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November 14, 2004

On life in the sandbox.

Jeff Quinton points us to this post from a Chaplain serving in Iraq who's asking some understandably hard questions...

And my simple-minded answers ("more boots on the ground with weapons and hostile intent") have been ruled out. They are not needed. Because all of the important people say that we have plenty of troops and the NCA [National Command Authority, ed.]says there has been no request for additional troops. And they are all honorable men.

Well, there is room for argument about more troops, certainly. And I will agree the Pentagon hasn't made it's case effectively (really, mostly choosing not to make the case at all, from what I've seen, but I've had my head down in work for a long time) but a hint of why there aren't more troops on the ground in contained in this nugget from Strategy Page:

IRAQ: Turning Victory Into Defeat at Fallujah

November 14, 2004: The major fighting in Fallujah is over, with about 30 American and Iraqi troops, and over 1,000 anti-government gunmen, dead. There are still several hundred gunmen hiding in different parts of the city, trying to get out. But the night vision devices, and large numbers of American sensors out in the desert surrounding Fallujah, make it very difficult to sneak away. The Arab media are already looking for editorial angles they can use to turn Fallujah into an Arab victory. Despite the fact that phone and cell phone access to the city was cut off when the fighting began, some Arab media are claiming "massive civilian casualties" and a "catastrophe" inside the city. Most Iraqis wanted Fallujah destroyed, seeing the Sunni Arab city as a source of support for over three decades Baath Party tyranny. Fallujah has always been a very religious city, providing support for al Qaeda and the idea of religious war with the rest of the world. This is also unpopular with most Iraqis. But most nations in the region are run by Sunni Arabs, and their media will portray Fallujah as a "martyr" to Sunni Arab ideals (which include persecution of Shias and Kurds, who comprise 80 percent of the Iraqi population.)

Months of intelligence work had concluded that there were some 3,000 armed, hard core fighters in Fallujah. Only about half of those have been killed or wounded. The rest either got away before the battle began, or are among the few hundred gunmen still playing hide and seek with American troops inside the city. Many of the rest went to other cities and attacked local police stations, and set up roadblocks. This has caused a momentary loss of control in some neighborhoods. But these hard core fighters are, like their buddies in Fallujah, going to die out in the open. The death of so many gunmen in such a short time makes it difficult to recruit more of these guys. This has been seen happening before. As a result, the battle of Fallujah is about more than just one city.

Part of the reason there aren't more boots on the ground may be because of the relative success of those already there. 30 Good Guys Dead, vice 1000 Bad Guys dead. Piling more Blue into that fight would probably not have helped, though you can make the arguments about having more troops in the cordon operations around Fallujah would have plugged holes, and certainly would have allowed for simultaneous ops in multiple cities... but there may not be enough reliable Iraqi troops to support a deliberate plan like that (though events in Mosul certainly forced an ad hoc response).

There's no doubt that more troops on the ground would spread the load. Whether or not we would be more effective is a more tenuous question.

I suspect another big reason we don't have more on the ground is an assessment that things wouldn't progress a whole heckuva lot quicker (driven by the intel-gathering process) and we're stretched pretty thin logistically now. Add to that the political decision that apparently was made some time ago to not put the nation of a true war footing. And before you go making disgusted noises, people were going to die anyway, and just throwing more people probably would not have changed that number much - and keeping the economy humming along actually decreases the long-term costs of the war, as long as it's possible.

Now - that's talking about the here and now, I think there are still plenty of arguments about whether or not we should have gone in with more people during the 'major combat operations' phase back in March 2003, though the logistic realities of calling up and training Guard and Reserve troops, the actual through-put of the log system, etc, would have delayed the start of OIF by months... and who knows what Hussein and company might have concocted in that time frame. They were faced with the choice of 'just enough, let's go now' or overwhelming force, lets go later. Many times, the 70% solution, now, is better than the 100% solution, later. History will make that judgment in time.

There's not doubting, however, that planning for post-war was not our finest hour. On the flip side, we haven't had to plan like that since 1945, so we were a little rusty, eh?

Now, to change subjects, well, really, tangents. The Chaplain closed his piece with this:

So, I cease my ponderings and musings for the night. Provided I don't get a mortar in MY trailer tonight, see you tomorrow! From the semi-paradise that is LSA Anaconda, I am your truly confused chaplain, pondering all these imponderables!

Sometimes, it's not mortars. It's rockets. Last week, I got a PowerPoint presentation from a reader, which is a photographic essay on a rocket attack on a 1st Cav installation in Iraq. The rocket failed to arm properly, and didn't explode on contact, but rather went careening through the sandbagged trailers the soldiers live in. I've converted those slides to jpegs and stuck 'em in an album for your perusal. One note - the rocket warhead ended up an a wall-locker. The troops *appear* to have picked it up themselves and moved it outside. Boys and girls, I know something about UXO (unexploded ordnance) and I collect the stuff - but I would leave things like that to the EOD guys - and not pick it up and dump it outside! Click the picture to go to the album - select the first picture in the album and then select slideshow from the menu. Or whatever ya want.

Hat tip to he who asked to be Not Named.