June 29, 2008
"Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" - June 2008
Last week the Department of Defense released it's latest quarterly report to Congress; "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" June 2008.
The short version is that as measured in May, violence in Iraq dropped to its lowest level in four years. This is very good news.
This said, I do not have time to go through all 74 pages of the report, so readers can download it and judge for themselves.
Here is the bottom line from the Executive Summary
In summary, the security, political and economic trends in Iraq continue to be positive; however, they remain fragile, reversible and uneven. Recent events in Basrah, Sadr City and elsewhere have generated new challenges and opportunities for the future. As in the past, continued progress will require Iraqi leaders to yake additional selfless and nationally-oriented actions in the spirit of reconciliation and compromise if Iraq is to achieve its potential as a stable, secure, multi-ethnic and multi-sectarian democracy under the rule of law.
This seems pretty consistent from what our commanders have been saying. Readers will note that I've covered most press briefings that have come out of Iraq for the past year and a half.
Here are some additional key quotes from the report's summary:
The security environment in Iraq continues to improve, with all major violence indicators reduced between 40 to 80% from pre-surge levels. Total security incidents have fallen to their lowest level in over four years. Coalition and Iraqi forces' operations against al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) have degraded its ability to attack and terrorize the population. Although AQI remains a major threat and is still capable of high-profile attacks, the lack of violence linked to AQI in recent weeks demonstrates the effect these operations have had on its network. Equally important, the government's success in Basrah and Baghdad's Sadr City against militias, particularly Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) and the Iranian-supported Special Groups, has reinforced a greater public rejection of militias. This rejection, while still developing, is potentially as significant for Iraq as the Sunni rejection of AQI's indiscriminate violence and extremist ideology. Overall, the communal struggle for power and resources is becoming less violent. Many Iraqis are now settling their differences through debate and the political process rather than open conflict. Other factors that have contributed to a reduction in violence include the revitalization of sectors of the Iraqi economy and local reconciliation measures. Although the number of civilian deaths in April 2008 increased slightly from February and March 2008, in May 2008 civilian deaths declined to levels not seen since January 2006, when the Coalition began tracking this data....
The emergence of Sons of Iraq (SoIs) to help secure local communities has been one of the most significant developments in the past 18 months in Iraq. These volunteers help protect their neighborhoods, secure key infrastructure and roads and locate extremists among the population. What began primarily as a Sunni effort, now appears to have taken hold in several Shi'a and mixed communities....
Recent operations in Basrah, Sadr City and Mosul remind us, however, that security gains can be uneven, fragile and tenuous if not accompanied by continued progress toward national reconciliation and economic development....
In a broader sense, the government's efforts in Basrah reflected two positive and long-awaited improvements. First, Prime Minister Maliki demonstrated a willingness to confront militias and extremists, regardless of sectarian identity....
Second, Iraqi forces demonstrated an improved capability to lead and execute significant
Iran's negative role in Iraq has emerged as a major security challenge....
The Iraqi economy grew 4% in real terms in 2007 and is projected to grow 7% in real terms for 2008, reaching an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) of $60.9 billion. Oil production increases of 9-10% this year--coupled with the higher prices of oil--should drive growth in that sector and support increased government spending. The non-oil sector is likely to grow at 3%. Core inflation fell to 12% in 2007 compared to 32% in 2006--the result of an improving security environment in the second half of 2007....
The GoI's inability to execute its capital budget remains a concern. The GoI is hampered by spending units' lack of capacity and cumbersome budgetary approval and funding
processes. Despite these difficulties, the overall trend for capital budget execution
continues to improve....
Due to greater emphasis by government leaders, Iraqis have seen an increase, albeit uneven, in the delivery of essential services such as electricity, water, sanitation and healthcare. Despite these improvements, the population's level of satisfaction with essential services remains low.
So from this it looks like we're doing pretty well. Gains are fragile, yes, but the same could be said about the situations in Japan or Germany in the late 1940s. It would be a shame to throw it all alway with a precipitous pullout.
One last quote from the section of the report titled "Political Stability":
With recent improvements in security, the current political environment in Iraq is becoming more hospitable to compromises across sectarian and ethnic divides.
What is it that Petraeus and his coauthors said in U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24? Oh yeah, that you have to have security before you can have political progress. Looks like they kind of got that one right too.
June 28, 2008
Iraq Briefing - 26 June 2008 - Operation Basha'er as-Salaam
This briefing is by U.S. Army Colonel Charlie Flynn, commander of the 1st Brigade, , 82nd Airborne Division, based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He is linked via telecommunications to the Pentagon from Contingency Operating Base Adder at Tallil Air Base. They deployed to Iraq in July of 2007. This is their fourth combat rotation, with two each to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Update: I do not have an independent source to prove this, but commenter Ginny says that the 1st Brigade is part of Multi Multi-National Division - Center . Until recently, MND-C was headquartered by Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch's 3rd Infantry Division. They have redeployed home, and have been replaced by the 10th Mountain Division (Light) from Fort Drum, New York, whose current commander is Maj. Gen. Micheal L. Oates.
I am also not entirely sure of the chain of command with regards to the 1st Brigade, because some of the 82nd is in Afghanistan. The commander of the 82nd Airborne is Major General David Rodriguez, and on April 7 he gave a briefing from Afghanistan, so Col Flynn must report to someone in Iraq, most probably the commander of MNSTC-I, who I am unable to identify. Anyway, the commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq is Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, who reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq. Petreaus reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until last March. Until Petraeus is confirmed by Congress for this position, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is the acting commander of CENTCOM. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
COL. FLYNN: ...I'm sure you've been following the events unfolding these past 10 days in southern Iraq and in Amarah with keen interest. First Brigade has played a supporting role in advising and assisting this Iraqi- planned and -led operation, and I'll be happy to discuss that with you today....
The operation in Amarah, Basha'er as-Salaam, is a clear sign of the development and professionalism of the Iraqi forces and will only serve as a model of transformation occurring in the government of Iraq, the Iraqi security forces and our area here in southern Iraq....
In light of recent events in Maysan province, security in southern Iraq can be assessed overall as stable, dotted with occasional periods of tension. These periods of tension are due to intra-Shi'a clashes. These clashes have been the workings of JAM special groups and local criminals. All of these groups have casual attitudes towards violence. This attitude has backfired, and they've lost significant support from the population due to their careless actions.
A concern remains with special groups and the spikes of violence they perpetrate for their convenience. While they are disruptive, they will not disable the government of Iraq. Special groups and criminals seek to drive a wedge between political progress and the population. As such, they'll attack Iraqi forces, coalition forces and civilian aid organizations just to make their point.
In an effort to eliminate these malign groups and extremists, Iraqi forces and government officials have stepped up and assumed active roles against these threats. Specifically, in Amarah, we've seen tribal leaders and citizens actively engage the Iraqi forces to enforce the rule of law. They've provided valuable information on the location of weapons caches and criminals. During a four-day amnesty period before operations began, tips produced caches, two of which resulted in over 200 artillery rounds, 51 antitank mines and 44 mortars.
Thursday, June 19th officially started clearing operations within the city of Amarah. The local populace was hesitant to come out of their homes at first, but by mid-morning the people began greeting the Iraqi forces in the streets, displaying a positive attitude about the government of Iraq taking care of the city and creating a safer environment to call home.
Everything we're doing has the objective of getting the populace off of the fence and into our camp. This is done by achieving local security, which has the effect of convincing the populace that the government will win and it is futile to resist, and that it is in their interest that the government win.
There were many good exchanges between the journalists and Col. Flynn, but Jim Michaels and Al Pessin got to the heart of the matter; when can the Iraqis handle their own security?
Q Colonel, Jim Michaels with USA Today. You described the relationship with -- in the Amarah operation with U.S. forces as kind of a supporting and overwatch. I'm wondering: From what you've been able to see, when do you think that the Iraqi security forces will be capable of conducting these types of operations with little or no U.S. support?
COL. FLYNN: I think to a degree -- I'm not sure if they can conduct any unilateral operations by themselves other than the standard patrolling that can go on day to day, which is relatively significant. You know, what -- I think what we are able to provide them, as a partner, is a degree of technical assistance, advice and some unique enabling capabilities that we have because of the maturity of our force.
