Streetwise Professor

July 27, 2008

Necessary Condition

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 10:09 pm

The Air Force is incorrigible. It overpromises what air power can do in the advance of wars; claims that air power is responsible for every victory; and rationalizes every failure of air power as the result of its misuse by misunderstanding civilians and army types. The latest case in point is this gem from Rick Andres, Special Assistant to just unceremoniously fired Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne:

Something I’ve often heard Rick say, and I believe he is correct, is that the Army does not understand air power. Often their plans minimize its use, and their after action reports under report its effectiveness. Case in point, the surge in Iraq. While sitting in Ricks E ring office, he asked me point blank whether or not I believed a 20% increase (or “surge”) in troop strength could really make much difference to the situation. It was obviously a baited question, but it wasn’t one I had to think about much. To my mind, the increase could not have been that effective; there had to have been some fundamental doctrinal change in order for that small an increase to have had the dramatic effect that it’s had. Prior to this discussion, I’d already been pondering the issue for some time.

Sadly, civilians like me who do not have a clearance are left to fend for themselves when it comes to gathering information. Between the coverage of American Idol contestants and Britney Spears’ mental condition, we’re occasionally treated to an update of what’s going on in the world. Taken at face value, all we ever needed in Iraq was an extra 20% troop strength and we’d have had the place stabilized years ago. Unfortunately the penetrating analysis of CNN only goes about that far, but the more discerning among us know that that cannot possibly be the whole story.

But the Army hasn’t helped the perception. According to them, those extra boots on the ground was all that it took to better stabilize the country. Patraeus has even said as much in his testimony to congress and in the reports he’s signed off on in the field. So here is where Rick drops the bomb.

Rick’s office was unconvinced. So they initiated an investigation to see exactly what had changed, other than boots on the ground. As is turned out, not only had the number of troops on the ground increased by 20%, but air strike missions had also increased by 400%. What’s more, air munitions released had increased by over 1000%, all since the beginning of the surge.

What had changed was clear. It wasn’t the extra boots on the ground that was turning the tide, it was the increase in HUMINT and the ability to hit a target with precision munitions from the air within a time frame of only 7 minutes. Gatherings as small as only 3 insurgents were being targeted for strikes, while predators and forces on the ground monitored the movements of any suspected insurgent. This aggressive doctrinal change was preventing insurgents from gathering, planning, and pulling off operations. It was classic COIN (Counterinsurgency) operations, conducted almost entirely from the air. But if we accept the Army’s version of things, it never happened.

To the logically challenged: the increase in manpower was a necessary condition for the increase in HUMINT. Increasing combat manpower was a precondition for taking the initiative against the insurgents in Iraq. What Petraeus did was put all elements of American power to work in an integrated operational plan. Obviously he understood the role of HUMINT and air power–this is self-evident from the very fact that Mr. Andreas touts, namely, the increased use of both throughout the surge campaign. But these elements would not have been sufficient without the increase in groundpounders, and the more aggressive employment of American (and Iraqi) infantry and armor. Indeed, the increase in American ground presence was necessary to develop the additional HUMINT, and created a virtuous cycle. More troops, more aggressively employed, wrested the initiative from the enemy, and increased the take of prisoners, informants, and documentary and electronic information. These in turn led to better targeting of fires and raids, which generated more intelligence . . .

The overall mistake that Andreas makes is to reduce the Surge to the increase in manpower. It was much more than that. The Air Force was a major part of what was accomplished, and Andreas slanders Petraeus for not understanding the role of intelligence and air power when the evidence–the very evidence that Andreas cites–proves the exact opposite. He developed an operational plan that used these tools brilliantly–and also recognized that this operational plan required additional elements of combat power above and beyond air power. And Bush, to his credit, had the political courage to commit these elements.

This is what makes Petraeus different than the Air Force. Like all great commanders, he recognizes that success on the battlefield requires the integrated employment of complementary arms. Fires alone do not win battles. Close combat alone does not win battles. Intelligence alone does not win battles. But fires (delivered from the sky or from artillery) integrated with aggressive employment of armor and infantry, all guided by accurate intelligence, is a deadly combination. Monoculture militaries do not win battles. Combined armed militaries don’t either, if those arms do not work together. The Air Force hasn’t learned this lesson in the 60 odd years of its existence, and the peevish remarks of an aide to a disgraced service secretary are just another illustration of that fact. The Jupiter Complex lives.

Mr. Andreas is not the only person challenged by the basic logical concept of a necessary condition. Someone far more consequential–Barack Obama–is too. In his effort to distract attention from his demonstrably wrong ex ante judgment on the efficacy of Petraeus’s strategy, Obama has argued that the Anbar Awakening, and its extension to the remainder of the Iraq, rather than the Surge, was the key to victory–a victory that Obama said repeatedly was impossible. (His recent Orwellian attempts to rewrite history would make the editors of Soviet encyclopedias proud.)

Two points. First, since the Anbar Awakening began before the Surge–and that indeed is the crux of Obama’s argument about the irrelevance of the Surge–if it was such an obvious turning point, why was Obama such a defeatist in 2006-2007?

Second, the Awakening depended on the aggressive actions of the US Marines in Anbar, and its extension beyond the borders of Anbar also required the protection provided by American troops. The insertion of additional combat brigades, and the more aggressive use of those troops and the forces already there, were necessary to provide the security required to make Sunni tribal leaders confident to cast their lot with us. They certainly weren’t going to do it by themselves. Only when they became confident that we had their backs, and that they could call on our cavalry, were they willing to take on Al Qaeda.

In other words, the Awakening movement was just another complementary element in an overall operational plan. It wasn’t a sufficient condition for victory, any more than just dropping more bombs was.

So the truth about the Surge is this. Many factors contributed to victory. The brilliance of the Surge is that it identified these factors, integrated their employment in ways that exploited the advantages in each, and amassed all elements of American and Iraqi combat power in a focused way. The Surge was much more than the sum of its parts, and it was certainly much more than the increase in American ground strength. But that increase was the keystone in the arch, the element without which all of the others would have been wasted–the necessary condition.

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