Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge

Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge

Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge

An American officer confronts the realities of war and politics during a year with the 61st Cavalry in Iraq


The Iraq Troop Surge Strategy

With all the recent reports about the President’s soon-to-be-unveiled Iraq troop surge strategy, there has been much speculation about exactly what a surge would like, with estimates ranging anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 additional soldiers. To get an idea of where the President might be heading, we should examine a recent proposal by American Enterprise Institute Resident Scholar Frederick Kagan.

“Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq” was unveiled on December 15, 2006 as a recommended course of action for establishing security and bringing about peace and stability in the war-ravaged country. The plan rightly discounts the notion of a rapid withdrawal, warning that failure in Iraq would likely lead to the following consequences: widespread regional conflict; humanitarian catastrophe; terrorist sanctuaries; further radicalization of the Muslim world; loss of American credibility globally; and damage to the morale of the U.S. military. The plan also notes that the current strategy is not working, and that the violence is escalating faster than we are training Iraqis to control it.

Written by Kagan, retired Generals Jack Keane and David Barno, and several other contributors, “Choosing Victory” has as its basic argument that security must be established first, before any forward progress, economic or political, can be made in Iraq. To provide the security that the plan calls for, Kagan proposes an increase in the number of U.S. combat troops for a period of between 18 and 24 months. The surge would consist of over 30,000 combat soldiers and marines, plus the required support elements needed to sustain their operations.

The first, and most obvious question, is where will the troops come from? Kagan’s plan proposes extending the Iraq rotations for Army Brigade Combat Teams to 15 months, and extending the Marine Corps’ Regimental Combat Team tours to 12 months. The accelerated deployment of four combat brigades, along with the tour extensions for units already scheduled for deployment, would allow the U.S. military to put an additional four to five brigades in Baghdad (the center of gravity, according to the plan), doubling the size of the U.S. force currently there. At the same time, an additional two Marine Regimental Combat Teams would be deployed to the volatile al-Anbar Province, providing extra security in that Sunni insurgent hot spot.

“Choosing Victory” would deploy the first wave of forces by March 2007, with preparations for offensive security operations lasting until June. Then the surge in forces would allow U.S. commanders to go on the offensive, securing Baghdad by the fall of 2007. Once neighborhoods within Baghdad have been secured, U.S. forces would hand over security for the cleared areas to Iraqi soldiers and police. Simultaneously, the plan says, a massive reconstruction effort should be undertaken to provide a significant improvement in the quality of life of cleared sectors.

It is an ambitious plan, to say the least, and one which has thus far been met with much criticism. The American public has demonstrated of late that it does not have the stomach for this fight, an attitude that Kagan says must be changed. He calls for a national commitment to the war, with both the military and the public understanding that deployments will be longer and that National Guard units may return to the fight sooner than expected, a fight that will see increased casualties as we step up the effort to secure Baghdad.

All indications are that President Bush is leaning considerably toward a strategy that will be very similar to Kagan’s plan. But the mood of the nation is not on the side of Kagan or the President. No matter how well he presents his strategy, President Bush will not find the support that he needs and that “Choosing Victory” calls for. The result will be a serious confrontation between the Executive and Legislative branches, testing our system of government and our national resolve. Who will win? I don’t know. But I can tell you who will lose: the men and women of our armed forces who continue to valiantly serve their nation in a vicious environment while the citizens and leaders of this great country try to figure out what to do next.

Iraq, Iran and the President’s Troop Surge

When President Bush unveiled his new strategy for dealing with the ongoing violence in Iraq, he made it a point to reinforce a fact that he and the rest of the world have known for some time now: that Iran and Syria are directly responsible for fomenting violence in Iraq to further their regional interests and, in the case of Iran, to consolidate the position of the Iran-friendly Shi’a. In reality, Syria is just a side-show. It is Iran that the message was really directed at.

The President went further in his message to the world than just re-stating the obvious. He put the clerics in Tehran on notice, saying “We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran…,” letting the Islamic Republic know that the United States intended to put a stop to, or at least degrade the Persian influence in its neighbor’s internal affairs.

Almost immediately after the President spoke to the nation from a library inside the White House, American military forces in Iraq raided an Iranian consular office in the city of Irbil, detaining several Iranian citizens. Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve sent Tehran a message about its activities in Iraq. But in the past, we haven’t been taken seriously. This time, though, may be different.

Think about it. I’m sure the Iranians, along with everyone else, expected the United States to start drawing down its forces in the region. Instead, the President did the opposite of what everyone was telling him. Instead, he decided to increase the U.S. presence in Iraq and ease the restrictiveness of the Rules of Engagement that our forces have been operating under. Surely that’s not what the Iranians expected, or wanted.

All of a sudden people in the United States and in Iran are wondering if the President is shifting some of his focus to another member of the “Axis of Evil,” with American Senators warning Mr. Bush to stay out of Iran and Arab governments in the Middle East getting nervous because the United States was not doing what they expected, although secretly these Arab states are quite content for President Bush to take on the rising influence of the Shia in the region.

Surely Iran has to be giving this turn of events some serious thought. The Islamic Republic is in turmoil right now, with the cleric and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reportedly losing his fight with cancer, and the future of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in some doubt as internal criticism of his administration increases. On top of the troubles within Iran’s borders, the United Nations voted to impose sanctions on Tehran, even though the agreed upon package was a considerably watered down version of what the United States wanted. Now President Bush, leader of the “Great Satan,” is ramping up the pressure and nobody is really sure what’s coming next.

Maybe the increase in American forces in Baghdad and al-Anbar Province, along with the President’s promise of increased action against Iran, will have the effect of making Tehran think twice about its involvement in Iraq. Maybe the Iranians will take the gains they have made thus far, which are considerable, and decide that their strategic position cannot get much better than it is right now. If so, the President’s troop surge may turn out to be a good move after all, both for quelling some of the violence in Iraq and for giving the Iranians pause about U.S. intentions in the region.

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