For example, their EOD teams are performing great up there, their explosive ordnance teams against IEDs. However, their engineer clearing teams don't have quite the equipment that we have. So if we match them up together, they can do their own counter-IED work, but over time, they'll get there. And right now, they're just doing great work with the capabilities that they do have, and I think our enabling and our assistance and our partnering with them really, when they're -- when we are shoulder to shoulder with them, gives them a degree of confidence in doing their operations, and I think that's what's most helpful here.
Q Colonel, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. Two sort of related questions.
One is, how would you put this Amarah operation in the broader context, of trying to bring stability to that part of the country and especially to combating the Iranian influence?
And secondly you said in your opening statement that people know they won't be abandoned when they see the Iraqi troops come in. How do they know that? And is that accurate? Do you have enough sources down there to have that sort of persistent presence, that we've heard about, that we've heard is necessary to bring stability?
COL. FLYNN: First of all, I'll say that having watched the operation and partnered with forces in Basra, in late March, and then watching and partnering again, providing assistance to the Iraqi forces here in Amarah, in June, they have learned some great lessons. And they've applied those in this operation.
In terms of having a persistent presence and having forces available to do what needs to be done, certainly at the period of time we're in right now in Amarah, the Iraqi ground forces commander, Lieutenant General Ali, identified a need for more forces, during the initial phase of the operations, in order to establish security, remove the caches and then arrest the criminals that they had warrants for.
In terms of their presence staying after, they are going to move forces elsewhere. And they're going to bolster the Iraqi army and the police in that area.
And they're going to afford them a window of opportunity to create that stable, secure environment, so that the threats don't reemerge, and the criminals don't come back into that area and try to reestablish their networks.
Q Colonel, I'd also asked about the bigger picture, as to how significant you think the Amarah operation is. Is it of major significance or is it just another in what's going to be a long series of these?
COL. FLYNN: Well, there's nearly 10,000 Iraqi forces in the province conducting operations. We've got a little over 500 in various stages -- capabilities helping them. So I think that the forces that the Iraqi government has chosen to use in Amarah are significant. I think the combined efforts of the police and the army are significant. And seeing them work together and in unison is a positive trend.
I've said this time and again, but the truth is that training host nation forces is a time consuming process and there are no shortcuts. The only question is if whether the Iraqi security forces will be ready to stand on their own Sen. Obama wins in November and makes good on his promise to withdraw U.S. troops no matter what.
June 26, 2008
District of Columbia v. Heller - A Victory for Civil Rights
That's right, a victory for civil rights. I know that most liberals don't see gun rights as having anything to do with civil rights. They mostly see guns as "scary" things, and the idea that individuals should have them is a relic of a bygone age. In most discussions about the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment is either ignored, or interpreted in weird and bizarre ways.
The most bizarre of these is the notion that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to grant the states the right to establish their own armies, which is today the National Guard. The right to bear arms is a "collective" right, not one held by individuals. This despite that no one doubts that the rest of the Bill or Rights applies to individuals.
Today's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller changed all that. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that it was in fact an individual right. It also struck down the District of Columbia's handgun ban as unconstitutional, as well as the D.C. provision that all long guns be kept disassembled and with a trigger lock in place. There was more,but that's the essence.
This is very good news. All in all, I rate the decision as 80% positive.
Here's the Court's syllabus of the decision, as posted by Ed Whelen over at Bench Memos over at NRO
(a) The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense at home.
(b) The Second Amendment right is not unlimited. The Court's opinion should not cast doubt on concealed-weapons prohibitions, laws barring possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, laws barring firearms in sensitive places like schools and government buildings, and laws imposing conditions on commercial sale of arms.
(c) D.C.'s handgun ban and trigger-lock requirement violate the Second Amendment. The total ban on handgun possession prohibits an entire class of arms that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense. Under any standard of scrutiny, that ban falls. The trigger-lock requirement makes self-defense impossible. D.C. may use a licensing scheme.
The decision can be downloaded from the SCOTUSblog here.
I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play on on TV. Here then are some observations from an NRA member who believes strongly in the individual right to own firearms:
The Good News
Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, says outright that "The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense at home." This in and of itself is a huge victory.
Scalia also knocks down the notion that the Second Amendment was meant to protect the "right" of the states to have their own militias, ie National Guard.
Also, as mentioned above, the court declared that "D.C.'s ban on handgun possession violates the Second Amendment." and that "The "inherent right of self-defense has been central to the Second Amendment right." This last one is big, because the anti-gunners want us to rely on the government for protection.
And lastly, the total ban on handguns was struck down: "The handgun ban amounts to a prohibition of an entire class of 'arms' that is overwhelmingly chosen by American society for that lawful purpose....banning from the home 'the most preferred firearm in the nation to 'keep' and use for protection of one's home and family,' would fail constitutional muster."" Take that, you liberal anti-gunners!
The Bad News
While a victory is a victory, I wish it had been by a lot more than 5-4. That 4 justices see the Second Amendment as a "collective" right is disturbing.
The decision left the door open to gun bans beyond automatic weapons ("machine guns" for you non-gun types). "We do not cast doubt on concealed-weapons prohibitions...the sorts of weapons protected are the sorts of small arms that were lawfully possessed at home at the time of the Second Amendment's ratification, not those most useful in military service today, so "M-16 rifles and the like" may be banned"
So there's still going to be much fighting in legislatures. The anti-gunners can still ban "scary" guns.
Finally, the "licensing scheme" business is troubling. The court said that "Respondent conceded at oral argument that he does not 'have a problem with . . . licensing' and that the District's law is permissible so long as it is 'not enforced in an arbitrary and capricious manner.'" which seems to mean that jurisdictions may require a license to own a firearm, but can't be used in a manner to as to create a de facto firearms ban. This, too, opens the door to many court cases.
A change of one justice and a 5-4 decision is reversed. For all the liberals talk about stare decisis with regard to Roe v. Wade, you can bet you'll never hear the term if they think they can reverse this decision.
The bottom line is that a president Obama will appoint liberals to the court who will want to overturn today's decision, and McCain will appoint conservatives who will uphold it. The choice couldn't be clearer.
I've noticed around the Internet that some on the left are decrying this as an "activist" decision, and thus conservatives are hypocrites. I'm not sure if the people making this argument really believe what they are saying of whether they're being disingenuous, but I'll take it on.
No serious person on the right believes that the Supreme Court should not strike down unconstitutional laws, as long as the reasoning is solidly based on what the Constitution actually says, and what the founders (or those who wrote the various amendments) intended. What we object to is "making it up as you go along", ie rulings that are social engineering disguised as constitutional law. Whenever someone starts talking about a "living Constitution" or "penumbras", you know they're making it up to suit their political agendas.
So when Senator Obama said during the Roberts confirmation hearings that
Both a [conservative Justice Antonin] Scalia and a Ginsburg will arrive at the same place most of the time. What matters at the Supreme Court is those 5% of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction will only get you through 25 miles of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works and the depth and breadth of one's empathy.
In those difficult cases, the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge's heart.
and during a town hall meeting
What I really believe is that the Supreme Court has to be first and foremost thinking about and looking out for those who are vulnerable. People who are minorities, people who have historically been discriminated against. People who are poor. People who have been cheated. People who are being taken advantage of. People who have unpopular opinions. People who are outsiders.
and to CNN's Wolf Blitzer
...what I do want is a judge who's sympathetic enough to those who are on the outside, those who are vulnerable, those who are powerless, those who can't have access to political power, and, as a consequence, can't protect themselves from being -- from being dealt with sometimes unfairly, that the courts become a refuge for judges.
That's been its historic role. That was its role in Brown vs. Board of Education.
...you know you're dealing with someone who sees the Supreme Court as a second legislature, who's purpose is to enact whatever laws the Democrats can't get through the regular legislature. And bty, he's wrong about Brown v Board of Education. Nothing other than the plain reading of Section One the Fourteenth Amendment was needed to decide that case.
