Everyone who’s talking about Iraq is talking about “the surge” and whether it will work. Taken literally, that’s a silly question. Of course the surge will work: The surge is just a troop movement. It’s difficult to move 21,500 troops—and everything they need to fight a war—to the other side of the world, but it’s the kind of difficult thing the U.S. military is very, very good at. It’s going to happen.
So the surge will work, but the surge is not the plan. Baghdad is the plan. Instead of talking about the surge, we should be talking about the Baghdad strategy.
The plan is to secure Baghdad. Our troops will attempt to kill or chase away most of the enemy insurgents and prevent them from re-entering the city. Planners say that will require putting five additional bridades of U.S. soldiers into Baghdad. Rather than pulling those soldiers away from other duties in Iraq, the plan is to keep our existing forces in place and bring in additional troops to support the additional operations in Baghdad. That’s the surge.
If you think this would have been more effective three or four years ago, you’re in good company. A lot of people who support the broad goals of the war are not happy with the way it’s been fought. (I haven’t followed the war in detail for a long time, so I can’t claim to have been calling for reform, but it did seem like our military goals became a lot less clear after the first few months. I assumed it was just me, and maybe it was.) I’m sure the historians will figure out how it went wrong, but I think it’s more than just a coincidence that the U.S. military is once again seizing the initiative now that Rumsfeld is gone.
Our new Baghdad forces will be accompanied by a large portion of the new Iraqi army, bringing the total of additional forces in the capital city to over 40,000. Smaller forces will be sent to help pacify Anbar Province and to interdict enemy infiltration into Iraq over the borders with Syria and Iran.
Actually, some of this activity has already started:
U.S. and Iraqi troops moved into a Sunni neighborhood in southern Baghdad on Thursday, while insurgents struck back with car bombs that killed seven people. In southern Iraq, British troops sealed off the border with Iran to prevent weapons smuggling.
Helicopters buzzed overhead as a joint U.S.-Iraqi force headed into the Dora neighborhood – a longtime Sunni militant area – on the second day of a long-awaited security operation in the capital, according to Iraqi officials. U.S. troops searched three Shiite areas Wednesday, meeting little resistance in house-to-house searches.
The Interior Ministry also said U.S. and Iraqi forces were sweeping through four main districts, including Sunni and Shiite areas, seizing weapons and ammunitions.
It’s unfortunate that so much of the focus in the media and in Congress has been on the surge rather than on the new strategy the surge is supporting. It has lead to a lot of discussion about the number of troops in Iraq, with very little discussion of what they should be doing there.
I don’t know much about military matters, so I have no idea how the new strategy will work out. Maybe it will work, maybe it’s too late, and maybe it would never have worked. But it’s what we should be talking about.