Counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen has risen to prominence in the current tussle over the effectiveness of the surge in Iraq. In fact it's unusual given the current friction between the US and UK over Iraq policy that he's cited approvingly by both of them. The migration of the term "overwatch" into the description of what the British troops will do from Basra airport seems due to him.
Anyway, he has a blog post at the interestingly named Small Wars Journal about the revolt of Iraqi tribes against al Qaeda in Iraq. All signs are that this will be one of the few pieces of good news to be cited when the surge is assessed, notwithstanding its very dangerous potential for trouble down the road.
Here's one segment of Kilcullen's case --
It has become a truism to argue that we have too few troops in Iraq for “proper” counterinsurgency. This claim is somewhat questionable, ... as Robert Thompson pointed out more than 40 years ago, force ratio in counterinsurgency is an indicator of progress, not a prerequisite for it. You know things are starting to go your way when local people start joining your side against the enemy, thus indicating a growth of popular support, and changing the force ratio as a result.
Merely adding additional foreign troops doesn’t make up for lack of local popular support – the British lost the Cyprus campaign with a force ratio of 110 to 1 in their favor, while in the same decade the Indonesians defeated Dar'ul Islam with a force ratio that never exceeded 3 to 1, by building partnerships with communities and employing them as village neighborhood watch groups, in cordon tasks and support functions.
This argument seems set to find its way into White House talking points, especially in answer to the question: if the consequences of "losing" in Iraq are so catastrophic, why not send even more troops? Because, they'll say, we're doing modern counterinsurgency and sending more troops doesn't do any good.
Leave aside the fact they'll need more troops just to replicate al-Anbar in more places. Leave aside the fact that there are no more troops. Did the British "lose" in Cyprus? The insurgency began in 1954 with Cyprus as a British colony. It's not like the British thought that they could keep it as a colony for ever. King George III may have taken some time to adjust to his 13 colonies departing, but by the mid 1950s the template was clear.
Instead the British were fighting against Cypriot union with Greece and for retention of their military facilities. In terms of those goals, they "won" -- or at least didn't lose. And achieving that goal required, yes, more troops. There are similar possible specifications of US goals in Iraq -- preventing bits of it de facto seceding to Iran and keeping military bases, that may require similar resources. Mobilizing local allies is not a free lunch.
UPDATE: Kilcullen is now officially cool amongst the punditocracy -- he's been cited by David Brooks ($).