Contrast this with Senator John McCain, who says he is a "Strict Constructionist" on his campaign website
John McCain believes that one of the greatest threats to our liberty and the Constitutional framework that safeguards our freedoms are willful judges who usurp the role of the people and their representatives and legislate from the bench. As President, John McCain will nominate judges who understand that their role is to faithfully apply the law as written, not impose their opinions through judicial fiat.
As I said, the choice couldn't be clearer. You have Senator Obama, who wants to use the courts as a second legislature, and Senator McCain, who wants the courts to make rulings based on the law.
Update II Sunday June 29
This letter to the editor today in The Washington Times exposes the liberal mindset perfectly:
The Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller ("The gun ban ends," Editorial, Friday). leaves me with a disturbing realization that our society is strangely wedded to words written in a profoundly different era. While your editorial praises the importance of this ruling on the District's gun ban and the protection of the rights of its citizens, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia's majority opinion was not about what is right, nor about what is smart, nor about the best interests of the District. Justice Scalia's grammar lesson on the relationship between prefatory clauses and objective clauses is hardly worthy of the sheer importance of such landmark decisions for our society. The District of Columbia and the United States do not need a long and winding recitation of the tyrannies of King George III that led to the formation of militias.
Were Justice Scalia and the others in the majority to have argued why the Second Amendment, as interpreted, is relevant today, this decision might not seem so anachronistic. On the contrary, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens' dissenting opinion smartly ignores such irrelevant history lessons and argues with the realities of the present era in mind. We need a justice system that lives in the 21st century, not one beholden to the myth that words written in 1791 about men carrying muskets have any bearing today.
If you don't like a law, just have some judge declare it irrelevant and put something different in its place. Those legislatures and referrendums can be so pesky!
June 25, 2008
Iraq Briefing - 23 June 2008 - Reasons for Success
This briefing is by U.S. Army Lt. Gen Lloyd Austin, Commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Via telecommunications link he is linked to the Pentagon from Baghdad.
The Corps commander runs the day-to-day (or "tactical") operations in Iraq. The various commands in Iraq, the biggest of which are headquartered by a U.S. Army division or the Marine Corps MEF unit, report to Austin. Gen. Petraus sets overall policy and Austin implements it.
Lt. Gen. Austin reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until last March. Until Petraeus is confirmed by Congress for this position, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is the acting commander of CENTCOM. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
During his opening statement, Austin gave several reasons for our recent success in Iraq. This was followed up by some good, hard, questions from the press corps, which is just how it should be.
GEN. AUSTIN: ...Now I attribute most of these hard-fought gains in security to a few key factors: Our coalition forces are aggressively pursuing the enemy; the improving capability of the Iraqi security forces; and the Iraqi people participating in the rebuilding process of Iraq.
The first factor is the incredible hard work by our young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, as well as our coalition partners. And because of their efforts, we've been able to make significant security gains by maintaining our pursuit of al Qaeda and special groups criminals. And we believe that we have al Qaeda on their heels, and we do not intend to let up....
And since I arrived here, I've seen the Iraqi security forces conduct both offensive and stability operations, and I've seen them do it in Basra, in Sadr City, in Mosul and now in Amarah, which is in the Maysan province. And what I've seen is that the Iraqi security forces are performing extremely well, and operations in these key cities have demonstrated that they have improved from where they were just a year ago in terms of deploying their combat formations; for example, the Charge of the Knights operation in Basra, where the Iraqi security forces moved several brigades to Basra from other provinces, and this would just have absolutely have not been possible a year ago....
In addition, the Sons of Iraq program that developed from the Sunni Awakening movement has helped tremendously. It has helped in denying safe haven to the extremist groups and have assisted our coalition forces and our Iraqi partners in securing neighborhoods in previously contested areas....
Al Qaeda has been pushed out of Baghdad and other strategic population centers, and now the Iraqi security forces are leading operations against them in Mosul. And we're working with the Iraqis to support their efforts....
If we summarize, as reasons for our recent successes we have
- The adoption of a true counterinsurgency strategy
- Improved Iraqi security forces
- The Iraqi people seeing the government as legitimate and worth fighting for
The first lead to the last. In the end, the last is vital to long-term success.
There were many good questions, and and I urge everyone to view the entire briefing, so I'll concentrate on the exchanges about the Iraqi security forces
Q General, Julian Barnes from the Los Angeles Times. You expressed some confidence that the Iraqi security forces are getting better. Are there specific areas of the country that you are ready to put U.S. forces into an overwatch role and give the day-to-day operations to the Iraqi forces? And where do you think that will happen first within the country?
GEN. AUSTIN: Well, there are no areas that we can -- that we would be willing to separate out right now to dedicate specifically to the Iraqi security forces.
We are working hand-in-hand with our coalition partners in all parts of the country. They have improved significantly, but we've been clear about saying that they're not there yet....
Q General, this is Dave Wood at The Baltimore Sun. Talk a little bit more about the Iraqi security forces' attempt to be more self-sustaining. We've been watching this and covering it for a number of years., It seems like they're always moving towards that goal and never quite getting there. What's your assessment of how long it will take to -- for them to become self-sustaining and all the things you mentioned? And is there anything that the United States could do to speed that up?
GEN. AUSTIN: Certainly we're doing everything that we can on a daily basis to enable them as quickly as we possibly can. But bear in mind that we're fighting at the same time that we're doing this. You know, the Iraqi security forces have grown significantly over the last year, and as they've grown, they've been equipping themselves and training and fighting all at the same time. And we've been helping them in that endeavor -- so very difficult to put a mark on the wall and say that we'll be fully trained and equipped by a certain time period, because, again, while we're doing that, we're fighting. I can just only guarantee you that we will do everything within our power to give them true capabilities as quickly as we can....
Q General, it's Ken Fireman from Bloomberg News. I'd like to go back to the question of the Iraqi security forces and their capabilities. What we've heard from a number of U.S. commanders over a period of time has been that the greatest limiting factor on the ISF is their weaknesses in logistics and supply, their inability to develop an infrastructure that can support their troops in the field, supply them and provide logistical support. Is that still a major problem? Is that getting better? Are they showing any evidence of curing those problems, or is that still a major limiting factor on them?
GEN. AUSTIN: That's a great question. And it's one that I certainly returned to the theater focused on -- an issue that I returned to focus on.
One of the things that we set out to do early on was to work to improve the Iraqi security force logistics system and help them improve their system. And I think we've been fairly successful since we came on board.
It was an area of emphasis for our entire command. I asked all of my commanders to partner with the Iraqi forces to help them make their system work. And it's important that we focus on making their system work versus making them adapt a system that we think is right for them. And that's been very successful for us.
What you've witnessed in recent days is that they deployed themselves to Basra, which was a significant movement. They resupplied themselves there and they actually learned from that, as well. And so when they deployed to Mosul, it was almost a seamless operation. They, again, learned from that they'd done in Basra and incorporated those lessons learned into what I consider to be a really successful movement. And again, as they moved forces into Amarah, they've done a pretty good job of supporting and sustaining themselves.
You know, the DOD IG was just here a while back, and on his way out, he was very complimentary about some of the improvements that he had seen in the logistics system.
It seems we are in a race against time. If Obama is elected, the clock runs out and either the Iraqi security forces are up to speed or we risk losing everything. If McCain wins, we'll have more time. Thing is, training an army is not something you can really shortcut.
"It is a persistently methodical approach and steady pressure which will gradually wear the insurgent down. The government must not allow itself to be diverted either by counter-moves on the part of the insurgent or by the critics on its own side who will be seeking a simpler and quicker solution. There are no short-cuts and no gimmicks - Sir Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam, 1966
6-29 Training HN (host nation) security forces is a slow and painstaking process. It does not lend itself to a "quick fix".
Previous from Lt Gen Austin
Iraq Briefing - 23 May 2008 - Meet the New Commander of MNC-Iraq
June 21, 2008
Iraq Briefing - 19 June 2008 - The Last Surge Brigade Reports
This briefing is by U.S. Army Colonel Terry Ferrell, Commander of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, and John Smith, Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team Leader. Via telecommunications link they are linked to the Pentagon from Operating Base Kalsu in southeast Baghdad.
