Thursday, June 22, 2006

Commander: Fewer civilians dying

We have people who were on the fence or supported us who in the last two years or three years have in fact decided to strike out against us. And you have to ask: Why is that? And I would argue in many instances we are our own worst enemy," Chiarelli said in an interview.

Chiarelli said he reviews the figures daily. If fewer civilians are killed, "I think that will make our soldiers safer," Chiarelli said.

Chiarelli said U.S. soldiers are killing and injuring fewer Iraqi civilians this year in so-called escalation-of-force incidents at checkpoints and near convoys than they did in July of last year, when officials first started tracking the statistic.

The New York Times reported that coalition soldiers in Iraq killed an average of one civilian every day during 2005 in incidents at checkpoints or roadblocks or alongside convoys, according to statistics compiled by officers in Baghdad. So far this year, with new military guidelines in place, the number of Iraqi civilians killed at checkpoints, roadblocks or along convoys has dropped to an average of one a week, according to the military statistics.

Philadelphia Inquirer | 06/22/2006 | Commander: Fewer civilians dying

Some of the opposition often ask (or demand) that the supporters of the war recognize "failures" of the war. Why? So we can pretend that it's all about Bush Co and Republican mismanagement. What the alternative was (withdrawal, ignominious retreat?), I have yet to completely understand how or why it would have been better.

But, if you want a complaint about the handling of the war from a war supporter, this would be it. Basically, the extremely slow and painful move from the Pentagon and senior military leadership in understanding, preparing for, training for and implementing counter-insurgency warfare.

Believe it or not, I don't completely blame Rumsfeld or Bush for these problems. I know, I'm a partisan hack. Not really. I see it as a big part of our post-Vietnam military culture. We got burned in Vietnam because we didn't know how to fight an insurgency and instead of really trying to figure it out and implementing it across our entire military structure (instead of just within small special forces and CIA groups), recognizing that this was the future of war (small wars, insurgencies, etc), they through up their hands and said, "We are only going to go to war with states with huge armies that we will then employ maximum force against, destroy the army, call it a victory and go home".

That would be Shinseki, Zinni and Powell. What they asked for, the impossible really, was a "clear military objective" they could complete and go home. From my perspective, those demands were code for "only deploy the military if we are guaranteed victory". Sometimes I think they look less like Patton and much more like McClellan.

I also blame it on us: the US citizen. We also got burned in Vietnam and our society, our body politic also rejected the idea of counter-insurgency warfare because it is long, it is sometimes morally ambiguous and it does not result in surrender signing on the USS Missouri; our iconic idea of victory and honorable defeat of the enemy. Insurgencies aren't like that and it scares the dog out of the body politic. It's the unknown. It's violent. It doesn't square with our dream of chivalric warfare (though, I do call it a dream because even "chivalrous knights" were only chivalrous to their own kind).

It's a problem when you are raised on the myths of war instead of the reality. For the most part, our new enemy may reside in their own idealic myth about Holy Warriors, but they have seen a lot of war up close and personal. They have simply incorporated it into their concepts of war and given the actions sanction by insisting it was the way war was back in the day and if it was good enough for Mohammed or Salah al Din, it is good enough for them.

In reality, probably more realistic as to what warfare was, but certainly doesn't square with our continued attempts in the West to progress, or, more succinctly, regress to our ideas of heroic, chivalric war where the old, the infirm, the maidens and the children are protected from the dragon, be it ours or the enemy's.

Funny though, in the end, it is exactly those chivalric tendencies which are best used to fight a counter-insurgency. If you can't use that then you must resort to total war where in the entire society you are at war with is smashed into barely subsistent living, much less capable of retaliation, whether by guerillas or partially intact armies.

So, my complaint is that we (I mean the entire host, whether politicos, military and American Citizens) were far too slow in adopting the right attitude and procedures in fighting an insurgency. What I do know is that some officers, on their own, did read about and try to implement a counter-insurgency strategy within their individual AOs (areas of operations) and were successful.

Funny though, on the other end of the scale, you have the Brits in the South that were wearing their berets and talking about how to fight the war (Chiarelli was inspired by a Brit General writing in the Military Review on the difference between British and American approach) who are now wearing their full kit (ie, body armor). Their failing? Being a little too smug and self satisfied, refusing to recognize the danger of the growing militia control of their area. A militia that was Shia, but anti-occupation. A militia that barely responds to Al Sistani these days.

In short, they didn't recognize that the insurgency had progressed to a different danger level. For most of us, the recognition came when Steven Vincent was murdered. Of course, that's the view from 9000 miles. It was probably a little more difficult to evaluate up close and personal, seeing it every day.

In any case, there is my criticism of the war. If you want a fall guy, I refuse to give it to you. Not a politician, not a general, no one. Fall guys and recriminations are for when the war is over; whether defeat or victory. It is when the history books are written, not the general angst of daily journalists. As long as we can recognize when there is a problem and change it, I will not point a finger at any individual.

Yet, when the history books are written and military strategists or social historians write it, I hope that, for all the caterwauling about Iraq being Vietnam, that they write how the defeat of Vietnam (that's what it was, regardless of speeches of honorable withdrawal) really effected us and changed us so severely we were almost unable to conduct the war.

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