20 January 2007

Dropping the dime on the oil-drop

One of the fundamentally amazing things is that so many commentators, thinkers and analysts on the MSM were all looking to 'get the violence off the air' in Iraq and wanted an oil-drop strategy to do so. The idea as put forth by Gary Schmitt, Project for the New American Century, at an American Enterprise Institute forum back in 21 OCT 2003 was this:

Now, what are the key ingredients for successful counterinsurgency strategy? Well, the first one is that your policy has to be coordinated; that is, you're not just conducting a military campaign independent of your economic and political reconstruction. They have to go hand in hand.

When you enter an area militarily, you also have to be entering an area with economic aid, reconstruction aid, and a good deal of political effort to reconstruct the politics in that region. One would have to ask the question in Iraq today whether, in fact, we have that kind of coordination, whether Mr. Bremer's office and the military officers there, in fact, have a coordinated team effort to do this sort of thing.

The second thing that has to happen is, which is one of the more difficult things for Americans to do, is you have to swamp an area. You have to take a lot of troops and put them in a particular area, root out the bad guys, stabilize the area, bring in all of your economic and political aid, stay there for a while, and convince the people in that region that the bad guys aren't going to be on their streets and that you're going to remain until things are settled.

Once you have done that, once you have turned around their expectations, the fence-sitters, then you can leave, and you can leave behind a small contingent of perhaps special forces and also newly trained Iraqi police and military officials, but you don't leave until you are certain that you've got the bad guys out and things are turned around.

Once you've done that, then, of course, you have to move on to another area. You can't do this all at the same time. Now, the problem with this strategy, of course, is it is a slow one. It's a sure way, but it's a slow one. The traditional reference or the traditional way of describing this strategy, of course, is to call it the oil-drop strategy, which is like an oil dropping on a piece of cloth. It gradually hits, and then it keeps hitting, and starts spreading out.

Over time, that's how, in fact, you conduct a counterinsurgency that's effective. It's labor-intensive, and what's more, in this particular context, it actually means that the American presence in particular areas in the Sunni triangle will actually grow, not lessen. So there will be an even increased American face in terms of the occupation. I'm not saying that's an easy thing for people to swallow, but in fact that's the way counterinsurgencies work.
The problem is that this does *not* work in the way that has been outlined for the 'oil drop' portion of it. In point of fact what the US was faced with was an instant de-Ba'athification by the Ba'athists who decamped, en mass from all positions in the military, police, secret police and government. They just *left* and there was nothing that could be done against that, unless you wanted US Forces spending weeks if not months or a year or so actually trying to *chase down* all these folks, force them back and gun point and tell them to get to work.... so that we could replace them immediately with a new set-up. This set of memes that the US had unilaterally 'dismissed' the Ba'athist elements is contrary to the fact that no Iraqi military units actually surrendered, stood down and awaited de-mobilization. Nor did any police organization stick to their posts. Nor the entire government. They were given window dressing of being dismissed, but there was no window left to dress up: soon it would be boarded over and the real work had to start immediately.

The problem of the 'oil drop' is that it first and foremost requires some National capability to execute it. Without that and without the necessary officialdom to actually keep things running, one is left having to rush folks in to try and keep the very basics of electrical generation, food distribution, water supplies and so on going. Oh, you want to actually find the previous government and military to help, too? Lotsa luck!

The US put as much on the ground to try and re-stand up parts of the government, call in anyone who thought that they would survive trying to get back to work and had a lot of busy signals and no pick-ups. The very first miracle of Iraq was that this initial 'get it done' work actually *did* work. You want the looters stopped? Mind telling folks who is going to deliver the food, ensure the electricity is generated, water purified, sewage plants work... and on and on? When Gen. David Patreus started using the Commander's discretionary fund to hire Iraqis to do this work, he was not only facing the 'hearts and minds' part of the deal but the very basic 'how do we survive this?' part of the deal. Of course hiring locals to take care of themselves is a long-term winner...

With those hard and fast limitations on what the US had in the way of actual resources, with limited means in the way of manpower and funds, what are the objectives necessary for success? Well, continuing what you have got going, first. It may be a patchwork solution, but it keeps folks alive. Second, start to get some real local forces trained... but for that you need to have places where you can *get* real local forces. And therein lies the problem of the 'oil drop'.

Lets say that you had those wonderful 500,000 troops that all the naysayers love to cite! I mean, its a great fantasy and would actually *work* if you were willing to bug out of Germany! What? The US keeps 115,000 to 125,000 troops stationed there, depending on rotation status, exercises and such like. In one hit you would have almost instantly doubled the US forces and told Europe: 58 years is enough, you are on your own now.

Next you strip out about half of the Pacific Command... What? They have 100,000 forward deployed and 200,000 in non-forward deployed capability. So stripping out half of the 200,000 would get you pretty close to that lovely 500,000 and throw in the National Guard for the rest! And a year after you had put them in the desert, which would be AUG-OCT 2003 they would all go home leaving you with...

Ah, getting the point now?

So back to the 'oil drop' problems.