The 3rd ID is part of Multi-National Division Central, otherwise known as Task Force Marne. Their area of responsibility extends to the southern edge of Baghdad to the border with Saudi Arabia, and then to the border of Iran.
Col Ferrell reports to the commander of the 3rd ID, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch. Lynch reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin, in turn, reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until last March. Until Petraeus is confirmed by Congress for this position, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is the acting commander of CENTCOM. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
In case you're not aware, we had 15 brigades in Iraq until the start of the "surge" at the beginning of last year. We sent 5 more brigades, which arrived in the first half of 2007, hence the term "surge". Col Ferrell's 2nd Brigade Combat Team was the last of those brigades to arrive.
COL FERRELL:...The primary enemies that we were dealing with in our area of operations was al Qaeda and Sunni extremists who had been left alone for long enough to create a sanctuary in Arab Jabour.
Al Qaeda had used this sanctuary to control the population through fear and intimidation. They used homes, farms and places of business as bases of operation and bomb-making factories, devastating the region's economy. People lacked consistent access to basic necessities, like clean water and electricity, let alone a functioning health care or education system.
They had -- the area had no sustained security presence provided by either coalition or Iraqi security forces. We began operations on June 15th, when elements of the Spartan Brigade Combat Team attacked to seize a foothold in Arab Jabour against a well-entrenched al Qaeda threat. Organized defensive belts existed throughout our area of operations, and deep-buried IEDs were common as the enemy was confident they would be able to keep coalition forces out and the local population controlled. They were wrong.
When we first arrived, we were experiencing on average of 30-plus attacks a week. Now we're seeing less than one per week.
The security environment that was created by these operations and increased the Iraqi army role in the area set the conditions for the local citizens to step up and begin to take control of their future. Over this past year, we've helped create city councils in each of our population areas. Neighborhood councils now give our communities a direct voice to the government.
All this is straight out of Gen. Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. The objective in fighting any insurgency is that the counterinsurgents must achieve security first. Only then can political progress at any level take place. From FM 3-24:
1-4 Long term success in COIN depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the government's rule. Achieving this goal requires the government to eliminate as many causes of the insurgency as possible.
1-113 LEGITIMACY IS THE MAIN OBJECTIVE. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government.
1-131 SECURITY UNDER THE RULE OF LAW IS ESSENTIAL The cornerstone of any COIN effort is establishing security for the civilian populace. Without a secure environment, no permanent reforms can be implemented and disorder spreads.
The first question hits on the all important topic of whether our gains are sustainable, but what's important is how Col Ferrell gives his answer
Q Sir, it's Kristin Roberts with Reuters.
In terms of the security situation, are there any events on the horizon that might threaten the security gains or raise specific security challenges? And can you talk a bit about the sustainability of the security gains you've seen, as the country moves toward provincial elections?
COL. FERRELL: I think, in our specific area of operations, that the security gains are sustainable. We have forces that will be staying there, coalition forces that will be staying in the battlespace.
The progress of the Iraqi army battalions, that are working with us, has made great strides. The people of the communities are making tremendous strides. They are working hand-in-hand to prevent the threats from coming back.
There's always a threat. We know that. But the communities work. We work. The Iraqi security forces work. They do not want it. They've experienced now fighting for so many years. They see the changes that they've worked so hard over the last year-plus to gain; that they will move this forward. That's the key.
Ferrell points more to the attitude of the people rather than the military strength of the Iraqi Army as being key. They must believe that the counterinsurgents will win, and that it is in their interests that they win. They must get off the fence and into our side. The question, then, is how to get the people from apathy to action.
Part of the way this is being done was explained by Mr Smith as he answered a question by Tom Bowman of NPR about the Iraqi government not sending ministers down t examine essential services and see what needed to be done.
MR. SMITH:... And through developing relationships, which -- this society is built upon relationships, and then they take it very seriously -- we were able to bring these officials into an area that they would not have dreamed of going into.
And that -- and as they came into the area and you saw the Shi'a meeting the newly formed town council of Arab Jabour for the first time, and that -- so you have a Shi'a district chairman sitting down with a Sunni town council and seeing them embrace. And the thing that I can't project here in words in that is the excitement in their eyes and the reunion and the reconciliation that took place at that moment. And that was the start. That was at the very beginning of that. That was the first part of October in that, when we engaged.
And from there, you know, we followed that protocol in that, and we have gotten assistance in that from the Ministry of Health. We've gotten assistance from the Ministry of Energy. We've gotten assistance from the Ministry of Irrigation and their representatives in those areas in that. So just speaking from our area, you know, they have been cooperative to the best of their ability, and funds are starting to break free in assistance.
In other words, the people are taking action at the local level in cooperation with officials at the national level. "Political progress" is a term much bandied about, and it's true that it needs to occur if we are to truly win this war. But what's important to understand is that it's not just a top-down process. It must occur at the local level too, and then hopefully the two meet in the middle.
Then, as is so often at these briefings, Al Pessin asks the hard question. I'm impressed that he seems to know what is really going on.
Q Colonel, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. I wanted to follow up on Kristin's first question.
As you know, the surge was accompanied by a change in doctrine, a change of approach. That change of approach, I'm told, couldn't have been done without sufficient security forces.
Now, with the surge brigades leaving, what makes you confident that this approach will continue to succeed without all these extra U.S. troops there?
COL. FERRELL: I will tell you that I think that we were at the right place at the right time. And I understand the surge and the mission set that we got as we came in, and we were able to get after it. And I think it was very classic in the counterinsurgency aspects. It's the clear, hold, build as we moved through and a very slow, very methodical approach as we came in. But now we've been able to build the Iraqi security forces to come in.
As we move elements of the brigade combat team out of the battlespace -- and our brigade is very unique as the last surge brigade -- all of 2nd Brigade, 3rd ID, the brigade that works for me, is not working specifically here in this battlespace. So I have task- organized units that belong to other organizations that will be staying. So there will be a reduction, given, but there will be a coalition presence.
But what has changed is a significant increase in our area of operation of Iraqi security forces. When we first started, there was one Iraqi battalion -- no Iraqi police and one Iraqi battalion that was on the periphery of the brigade's area of operations. Nowhere did they really want to venture into our specific area of operations. And it took several weeks to get that to change. And it's taken time now to get them to the point that they do independent operations, the one battalion.
We have since, just in the last two months, received a second battalion. And we will see that it will continue to expand Iraqi security force presence over the coming weeks and months with plans that are designed for our specific piece of terrain with a larger presence of Iraqi army.
And additionally, we have just recently opened an Iraqi police station. We will have a permanent police station in Arab Jabour about the first of September, but there's a temporary station that now is open. We have over 400 candidates that is going through the process to become policemen. And we will see that bring more security to the area.
So you have Iraqi police officers. You have Iraqi army, the increased volume of Iraqi army. And then you still have that coalition presence that will facilitate the sustainment.
And don't forget the population. Don't forget the Sons of Iraq that are still there. But more importantly, don't forget the population and what they've been through and the changes and the transformation that they've been through and what they see now, what they have as they move forward. They wanted normalcy in their life. They're starting to see that and they're moving forward. I think that is one of the biggest keys that we have a tendency to overlook, here.
An entire chapter in FM 3-24 is devoted to building up the host nation forces. A few excerpts
6-1 Success in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations requires establishing a legitimate government supported by the people and able to address the fundamental causes that insurgents use to gain support. Achieving these goals requires the host nation to defeat insurgents or render them irrelevant, upholding the rule of law, and provide a basic level os essential and security for the populace. Key to all these tasks is developing an effective host-nation (HN) security force.
6-29 Training HN (host nation) security forces is a slow and painstaking process. It does not lend itself to a "quick fix".
And from the much quoted "Zen-like" section
1-154 THE HOST NATION DOING SOMETHING TOLERABLY IS NORMALLY BETTER THAN US DOING IT WELL. It is just as important to consider who performs an operation as to assess how well it is done. Where the United States is supporting a host nation, long-term success requires establishing viable HN leaders and institutions that can carry on without significant US support....
