Wednesday, January 05, 2005

How Many Troops Would It Take to Defeat the 200,000-strong Guerrilla Insurgency?

James Hider of the Times quotes General Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani, director of Iraq’s new intelligence services: "I think the resistance is bigger than the US military in Iraq. I think the resistance is more than 200,000 people" ("Iraqi Insurgents Now Outnumber Coalition Forces," January 4, 2005). Explaining the roots of insurgency, General Shahwani refreshingly eschews propaganda:
"People are fed up after two years without improvement," he [Shahwani] said. "People are fed up with no security, no electricity, people feel they have to do something. The army (dissolved by the American occupation authority) was hundreds of thousands. You'd expect some veterans would join with their relatives, each one has sons and brothers" (Hider, January 4, 2005)
General Shahwani, however, overlooks the question of self respect that comes from refusal of slavish submission to an imperial power, which sustains the morale of resistance fighters and motivates even Iraqis who are not involved in armed resistance to identify with them rather than the occupiers. The anecdote that Christian Parenti relates below illustrates the force of identification:
Then it begins: The ammunition in the burning Humvee starts to explode and the troops in the street start firing. Armored personnel carriers arrive and disgorge dozens of soldiers from the 82nd Airborne to join the fight. The target is a three-story office building just across from the engulfed Humvee. Occasionally we hear a few rounds of return fire pass by like hot razors slashing straight lines through the air. The really close rounds just sound like loud cracks.

"That's Kalashnikov. I know the voice," says Ahmed, our friend and translator. There is a distinct note of national pride in his voice -- his countrymen are fighting back -- never mind the fact that we are now mixed in with the most forward US troops and getting shot at. (emphasis added, "Stretched Thin, Lied to & Mistreated," The Nation, October 6, 2003)
Keep in your mind that Iraqi soldiers and policemen hired by Washington are denied the same sense of self respect. And that affects the morale. According to the General Accounting Office's report to Congress, the desertion rates of Iraqi units have been extraordinarily high, exceeding 80% in western Iraq -- see "Table VI.2: Iraqi Civil Defense Corps Desertion from April 2 to April 16" of the GAO's Report to Congressional Committees, "Rebuilding Iraq: Resource, Security, Governance, Essential Services, and Oversight Issues" (GAO-04-902R, June 2004, p. 59). The lack of morale cannot be solved by General George Casey, Jr.'s proposal to "add hundreds of American military advisers to work directly with Iraqi units" (Eric Schmitt, "U.S. Weighs Proposal to Help Iraq's Military," New York Times/International Herald Tribune, January 5, 2004).

James T. Quinlivan, a military analyst and senior mathematician at RAND Corporation, demonstrated that, even in the absence of powerful armed resistance, "successful strategies for population security and control have required force ratios either as large as or larger than 20 security personnel (troops and police combined) per thousand inhabitants" in the context of foreign occupation, "roughly 10 times the ratio required for simple policing of a tranquil population" ("Burden of Victory: The Painful Arithmetic of Stability Operations," RAND Review, Summer 2003):
Successful Nation-Building Usually Requires 20 Troops per Thousand Population
(Quinlivan, Summer 2003)
And when the colonial occupier meets a powerful guerrilla insurgency?
In 1952 [Major General Robert] York had by chance been assigned for three and a half years as the U.S. Army observer of the British campaign to suppress the guerrilla revolt by the Chinese minority in Malaysia. The lessons he had learned there led him to suspect prior to coming to Vietnam that the task of defeating the Viet Cong was going to be a lot more difficult than his fellow generals thought.

The British had held a twenty-to-one advantage in police and troops against a guerrilla force that never numbered more than 10,000, including its civilian support apparatus, a fraction of the Viet Cong armed strength and its civilian support apparatus, and they had had the racial antagonism of the Malay majority toward the Chinese in their favor as well. The war had still lasted twelve years. (emphasis added, Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, 1989)
Based on the record of British Malaya, it would take 4 million US troops more than a decade to put down the 200,000-strong guerrilla force in Iraq, if (a big if) Washington successfully alienates the Shiite majority from the Sunnis by the lure of an electoral path to power and actually grants them independence ("in Malaya, the center of gravity was targeted not by jungle patrolling, but by the political decision to grant independence" [Gavin Bulloch, "Military Doctrine and Counterinsurgency: A British Perspective," Parameters: US Army War College Quarterly 26.2, Summer 1996]).

Can Washington, already struggling to find enough recruits to keep 150,000 troops in Iraq, come up with 8 million troops (roughly the number necessary to deploy 4 million in Iraq and manage troop rotation at the current pace)? Not without the draft. The longer it stays in Iraq, the worse it will fail.


Anonymous said...

Your statistics are impossibly wrong. In a MOUT environment (military operations on urban terrain), a 200,000 strong force would rend a 150,000 conventional force fighting house-to-house, particularly in an environment when small arms and explosives are readily available. As an Army intel officer who served in Iraq during OIF1, I know full well the insurgency is not 200,000, but far smaller (unless you count Muslim extremists in other countries).

Watch your statistics and be careful you're reporting real facts, not guestimations designed to undermine the legitimate US government administration. Regardless of what you think of Bush administration policies and activities, you cannot pretend to be pro-democracy and patriotic if you support Islamic extremism and shout down the courageous efforts of the US military and Iraqi civilians who have defied international jeering to establish the first coup d'etat and fledgling democracy in Mesopotamia.

We've ignored and enabled genocide and totalitarianism long enough, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Toby Dodge testified before the Committee on Foreign Relations April 20, 2004. His research (in country) identified three components to the insurgent community -- little of it from outside Iraq. First a "mafia" that developed in the 90s which is simliar to the mafia in russia. They specialize in kidnapping, etc. Second, members of the apparatus that protected Hussein, a shadow government that still functions in many ways because it was never dismantled or redirected. Third a religious/nationalist insurgent popultation. A year in advance, he outlined the tactics and strategies we now see. This large "community" of insurgency and criminal unrest is something 150,000 US troops can't control.

Read his report for interesting details and predictions