in Iraq.”
Even so, this officer caveats his view with the belief that, despite the challenges, “we can [and] will win this thing.”
Pentagon officials insist the anti-Western fighters have not won a single battle against U.S. forces.
But those in the field say the measure of winning and losing is more psychological than physical, and here the insurgency has gained the upper hand. Pentagon leaders have maintained insurgents number no more than 5,000, but privately some military officials say the resistance can draw upon more than 20,000 fighters.
With superior numbers and technology, U.S. troops could prevail in almost any conventional battle, officers say. But they run the risk of losing against the insurgency in the long run because the war ultimately is not about killing targets. History shows it’s about winning the popular support, many officers say.
The Iraqi public — weary of insecurity but afraid to side with the Americans — may not champion the insurgents. Yet they still believe the violence would abate if U.S. forces leave, according to officers serving there.
Put simply, the more destruction U.S. troops inflict in Iraq, the less support they will enjoy from the population, according to a number of officers and military historians.
“The only measurement of effectiveness that matters in this war is perception, specifically what the insurgent — and more importantly what the population — perceives to be true,” said one officer.
Unless otherwise noted, all the officers cited in this article are currently serving in Iraq or recently returned. All active-duty officers interviewed spoke with ITP on condition of anonymity, concerned about career reprisal. Though uniformed leaders differ somewhat in their perspectives and prescriptions, several themes are sounded repeatedly on where, in their view, U.S. tactics on the ground are falling short of advancing Bush’s strategy:
Overuse of force. “Every time we go kinetic, we actually play into the evil-doers’ hands,” said one recently returned Marine officer. Service members use the term “kinetic” to refer to weapons that cause physical damage, distinguishing them from such “non-kinetic” tools as influence, deterrence or coercion.
Yet U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq have tended to take a direct approach, focusing on eliminating the problem by simply killing the enemy, critics in the officer corps say. Several point to the U.S. attacks on Fallujah following the ambush of U.S. contractors there in the spring. Just after relinquishing command of the I Marine Expeditionary Force in mid-September, Lt. Gen. James Conway told reporters the orders to assault Fallujah and later to withdraw came from top U.S. policymakers in Washington.
Conway said he resisted calls for revenge after the contractor killings, preferring instead to undertake a combination of targeted attacks on militants and engagement with local civic leaders. But he was overruled, he said.
“Guess who drove that situation — the bad guys,” said one Marine who was there.
Since that time, the military approach has remained heavily focused on tactics and technologies developed during the Cold War, when the nation was preparing for conventional warfare against organized armies, many officers say. Technologies developed to understand and surmount a conventional enemy simply may not work against an adaptive and clever adversary, especially one using “low-tech” methods to wreak havoc.
“Enemy countermeasures [to American tactics] — concealment, dispersion, deception, intermingling with civilian populations, etc. — place certainty in the close fight outside the reach of technology,” writes one officer with Iraq experience in an e-mail forwarded recently in military circles. “The information we desire most about the enemy — his real fighting power and his intentions — lie in the psychological and human dimensions rather than the physical.”
Misplaced focus in the Iraq effort is a real problem when fighting an increasingly brazen and well-organized insurgency, these officers say.
For many conventional military thinkers, undertaking a less violent approach against the insurgents seems counterintuitive, military leaders say.
“The allure of chasing high-value targets has distracted us from the fundamental problem: local insecurity that creates conditions for a passive population,” said one officer.
The incident that tipped the balance — the Fallujah situation — was more akin to a bunch of outsiders wandering into a dangerous neighborhood in a U.S. city, and should have been handled accordingly, suggests another officer.
“There are parts of Los Angeles that folks do not drive around in,” said one officer, an Iraq veteran whose identity was confirmed by ITP, in an anonymous e-mail circulating in the defense community. “DC types overreacted initially and went kinetic, which is exactly what the insurgents wanted.” Political leaders “took the bait and now look at all the dead (on all sides) and [the] mess we are in,” this officer said.
Military power can be exercised in myriad ways with a minimum of explosive force, some officers say. It is a challenging path, but the only one available for meeting the U.S. strategy, according to these Iraq veterans.
“We need to attack the resistance network rather than target the enemy forces per se,” said one Marine.
Using what is termed a “fourth-generation warfare” approach, the United States and its allies must use all the tools of statecraft — economics, diplomacy, law enforcement and covert operations, in addition to military force — to effectively destroy a stateless, shadowy enemy, as in Iraq, according to this officer and others with Iraq experience.