Finally, in response to a question, Col Ferrell addresses the fighting spirit of the Iraqi Security Forces. While no doubt some Iraqi forces are sub-par, and even turn from the enemy, many or even most fight bravely, and get precious little credit for it in the American press. Ferrell has two Iraqi battalions in his battlespace.
COL FERRELL:...Over time, they will both improve. And as more forces come in and they get the strength and capabilities and build the capacity, we'll see independent operations across all of them. They have the desire. That's the one thing I want you to understand.
The soldiers I deal with, and I've got great, you know, great knowledge of working with them on the ground and being engaged with them in the fight firsthand. The company commanders, a couple of the battalion commanders, but the company commanders are the ones that I have personal knowledge of down there.
They are out leading soldiers. They want to take the fight. They want to rid their area just as much as any of our soldiers. They know what's right and they'll get after it.
Just as interesting as the questions the journalists ask are the ones they don't ask. They don't question the basic military progress or success we have achieved. They don't insinuate that the briefers are misleading them. To be sure, I didn't start to watch these briefings until early 2007, and I don't even know if they did this teleconference type earlier than that. But judging from how the war was reported, I have to think that reporters were more skeptical. Either way, I find these briefings a good source of information about what's happening, and in sum they tell me that as of now we are winning.
June 20, 2008
Obama too Good for Public Financing
Sen. Barack Obama has rejected public financing of his campaign, and did so in a manner so holier-than thou that as Dean Barnett says "it has to be seen to be believed"
Here's the transcript, if you can't stand to watch the whole thing
It's not an easy decision, and especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections. But the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who've become masters at gaming this broken system. John McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs. And we've already seen that he's not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations.
From the very beginning of this campaign, I have asked my supporters to avoid that kind of unregulated activity and join us in building a new kind of politics and you have. Instead of forcing us to rely on millions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs, you've fueled this campaign with donations of $5, $10, $20, whatever you can afford. And because you did, we've built a grass-roots movement of over 1.5 million Americans. We've won the Democratic nomination by relying on ordinary people coming together to achieve extraordinary things.
If you're going to reject public financing, Senator, you don't have to be so sanctimonious about it. And stop acting like a victim, please, with your "smears and attacks" line.
Obama's never faced any serious scrutiny before as a candidate, and it shows. You simply don't get a whole lot of media attention when you're running for state senate. His campaign for the U.S. Senate was a cakewalk once Jack Ryan withdrew, and the media stopped paying attention. Obama's other problem is he's so used to being surrounded by and at rallies attended by nothing but sycophantic fawning admirers who do nothing but drool over him that when he's criticized he sees it as a "smear". The situation with the press got so bad that Saturday Night Live did a skit about the media bias.
AS RECENTLY as November, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was unequivocal about whether he would agree to take public financing for the general election if his Republican opponent pledged to do the same. "If you are nominated for president in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?" the Midwest Democracy Network asked in a questionnaire. Mr. Obama's answer was clear. "Yes," he wrote. "If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election."
Well, Sen. McCain is going to take public money. He's upheld his end of the bargain. The Post story makes clear that Obama changed his mind because he started raking in lots of money from donations. Apparently his high principle went out the window. And this is the guy who says he's going to bring forth a "new type of politics"? Sounds like he's as beholden to money as anyone else.
I've said it before on this blog, but I've done a 180 on Obama. As late as the Florida primary in January I was writing that "You're an awfully nice guy, sincere, and decent man. Too bad you have to go up against the Clinton machine. They're trying to drag you down into the mud with them. Don't take the bait."
This was before Jeremiah Wright. Before I knew the truth about Trinity United. Before I knew that he was associated with William Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist (if it had been McCain and Eric Rudolph McCain would have been thrown out of the Senate by now). Before the Tony Rezko trial and Obama's lame "this isn't the Tony Rezko that I knew" routine. Obama is not who I thought he was. To be sure, I'd have never voted for him based on his policy positions, and that he was a lightweight who padded his resume, but I never guessed that he was a total fraud. Obama is not who he said he was
Obama sat in that church and listened to a racist hatemongering preacher for 20 years and only left when it became politically expedient to do so. Now he rejects public financing of campaigns when it's politically expedient to do so.
June 15, 2008
Krauthammer Hits a Homer
Once again, Charles Krauthammer hits it out of the park. I'm just going to reprint the whole thing
In his St. Paul victory speech, Barack Obama pledged again to pull out of Iraq. Rather than "continue a policy in Iraq that asks everything of our brave men and women in uniform and nothing of Iraqi politicians. . . . It's time for Iraqis to take responsibility for their future."
We know Obama hasn't been to Iraq in more than two years, but does he not read the papers? Does he not know anything about developments on the ground? Here is the "nothing" that Iraqis have been doing in the last few months:
1. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent the Iraqi army into Basra. It achieved in a few weeks what the British had failed to do in four years: take the city, drive out the Mahdi army, and seize the ports from Iranian-backed militias.
2. When Mahdi fighters rose up in support of their Basra brethren, the Iraqi army at Maliki's direction confronted them and prevailed in every town -- Najaf, Karbala, Hilla, Kut, Nasiriyah, and Diwaniyah -- from Basra to Baghdad.
3. Without any American ground forces, the Iraqi army entered and occupied Sadr City, the Mahdi army stronghold.
4. Maliki flew to Mosul, directing a joint Iraqi-U.S. offensive against the last redoubt of al-Qaeda, which had already been driven out of Anbar, Baghdad, and Diyala provinces.
5. The Iraqi parliament enacted a de-Baathification law, a major Democratic benchmark for political reconciliation.
6. Parliament also passed the other reconciliation benchmarks -- a pension law, an amnesty law, and a provincial elections and powers law. Oil revenues are being distributed to the provinces through the annual budget.
7. With Maliki having demonstrated that he would fight not just Sunni insurgents (e.g., in Mosul) but Shiite militias (e.g., the Mahdi army), the Sunni parliamentary bloc began negotiations to join the Shiite-led government. (The final sticking point is a squabble over a sixth Cabinet position.)
The disconnect between what Democrats are saying about Iraq and what is actually happening there has reached grotesque proportions. Democrats won an exhilarating electoral victory in 2006 pledging withdrawal at a time when conditions in Iraq were dire and we were indeed losing the war. Two years later, when everything is changed, they continue to reflexively repeat their "narrative of defeat and retreat" (as Joe Lieberman so memorably called it) as if nothing has changed.
It is a position so utterly untenable that John McCain must seize the opportunity and, contrary to conventional wisdom, make the Iraq War the central winning plank of his campaign. Yes, Americans are war-weary. Yes, most think we should not have engaged in the first place. Yes, Obama will keep pulling out his 2002 speech opposing the war.
But McCain's case is simple. Is not Obama's central mantra that this election is about the future not the past? It is about 2009, not 2002. Obama promises that upon his inauguration, he will order the Joint Chiefs to bring him a plan for withdrawal from Iraq within 16 months. McCain says that upon his inauguration, he'll ask the Joint Chiefs for a plan for continued and ultimate success.
The choice could not be more clearly drawn. The Democrats' one objective in Iraq is withdrawal. McCain's one objective is victory.
McCain's case is not hard to make. Iraq is a three-front war -- against Sunni al-Qaeda, against Shiite militias, and against Iranian hegemony -- and we are winning on every front:
We did not go into Iraq to fight al-Qaeda. The war had other purposes. But al-Qaeda chose to turn it into the central front in its war against America. That choice turned into an al-Qaeda fiasco: Al-Qaeda in Iraq is now on the run and in the midst of stunning and humiliating defeat.
As for the Shiite extremists, the Mahdi army is isolated and at its weakest point in years.
Its sponsor, Iran, has suffered major setbacks, not just in Basra, but in Iraqi public opinion, which has rallied to the Maliki government and against Iranian interference through its Sadrist proxy.
Even the most expansive American objective -- establishing a representative government that is an ally against jihadists, both Sunni and Shiite -- is within sight.
