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October 25, 2007

2004 all over again? Petraeus abandons strategy to keep casulaties down
Posted by Max Bergmann

Fred Kaplan in his war stories column connects the dots...

So, what accounts for the decline in American deaths since the summer? It's hard to say for sure, but one little-reported cause is almost certainly a shift in U.S. tactics from fighting on the ground to bombing from the air.

An illustration of this shift occurred on Sunday, when U.S. soldiers were searching for a leader of a kidnapping ring in Baghdad's Sadr City. The soldiers came under fire from a building. Rather than engage in dangerous door-to-door conflict, they called in air support. American planes flew overhead and simply bombed the building, killing several of the fighters but also at least six innocent civilians. (The bad guy got away.)

In other words, though the shift means greater safety for our ground troops, it also generates more local hostility.

As I wrote yesterday, the quadrupling of airstrikes, along with the continued use of overly aggressive security contractors, totally undermines a counter-insurgency approach that emphasizes "protecting Iraqis." It seems that Petraeus has quietly abandoned his strategy in favor of the 2004 focus on force protection that got us nowhere.

So what exactly is Petraeus doing? Is this just another example of a sycophant General so concerned with public opinion that he is abandoning his stated strategy? At the very least he should explain why airstrikes have quadrupled.


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The most likely explanation is also the simplest: lack of manpower.

The increase in American combat personnel provided by the surge earlier this year allowed Petraeus to disperse more troops to neighborhoods in Baghdad in which Sunni Arabs lived in close proximity to Shiites, as well as to Anbar to support the tribes resistance to the al Qaeda groups, and to Diyala. There are still not nearly enough troops to hold the massive Sadr City slum, which unhappily is the base for JAM and other terrorist groups bent as much on killing Sunni Arabs as on fighting Americans. Airpower is not a good substitute, but it's the only one available.

Incidentally, the superiority of infantry assaults to precision air strikes in built-up areas like Sadr City as far as avoiding civilian casualties is not as evident as it may appear from reading the counterinsurgency manual. I know it is the manual that Goldenberg is familiar with, but huma