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Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Counterinsurgent

I have not read this book, but below is an excerpt from a New York Times book review of Linda Robinson's Tell Me How This Ends:

Robinson makes it clear that this simply isn’t so. She describes in exacting detail the tactics used by field officers in some of the most terrifying battlegrounds of Iraq. When the First Battalion, Fifth Cavalry Regiment of the First Cavalry Division was assigned in late 2006 to Ameriya, in western Baghdad, the commander, Lt. Col. Dale Kuehl, moved his headquarters out of the base camp and into a local police station. He and his staff officers had read up on “battalion-led counterinsurgency,” and were eager to put its precepts into effect. Kuehl began building contacts with local sheiks, and spreading money around by paying for trash pickup and road repair. Then he began “clearing” operations against insurgents. The cost was high: 14 deaths in May alone.

Robinson lingers on the heroic self-­discipline of officers who denied their men the catharsis of revenge, knowing that they were fighting for the sympathies of civilians. And finally, that discipline paid off. In late May, a local sheik called Kuehl to say that his tribesmen would be going after an Al Qaeda cell. When the sheik called back in a panic to ask for help, Kuehl joined the fight. His men weren’t sure which Iraqis to shoot at, but the battle went well, and later Kuehl reached an understanding with the commander of the tribal force: he promised to pay the Sunnis, many of them former insurgents, if they submitted to fingerprinting and agreed to work with the Iraqi Army. When Petraeus learned of the deal, his only advice was, “Do not let our Army stop you,” and “Do not let the Iraqi government stop you.”

Counterinsurgency theory holds that military action can only be a precondition for political success. And Robinson readily concedes that President Maliki and other Iraqi national leaders have so far refused to pursue compromise. Indeed, journalists and policy analysts have been reporting that Maliki has reneged on promises to induct Awakening members into the Iraqi Army and police, threatening a return to the Hobbesian violence of 2006. Robinson holds out hope that coming elections will produce a more legitimate government. She supports Petraeus’s preference for a gradual draw-down of forces as the Iraqi Army assumes control of ground-level operations. And she argues that a swifter withdrawal would jeopardize the fragile gains of the last year.

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