Obama and the Democrats would forfeit every one of these successes to a declared policy of fixed and unconditional withdrawal. If McCain cannot take to the American people the case for the folly of that policy, he will not be president. Nor should he be.
Give the speech, senator. Give it now.
Indeed. McCain needs to get in front of this issue and define himself before the Democrats do it for him. He also needs to hammer on Obama's many liabilities before the Democrats manage to re-define him, but that's another story.
The fact is, every single one of the left's talking points about Iraq is in shatters. But to Obama, it doesn't matter. For him to now concede that we are winning (I said winning, not won), would be to anger the nutroots base of his party. It would risk his "aura" of being larger-than-life-Obama, and might force his followers to actually confront the reality of the situation, rather than simply spout warmed-over MoveOn.org talking points. Too many Democrats are invested in a U.S. defeat.
As I have said many times on this blog, President Bush has done a miserable job of presenting the case for Iraq to the American people. Secretary of State Rice has served him poorly, both at NSC and now at State, and ought to be fired. The American people will listen to a new voice, but only if he speaks. Of all the Republican candidates he was always the one with the strongest national security credentials. He needs to speak forcefully and often about Iraq. Krauthammer is right; McCain needs to give this speech.
When Will We Learn?
Over at The Corner, Michael Rubin has found something at Barack Obama and all liberals who think we should negotiate with Iran should read.
The former spokesman of the President Mohammed Khatami's government (1997-2005) has admitted that the only reason they negotiated with the West was to stall for time so that they could continue their nuclear weapons program. From a report in the Fars News Agency (you have to trust Rubin's translator, the Royal Danish Defence College analyst Ali Alfoneh):
Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, Khatami-era government spokesman, on a panel with Mehdi Faza'eli, general secretary of the Muslim Journalist Association: "We did our outmost to prevent the case of Iran being sent to the Security Council, whose judge is the United States.... During the confidence building-era, we entered the nuclear club, and despite the suspension [of uranium enrichment] we imported all the materials needed for our nuclear activities of the country...We were not subjected to sanctions regime during the reform era, but today, even our ophthalmologists are not allowed to import laser products [needed for operations]... If we pursue the right to nuclear energy for bombs, it is clear that the world does not want this, and if we want it for electricity, they say 'you don't have nuclear power plants, what do you want nuclear fuel for?' Just take a look at what the Russians have done to us in the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
With the current speed of enrichment, it will take us 25 years before we reach enrichment self-sufficiency. And who knows where we want to find nuclear fuel? And our reserves are unknown... The solution is to prove to the entire world that we want the power plants for electricity. Afterwards, we can proceed with other activities... The peak of our goal is an honorable life for the people. Do we want to become another North Korea...
And this isn't even the good part. Read on
There are only two ways of coming through the current crisis. One is what Khatami did by winning the election of 1997, and the other what [he did] after September 11th, which both guarded the country against war. Today, the solution is to marginalize the Ahmadinejad government from political decision-making in the nuclear energy field, with decisions be taken elsewhere.
As long as we were not subjected to sanctions, and during our negotiations we could import technology. We should have negotiated for so long, and benefited from the atmosphere of negotiations to the extent that we could import all the technology needed. The adversary wanted the negotiations to come to a dead end and initiate a new phase. But we wanted to continue negotiations until the U.S. would be gone from the circle of negotiations. We had one overt policy, which was one of negotiation and confidence building, and a covert policy, which was continuation of the activities...
We consider access to all sciences and technologies of the humankind a necessity, but we also prioritize confidence building. Today, in the field of confidence building, Japan is the most advanced country in the world, but Japan can produce a nuclear bomb in less than a week...We achieved to divide the Europeans from the Americans, but today it has come to a point that the Europeans and the Americans have harmonized their policies.
Yes I know, this does not necessarily mean that they're working on nuclear weapons now. And Ramezanzadeh doesn't come out and directly say they were working on nuclear weapons. But I think it's pretty clear what he's talking about.
And in case you think this was the first such admission, think again. In March of 2006 The Telegraph reported that
The man who for two years led Iran's nuclear negotiations has laid out in unprecedented detail how the regime took advantage of talks with Britain, France and Germany to forge ahead with its secret atomic programme.
In a speech to a closed meeting of leading Islamic clerics and academics, Hassan Rowhani, who headed talks with the so-called EU3 until last year, revealed how Teheran played for time and tried to dupe the West after its secret nuclear programme was uncovered by the Iranian opposition in 2002.
Iran has completed uranium enrichment equipment at Isfahan
He boasted that while talks were taking place in Teheran, Iran was able to complete the installation of equipment for conversion of yellowcake - a key stage in the nuclear fuel process - at its Isfahan plant but at the same time convince European diplomats that nothing was afoot.
"From the outset, the Americans kept telling the Europeans, 'The Iranians are lying and deceiving you and they have not told you everything.' The Europeans used to respond, 'We trust them'," he said.
Remember last December's National Intelligence Estimate? The one that was used by the left to "prove" that Iran wasn't seeking nuclear weapons? The one in which the authors confidently said that
A. We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program...
Unless this Ramezanzadeh fellow is blowing smoke, we've been had. And by "we" I mean the Bush Administration as well as his predecessors. We've been talking to Iran for 38 years and it hasn't worked. When will we learn?
June 12, 2008
Iraq Briefing - 09 June 2008 - Job Creation to Defeat the Insurgency
Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North ( also known as Task Force Iron) and the 1st Armored Division, spoke via satellite today to reporters at the Pentagon.
Maj. Gen. Hertling reports to reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin, in turn, reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Forces - Iraq, who reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until April. Until Petraeus is confirmed by Congress for this position, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is the acting commander of CENTCOM. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
The transcript is on the DefenseLink website.
While there is much of interest in this briefing, what struck me was Hertling's emphasis on job creation as a means to defeat the insurgency.
First from Hertling's opening remarks
GEN. HERTLING: The last time, as Gary said, that I spoke to (reporters at the Pentagon via satellite) was 11 February. On that particular day, we had been involved in an operation we were calling Iron Harvest down in Diyala, the southern part of our province, for about a month and a half. And it was just a few days after that press briefing that we thought we had secured the area enough to switch -- using a military term -- our main effort and start pushing enablers, like aviation, engineers, intelligence, up to the northern province of Nineveh, and specifically the city of Mosul. We did that in about mid-February, and we began to set the conditions for the operations which are ongoing there now, along with our Iraqi brothers in the 2nd and 3rd Iraqi army division.
You can see what's happening; Al-Qaeda in Iraq is slowing being squeezed into an area smaller and smaller. Here's more of Hertling's opening statement:
So while we continued to fight through the February-March-April time frame in the southern part of our area of operations -- which, just as a reminder, is about the size of the state of Pennsylvania -- we really shifted our effort primarily to Mosul and also some of the other areas where we thought the enemy was located, and that enemy being specifically al Qaeda.
With our Iraqi brothers in the four Iraqi army divisions which are part of the northern provinces, we've seen some significant gains over the last several months in the north, more so in Salahuddin, Diyala and Kirkuk province, but less so in Nineveh and specifically Mosul, although that's beginning to change as well.
Some of you have heard and some of you have reported that many key AQI leaders have escaped. That first report came out of Diyala province when we were in Muqdadiyah. I've seen reports of it since we started our operation in Mosul, and I would suggest to you that that's -- just isn't true.
I'd be interested in where those comments come from. We've captured or killed a significant number of al Qaeda fighters in both Diyala and Nineveh as well as the two of our other provinces. And those who did leave or attempt to leave, we're continuing to pursue those in some of the desert areas throughout our area of operations....
The first question from a reporter touched on troop levels going down and whether Hertling would have enough to complete operations in Mosul:
Q Hi, General. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. Defense officials, military officials continue to call Mosul the last urban stronghold of al Qaeda in Iraq. I'm curious, as the numbers in the surge continue to move -- as the troops in the surge continue to redeploy, there's talk of additional redeployments -- the numbers of troops in Iraq going down -- are you concerned, as the commander of this area of Mosul, that you aren't going to have enough troops? Do you have enough now? Looking forward, I mean, where do you see your area standing?
