Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 10:07 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 10:07 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Why the surge worked


Sam Roggeveen


13 February 2009 10:41

Anton Kuruc responds to Hugh White's argument that there is little evidence for the effectiveness of the surge:

Here is my causal chain of the surge's strategic effect:

Firstly, the surge was a strategic demonstration of US will to fight when AQI was banking heavily on a US withdrawal. It probably shattered the remaining morale of AQI and killed off its slim chance of victory. The surge changed the 'who would outlast who' equation. 

Secondly, it gave Iraqis the confidence that the US would be around for a while and therefore was a party with which it could cooperate. Nearly every group had a reason to back the US once the US committed to the fight into the medium term: the Shia to stop AQI, the Sunni to protect against Shia militias and the Kurds to protect their autonomy. The quid pro quo was that the Sunni would have to give up on AQI, the Shia would have to dismantle their militias and the Kurds would have to remain largely where they were. 

Thirdly, the central operational objective of terrorist groups is to avoid detection. Soldiers are one of the best means of detecting terrorist groups, so more of them enabled the Coalition to identify the 'social signature' of the presence of terrorists and militias in the community. The secondary objective of terrorist groups is to attack, and increased troop numbers improved the chances of detection and interception. This reassured the population that they could rely on the US military. It created a virtuous intelligence cycle: more people trusted the US, the US collected more intelligence which enabled them to more effectively protect the community and attack the enemy, decreasing enemy influence over the population and in turn encouraging locals to provide even more intelligence.

Fourth, this public psychological shift probably pushed the Iraqi Government and Maliki in particular to take down the Shia militias, demonstrating a commitment to the rule of law above his sectarian allegiances, enabling him to credibly shift emphasis from political sectarianism to greater secularism, which seems to be the major outcome from the latest poll. Greater secularism offers the prospect of more involvement in government on the basis of policy and outcome. This helped to create greater public confidence in the Iraqi forces, enabling them to tap into the surge's success.

My reading is that the surge had a critical psychological impact when the population was ready for that impact. It shattered the morale of AQI, shifted public allegiances, created the conditions for dramatic operational and tactical success which in turn gave the politicians the room to shift with the national mood swing and for Iraqis to take over the fight. 

Of course, no one can know whether this dynamic will last, but the odds look pretty good at the moment. It also begs the question: can it work in Afghanistan? But that is a different population.