To continue on with 150,000 to 180,000 on the ground troops on a multi-year rotation cycle, you realize that something just cannot be done: Cities cannot be addressed as they are true, high manpower affairs for counter-insurgency. What the Multi-National Forces had on the ground could, maybe, quiet down Basra, Umm Qasr and Baghdad. In a couple of years. You would do patrols out into the periphery, do the 'show of force bit' and become the main target for every sniper, IED, and idiot with an AK and a grievance. Outside of the Kurdish provinces and those three areas you would have *nothing*. And the Kurds would have a hard time getting Mosul quieted without major MNF support.

But, you would have gotten the violence off the streets of Baghdad!

And pushed it into every town, village, and outpost in the rest of Iraq outside the Kurdish regions and those direct city areas under MNF control.

The MNF would, indeed, become hated 'occupiers' seen as unwilling to leave the Cities and favoring those tribes and sects in the areas it had control over. The rest of Iraq, by doing that, would be, by default, ceded to the militias, terrorists, insurgents and Ba'athists. You wouldn't have a 'civil war' because none of these groups could even define what a government could look like, so this would degenerate into intense sect to sect and then tribe to tribe battles, leaving cities in ruins or in flames as the MNF would fear shifting out of the Cities it had while trying to get up local forces to actually defend them. Then you would get the entire problem that these locally aligned forces wouldn't give a damn to actually go out and help clear out the insurgents, and depend on the MNF to get that done for them.

I thought the idea was to *not* do that in the long run?

Now, lets say you did have some sort of government formed, backing its military and heavily depending on the MNF for damned near everything. Going out into the non-Kurd, non-city regions then means you are using city forces to quell a countryside. Now, far be it from me to point to a long list of Central and South American, African and some South East Asian Nations that have never actually accomplished that and still live with fighting factions out in villages that contest government control. Even Mexico has *this* problem.

Spreading the oil drop is not done on cloth, but on something more like water. Unfortunately by putting in a few drops, you are also dropping in surfactants and detergent around the oil to start breaking it up in the periphery. Soon that peaceful spread starts to see major break-ups heading back towards the center of the drop and violence returning to cities, like the political bombings and assassinations in South American Nations. And it was all working so well until then!

The United States could not afford a distributed insurgency that would put other cities at peril, turn the countryside against any form of government established in the held cities and require a long, long, long term commitment by the US for decade upon decade. Fighting decades. Losing decades.

What the actual strategy finally used was something coming in at an off-angle to all of that, so as to do something different. The major view of operations after the fall of the Ba'athist regimes was that most of the countryside was quiet. Some of the smaller cities were having problems, the major ones were more or less ok, but not that quiet, and the need to actually get native forces that could *fight* was paramount. Thus the inverted oil drop was born.

First off you did put in infrastructure projects in quiet areas or ones with minimal unrest and involved the Commander's discretionary fund to do so. Minimal combat troops with engineering and construction experience were bolstered by locals hired to help. On the military side you go through the supply lines of the insurgency in Anbar and then up along the Riverine to Tal Afar and start to section off the distributed opposition.

While that is going on the MNF then works in the central areas with the UK in the South East to start doing similar, quieting small cities and towns and hiring folks to get things done. The large push on Mosul was to finally get a division across Iraq and remove the final chance of Syrian and Iranian coordination across the Nation. Recruit for the New Iraqi Army, find anyone reliable that you can get your hands on, and start putting down the basis for a Police and Security Force. Work hard and damned hard to get some sort of political arrangement going.

And rebuild in the small towns, villages and small cities that can be quieted and use new Iraqi forces in those *first* to let them taste combat. The large cities are 'holding actions'. Push all the rest of the Iraqi political, infrastructure and economic side *hard*. Very hard. Let the New Iraqi Army clean out the old ways of thought and begin to start something brand new: a non-partisan Civil Army based on merit. That will take years if not a couple of decades to stand up completely, but their entire 'spin-up' will start to get fighting forces on the ground and give them real combat experience. It takes a hell of a long time to make a capable, trustworthy and competent Army and those are not hallmarks of the Middle East.

Then, slowly, shift operations to the larger cities using mixed Iraqi and MNF troops to start letting the Iraqis take a hand and learn what this fight *takes*. Start to encroach on the cities from firmly held provinces, towns and smaller cities and work damned hard to win the tribes over to the Government side. By doing all of that, concentrating on the tribes, local governance, and competence for the New Iraqi Army, you have a formula that removes the hinterlands from an insurgency. Their violence gets concentrated, very telegenic and has no place else to go.

As Iraqi effectiveness increases, suddenly *more options* appear on how to handle the large cities. One can bring on a new force structure aimed at removing effectiveness from the insurgents and their ability to operate in a cohesive manner. From that 'peacemaking' troops can be sent in for final clear-out of disorganized insurgents partnered with police units and demonstrate effectiveness. Or a neighborhood by neighborhood cleansing could start, but that takes a lot of effective manpower and coordination. This was actually started in mid- to late-AUG 2006 and has been semi-successful in getting the more peaceful outer sections of Baghdad quieted. Or one could craft a 'dislodge and exploit' system that suddenly drops highly effective troops into the bad areas of cities to dislodge insurgents and then pick them off with fast mobile troops guided by overhead recon. Which is what we have now.

All of that gets based upon underlying strategic outlook to hold the peaceful areas of Iraq, work up the New Iraqi Army to demonstrated effectiveness and accountability, start hard on regularizing the Police forces which have had major problems with corruption and continue encroaching on cities. The test of this effectiveness has seen a prelude in Ramadi.

Starting in early 2006 Iraqi Army Troops started to work in and around Ramadi with MNF troops. Working hard to clean out insurgents there was going to be a tedious affair with sudden, hard battles and casualties to follow same. Some areas might see insurgents 'melt away' while others would be held on to by tooth and nail. Setting this up with local buy-in was critical and started before the actual troop arrival. Previous to this Bill Roggio had seen what Ramadi looked like and why it was a critical spot to take and hold as part of the Riverine campaign. By late in 2006, Iraqi Army and Police were working hard to clear Ramadi of IED sources and insurgent sites and caches. By letting Iraqis take the lead, make mistakes, learn from those, and then craft a successful plan, the slow removal of insurgents across Ramadi was being accomplished with minimal MNF support and the Iraqis gained confidence in their own skills and abilities. That work continues in Ramadi, but the Iraqi Army now is getting an idea of what it takes to win and beat insurgents in an urban environment.

The follow-up is, of course, economic with the planning meeting to re-open factories and start getting people employed now that the security situation is getting in control. This is a vital follow-up in counterinsurgency operations, but to have tried to do this when a city was still an insurgent 'hot bed' would have been disastrous, and to not coordinate such with the local tribes likewise a disaster. Factories require steady employment, steady supplies of fuel, water and raw materials and skilled labor to get the work done. So it would not be surprising to see any previous members of the workforce that had been employed there to be given training slots and promotions when things get moving again. Further, locals are now joining up with for the police and are going to be trained to handle the minor problems on their own and know that there is dependable, Iraqi Army capability in case of insurgents infiltrating back into the city. And all of that needs government and local democracy at the town and city level.

The end point is that the insurgency have lost most of Ramadi and now find that they are unwelcome there. Their weapons caches are being found, checkpoints now stop insurgent movements and are, in turn, difficult to attack. It is amazing to see how much the insurgents invested in Ramadi in the way of weapons, explosives, and death dealing implements of all sorts. The police know that they are a part of the community and work hard to give back to it and not be seen like the 'old' police. And the insurgents are seen as dishonorable and abhorrent in their ways to target women and children.

This is a continuous process that goes on in many places in Iraq:

In the border city of Tal Afar the initial good reception of US forces was reinforced over time and the local Iraqis are working hard together with those forces to build anew.

In Abassi working with local, tribal and government officials now forms a cohesive set of projects to involve locals in simple day-to-day affairs such as cleaning up their town. This may seem small, but considering the mosaic of Iraqi tribes, sects and families, all work that establishes local buy-in is critical for the future of the Nation.

From Balad we are now seeing local organizations telling US Forces what needs to be done so that things there can work better for all involved. This is a major objective change-over for those forces so that local control over life there can slowly be put in place and US Forces slowly removed.

An early transition failure in Siniyah is being re-started so that insurgents will not be given an opportunity to infiltrate and attack again. The locals have seen that and want to control their own lives, and so sign up to do so. Iraqis do make mistakes and it is best to get them out of the system *now* when heavy forces can back them up and they can learn what to do without those forces.

In Kirkuk not being able to ensure security has led to insurgency problems and the basics of 'fixing the windows' to restore the rule of law is a basic one, be it in New York City or Kirkuk. Fix the windows and pipes, show you can get the job done and people no longer feel uneasy about their future. A very, very basic lesson that does need to be learned all the way around.

From all of this can be seen an increase in recruitment turnouts for the Iraqi police as these men step forward to start defending their homes and their Nation. The shift over to completely autonomous operations by the police is a slow-go affair as they are even less well equipped than the Iraqi Army is, and yet they still do show up for work to do their jobs in a dangerous environment. Moving from 'rule of the gun' to the 'rule of law' is hard for a People not used to that, but necessary to do and hard to do *right* even in America.

So where is this vaunted 'oil drop'?

Why did so many push for something that could not be done or sustained or even survived?

The 'oil drop' is a recipe for long term disaster if one does not hold the countryside, as those in cities are seen as "outsiders" by folks in the country and the government as not being theirs but 'just that urban thing'. Strange way to build democracy, that 'oil drop'. A great way to get an authoritarian system in place that then uses the difference in demographics and education as a wedge between urban and rural populations.. but not something you particularly would like in a democracy.

Now the insurgents are running out of places to run to.

Out of places to hide.

And if they go to ground there is a high opportunity that their neighbors will 'rat them out'.

It is almost like a strategy or something was going on here....

Perhaps its time to drop a dime on this nefarious 'oil drop' concept, and call it for what it is: a recipe for disaster.

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