GEN. HERTLING: Well, I think the comments about Mosul being the last urban stronghold stand true today. It certainly is an urban stronghold. But I think one of the things that's been interesting is the majority of efforts in Mosul itself have been conducted by Iraqi forces, not us. We were able to contribute in the build-up of the security measures. As an example, there were almost 30 combat outposts built between that February time frame I talked about and the start of operations on 10 May. Most of those were done primarily by U.S. engineers with some help from Iraqi engineers that are improving in capability.
We are continuing to provide air support. We just did a major air insertion of an entire Iraqi brigade using U.S. helicopters last week in a very successful operation the Iraqis called Lion's Hunt in the western desert.
So I mean, we're still contributing to this. But quite frankly my partner, General Riyadh, has been leading the charge in Mosul to improve the security conditions there. Right now, I think, it would probably be accurate to say it is the urban stronghold today.
But I'll never say anything is last with al Qaeda, because you never know what's going to happen to them next. We think that they have gone out into the desert areas. We are pursuing them out there.
So as is typical with commanders, Hertling is confident that we've got the upper hand, but cautious enough not to write AQI off. Maybe we learned our lesson from the early days of the war.
Although this next question was about foreign fighters, part of Hertling's answer illustrates the importance of creating jobs and improving the economy in defeating the insurgency
Q General, it's Tom Bowman with NPR. Could you offer a little more detail on the leadership that you're picking up, with al Qaeda, in Diyala and Ninawa? And also you mentioned the level three fighters, those who are just doing it for a buck. Give us a sense of the numbers you're rolling up. And finally any sense of foreign fighters here or evidence of foreign financing?
GEN. HERTLING: Yes, there's quite a bit of evidence and, in fact, some foreign fighters that we have detained, primarily in the north but also in northern Salahaddin province, if you know where that is, near the towns of Shirkat and some other areas.
We're seeing some foreign-fighter lines of operations coming in, from both the open Syrian desert to the west but also through the north, through the Syrian ports, that they're being smuggled in, in various ways.
The level three guys are the most interesting. We had some discussion when we started the operations in Mosul with the minister of the Interior, minister of Defense where one of the Iraqi generals, the intelligence individual for the Iraqi force that was up there, put a number on what he thought was the number of terrorists in the city of Mosul. We had a discussion right after that saying that about half of those could potentially be swung away from the organization if jobs were more available, because many of these guys are doing some of these criminal or terrorist actions just in order to get paid and to survive.
So the level three guys are the ones that, while we still sometimes have to either kill or capture them, hopefully the increase in the infrastructure and the ability to provide jobs may cause some additional tipping of this organization in the north, and everywhere else in Iraq, for that matter.
And then later on we had this exchange in which Maj. Gen. Hertling expanded on this theme
Q One of the keys, though, is finding them something to do, right, as they come out? And you mentioned jobs earlier. How are you addressing that effort to just kind of create something for them to do?
GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, that's linked to several things that we've got going on here in the north. It's not only the detainee-release that it's critical to find jobs -- the detainee-release -- those released from detention are critical to find jobs for, but we're also trying to transition the several thousand Sons of Iraq, the concerned local citizen program. We're trying to do that in the short term, before October of next year.
We have, right now, 32,000 Sons of Iraq in the north. We think we'll get, by the time it's over, between 6(,000) and 7,000 detainees released back into the area over the next year or so.
So that is a significant number to find jobs for.
But I think, quite frankly -- and that's one of the things I'm glad you pointed this out, because not only is the U.S. government helping in this program, with the State Department, trying to get -- (short audio break) -- infrastructure up and running again, but the Iraqi government's helping significantly as well, with the ICERP program, to get buildings up and operational; you buy contractors that way; they're getting new infrastructure repair teams going; some of the power lines are being repaired, and that takes manpower and labor.
So, as infrastructure continues to rise, that unemployment rate, which is somewhere, depending on which province you go to in our area of operations, anywhere from 50 to 80 percent, it is critical, and those detainees being released into that unemployment population is something that concerns us, we're watching very closely. Quite frankly, it is not only -- for us not only about fighting the insurgency, it's finding jobs and helping the Iraqi government and the Provincial Council find jobs for these young men and women.
So contrary to what Keith Olbermann and other crazed leftists think, no we're not just running around killing innocent Iraqis. We're trying to make Iraq a better place, which will enhance the security of the region, deal al Qaeda a huge blow, and thus enhance the security of the United States.
June 11, 2008
In my last post I promised to review missed opportunities for peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Here it is, as promised.
One: The Arabs could have accepted the 1948 UN plan which would have divided the area and created two countries; Palestine and Israel. But instead they invaded with 8 armies.
Two: If it was so important for the Palestinians to have a homeland on what is termed the "West Bank", then Jordan could have given them this land at any time between 1948 and 1967, because they controlled it. But they didn't, and King Hussein's bad decisions during the Six Day War cost him this land.
Three: After the 1967 Six Day War Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan famously said that he was "expecting a phone call"; from the Arab governments. He expected them to agree to peace treaties in return for getting their land back. He never got any calls.
Four: The Arabs could have taken Anwar Sadat's lead and approached Israel to make similar deals. Instead, they threw Egypt out of the Arab League and made Sadat a pariah. When he was murdered they celebrated throughout the Arab world.
Five: Yassir Arafat could have agreed to the deal offered him at Camp David in 2000 by President Clinton and Israeli PM Ehud Barak. But instead of taking an offer that would have created a Palestinian state, he started an intifada that took hundreds if not thousands of lives.
Yes yes I know the objections; the 1948 plan was unfair to the Arabs and the Zionists would have chased them off the land anyway, that it was unrealistic to expect Jordan to give up part of their territory for the Palestinians, that the Arabs would have lost face had they called Moshe Dayan in 1967, that the situation with regard to Egypt and the Sinai was different, and that the 2000 deal would have left too many Israeli settlements.
But by rejecting every opportunity for peace, the Arabs miss something else too. If they had accepted the UN plan in 1948 and the Zionists had then chased them off the UN designated land, they'd have a case. If Jordan had given them land on the "West Bank" after 1948 and Israel had invaded without provocation, they'd have a case. If the Israeli's hadn't returned the land they won in the 1967 Six Day War after reasonable negotiations they'd have a case. If they'd tried to follow up on the Carter-Sadat-Begin settlement and been rebuffed they'd have a case. And if they'd accepted Clinton and Baruk's proposal at Camp David in 2000 and the Israelis reneged they'd have a case.
But in each case they didn't. They missed their opportunity and thus have no case, or at least have a weaker one.
And no I am not saying that the Israelis have been perfect. I wish they had not built so many settlements, and that they would stop building new ones.
For the sake of argumentation we'll take take every Arab objection at face value. But what have the Palestinians got now? Only a rump Palestinian Authority and no real nation. Isn't half a loaf better than none?
Further, as time goes on the land available to the Palestinians grows smaller and smaller. It's like a declining stock; if you sell you lose money, but the longer you wait the more money you lose. Eventually you figure out it's not going to go back up again and you cut your losses, sell, and move on.
As the Israeli diplomat and politician Abba Eban said, "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity"
June 4, 2008
No, the Settlements are Not the Problem
Once again we have a news story that spectacularly misses the point. All the more disappointing since it's in The Washington Times:
Israeli settlements seen subverting peace talks
Top Palestinian negotiators complained Tuesday that continuing Israeli settlement construction on contested land was undermining chances of a peace deal this year, even as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration still hoped to nail down at least the outlines of a peace deal before Mr. Bush leaves office in January.
With embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Washington for talks with President Bush on Wednesday, Maen Areikat, deputy general of the Palestine Liberation Organization's negotiating department, said Israel's continued settlement building since the U.S.-sponsored Annapolis conference in November had dimmed prospects of a breakthrough.
"Unfortunately, the situation on the ground has not changed significantly" since Annapolis, Mr. Areikat said on a Washington visit. "On the contrary, Israel is trying to change the facts on the ground to its advantage."
