September 20, 2004

Would you like fries with your counterinsurgency?

Because apparently Donald Rumsfeld believes that hunting down insurgents is that easy:

Nevertheless, the United States has continued to rely on airstrikes, a tactic that is becoming increasingly controversial. The United States has used fearsome AC-130 gunships to attack individual safehouses in crowded areas. The Pentagon says the strikes will continue as the military works to retake towns controlled by insurgents. Take the example of the September 13 strike on Fallujah. The military said it was a precision attack with warplanes and artillery that destroyed a hideout where associates of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi were meeting. But hospital officials told reporters that women and children were among the dead. They also said an ambulance carting wounded from the scene was destroyed by American forces, another image shown repeatedly on Arab TV.

Because of such incidents, State Department officials have quietly urged the Pentagon to curtail airstrikes--and some government officials portray Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as too reliant on airpower. Using airstrikes in places like Fallujah is "the dumbest possible thing anybody could ever dream up," says a U.S. official who previously served in the military. "[The Pentagon] has this leadership that believes precision munitions are manna from heaven. They do not understand what is happening. This is the worst counterinsurgency effort I have seen in 40 years."

Let's be honest, it's easy to wage a backseat campaign, keyboard in hand, here in the comfort of my cubicle. And the U.S. News &World Report piece mounts a decent defense of the military. (It's hard to avoid killing children when the children are the ones throwing bombs at you.) But the article pretty clearly suggests that the Pentagon has yet to tackle the issue of civilian casualties with any seriousness, and has yet to fight the sort of patient, manpower intensive counterinsurgency that Pamela Hess described in this brilliant UPI piece.

It's worth revisiting James Kitfield's account of Donald Rumsfeld's original battle plan for Iraq: air-power intensive, "light", and relying heavily on precision bombing. Recall, furthermore, that back in October 2003, Rumsfeld appointed James G. Roche Secretary of Army. As a former Air Force man, Roche's selection came as a slap in the face to most Army generals (especially of the Thomas White-Eric Shinseki school), but Rumsfeld also picked him because Roche strongly advocated the "revolution in military affairs," the lighter, faster fighting force. The war plans for Baghdad were essentially a grand experiment cooked up by RMA proponents. What about the current counterinsurgency strategy—is this also an experiment? I'd love to say that Rumsfeld (and Roche) would never endanger our soldiers and risk letting the insurgency flare up, all for the sake of ideology. But it sure seems that way.

-- Brad Plumer 5:24 PM || ||