But the worst of it is the wastage to cadres. Those who write that body counts are a meaningless metric to apply against the insurgency ignore the fact that formations which sustain heavy casualties lose their organizational memory while those who suffer lightly retain them. Lt. Col. Joseph L'Etoile is on his third and half of his men are on their second tours of Iraq. For Abu Nasir and many of his foreign fighters, the memory of what to avoid next time has been lost on this, their last tour of Iraq.Well, in some ways that's true. Note that the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam war, a CIA assassination campaign intended to find and kill Viet Cong cadres in the south which was similarly measured in body counts—and, for that matter, ended up killing lots and lots of South Vietnamese civilians—really did ended up weakening the Viet Cong infrastructure in the south. Overall, the program was a massive failure, and alienated much of the rural population, but it proved that, strictly speaking, if you kill enough people, you can destroy an organization, that the ranks aren't infinitely replenishable. On the other hand, nothing like the Phoenix Program is going on in Iraq, and Douglas Farah's analogy seems far more apt:
Having covered conflicts and the war on drugs for two decades now, it is clear how unhelpful it is to repeatedly trumpet the supposed damage to an organization when one person is taken out of action. The closest parallel I find is in the drug wars, when first Pablo Escobar then other leaders of the Medellin cocaine cartel were taken down. Then the leaders of the Cali cartel were killed would simply step into the breach. While each generation of traffickers or arrested, then the Northern Valley gangs were decapitated. At every step, the DEA and U.S. government would hail the actions as a major triumph, destined to end or greatly diminish drug trafficking. Yet, after each major killing or arrest the amount of cocaine entering the United States remained unchanged. New people was able to individually control less of the market, and each succeeding organization was small and less vertical in its structure, the aggregate amount of drugs they are able to produce and export did not diminish, and ultimately grew.There's no reason to think Zarqawi doesn't operate like that, especially since everything we've seen has indicated that attacks continue even after this or that latest "top lieutenant" has been captured or killed. Meanwhile, as Anthony Cordesman argues—and U.S. military officers in Iraq are now recognizing, according to the Washington Post—Zarqawi and the foreign fighters have essentially "hijacked" the Sunni insurgency, and are steering it less in an anti-occupation direction, although there's that, and more in a pro-civil war direction, by directing an increasing number of attacks against Shiites and other Iraqis.