Search This Blog

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tours of Duty

Jack Mutha has it wrong when he is advocating longer periods of recuperation; though he is right about ensuring troops go into Iraq fully equipped (On to the Hard Part on Iraq, New York Times, February 17, 2007: A26).

He is wrong because to ensure success in Iraq we either have to lengthen tours of duty or we have to have several months of overlap in tours of duty. This has to be done in order to build trust between the Iraqis and the US troops.

We went into the Iraq war expecting that once the fighting was over there could be a rapid handover to the Iraqis who would have welcomed us with smiles and flowers. The honeymoon lasted for about three days and we were soon embroiled in trying to reconstruct the Iraq infrastructure and trying to contain an insurgency.

Our Human Resource strategy was based on the initial strategy of handing over things to the Iraqis. Our human resource strategy involves rotating troop into Iraq for a six month tour of duty and then having six months or so in a safe haven to retrain the servicemen and women and refurbish equipment.

These six month tours of duty are too short to meet the needs of the current military strategy of builidng security and rebuilding the infrastructure. And it is even more unsuited to the forthcoming strategy of “seize and hold.”

The reason is that in Iraq trust is established between people, rather than between institutions. In many of the books about Iraq that I have read, young officers complain that it takes three or four months for them to build up rapport with the local population and the local leaders; during this time they do not get much cooperation on security and without security there is little chance to rebuild infrastructure permanently. They then have a couple of months when they can actually get things done; the local people help to maintain security by cooperating with the Americans and water plants and sewers and electricity stations can be built with little chance that they will be destroyed. But then the six months is up! Under the current strategy, the troops are likely to be withdrawn and gradually the neighborhood slides back into sectarian violence or anarchy. Under the new seize and hold strategy, a new regiment may take over the area but the bonds of trust between commander and local leaders and between troops and local people have been severed. The ties that had been built up were between individuals, not between role holders.

If the President is going to put more troops into Iraq he must also formalize a new Human Resource strategy – a strategy that will be costly on our individual service men and women because they will have to have much longer tours of duty. Troops will have to stay in Iraq until the job is done. This will be enormously difficult for the men and women involved but I cannot see any other way to ensure that troops and Iraqis develop and maintain the necessary level of trust. If we cannot do this then we cannot continue the war with any hope of success.

If we are going to pursue this war, we have to take it seriously as a war and not fight it half-heartedly as the Bush administration is demanding. We have to have financial sacrifice at home; we need to convert at least part of our economy onto a war footing so that the troops have the equipment that they need and receive timely replacement; and we have to make sure that the decisions about strategy and deployment are wise ones. There is little in the actions of this President to give me confidence that they are – the decisions about whether to surge, to retain the status quo or to withdraw, or to put in an even larger number of fighting men and women should be debated in a secret session of Congress not decided behind closed doors by George Bush and a small number of like-minded advisors that way leads to “GroupThink”

No comments: