Friday, February 23, 2007

Iraq round-up

(photo AP/Guardian) An excellent first hand report of fighting in Baquba from Peter Beaumont in the Guardian (via the Strategist): he describes how the Sunni insurgents use women and children as human shields knowing that the US troops won't fire. Earlier this week, and just down the river in Tarmiya, US forces faced a complex and long lasting assault on their position in that town. As the LA Times notes this shows the difficulties that General Petraeus' "clear and hold" counter-insurgency doctrine is going to face and why, regardless of the politics of "the Surge", it can only work with plenty of troops. The more areas you "clear", the more troops then need to be left there to "hold" that area.

This makes the announced pull-out of most British (and Danish) troops this week all the more noteworthy. Listening to the comments from US administration figures earlier this week on this, and how it was echoed in the US press, I was really quite surprised how polite they were. Of course it would be very churlish to criticize your number one ally in public - and we don't know what they are saying in private - but it seems to be putting a brave face on a rather desperate situation. Paul Rogers makes the case that the UK has, in effect, been pushed and pulled out of Basra (pushed by continuing attacks, pulled by a conglomeration of UK voices that has forced Blair to move now). Handing over Basra to what passes for the Iraqi government there - the various Shi'a militias and parties - seems a really bad idea if for example we are to take the claims of Iranian provision of weapons to Iraqi groups seriously (incidentally, and very ironically, here is claimed evidence of Iranian military support - but not from the US govt. but rather a Sunni insurgent group). The removal of UK troops from the south will just mean US forces will have be stretched even further, or that the Surge is just going to be more balloon-wrestling - where by squeezing the problem in one place, it just pops out somewhere else.

On a more lighthearted note - now we know that Prince Harry is off to Basra to be the last man in - what on earth is Chris Eubanks up to?


Bob Hughes said...

Toby, have you read The Utility of Force by Rupert Smith? I have just finished it and - to a novice, at least - it offers a very interesting insight into the development of military strategy, how force is used and why it isn't working at the moment. Basically we're still set up for industrial inter-state war and are not equipped for "war among the people". Definitely recommended if you haven't already ready it.

If you have read it, I'd be interested in your impression of it.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

It's funny that you ask about that as I noticed that book sitting on my colleague's desk this morning and I picked it up and read the back cover. I'll ask him what he thinks about it. Then just a bit later I saw it mentioned on a blog I was reading. Spooky - I'm clearly being stalked by Rupert Smith!

The strategist said...

Toby - I like your balloon wrestling analogy: very witty and apposite.

I've also read Smith's The Utility of Force and think it an excellent book, full of insights, albeit wordy in places. I thought that his remarks on strategy (formulation of) and counter-guerilla operations are particularly useful, along with (as Bob mentions) Smith's observations about why western armies are finding combating insurgencies so difficult.

A.E. said...

I also like the "balloon-wrestling" metaphor. It's very apt.