According to this analysis by the "defense correspondent" of London's Financial Times -- that's "defense" in the Orwellian sense --, U.S. strategy in Iraq is shifting from a "whack-a-mole" strategy to an "oil spot" approach.  --  What is this supposed to mean?  --  That since search-and-destroy missions are doing more harm than good and only result in insurgents resurfacing elsewhere (hence the term "whack-a-mole"), Vietnam veteran and counter-insurgency expert Andrew Krepinevich is advocating a shift to an "oil-spot" strategy, i.e. "coalition and Iraqi forces will concentrate on securing and holding urban areas and gradually expanding their area of influence."  --  Get it?  --  Oil spots spread.  --  Good luck.  --  Isn't "whack-a-mole" a tad dehumanizing? -- Doesn't "oil spot" remind everybody about the great Iraqi oil rip-off a bit too much?  --  If this article didn't appear in the Financial Times under Peter Spiegel's byline, we'd think it had been written for by Terry Gilliam for the Onion web site.  --  Maybe it should properly be filed in the "Humor" section, but as Paul Simon said in lines from "You Can Call Me Al" that somehow come to mind in this context, "Bonedigger Bonedigger/Dogs in the moonlight/Far away my well-lit door/Mr. Beerbelly Beerbelly/Get these mutts away from me/You know I don't find this stuff amusing anymore." ...



Middle East U.S. strategy in Iraq

By Peter Spiegel

Financial Times (UK)
December 1, 2005

As Bush administration rhetoric has turned towards preparing the American public for a reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq, the U.S. military has been gradually -- almost imperceptibly -- changing its on-the-ground tactics to prepare for a smaller footprint after the December 15 elections.

According to civilian and military officials involved in Iraqi planning, U.S. and coalition forces have begun backing off so-called "search and destroy" tactics that have killed large numbers of insurgents only to allow them to reoccupy urban havens.

Although such operations are likely to continue through this month's elections in order to keep the Sunni-based insurgency off balance, people familiar with the changing tactics said the military was moving towards a post-election "clear, hold and build" counter-insurgency plan based largely on the lessons learned from the failures of the anti-Vietcong campaign during the Vietnam war.

Under such tactics -- credited to Vietnam veteran and counter insurgency expert Andrew Krepinevich, who has advised Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, on military issues -- coalition and Iraqi forces will concentrate on securing and holding urban areas and gradually expanding their area of influence, a process called an "oil-spot" strategy.

In briefings to the U.S. military's joint staff and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office, Mr. Krepinevich, who has been highly critical of the lack of a country-wide counter-insurgency plan, has argued that through embedding U.S. forces in Iraqi units and relying more heavily on those Iraqi units as the core of the "oil-spot," the Pentagon should be able to rely on 120,000 troops, or 17,000 fewer than previous levels.

"Classical counter-guerrilla operations like Malaya are small unit, not big, Westmoreland-style attrition," said a senior Pentagon official, referring to William Westmoreland, the general who commanded U.S. forces in Vietnam. "Andrew Krepinevich, who people said is critical [of Pentagon planning], said you don't need more U.S. troops in Iraq, you need more Iraqi troops, which happens to be our policy as well."

Several U.S. commanders, however, have argued that Mr. Krepinevich's views, while compelling, are only a repeat of strategies already implemented by coalition forces. Brig Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director for plans at U.S. Central Command, said there were "a lot of people arguing about the oil-spot strategy," but insisted that the current practice of bringing Iraqi forces in to secure and stabilize urban areas after U.S. raids illustrated that coalition commanders had already shifted away from "search and destroy" tactics.

"We don't want to say, okay, Krepinevich you're right: let's all pull back into cantons and start over," Brig Gen Kimmitt said. "The coalition forces are providing a thin protective shield, to some extent, over the country at large. It's not perfect, but what it then allows is to set the condition for the Iraqi forces to be the oil spot. The goal is that the oil spot, in fact, are the Iraqi forces who establish control, maintain control, and then get larger and larger."

Indeed, Maj. Gen Douglas Lute, the operations director at Centcom, said such recommendations as embedding U.S. forces into Iraqi units began early in the year, well before Mr. Krepinevich began advising Mr. Khalilzad. Such embeds, largely in 10-man "coalition assistance teams," enable Iraqi officers to have direct battlefield contact with coalition intelligence and airborne weapons, a practice that military leaders said has greatly contributed to Iraqi effectiveness.

"Here you have an Iraqi battalion in contact [with enemy forces], the Iraqi battalion commander turns to one of these 10 guys who is trained in close-air support, and F-16s or Tornados are dropping precision munitions in support of that Iraqi formation," said Maj Gen Lute. "It accelerates the hand-off of battle space to the Iraqis, and second of all, just imagine the psychological effect for that Iraqi battalion commander."

But several critics, including Mr. Krepinevich, have argued the Pentagon has not fully embraced the strategy, and warned that continuation of offensive "whack-a-mole" missions -- as they are known in the military, because of their tendency to defeat an insurgent presence in one place only to see them pop up elsewhere -- are counterproductive.

Mr. Krepinevich said he had been told by senior commanders that while the embedding process had been effective, the military was having a hard time convincing its best officers to take an assignment with an Iraqi unit.