Sunday, April 08, 2007

Wash Post: Commanders Says It Will Take Years, Not Months, To Measure "Surge" Progress

When the preznut and his Republican apologists (+ Joe Lieberman) starting hawking the troop surge policy, the American people were led to believe that the length of time the additional U.S. troops would be needed in Iraq would be months, not years. But now it is starting to sound like the administration and the military commanders knew all along it would take years for the "surge" to have any impact on conditions on the ground in Iraq:

An official in Iraq warned that executing the new approach will take time -- perhaps more than Washington is willing to give. "Early signs are very encouraging -- huge drop in sectarian killings in Baghdad, return of thousands of refugee families," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity so that he could be candid. "But there is no way we can defeat this insurgency by summer. I believe we can begin to turn the tide by then, and have an idea if we are doing it. To defeat it completely is a five-to-10-year project, minimum -- and rushing it along to meet a D.C. timeline is rushing to failure."

The Post reports that violence and sectarian killings are down in Baghdad but rising elsewhere and each optimistic sign that the surge has helped conditions in Baghdad is offset by equally pessimistic signs that conditions continue to worsen elsewhere around the country:

In Baghdad, there are a few signs of improvement, but they tend to be offset by worrisome indications elsewhere in Iraq. Sectarian killings are down about 50 percent since the new strategy began, according to U.S military spokesmen. Car bombings are up, but so are tips from Iraqis. It is impossible to know how much of the decrease in violence is attributable to the biggest Shiite militia -- radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army -- deciding to lie low. In addition, noted a U.S. Army officer preparing for his third Iraq tour, when one side in a war alters its tactics, the other side usually will take time to study the shift and assess vulnerabilities before renewing attacks. Also, in Anbar province, there are solid indications of tribal leaders turning against al-Qaeda extremists.

But, reported one Special Forces veteran who has worked in Iraq in the military and as a civilian, "the surge in Baghdad is pushing the sectarian violence to other parts of Iraq." That is one reason for the increased fighting in nearby Diyala province that led U.S. commanders to send in a Stryker battalion that was part of the troop buildup. Likewise, the Marine Corps' new success in Anbar appears to have forced some al-Qaeda fighters to shift to Mosul, Baqubah and Tall Afar, which in 2006 was hailed as a U.S. success story but in the past month has been the scene of a horrific truck bombing and revenge killings by Shiite police. Also, a military intelligence officer warned of other troubling signs outside Baghdad: Kirkuk edging closer to explosion, the Turks increasingly unhappy with Kurdish activity, and an impending British drawdown in the south that could make U.S. supply lines from Kuwait more vulnerable.

The bottom line, according to the Post article, is that without political reconciliation, conditions will never substantially improve in Iraq:

Major questions remain about the sustainability of any positive momentum. Military operations can buy time but cannot solve the basic problem in Iraq: the growing threat of a civil war. The U.S. government keeps pushing for reconciliation, but there are few signs of movement toward that goal. "Nothing is going to work until the parties are ready to compromise, and I don't see any indicators yet that they are," said A. Heather Coyne, who has worked in Iraq both as a military reservist and as a civilian. "Until then, any effect of the surge will be temporary."

So there you have it. The "surge" is really an "escalation" of additional troops to Iraq that is designed to buy time for a political reconciliation that shows little chance of happening.

More likely, the policy was designed to buy time for the Bush administration to make it look like they are doing something substantial in Iraq and to give them the ammunition to tar war critics as "surrender monkeys" for not giving the "surge" the chance to work (as Preznut Bush and some of his minions like John McCain and Holy Joe Lieberman have done over the last few weeks.)

Yet according to military commanders on the ground in Iraq, years will be needed to give the surge the real chance to work, not months. Why didn't Bush and McCain and Lieberman and the rest explain that when they were pushing the American people to support the preznut's new surge policy?

Also, can 40,000 additional troops (because the original 21,500 figure is now closer to the 40,000 range) actually be maintained in Iraq for the long haul given the overstretched conditions of the army already? The Pentagon just called up 12,000 National Guard troops for deployment over to Iraq "to fill gaps in the overworked army." How much damage will the escalation do to the army before the Pentagon is able to add additional men and women to the armed forces over the next few years?

