February 01, 2008

Mansoor and Gentile on SWJ

As CK and Abu Aardvark have both pointed out to your blogging team, there's a pretty heated (and intelligent) debate going down on the Small Wars Journal message boards on counterinsurgency strategy. No points for guessing who Abu Muqawama sides with in the debate between Gian Gentile and Pete Mansoor, but like we said, the debate is high quality and thought-provoking on both sides.

Some excerpts:

Gentile: During the year I commanded a combat battalion in West Baghdad in 2006, some of the soldiers in our outfit were wounded and some were killed, but we did not fail. In my opinion we succeeded.

We cleaned up garbage, started to establish neighborhood security forces, rebuilt schools and killed or captured hostile insurgents, both Shiite and Sunni. Our fundamental mission was to protect the people. Other combat outfits we served alongside did the same.

In this sense there is little difference between what American combat soldiers did in 2006 and what they are now doing as part of the "surge." The only significant change is that, as part of the surge strategy, nearly 100,000 Sunnis, many of them former insurgents, were induced to stop attacking Americans and were put on the U.S. government payroll as allies against Al Qaeda...

Mansoor: The troops did not fail in 2006, but the strategy did. Gian Gentile is wrong when he writes about 2006, "Our fundamental mission was to protect the people." In fact, the fundamental mission in 2006 was to transition the mission to Iraqi forces. And there were not just "fewer Combat Outposts" in Iraqi neighborhoods in 2006; in fact, there were almost none.

Gentile's troops were forced to try to protect the Iraqi people by commuting from Camp Victory and other large bases on the periphery of the city. I contend that this is the reason why the local Iraqis did not side with his battalion, or others in the city, and why were willing to side with U.S. forces in the same neighborhoods a year later. The fact is that a year after his battalion left, our troops were living among the local inhabitants, not driving by on periodic patrols. Gian Gentile and his troops may have tried to do the right things, but they could not replicate the successes of 2007 because they did not live in the neighborhoods they professed to protect. Those successes required more than a surge in forces; they required a change in our doctrine and strategy.

Gentile: My mission was to protect the people; period!! General Casey told my Brigade commander Colonel Mike Beech shortly after the Samara shrine bombng when he gave him a combat battalion coming up from Kuwait to use it to stop the violence and protect the people. If i was not committed to protecting the people then why did my stomach get tied up in knots when dead bodies showed up on the streets?

Mansoor: Our strategy failed in 2006, just as it failed in 2003-2004 when my brigade was stationed in Rusafa and Adhamiya (not Sadr City). I have admitted as much in a book I have written on that experience, "Baghdad at Sunrise," which will be published this fall. This statement has nothing to do with units being "goofed up." Rather, it has everything to do with strategy and doctrine. In the spring of 2004, we withdrew from our forward operating bases inside Baghdad to the super-bases on the city's periphery. The fear was that our continued presence inside Iraq's cities would cause the Iraqi people to view us as occupiers. News Flash - they already did. But by withdrawing to the large bases on the outskirts, we ceded the streets to the insurgents and militias. And I disagree with you that patrols conducted from Camp Victory are as effective as combat outposts positioned 24/7 amidst the neighborhoods of Baghdad.

The 2006 Campaign Plan stated, "Our actions during liberation, occupation and partnership have enabled the Coalition and successive Iraqi governments to set the conditions for the stabilization of Iraq and for the transition to Iraqi self-reliance. Completing this transition during the tenure of this Consitutionally-elected government is the focus of the Campaign Plan."

Not "a focus," Gian, but "the focus." This statement is the reason why the commander of Multi-National Force-West in Al Anbar could state publicly that he did not have enough troops to protect the people of the province, but he did have enough to accomplish his mission.

CavGuy (to Gentile): I think you're letting your emotion get out of control. You're not the only one that has buried soldiers over there doing the best they know how. I know COL Mansoor has, I have, and several others you have passively dismissed and taken barbs at in this forum and in print. Your vitrol filled posts against those who have sought smarter ways to do this, and a doctrine more in tune with successful COIN in the past, don't do credit to yourself, your argument, or your soldiers. It really is coming across as sour grapes rather than substantive argument for the forums it’s in. We’re all fiercely proud of our units and the Soldiers who we fought, suffered, and worked beside. Mixing your policy critique with emotional bromide isn’t helping.

One can be proud of his unit's performance and sacrifice and still be able to recognize one's shortcomings, that's why it was a learning army. 1/1 (and many others) didn't do everything perfect in OIF1, especially in the early months. I'm sure COL Mansoor would tell you the same. But they did learn, and get better, which culminated in its ability to re-take Kerbala and design a peace that has held to this day using the principles that later went into FM 3-24. Like your unit, every man of that BDE tried hard, the best they can, but sometimes it just wasn't enough.

You know how Abu Muqawama grew interested in counterinsurgency? By being a bad, ineffective counterinsurgent on the streets of Baghdad in 2003. It's no great dishonor to admit you were part of a losing effort and then to commit yourself to doing things better the next time around.

[Note: We've only posted excerpts of this debate. To fully consider what Gentile & Co. have to say, please go to the original thread on SWJ.]