Monday, January 15, 2007

Cat-and-mouse, jihadis and the "surge:" they can run, but can they hide?

I wondered about it a few days ago: what's to stop the terrorists/jihadis/insurgents in Iraq from running away in the face of the proposed surge, and living to fight another day?

The answer seems to be "nothing, at least for the moment." It's been reported that that's exactly what's happening--the jihadis are dispersing to areas other than Baghdad.

The terrorists are many things, but they're certainly not dumb (although I often think that false perception allowed us to soothe ourselves into our state of torpor during the 80s and 90s). And, despite the frequent characterization by the Left of our own military as poverty-stricken dupes, ignorant victims and tools of the Rovian Right, those leading our armed forces are not stupid, either. It's almost a certainty that this jihadi movement had to have been anticipated by the US.

One of the hallmarks of any successful military campaign is the ability to adjust to changing circumstances. It's good to anticipate events as much as humanly possible; but, realistically speaking, this can't be done perfectly, and the idea is to adapt to changes faster than the enemy.

The comments section of the previous thread on this subject contains many shrewd observations. I excerpt a few here:

(1) The primary strategic weakness is the close margin of support for continued fighting in Iraq. This weakness is telegraphed daily by the NYT and major media.

Tactically, the insurgents would know almost immediately when the surge started.

The strategic strength of this message [Bush's speech] is the commitment of forces itself, even if for a limited period of time, and changes in the rules of engagement.

There will be tactical surprises in the actual mission, and on balance, the telegraphing of the surge and change of ROE more than offsets any benefit of surprise.

(2) Strategies that depend on surprise are not strategies, they are tactics and operational details.

This is almost a matter of definition, because strategies are not executed over the course of hours or days, they are executed over the course of months, years, or in some cases, even decades. As such, if your strategy requires your opposition to be surprised month after month by your strategic approach, your strategy is doomed to failure. In that case, you are implicitly assuming that your opponents are stupid, in which case, why do you need a strategy in the first place?

(3) What can terrorists do differently now that they know? They can't go hiding. Why? Because as the newest Counter Insurgency Manual just told us, insurgencies acquire power by creating chaos and then doing the extortion-protection racket game. But when they succede in doing that as the first part of the insurgency, this means THEY are in Power. This means they are now responsible for security. They can't run anymore. They can run when they have no strongholds. But Sadr? Those Baghdad Sunnis? Their enclaves have been safe from American attack for a long long time now, given the limitations placed on American soldiers.

This post at Iraq the Model, discussing the cut-and-run tactics of the jihadis who are leaving Baghdad for parts somewhat unknown, sheds further light on the matter. Right now, the jihadis' situation somewhat resembles that of an animal who's built a cozy nest for the winter but has been flushed out by a hunter. It takes some time for it to build a new and safe place to dwell, and in the meantime there's increased vulnerability.

It seems that not everyone in Iraq wants the honor of housing these new visitors as they build new homes-away-from-home, despite the highly vaunted Arab virtue of hospitality. According to Iraq the Model, locals are already alerting authorities on the movements of the jihadis.

Unfortunately, there are areas in Iraq, particularly Diwaniya, where the Sadrists have already established cozy nests:

...Diwaniya is not far away from Baghdad, and the past few months had shown the level of the Sdarists strength in that city when order was restored only after reinforcements were summoned from neighboring provinces.

The Sadrists feel they are very strong in Diwaniya and what their man in the city said yesterday shows the level of extremism of the Sadr followers in this city...

...the bad guys are adjusting their plans as the government and US military adjust theirs. The clear and hold tactic means militants will have little chance to maneuver within Baghdad like they used to do to work around previous crackdowns so now they are planning to make long-range maneuvers in provinces outside Baghdad.

The cat-and-mouse game continues. As the cats, we have to be craftier than the mice. And much of that craft depends on anticipation, flexibility, and above all, the quality of the intelligence we receive.

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