And one final question: are 40,000 additional troops (about 175,000 overall) enough to change military conditions on the ground in Iraq for the better? Or will the U.S. military simply be playing whack a mole on a bigger map than in the past? So far, it seems like it like the latter. Here's the news from Iraq today:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A pickup truck packed with artillery shells was detonated Sunday near a hospital south of Baghdad, killing at least 15 people. The blast left a crater 10 yards wide, the Iraqi military said.

Separately, the U.S. military on Sunday announced the deaths of four American soldiers, killed a day earlier in an explosion near their vehicle in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.


The four U.S. soldiers killed Saturday were assigned to Task Force Lightning, the U.S. military said in a statement. A fifth soldier was wounded in the blast.

Diyala province, which lies northeast of Baghdad, has seen a spike in attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces since the start of a plan two months ago to pacify the capital. Officials believe militants have streamed out of Baghdad to invigorate the insurgency in areas just outside the city.

Even if the U.S. military has enough force to lock down much of Baghdad for an extended period of time (and there is no guarantee that they do), there does not seem to be nearly enough force to lock down the country as a whole (and what kind of military force would that take? 400,000? 500,000?) So the U.S. military plays whack a mole and knocks down the violence in one section of Iraq only to have it rise elsewhere.

Which brings us back to the overall efficacy of a military escalation that seems to be too little, too late to bring any real positive change to a country that seems incapable of political reconciliation and is only being carried out to give politicians in the Republican Party (+ Holy Joe Lieberman) some political cover to make someone else order the inevitable retreat from Iraq.

I found an interesting statistic while trying to account for the descrepency between the official count of evacs vs. an off-the-cuff figure given by an expert -- there have been 19,200 medevacs for "disease". Given that our troops left here young, healthy and physically fit, just what might account for all these diseases? Only one thing comes to mind -- that this number is composed primarily of PTSD victims, specifically those who had total breakdowns over there as opposed to those first diagnosed when they returned to the US. It can only get worse, as more and more experience their third and fourth deployment.

Bush's explanation for his disillusioned aide leaving the administration, that the man was distraught because his son was about to be shipped out to Iraq, was particularly disengenuous, I thought. It's likely to backfire, though, once the reality sinks in in the communities that supply troops for this war. I can hear some Kentucky auto mechanic now, saying "Hail Far! I'm dis-whatever, too. I don't want my boy coming home in some G-D body bag, or without an arm, or with his nerves so shot that he just lies in bed for months at a time. It ain't near worth it." See what happens to enlistment figures then.
kicksiron, that's an excellent surmise of what some of the 19,200 "disease medevacs" might be - this administration has done everything in their power to hide the human cost of the war. No photos of returning coffins. No photos of wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Manipulated stats. Shameless really. But America went along w/ it for a long, long time. It's only now that the poll numbers show people aren't buying the spin from the admin on things like casualties.
Now I'm really confused. Didn't we accomplish the mission 3 years ago?
I believe the Mission Accomplished Incident (as it is no doubt referred to in the Bush 2 White House) was May 2003, nyc. That means we accomplished it four years ago! Whoo-hoo!!! Hooray for us!!!
I realized what the answer must be after reading an interview with a nurse who had suffered a complete breakdown after losing a patient, a young boy that she had been desperate to save. She went up to the hospital roof, and was sobbing and thinking about just stepping off, when a coleague found her and got her on the next medevac out. How many of the non-combat injuries and deaths are people who, just like that nurse, simply couldn't take it any more, but weren't lucky enough to be saved?

Those of us who have never experienced the daily horror that is war can't comprehend, cannot even imagine, what it does to a person's soul. The Administration's detatchment, and their selling that same detatchment to the public, is criminal, and could never have been done by someone who has actually experienced battle. Maybe that's why we so often elect people who have wartime military service to public office -- we trust they know to avoid wasting our children's lives.
You would think that guys who never served would be more careful before starting wars for b.s reasons. Now I know the wingers all screamed about Clinton's use of the military in Bosnia and Mogadishu and there are certainly arguments to be made against Clinton's use of the U.S. military to help nation build.

Strangely enough, many of those same wingers were right on board when TANG George and 5 Deferments Cheney decided to concoct some bullshit reasons for the war in iraq. Even though it may nation-building. Something they used to hate. Until Dick and George decided to do it.
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