US Troops Accused of Using Excessive Force
A new report suggests that US troops in Iraq have used excessive force and inflicted unnecessary casualties on civilians.
To be fair, the US military has been put in an impossible position by Bush, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. It is occupying Iraq, trying to act as enforcer of the peace, but also having to fight a low grade guerrilla war against Sunni Arab nationalists. The various roles assigned it are incompatible. If you are keeping the peace and rebuilding, that is a different mode than if you are fighting a guerrilla war. For the former you need good relations with the local community. For the latter you need to be suspicious of everyone and willing to shoot first and ask questions later.
The French in Algeria concentrated on killing guerrillas, employing attrition, and lost the war by alienating the Algerian public. Attrition as the major method of counter-insurgency has a poor record of success, especially when pursued by democratic states (Saddam could just gas the Kurds, e.g.). The British in Malaya in contrast successfully fought a counter-insurgency campaign against communists in the 1950s. The question for US Lt. Colonels in the field is whether they can succeed in being more like the British in Malaya than like the French in Algeria. (Some British tactics were unsavory and I am not advocating adopting them. But in military history, either one succeeds or fails, and the British did succeed).
Gavin Bullock argues that
“In counterinsurgency physical destruction of the enemy still has an important role to play. A degree of attrition will be necessary, but the number of insurgents killed should be no more than is absolutely necessary to achieve success. Commanders should seek “soft” methods of destroying the enemy; by arrest, physical isolation, or subversion, for example. The use of the minimum necessary force is a well-proven counterinsurgency lesson.
Parameters, Summer 1996, pp. 4-16.
If the following report is correct, it suggests that the US military is probably not employing the minimum necessary force.