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The Limits of the Surge: An Interview with Gian Gentile

Friday, April 11, 2008

Gian P. Gentile is an active duty Army lieutenant colonel who has served two tours in Iraq, most recently as a combat battalion commander in west Baghdad in 2006. Last month, his World Politics Review article, "Misreading the Surge," brought a fierce internal debate over the Army's new emphasis on counterinsurgency operations and its potential impact on conventional capabilities to the attention of the general public. In the context of this week's congressional hearings on the Surge, WPR asked Gentile for a follow up email interview, to which he graciously agreed.Describe the kinds of "classical" counterinsurgency methods you were applying in Iraq in 2006. Have any operational differences been introduced by the new COIN tactics? If so, why do you discount their impact on improving the security situation in Iraq?

Gian Gentile: In 2006 our primary purpose at the tactical level of platoons, companies, battalions, and brigades was, as it still is today in Iraq, the protection of the people. The cavalry squadron that I commanded, along with the sister battalions in the brigade that I was part of in 4th Infantry Division, did the same, too. We used what the Army calls "lines of operations" (or "loos"), that were focused on things like establishing local governance, improving essential services like garbage pick up, information operations designed to show that our interests were the same as those of the Iraqis, and we were killing and capturing insurgents -- both Shia and Sunni -- who were causing the violence and instability.

The only significant difference between what we did in 2006 (and before) as compared to 2007 onward is the use of combat outposts. We did not use them to the extent that they were being used in 2007. But their role in bringing about the lowered levels of violence in 2007 is vastly overstated. There is not a combat outpost in every Iraqi neighborhood in Baghdad; far from it. One needs to turn, therefore, to other explanations for the recent lowering of violence. ...

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