The insurgency has proven adept at using the tools of influence and persuasion through intimidation and coercion, sources say. Yet the U.S.
military has tools at its disposal for the application of non-kinetic force that it has not effectively used, several such officers say.
These might include using psychological operations, civil affairs, medical assistance and construction engineering to help establish legitimacy and credibility for the U.S. occupation, sources say. In other words, U.S. forces must take more actions visible to the Iraqi public that clearly advance Bush’s stated objectives to stabilize the nation, train Iraqi forces and then leave.
Destroying suspected insurgent facilities remains a necessary but insufficient tool toward that goal, many officers say. Employing a more balanced approach, kinetic force would not be the single tool or perhaps even a primary tool, many officers say.
“If you practice the indirect approach of [ancient Chinese military theorist] Sun Tzu, like the insurgency does, you can do it with a lot less force,” said retired Army National Guard Brig. Gen. David McGinnis in a Sept. 23 interview. The militants are “looking for us to be inhibited by our view of the war,” he said.
Abizaid and his top commander for Iraq operations, Army Gen. George Casey, “have overlooked the effective, discriminate use of force,” a recently returned Marine said. Instead, “we’ve got layering of commands, organizations and power structure” in Iraq, this source said. “We think the answer is to just pile command and control on top of everything.”
The point is not to simply destroy things, but to undermine an adversary’s ability to wage war. For some ground leaders, that means “getting inside the enemy’s decision cycle” and confusing or incapacitating him, denying him the ability to generate attacks.
Starting with the premise that people — not things — are behind insurgencies “would force you to have an integrated, dynamic interaction” in which U.S. forces quickly adapt to insurgent tactics and respond in more creative ways, said one Marine.
“We need to integrate all our tools of influence in Iraq such that people are seeing the same thing on TV as they see on a poster downtown, [and] as they see when an Army unit is constructing a school in their neighborhood,” says retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Frank Hoffman, who recently assessed his service’s operations in western Iraq.
Military leaders could also handle more effectively the unintended civilian casualties that regularly occur in U.S. counterinsurgency strikes, according to former Marine Corps Lt. Col. Dale Davis, a Middle East and counterintelligence specialist now working in the private sector in Dubai.
The “Iraqi culture is actually predisposed to [accept] ‘collateral damage’ through the means of apology and compensation,” he told ITP this week. “Unfortunately, the U.S. has almost always refused to acknowledge errors until confronted with irrefutable evidence. This in turn has fueled the cycle of revenge and violence. Hindsight suggests any ‘overuse of force’ in an effort to establish security would have been quickly forgiven by the Iraqis.”
“We’re lousy” at doing psychological operations, one just-returned officer said. “We’ve got tough competition and the [Iraqi] audience is predisposed to believe certain things anyway.”
A new Army field report compiled by its “lessons learned” center finds the service has not waged a top-down, coherent information campaign for the “hearts and minds” of Iraqi citizens, sister publication Inside the Army reported this week.
Some think it’s already too late.
“To hell with winning hearts and minds,” Davis wrote in an e-mail analysis circulating in the military. “Those opportunities have long [passed], especially in the most radicalized areas.”
The Pentagon has cited Samarra as a success story in subduing the insurgency, allowing U.S. forces to re-enter the central Iraqi town earlier this month. But Davis still sees intractable problems, and is calling for U.S. forces to recapture cities like Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra “with utmost speed and overwhelming force.”
“I’m not sure it’s a bad thing to attrit the enemy where they are, in large numbers,” said one officer in the States. “We’ve got to fight them somewhere. Why not Iraq?”
A less violent approach might have offered more success when the insurgency was smaller, less experienced, and poorly organized, some officers say. But a more nuanced policy may be the only politically feasible alternative to pulling out before the job is done, albeit an alternative that promises only slow or limited effectiveness, say officers with experience in Iraq.
Lack of local security. Legitimacy is a critical tool in the psychological dimension of the conflict, military officers in Iraq say.
For the Iraqi government, legitimacy begins with a credible army, police force and border guards to provide a basic sense of security for average Iraqis, these sources say.
Apparently understanding the critical role these fledgling forces might play, the insurgency has specifically targeted recruiting centers and police stations, officers note. Rising leaders in the ranks have also been targeted. Potential leaders have gotten the message: If you rise to the top, you and your family are in danger, according to these sources.
Since Jan. 1, more than 700 Iraqi security forces have been killed, according to Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus. He heads the Multinational Security Transition Command, the organization charged with building the new Iraqi security forces.
