October 1, 2007  

Iraq needs a National Guard

What happens after the surge? After 21,500 additional U.S. troops have come and gone, will we have won in Iraq? Will we have extinguished the insurgency and rooted out the dead-enders? Or will the insurgents maintain their capacity to destabi¬lize the government through harassment and interdiction of its military and police forces and sectarian provocation?

There is no magic bullet. Even six full U.S. brigades and 18 U.S. battalions, alongside 13 Iraq Army brigades and eight Iraqi National Police brigades sweeping neighborhoods in Baghdad, cannot — by themselves — win this war, particularly when their presence in those neighborhoods is not perma¬nent. When those boots on the ground march out of Baghdad, the situation may be substantially improved, but the militias, the Sunni-Shiite divide and lack of counterbalancing national institu¬tions will remain.

A temporary surge cannot deliver perma¬nent victory. The insurgents who evade the surge are taking a calculated risk. Unable to prevail against surge military power, they cede control rather than accept battle. Once the surge is over, they intend to re-establish control. This calculation is based on their assessment that opposing and competing post-surge local forces will not pose as sig¬nificant a threat to their survival as accept¬ing battle with surge military. Unless and until the coalition creates a significant threat that is local and permanent, both U.S. and Iraqi armies will either have to take up per¬manent residence in Baghdad or repeatedly clear previously cleared neighborhoods.


If you want to beat the insurgents, analyze their strengths and weaknesses. Currently, insurgents exploit the gap between U.S. and Iraqi military and police forces. Faced with conventional military power, they disperse and evade as guerrillas. Against a dispersed police force, they consolidate and attack as militias. Their unconventional structure allows them to rapidly adapt to changing conditions. As a result, for insurgents, accepting battle is voluntary. Coalition forces cannot decisively engage insurgents who will not fight. A purely conventional military solution will not work. To engage, we must attack what they must defend. To win, we must attack that with overwhelming advantage and resolve.

To survive, insurgents maintain control of and conceal themselves in the local popula¬tion. Without a pliant local population to hide in, insurgents become visible, can be engaged and can be defeated. In the brutal Darwinian process of war, the slow, the stu¬pid and the uncommitted have been culled. Today’s insurgent militias and sectarians recruit from and fully integrate into their respective local populations. Consequently, they possess natural attributes of local knowl¬edge, language, culture and permanence. These natural attributes become advantages against a transient and/or foreign govern¬mental force. To maintain control, insurgents use savage intimidation as the “stick” and social services, ideolo¬gy and/or religion as the “carrot.” For Iraqis in these neighbor¬hoods, accepting insurgent control is in their clear self-interest: Opposition results in death, acceptance results in benefits both material and spiritual that they don’t get from the government.

To win, we must both successfully compete with and oppose the insurgency. To compete with the insurgents, we must match their natural attributes of local knowledge, language, culture and permanence. And we must rival or preclude the sum total of benefits they deliver in the neighborhoods where they operate. To successfully oppose the insurgents, we must contravene their ability to disperse and hide. We must match their consolidated tactical power. The fight is for control of the population, not terrain. To control the population, we must be in and of the population.


The missing piece is a popular force that operates in the gap that insurgents currently dominate. Both opposed to and in competition with the insurgents and precisely organized for local survival, this popular militia, a National Guard, would provide a direct government-neighborhood interface, grant mutual aid and social services. It becomes the local represen¬tation of the national government. Permanent, defensive and static, it would provide cost-effective, long-term self-defense against insurgent guerrillas and militias by drawing from the same local resources. Providing security, delivering and administering government assistance to the neighborhoods, it would also act as an induction facility for the disenfran¬chised, providing a direct means to enter government service.

Integrated with police, military and government, the National Guard will be used to ring insurgent areas, cutting off their tacti¬cal mobility. Recruited from Iraqi neighborhoods and serving in those neighborhoods, they match the insurgents’ natural attrib¬utes. Providing intelligence to the military, support to the police and direct liaison to the government, they will encroach upon insurgent areas, competing for, enlisting and ultimately control¬ling their local populations. Directly opposing the insurgent by force of arms, the National Guard can consolidate and disperse as needed with the same, if not greater, facility than the insur¬gent because it does not conduct offensive operations or opera¬tions outside its designated neighborhoods. Additional fire power as needed can be provided through liaison to local Iraqi police brigades, and Iraqi or U.S. military units. It matches the insurgent advantages because it is counterorganized to gain the insurgents’ structural advantages.

Under Iraqi provincial control, administered, run and supplied by the Army’s Green Berets, this type of local force should become a standard and immediate component of any and all U.S. Phase IV (post-conflict) operations. It plugs the gap in conventional force structure where insurgents typically operate, matches their natural attributes, contra¬venes their tactical advantages and rivals their social bene¬fits. The point of any surge should be to establish and hand over local population control to permanent Iraqi National Guard units, and then back them up. Currently, we have cre¬ated local forces, the Iraqi Army and police, which mirror our own conventional strengths and weaknesses. To inno¬vate, we must create local forces that mirror the insurgents’ strengths and weaknesses.

David J. Katz is director at Luster National’s defense, security and intelligence division. He is a former Army captain and Green Beret.