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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 January 2007, 09:32 GMT
The Bush plan and the Petraeus doctrine
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

General David Petraeus

With his new plan for Iraq, President Bush runs the risk of going against the principles of the US army's new doctrine of counterinsurgency.

The doctrine was written last year by the man who will command US forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General David Petraeus.

Its whole thrust is towards the long-term. The political imperative behind the Bush proposals is that the Iraq war is unpopular and that the US must get results soon, hopefully within a few months, certainly within a few years.

"I've made it clear to the [Iraqi] prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended," he said in his speech.

Mr Bush set no deadline but the language of urgency plays little part in the 282-page document "Counterinsurgency", written by General Petraeus with Marine Corps General James Amos and published in December 2006.

It was drawn up, as the preface suggests, to reverse the trend of neglect that counterinsurgency operations have suffered since the end of the Vietnam War more than 30 years ago.

There is, therefore, a potential clash between the president's need for speed and the doctrine's call for patience.

Bush proposals

The Bush plan calls for:

  • More than 20,000 US reinforcements

  • Most troops to be deployed in an effort to secure Baghdad and clear it of sectarian forces, including the powerful Shia militia, with new more aggressive rules of engagement, using both US and Iraqi troops embedded in the capital's nine districts

  • A parallel effort to hit al-Qaeda in Anbar province, using 4000 of the extra troops there

  • The Iraqi Government to take control of all provinces by November and to share the country's oil wealth with the Sunnis

    Incidentally he has, as expected, rejected the Iraq Study Group's recommendation to wind down the US combat role as soon as possible and to engage with Syria and Iran. Quite the opposite. He accuses "these two regimes" of "allowing terrorists" to use their territories. And he said he would "disrupt the attacks on our forces" supported by Iran.

    By linking military and host nation governmental actions, Mr Bush is following one of the principles of the Petraeus doctrine. But the "quick-fix" attitude goes against it.

    It may be that Mr Bush has the necessary patience. But his time in office runs out in two years and two years seems a very short period in this war.

    The counterinsurgency doctrine

    These are some key phrases of the counterinsurgency doctrine:

  • COIN [counterinsurgency] campaigns are often long and difficult
  • Counterinsurgents should prepare for a long-term commitment
  • Insurgencies are protracted by nature
  • US public support for a protracted deployment is critical
  • Offensive operations are only the beginning
  • Executing COIN operations is complex, demanding and tedious - there are no simple, quick solutions

    Counterinsurgency operations

    The document goes into great detail about how to plan for and carry out counterinsurgency operations.

    It starts by recognising that an insurgency cannot be beaten without popular support. "Long-term success depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the government's rule," it states.

    "Success in COIN operations requires establishing a legitimate government supported by the people," it adds.

    It stresses the need for intelligence and for the intelligent use of force. "Some of the best weapons do not shoot," it notes.

    It has a long section about training the HN or "host nation's" security forces, something that General Petraeus had charge of in Iraq.

    Increasing reliance on Iraqi forces is part of the Bush plan. But again, the theme of the Petraeus doctrine is patience.

    There is, therefore, a potential clash between the president's need for speed and the doctrine's call for patience
    "Developing the HN security forces is a complex and challenging mission...Training HN security forces is a slow and painstaking process. It does not lend itself to a 'quick fix,'"

    'No short-cuts'

    The prohibition against expecting a "quick fix" is reflected in a quotation from Sir Robert Thompson, a senior British civil servant in Malaya (and ex-Chindit guerrilla against the Japanese in Burma) who devised the counterinsurgency operations that eventually put down an insurgency there in the 1950s:

    "It is a persistently methodical approach and steady pressure which will gradually wear the insurgent down...There are no short-cuts and no gimmicks."

    The Americans consulted Thompson over Vietnam but were overwhelmed by the problems they faced there. General Petraeus perhaps hopes that the advice still holds good for Iraq.

    Importance of detail

    His document goes into tremendous detail, down to the importance of where an interpreter should stand (next to the person you are questioning), how much local police should be paid (enough to minimise the risk of corruption) and even instructions to US soldiers not to fraternise too much with local children (they could be at risk, insurgents are watching).

    "Eat their food" is one recommendation on how to deal socially with local leaders.

    General Petraeus explicitly uses a phrase once shunned by Mr Bush. He writes: "Soldiers and Marines should prepare to execute many non-military missions to support COIN efforts. Everyone has a role in nation building."

    All this is a long way from the "shock and awe" tactics that were used to win the initial ground war in Iraq in 2003 and the first Gulf War to remove Saddam Hussein's troops from Kuwait in 1991.

    Whether the strategy and tactics developed in the counterinsurgency document can be used to implement the president's new instructions remains to be seen on the streets of Baghdad and the towns and villages of Anbar province.


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