The more Barack Obama talks about Iraq, the more obvious it is that he has not the foggiest notion of the basics of military strategy nor has he bothered to brush up on the most basic lessons of our recent military encounters with terrorists and insurgent forces. His latest contribution to Iraq War planning: the “Strike Force.” That may sound like cool lingo for a Star Trek episode, but wars, especially those like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, don’t lend them to Captain Obama shouting orders on the Enterprise bridge (“Engage the strike force, Mr. Sulu!”)
What is the Obama “Strike Force”? Robert Maginnis, an internationally known security and foreign affairs analyst and retired Army Lt. Colonel, said “It is ambiguous at best.” In a speech last month Obama declared:
“In order to end this war responsibly, I will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. We can responsibly remove 1 to 2 combat brigades each month. If we start with the number of brigades we have in Iraq today, we can remove all of them 16 months. After this redeployment, we will leave enough troops in Iraq to guard our embassy and diplomats, and a counter-terrorism force to strike al Qaeda if it forms a base that the Iraqis cannot destroy. What I propose is not — and never has been — a precipitous drawdown. It is instead a detailed and prudent plan that will end a war nearly seven years after it started.”
John McCain has already pointed out that al Qaeda forces are in Iraq, and we have been killing a lot of them. So it is not clear — and Obama does not say — how we would continue to do that with some presumably small “counter-terrorism” force.
Last week while Obama was busy misconstruing John McCain’s comments about forces remaining in Iraq for 100 years (he left out the part that this would be after the fighting ended) Obama brought up the subject again. He said that under his plan we would have “troops looking after our embassy there” and a “strike force in the region, perhaps in Iraq and perhaps in the region.” Again, he did not say what this strike force would consist of, what it would do and what support it would need.
Meanwhile, the New York Sun reported that one of Obama’s key advisors Colin Kahn of the Center for the New American Security had written a policy memorandum suggesting a force of 60,000- 80,000 to play a “watch over” role. The Obama campaign, as they did with previous advisors (Austan Goolsbee on NAFTA and Samantha Power on Iraq) who veered from the far Left campaign rhetoric, quickly disassociated themselves from Kahn and refused to indicate the size of the residual force that Obama favored.
So what is Obama talking about? Dr. James Jay Carafano, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation says “Who knows?” He explains that “strike force” is “very amorphous- it has no precise definition.”
Depending on the mission a “strike force” can be anything from a Navy SEAL platoon charged with rescuing a single hostage to several brigades involving thousands of people. If, for example, the mission is to put down a revolt in a major city like Basra a “strike force” would need to include intelligence forces both locally and outside the area, Predator unmanned airborne platforms and other unmanned spy equipment and personnel to operate them, and forces on the ground needed to secure a city of up to a million people.
Carafano explains, “Special forces are not a strategy. Special forces don’t win wars. They achieve operations.” But certainly a free floating group of special operation forces (if that is what Obama has in mind) without substantial personnel and equipment to support them is a non-starter, at least if you consider our recent military experiences.
In Somalia, for example, we painfully learned the lesson that special operations forces without support (both human and material), a clearly defined mission and a firm political commitment become, as they did in the infamous “Blackhawk Down” incident, sitting ducks for the enemy. What happens if al Qaeda or militia forces undertake to capture some our all of the Obama Strike Force? Maginnis says, “Nothing stops that. It brings you back to Mogadishu.”
Similarly, our failing strategy in Iraq under General Richardo Sanchez, Carafano explains, was based on just this notion that small forces could harass and disrupt the enemy. But the resulting failures of that policy and the successes that General David Petraeus has achieved have demonstrated, Carafano explains, “You defeat insurgency through persistence. The way you beat insurgencies is to be there on the ground.” This involves a commitment of troops, the ability to hold territory, deny the enemy a free sanctuary and provide security to the civilian population.
If Obama was planning to oppose an Al Qaeda “base of operation” in Iraq, a robust force with substantial equipment would be needed. Carafano says, “To root out that stronghold you would need major operations.”
Obama himself seems to recognize this — in Afghanistan — where he calls for more troops, concerted efforts with our allies, training of Afghan forces and other measures to provide an overwhelming force to disable Al Qaeda.
By contrast, a free floating “Strike Force,” according to Carafano, would mean “endless war and casualties” and the practical problem of continually entering and then reentering a sovereign country.
In short, it comes down to the mission which you want the troops to carry out. Obama simply hasn’t said what he wants the Strike Force to do. If he believes that al-Qaeda is not a force to be reckoned with in Iraq or if Americans have no role to play in keeping sectarian violence to a minimum, what does he expect the Strike Force to accomplish?
It is just this type of ill-conceived mission and lack of contingency planning (what do we do if the “Strike Force” is captured?) and “exit strategy” which Obama has claimed were cardinal errors of the Bush Administration. But this is a dilemma of Obama’s own making.
He, after all, determined that we would flee Iraq. He then must reckon with public opinion which opposes running away from terrorism and wants us to defend American interests. The solution? The Strike Force. But until he defines what this means (if he actually knows what he has in mind) it remains an excuse, not a strategy, for carrying out his decision to exit Iraq no matter what. It does however tell us plenty about the experience, knowledge and sophistication of the likely Democratic nominee.