For Baghdad, a "surge" or just a slow roll?

Surge enabler Fred Kagan says the U.S. is in "the midst of a multi-faceted program that will not proceed in a linear way."

Published June 28, 2007 1:42PM (EDT)

The U.S. military announced a couple of weeks ago that all of the "surging" troops have now arrived in Iraq. But for Friend of the Surge Fred Kagan, it's still way too early to start any clocks ticking.

In testimony presented Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the American Enterprise Institute scholar and surge-enabler offered this clear-as-mud assessment of where we stand now:

"Amb. Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus are in the midst of a multi-faceted program that will not proceed in a linear way and will not generate clear and consistent metrics in all of its phases. The early signs are positive in a number of respects, although difficulties and challenges clearly remain. But it is too soon to evaluate the outcome of an operation that is just moving into the first of several phases intended to produce significant positive change in the situation overall."

Kagan's explanation for the slow pace of the proceedings? The "first phase" of the surge began in January, when George W. Bush announced his plans for the surge and commanders on the ground started moving troops around. "The purpose of these movements was not to clear-and-hold," Kagan explained. "The purpose was instead to establish positions within those key areas and to develop both intelligence about the enemy and trust relationships with the local communities that would make possible decisive clear-and-hold operations subsequently."

The "second phase" of the surge began on June 15, Kagan explained, when the U.S. troops stationed in the "Baghdad belts" launched Phantom Thunder, an operation aimed at disrupting "terrorist and militia networks and bases outside of Baghdad."

"But even this operation -- the largest coordinated combat operation the U.S. has undertaken since the invasion in 2003 -- is not the decisive phase of the current strategy," Kagan explained. No, he said, the real work of securing Baghdad probably won't begin until late July or early August. "That is the operation," Kagan said, "that is designed to bring security to Iraq's capital in a lasting way that will create the space for political progress that we all desire."

Not that there's any rush or anything.

The Washington Post reports today that a "massive car bomb" exploded at rush hour in Baghdad this morning, killing at least 22 and wounding more than 40 others. That attack apparently came after a car bombing that killed at least 14 in Northern Baghdad Wednesday night but before local residents found 20 headless bodies Thursday on the banks of the Tigris River south of town.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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