Today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has a great article by Greg Jaffe and Chris Cooper about the tradeoffs being made by commanders on the ground in Iraq between site security and other missions. In the aftermath of deadly car bombings, many have called for the deployment of U.S. soldiers as security around key sites -- police stations, large mosques, government centers, power stations, et cetera. As we have a finite number of soldiers on the ground, the dedication of U.S. troops to these sites takes away from the available pool of soldiers who can conduct offensive missions.
Careful to say they are not short of troops now, commanders conceded that they are under ever-greater pressure to siphon off troops for defense, as civilians, foreign governments and U.S. politicians clamor for better security. While a United Nations resolution just offered by the U.S. may lead to an agreement to bring foreign reinforcements to Iraq, the Pentagon is concerned the wait may be long.Analysis: I can tell you from experience that this is a really tough balancing act. On the one hand, you have critical sites and high-value assets that must be protected. Some of these are Iraqi sites; others belong to the U.S. But if you leave these unprotected, it's almost a sure thing that the enemy will attack them. And if you lose these things (e.g. U.S. command post), you risk a major tactical or operational setback. So you have to dedicate the assets to protecting these sites.
Quick relief from the U.N. appears unlikely. Thursday, both French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder dismissed the U.S.'s proposed U.N. resolution as inadequate. Mr. Chirac said that while his government is "naturally ready to study" the resolution, he said it was "quite far removed from what we believe is the priority objective, which is the transfer of political responsibility to an Iraqi government as quickly as possible." Mr. Schroeder opposed the idea that the U.S. -- not the U.N. -- should oversee political developments in Iraq.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez warned Thursday that international forces would be needed to help tackle looming security threats, such as Iranian fighters or possible conflict between Iraq's Sunni and Shiite Muslims. "If a militia or an internal conflict of some nature were to erupt ... that would be an additional security challenge out there that I do not have sufficient forces for," Gen. Sanchez said. "There are security challenges that are looming in the future that will require additional forces, and those are issues that with the coalition, and with time, can be resolved," he said.
On the other hand, you can't win a counter-insurgency fight by playing good defense. The way to win a guerilla war is to go on offense -- to gather intelligence, find the enemy, hunt them down, and capture or kill them. If you devote too many troops to this mission, you take away from your ability to prosecute the offensive part of the fight. Commanders and planners are trained to evaluate the operational risk entailed in both courses of action, and it's a safe bet that this balance is being looked at daily to make sure we get it right.
To add another level of complexity, there's a paradox in anti-terrorism planning which goes like this: The more you protect the hard targets, the more you have to worry about the soft targets. Our enemy is not stupid. Al Qaeda has typically chosen its targets after careful reconnaissance designed to determine the vulnerability of their intended target. If we protect something they want to hit, they'll either change methods or change targets. Our jihadist enemies may want to become martyrs, but they don't want to fail in their attacks.
So how do we strike this balance? As always, it's easier said than done. The most important thing is to gather, analyze and produce good intelligence to aid the commander in making these tradeoffs. The second most important thing is to have sufficient resources on the ground so you don't have to guard too few things in order to leave yourself some offensive capability. And the third thing is to constantly reevaluate these decisions in light of new threat information. I think we're doing these things, save some residual concerns about having enough troops in Iraq to do everything we need to do.