Michael Totten links to a piece at Small Wars Journal, by Dave Kilcullen, that describes the strategic thinking behind the surge. Dave Kilcullen is Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to General Petraeus, so one suspects he knows a little more about what is going on than the likes of Harry Reid. The key points:

When we speak of “clearing” an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation.

The “terrain” we are clearing is human terrain, not physical terrain. It is about marginalizing al Qa’ida, Shi’a extremist militias, and the other terrorist groups from the population they prey on.

It is not about being “nice” to the population and hoping they will somehow see us as the “good guys” and stop supporting insurgents. On the contrary, it is based on a hard-headed recognition of certain basic facts, to wit:

(a.) The enemy needs the people to act in certain ways (sympathy, acquiescence, silence, reaction to provocation) in order to survive and further his strategy. Unless the population acts in these ways, both insurgents and terrorists will wither, and the cycle of provocation and backlash that drives the sectarian conflict in Iraq will fail.

(b.) The enemy is fluid, but the population is fixed. (The enemy is fluid because he has no permanent installations he needs to defend, and can always run away to fight another day. But the population is fixed, because people are tied to their homes, businesses, farms, tribal areas, relatives etc). Therefore—and this is the major change in our strategy this year—protecting and controlling the population is do-able, but destroying the enemy is not. We can drive him off from the population, then introduce local security forces, population control, and economic and political development, and thereby “hard-wire” the enemy out of the environment, preventing his return. But chasing enemy cells around the countryside is not only a waste of time, it is precisely the sort of action he wants to provoke us into. That’s why AQ cells leaving an area are not the main game—they are a distraction. We played the enemy’s game for too long: not any more. Now it is time for him to play our game.

(c.) Being fluid, the enemy can control his loss rate and therefore can never be eradicated by purely enemy-centric means: he can just go to ground if the pressure becomes too much. BUT, because he needs the population to act in certain ways in order to survive, we can asphyxiate him by cutting him off from the people. And he can’t just “go quiet” to avoid that threat. He has either to come out of the woodwork, fight us and be destroyed, or stay quiet and accept permanent marginalization from his former population base. That puts him on the horns of a lethal dilemma (which warms my heart, quite frankly, after the cynical obscenities these irhabi gang members have inflicted on the innocent Iraqi non-combatant population). That’s the intent here.

(d.) The enemy may not be identifiable, but the population is. In any given area in Iraq, there are multiple threat groups but only one, or sometimes two main local population groups. We could do (and have done, in the past) enormous damage to potential supporters, “destroying the haystack to find the needle”, but we don’t need to: we know who the population is that we need to protect, we know where they live, and we can protect them without unbearable disruption to their lives. And more to the point, we can help them protect themselves, with our forces and ISF in overwatch.

Still, the enemy relies on financing and logistical support from Syria and Iran, and covert support from across the Muslim diaspora. We can never win this war until those sources of support are destroyed.

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