Officers Question Visibility of Army in Iraq

WaPo – Officers Question Visibility of Army in Iraq

Some top U.S. military officers are questioning whether the practice of keeping U.S. troops highly visible in Iraq is doing more harm than good, challenging a key tenet of the Army’s approach to occupying the country. Advocates of the new approach say U.S. troops would be more effective if they were kept out of view of the Iraqi public, and even removed to remote desert bases, appearing only when needed to conduct operations beyond the capacity of Iraqi security forces.

For most of the Iraq occupation, the U.S. military has assumed — based on lessons drawn from peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo — that maintaining “presence” through extensive patrols, large-scale raids and other highly visible operations would increase stability. Now, however, some officers are saying that such operations are doing more to inflame anti-American feelings among Iraqis than to secure the streets, and the resulting debate may shape the military’s future structure and tactics in Iraq. “Sometimes the best way is to be less present, and to be focused in your presence and successful in what you do,” Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, said in little-noticed comments made last week during the final moments of a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. “And by exposing more and more of your formation to this kind of [guerrilla] warfare may not be the smartest thing to do. And we’re looking and working very hard to do that through the commanders over there.”

A rather extensive doctrinal debate follows. It’s beyond my tactical expertise to know whether this approach would work but it seems logical on the surface. Clearly, our visible presence gives the insurgent a ready target and, since civilian bystanders are often also killed in the attacks, we not only lose soldiers but get blamed for the attack. At this stage of the game, U.S. forces should have two major roles: Training the Iraqi cadre who will in turn train and supervise the Iraqi security forces and acting as a ready reaction force to bolster the Iraqis when a particular job is beyond their current capacity.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.