“Close guarding of Iraqis by American troops is very troop-intensive,” said one officer. “There are many, many Iraqis who would have to be guarded — every mayor, every water filtration plant supervisor, many school leaders, power plant directors, etc. — and even then, the average Iraqi who tried in any small way to help would remain vulnerable.”
Many U.S. officers question the wisdom of then-Coalition Provisional Authority chief L. Paul Bremer’s decision last year to disband the existing Iraqi security forces, which experts say contained large groups of apolitical leaders and troops.
“Because we fired all the previous Iraqi security forces under Saddam, we were forced to build from the ground up a new Iraqi security apparatus,” observed one officer. The U.S. military has since “rushed” new police and army recruits “through ‘shake-and-bake’ training programs where numbers rather than quality was the overriding factor. And today we are reaping the ‘fruits’ of not anticipating the direct and indirect effects of this ill-devised strategy,” this source said. “To complicate matters, we threw these newly trained [Iraqi security forces] into a combat environment on the streets of Iraq. We failed to set conditions for a secure environment for them to operate [in] and the environment is getting worse.”
Abizaid said this week his forces have trained and equipped more than 100,000 of the approximately 270,000 Iraqi security forces desired.
“Those numbers will continue to grow,” Abizaid said. “And I am very confident that with good leadership, the Iraqi armed forces and security forces at the police and border police level will continue to be more effective.”
In rebuilding Iraqi institutions, “everyone would probably agree” that governance, economics and security are the three critical factors, said one recently returned officer. These critical components of a stable Iraq are interrelated but “security is the foundation,” this source said.
U.S. military officers complain they lack enough personnel to quickly train these new Iraqi security forces. Emblematic of the problem is that just 230 of 600 headquarters positions at Petraeus’ command have been filled, The New York Times reported Sept. 20.
For every unit of trainers deployed, more security forces must be dispatched to protect them, officers say, many of them pointing to a need for more U.S. forces generally in Iraq.
Without Iraqis providing security for their own nation, U.S. officers bemoan the fact they also have been unable to provide adequate protection for the new recruits or the public.
“I think we’ve focused on the wrong ends,” says one officer who has served in Iraq. “We have to address local grievances: In Iraqis’ minds, it’s local security.”
“There is a general tendency amongst Arabs to emphasize a government’s responsibility to provide security, even to the degree it may impinge on individual rights,” Davis said in his e-mail analysis. “The lack of security and general lawlessness prevailing in almost every major urban area is alienating the Iraqi people from their liberators and creating significant threats to U.S. strategic goals.”
In one of the vicious circles plaguing the Iraq effort, citizens with a better sense of personal security might be more likely to offer intelligence on insurgent operations, U.S. officers say. But lacking tips from local communities that have been cowed by the militants, U.S.
troops and the fledgling Iraqi forces have been unable to quash the insurgency, officers say.
“We didn’t plan for that part of the war,” one officer said. “Unless we focus on security . . . we can’t get the human intelligence we need to fight the insurgency.”
Local security is “a tough problem, so we must remain on the offensive and hunt down the enemy using police-type intel to I.D. the killers and kill them,” another officer said.
“If we increase the credibility and capability of the [Iraqi police], this will increase security, lower the instances of intimidation, and eliminate the ability of the insurgents to operate openly among the population,” said yet another officer, noting “there is no fast or simple solution.”
The need to protect U.S. forces on the ground, like so many other factors in the Iraq puzzle, is interconnected with other requirements of the counterinsurgency effort, this officer noted.
“How can we embed advisers with these [new Iraqi security force] units when we can’t even do the missions that are required to maintain security?” asks the officer.
Open borders. U.S. officers report that Iraq’s porous borders remain an enormous problem, fueling the insurgency with cash, weapons and logistical support from Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran. All the borders are leaking and even U.S. regional allies are refusing to help, said one Marine officer. Left unchecked, instability could spread throughout the region, several officers warn.
Pentagon officials respond there is no way to seal Iraq’s vast borders. After months of asserting the militants were mostly outsiders, defense officials now concede the insurgency includes relatively few foreign fighters.
Some observers downplay the border threat altogether.
“Borders are less of a problem than the administration and some in the military portray,” says Davis, the former Marine now in Dubai. “Arms are not flowing in large quantities — not because they can’t but because they are not required. The coalition’s failure to secure the numerous ammunition and weapons supply points throughout Iraq has provided ample supply to the insurgents. Not to mention the 400,000 Iraqi soldiers who simply faded away with their weapons.”
Speaking on “Meet the Press” this week, Abizaid called securing Iraq’s 2,200-kilometer-long border “a very difficult thing.” He said ongoing efforts to install watch systems on the frontier and train Iraqi border forces to take over the mission from U.S. soldiers will “take some time.”
Many U.S. officers fighting in Iraq say they cannot wait. They believe the insurgency cannot be quelled without more immediate control over their rear supply areas — the border regions.
In response to the insurgents’ attacks in Fallujah last spring, U.S. military leaders might have alternatively flooded the western area with troops, cutting off the adversary’s logistics lines, one officer said.
“Most of the enemy in Iraq is still Iraqis,” another recently returned officer said, “but support for the enemy comes through the borders and more troops are needed to stop this.”
To prepare for the ultimate withdrawal of U.S. troops, “more can and should be done [to build] a very robust and viable border police that is credible and capable,” said another officer, noting they must be immune to bribes.
“Efforts to prematurely use Iraqis to patrol the borders do not reap results because of poor training, poor vetting [for infiltrators], legendary corruption [and] smuggling as a centuries-old [and] economically required activity,” said another officer.
How quickly can a new Iraqi border force be trained? “I don’t think it’s close [to happening], for all kinds of reasons,” pre-eminent among them an insufficient number of U.S. ground forces to do the job, according to one officer.
Other tasks in Iraq have taken higher priority and thus have been assigned more troops, this officer said. Those include: protecting the lives of local and national leaders; securing communications lines; and patrolling the streets to maintain an “image of a credible force,”
according to the officer.
Insurgent sanctuaries. The hallmarks of a successful insurgency are establishing a safe area and merging with the local population, one officer noted. In several regions of Iraq, “both of these prerequisites are firmly rooted,” the officer told ITP.
Militants are using safe havens in a growing number of Iraqi cities to plan and launch their operations, as well as recoup after an attack, U.S. officers say. Allowing these sanctuaries to remain sets an ominous precedent for the future, signaling the insurgency that U.S. forces can be coerced into surrendering terrain and local control, according to some of these sources.
“No matter how badly you beat the enemy . . . [he] goes back to [the] sanctuary and comes out swinging again after recovering, rearming, training [and] prepping,” said one officer. Apart from the occasional U.S. attack, militants are also deriving from the sanctuaries another critical benefit: an “emotional respite” from continuous conflict, this source said.
“Every city is a safe haven for the insurgents,” said one officer. “If you are an American, you will get killed if you walk down the street. If you are in a military convoy, you will get shot at, no matter what the size of your force. In some cases, we don’t even fly transport helicopters during the day for fear of getting one shot down.”
As part of the psychological aspect of the conflict, U.S. forces must make clear the insurgency is being led by Sunni tribes that others cannot trust, one Marine said. U.S. forces must give greater priority to protecting Iraqi civilians who refuse to participate with the insurgents’ gun runners, this source said. Iraq has among the most sophisticated — and strict — legal systems in the Middle East, and it is critical to get it up and running again, said this source.
In the interim, U.S. forces must resist getting drawn into cities on the insurgency’s timetable, said another officer.
As it stands, U.S. military operations in the cities “are normally a reactive measure, done in the middle of the night, followed by a hasty withdrawal by morning,” this officer said. The approach leaves “the population open to intimidation and open [to] violence. . . . Protecting ourselves is not making Iraq any safer for the [Iraqi security forces] or the average Iraqi.”
U.S. force vulnerabilities. Abizaid and Casey’s approach to operations in Iraq requires the extensive use of ground convoys, a factor that contributes to drawing U.S. forces into risky urban battles, according to one Marine there. U.S. forces have become overly vulnerable to car bombs, roadside explosive devices and, ultimately, battle on the insurgency’s terms and turf, this source and others say.
With the brand of “close air support” and forward interdiction seen in major combat in Iraq missing from the counterinsurgency effort, some officers are now calling for the return of a more integrated air-ground approach.
But not everyone agrees that is feasible.
Complaints the Iraq effort is too “ground-centric” are a “red herring,” says one officer, “unless we believe we can fly airplanes and helos with impunity around Iraq’s airfields.” Air operations are still considered high-risk in the so-called Sunni Triangle region, this source said.
Davis, the former Marine, agrees: “We saw last Ramadan what happened when we flew large numbers of troops around. They got shot out of the sky.”
“The people live on the ground, so we must keep our presence on the ground if we are to deny the enemy sovereignty,” said one officer.
Another called the U.S. force vulnerability on the ground “a minor tactical issue.”
“There are not many roads to travel,” this source said. “It’s a Catch-22. If you want the luxury of different routes, then you have to protect those different routes, which requires . . . more troops sitting in defensive positions on the road, which will increase the number of attacks. There is a saying: If you build a camp or construct an observation point, [the insurgents] will come.”
