Armies don’t grow on trees

The geniuses behind the Iraq invasion and more recently, the surge, have never come to grips with a fundamental principal – resources are finite.

Over the past six months, American troops have died in Iraq at the highest rate since the war began, an indication that the conflict is becoming increasingly dangerous for U.S. forces even after more than four years of fighting.

Conquering countries like Iraq and Afghanistan is one things, occupation is quite another. Not only are occupations expensive, but they typically fail.

Two events of the past week illustrated the increasing stresses and strains on the US military as it tries to sustain both its “surge” in Iraq and its overall military presence in Iraq.

On April 9, the Pentagon named four National Guard brigade combat teams it plans to send back to Iraq. These four units have all seen action in the past few years, making this the kind of guard redeployment not seen since World War II.

Before the surge, the frustrations of the occupation was described as stepping on a water balloon. While immediate assaults on a particular area may yield short term results, the insurgents woul merely strike elsewhere. After four years of this, along came Frederick Kagan and decided that the way to put an end to this was to maintain a permanent presence on every street corner in Baghdad. Makes some sense, except for the fact there simply are not enough troops to do it. Not only are troops required to man those positions, but those troops have to be circulated or the army will break.

Even worse is that by focusing on Baghdad, the occupation runs the risk of being encircled. All those troops need to be fed. All those Humvees and tanks need fuel to run. The only supply route is the 400 mile road from Kuwait to Baghdad, which is barely protected. If Al Sadr and his Mahdi arm decide to start attacking those convoys, things could become desperate for the occupation.

John Damien puts it in plain terms.

The surge of stupidity in Baghdad continues with predictable results. Lots of casualties, a displacement of violence to the outskirts of the capital, no improvement in the security situation. If anything, the situation has deteriorated even more quickly in the last month than before. The signal event was last week’s Green Zone bombing. If there was any lingering doubt, that bombing clarified the situation; the US controls nothing in Iraq.

The surge isn’t going to work because it was wrong to begin with. The first rule for an occupier fighting an insurgency is that you can’t win by killing insurgents. Killing insurgents is easy and makes it feel like you are doing something, but its a trap. Since the occupiers can’t tell the difference between the insurgents and their neighbors, there is a lot of collateral damage. That collateral damage breeds opposition, polarization and more insurgents. That’s why the first rule for resiting an occupation is to provoke the occupier. The ignorance of American soldiers, especially their total lack of ability to communicate in Arabic, makes this task easier.… 

In the end, the occupation is damned if it does, and damned if it doesn’t.

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