Combat Calculus: Will 21,000 more troops make a difference?

Lt. Col. Scott Rutter

2/16/2007 11:04:47 AM - Lt. Col. Scott Rutter

The United States was founded on the doctrine of human sanctity. Each and every human life has value. Thus, in war our military and the world, in the form of the Geneva Conventions, developed certain rules of engagement that dictate fundamental battlefield actions. If warring parties uphold these rules of engagement, the preservation of human dignity is maintained, despite the bloodshed and destruction inherent in any war. What was not considered in this equation is a situation in which the enemy fails to act in accordance with these rules. In this situation, is the opposing party required to follow the rules? Can our society stomach a brutal torture and killing of an American soldier broadcast on the major news channels? Do we risk losing because we will only fight by the rules? In the minds of military planners and leaders, we must make these calculations and live with the consequences.

In 1864 and updated in 1949, the world leaders decided that there should be a minimization of the suffering and atrocities of war. The Geneva Convention, actually titled the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field, would produce a document that provided conditions and treatment of wounded during wartime. The Articles include such items as the neutrality of hospitals, civilians that help wounded shall not be injured, wounded and POW’s shall be cared for and treated humanely by the enemy, and more.

If a group of “insurgents” feign surrender by waving white flags in order to approach the area of American military personnel, must we first wait to see if they are really the enemy before shooting? If the terrorists occupy hospitals, mosques, and schools and shoot from the windows, do we have to be concerned about innocent civilians that may be in those structures as well? Does the enemy hesitate to use and kill women and children to attack U.S. targets? Does the enemy believe crowded civilian marketplaces are reasonable places to set off bombs? We hear of these attacks almost daily in Iraq. The enemy clearly has no conscience, and they possess no concept of losing this war, display total disregard for the Geneva Conventions, and use every effort to maim and kill as many people as possible.

The more they kill the more powerful they become. It doesn’t matter to them whom they are killing—civilians or U.S. troops—only that they have killed those that have not joined their ranks. Couple this with the fact that the U.S. media is transfixed on the number of people killed in suicide bombings and IED’s in Iraq on a daily basis. Together, this concoction sends a message of their ability to fight. Thus, they are perceived to be winning. We all know that perception can become reality.

Thus, the decision by President Bush to send in 21, 000 more troops is both with and without merit. Why? Because, we have little idea how those 21,000 troops will change the tide of perception. We have not been told that our fighting tactics have changed. We have not been informed about how the U.S. and Iraqi government will stem the tide of Iranians and other extremists coming into Iraq to join the fight. We don’t know how the military role will change. The game plan is unclear, and changes in tactics and strategy have not been included in the public form as an element of this new way forward.

Sending 21,000 more troops to Iraq is clearly an arbitrary number. It could have been 50,000 or more, we don’t know how that number was determined. But what is clear is that sending more troops is an opportunity to set a new course for the direction of the fighting. During the initial phase, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF 1), there was total focus on destruction of the Regime of Saddam Hussein. We fought hard, aggressively and with limited emotion. I can even remember when a brave soldier was killed in our unit, we waited to have his memorial service—protecting the psyche of the young soldiers, so they would not get mired in the incredible emotions of the moment. That may seem blasphemous and insensitive, but we were fighting a war—life or death. We were determined to beat the enemy, and the more we killed, the faster we would beat him.

We must return to this mindset. While discarding all rules of engagement would be harmful, it is time that the U.S. military focus on winning, place a hiatus on nation building. The U.S. must use every tactic and technology to fight this war and provide support to the Iraqi military. If a lineup was put together of 10 Iraqi men, most American soldiers would be hard pressed to figure out which one was an innocent civilian and which was an “insurgent.” If that lineup included five American soldiers, it would be easy to pick them out. It is time for the U.S. to use deception and aggression to fight an enemy that has no regard for the sanctity of human life. We must upset the balance of their operations, disrupt the supply lines, and prepare each battlefield with reconnaissance elements that blend in with the local community. We cannot do this alone, but together with the Iraqi Army and local community, this can be done.

The risks are great as we turn down this new course. There may be confusion and many civilians killed in the process. When we look back at our history, the great military successes in American history reside in the war of two great armies, clearly identified and playing by the same set of rules. In the 21st century, we should be reminded that there will never be another war like the American Revolution. The enemy will not wear red and stand in straight lines. The enemy lurks in every building, in the marketplace, in the schools, and behind women and children. If we don’t learn to fight this kind of war, our loss in Iraq will only be the first. The global War on Terror requires that we alter this equation and calculate a new solution to win.