Desire to withdraw. Signaling to the Iraqi public that U.S. forces do not intend to remain an occupying power for long is a tricky affair, according to military leaders. The desire among some Americans to leave Iraq inadvertently plays into the hands of insurgents, whose intention is to retain power in Iraq long after U.S. troops leave, according to many officers interviewed.
The U.S. military withdrawal from several Iraqi cities reinforces a popular perception there that Americans lack the will or long-term commitment to prevail over the insurgency, according to some officers. At the same time, some in the Iraqi public see the continued chaos as evidence the United States, in holding back its enormous firepower, seeks a pretext to remain in control of Iraq, perhaps for its considerable oil reserves, officers say.
“Most Iraqis believe we are permitting the chaos to continue as a premise for maintaining our grip on the country,” Davis says.
Despite the bipartisan calls for fulfilling the U.S. commitment to Iraq, recent news reports suggest advisers to both Bush and Kerry are considering the possibility of an early withdrawal.
How to strike the right chord?
It is “hard to reverse it and say we are staying,” said one officer. “But it must be done, I suppose, with the right caveats.”
“The message cannot be ‘we are leaving’ [but] must be ‘we will leave as soon as there is security,’” says Davis.
A flawed military approach? “It is becoming abundantly clear that barring dramatic changes in U.S. strategy, the war for Iraq will be lost,” Davis wrote in the e-mail analysis. “Eighteen months after the demise of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. appears hopelessly mired in Iraq.”
U.S. military forces face a variety of tasks widely regarded as vital for attaining overall U.S. objectives in Iraq — maintaining security, keeping roads and communications open, protecting infrastructure like water and electricity, and providing basic border security — and even these most critical elements are falling short, officers with Iraq experience say.
“You have to identify the priority military tasks,” said one. “You’ve got to be able to do them all. And at the end of the day, we probably don’t have enough resources.”
“There’s just too much to do and not enough guys to do it,” said another. ITP broke the story last week that one of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s own advisory panels told him late last month the Pentagon cannot sustain the Iraq and Afghanistan stability operations using existing troop levels.
Ends, ways and means toward meeting the overall U.S. strategy in Iraq are “out of kilter,” says one officer. “When the resources aren’t there, potentially your strategy is fatally flawed. . . . We’re more than a little resource-poor [in Iraq] and the American people are paying a heavy burden here.”
More than 1,000 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the conflict began, and another 7,000 have been seriously injured.
Army leaders have said retention and recruiting are both up, but at the same time have expressed concern about the long-term effects of repeated yearlong tours for the troops (ITP, July 1, p1).
“Once a service member has served in Iraq once, they don’t want to go back,” said one officer. “You’ve cheated death once . . . and there’s a limited number of times you do that with good grace.”
Rumsfeld has said the media overemphasizes violence in its Iraq coverage, ignoring the successes U.S. forces have achieved. Infrastructure such as roads, bridges, schools and firehouses are being rebuilt.
But some Iraq veterans say while there is much progress to be proud of, “those things are still tactical things,” in the words of one officer. U.S. forces “have not achieved operational- and strategic-level successes.”
“I don’t think there’s a good way to redeem this situation,” said another officer back from Iraq. “I think the resistance has figured out their own best ally is our democratic process,” said this source, noting the president is unlikely to support any dramatic changes in Iraq policy until after the Nov. 2 election.
“The tactical realm for [the insurgency] is intrinsically tied to the political realm,” this source said. “Everything they do tactically has a political repercussion for us — and everything we do tactically has a political repercussion for us.”
On the road to regaining the initiative, many officers advocate, as a first step, an acknowledgment by the Bush administration that the U.S. is “at war” in Iraq. It will take a wartime footing to generate American public support for increasing ground troops, either through a wider mobilization of troop reserves or possibility even through a draft, several officers said.
“It’s lunacy,” said one Marine. “When you have an ‘occupation force,’ that means one side has given up. No one’s given up.”
U.S. officers also say a clear military strategy that conforms with U.S. objectives is missing. Abizaid and Casey have not ensured that officers and troops deployed to the region understand how to counter the Iraqi insurgency, officers complain. Several said even after coming home, they could not clearly describe the military strategy under which they operated.
“The strategy in Iraq is city-hopping and there seems to be no coherent strategy for the long-term solution,” said one officer. “We rush from one crisis to the next, and when that one is mended, another one pops up. The end is nowhere in sight.”
—Elaine M. Grossman