Another story in the Times earlier this week made essentially the same point about the Golan Heights
KATZRIN, Golan Heights | Life has suddenly become very uncertain for the residents of the 32 Israeli communities in these highlands captured from Syria in 1967.
Recent peace overtures with Syria have put their homes on the trading block, raising the prospect that they could be evicted in scenes reminiscent of the evacuation of the Gaza Strip in 2005.
But the Golan occupies a very different place in the Israeli national psyche from Gaza or the West Bank, where ideologically driven settlers live in tense proximity to a Palestinian majority....
Israelis feel more at home in the Golan than in the West Bank and even Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods. Now that the Golan is back on the bargaining table, Israeli residents there bristle at comparisons with the religious nationalist settlers of the West Bank and the former Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip....
Tourists, a rare sight in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, browse for upscale wine at a Golan Heights shop. Residents there do not consider themselves to be nationalist settlers.
Since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the Golan Heights' border between Israel and Syria has been the calmest of any border zone. Despite the ubiquitous presence of military vehicles on the roads, residents ask rhetorically why a treaty with Syria is necessary when the Golan is more tranquil and more secure than Tel Aviv.
The message is clear: If it wasn't for those darn settlements there would be peace in between Israel and Palestine.
Answer Me This
If the settlements are the problem today, what was the problem before 1967?
The "West Bank"
Suppose Israel removed every settlement from what we call the West Bank, and what they call Judea and Samaria. Fatah would be nominally in control, at least for a short period. However, Hamas would undoubtably make a play for total control, and would likely succeed just as they did in Gaza. What we would then have is a terrorist state that would spend it's time attacking Israel.
If Fatah retained control, however, the situation would not be much if any better. Fatah, as I have written, is basically a terrorist organization that has no intention of accepting the existence of Israel. As Andy McCarthy wrote last year
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades are Fatah's terrorist wing. They have been a specially designated Foreign Terrorist Organization under U.S. law since 2002, and, as I noted here, have now taken to directly threatening the United States. ("We won't remain idle in the face of the siege imposed on the Palestinian people by Israel, the U.S. and other countries[.]...We will strike at the economic and civilian interests of these countries, here and abroad.")
Fatah's Abbas, our "moderate" "peace partner," maintains close ties to the Brigades -- even if he didn't want to (which I doubt) he has no choice as they are very popular among Palestinians.
Even as the administration announced its strong support for Fatah in the wake of Fatah's ouster from Gaza by Hamas, Fatah's al Aqsa Brigades have continued to carry out attacks against Israel, in coordination with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another designated terrorist organization with a long history of working with Fatah.
The reason for all this is simple; the Palestinians do not want a "two-state solution". They want to destroy Israel. Notably missing from most stories, including the ones in the Times above, is any mention of the Palestinian demand for a "right of return".
The "right of return" is what the Palestinians is their right to return to land "stolen" from them in the 1948 War of Independence. What they want to do is to be able to go into Israel proper, ie the pre-1967 borders, and take land that they claim is theirs. Four million or more Palestinians want to exercise this "right." Given that the population of Israel is currently only 7 million, with 1 million being Arabs, clearly this is a recipe for the end of Israel.
Some might propose a trade; the Palestinians give up their "right of return" and the Israelis the settlements, but one neither side will give in, and anyway it doesn't answer the question of Palestinian terrorism.
Lastly, I don't see any evidence that granting the Palestinians their own state would "pull the ideological rug out from under the terrorists", or "take away their issue", as we are commonly told. As it is, about 50% of Palestinians support "resistance operations" against Israel.
The Golan Heights
Readers will recall that in early May I visited Israel and as part of out tour went up on the Golan Heights. On the Golan plateau we went up on Mount Avital, at the top of which is an old Israeli fort since turned into a park. Here's the view from the top into Syria
As with Gaza, the West Bank, and the Sinai, Israel captured the Golan in the 1967 war. It's essentially a plateau to the northeast of Israel proper.
Some say that Israel should give it back in return for a peace treaty with Syria. As the Times story above implies, if only the settlements weren't in the way there'd be peace.
Again, what rubbish.
To this day Syria supplies and funnels arms from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Yet United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 demands the disarming of Hezbollah. There are UN peacekeeping troops in Lebanon who are charged with enforcing 1701. Yet they do not, and Hezbollah remains well armed.
So there is no reason to suppose that if Syria regained control of Golan they would not let in Hezbollah and continue to supply them with arms. Hezbollah would use Golan as they do Lebanon; as a base with which to attack Israel. The idea that peacekeepers from the UN or anywhere else would do anything about it is silly.
"Peace for Land"
Peace for land worked with Egypt because Anwar Sadat was a sane man with whom the Israelis could work. He was a dictator, to be sure, but rational and pragmatic. This cannot be said about Mahmud Abbas or Bashir Assad.
Once Israel gives up territory, it's gone for good. Taking it back would require a bloody war.
When Israel left Gaza, the Palestinians there a golden opportunity to show the world that they could govern themselves in peace. Instead they massacred each other and have turned it into a terrorist sanctuary.
Right now there's simply no good reason to believe that they do anything different anywhere else.
The Arabs have had, by my count, at least five chances to make peace with Israel since 1948. In my next post I am going to go through them.
Whatever you think about the settlements, however, they are not the barrier to peace.
Here it is: Missed Opportunities.
June 3, 2008
Iraq Briefing - 02 June 2008 - "Attack, Attack, Attack"
This briefing is by Major General Jeffery Hammond, Commanding General of Multi-National Division-Baghdad and the 4th Infantry Division. The 4th ID relieved the First Cavalry Division in December of 2007. This is Maj Gen Hammond's first press briefing.
The 4th ID is part of Multi-National Division Baghdad, and are also known as Task Force Baghdad. Their major area of responsibility is the city of Baghdad. MND-Baghdad is headquartered by the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas.
Maj. Gen. Hammond reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin, in turn, reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Forces - Iraq, who reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until April. Until Petraeus is confirmed by Congress for this position, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is the acting commander of CENTCOM. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Please watch the whole video. Trust me, they're worth it.
The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.
Maj. Gen. Hammond is upbeat about the progress that his troops and those of his Iraqi counterparts have made.
From his opening statement
GEN. HAMMOND: ...Now, in Baghdad, our mission is unchanged. It's to protect the people. We accomplish this by defeating the enemies of Iraq, improving the Iraqi security force's capability through partnership, developing the Iraqi police capacity, supporting political and economic growth, ultimately transitioning the Iraqi security forces in their responsibility for overall security.
"Our mission is ... to protect the people." I know I sound like a broken record but this is straight out of U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. For the uninitiated that would be the manual written by then Lt. Gen Petraeus' team in 2006 and basically forms the basis for everything we've done as part of the "surge".
The point is that the first focus of counterinsurgents must be to protect the population. Only then can political and economic progress take place. It does NOT work the other way around.
Continuing with Maj. Gen. Hammond's introduction
Now, our operations against these criminals extend well outside Sadr City as well, to all of Baghdad. We're pursuing the enemy, and we're searching for weapons caches across Baghdad, focusing in known support areas. I remind my soldiers we attack, attack, attack, across all lines of operation.
Now, the areas -- we're focusing outside of Sadr City on both the east and west side of the Tigris River, which -- as you're aware, it bisects Baghdad. Now we're going to continue to hunt these criminals, to locate and destroy their weapons storage areas, through targeted intelligence-driven raids.
Now, what's interesting is many of the leaders of these criminal elements have fled. They left. Our message to those enemy leaders who have left: Don't come back. To the few who remain, it's going to be all about attack, attack, attack. Leave or be captured or killed.
The conditions in Baghdad are changing. There's no place for those terrorists and criminals. The people are fed up with them. They're tired of the violence and destruction. They vote to move on.
Now, in partnership with our Iraqi counterparts, we've hired and trained over 8,500 new police. It's important to note though that 3,250 of those recruits are former Sons of Iraq.
So we're really aggressively pushing to get our Sons of Iraq, a little over 30,000, transitioned to other employment, much of that with the Iraqi army, the national police or the Iraqi police.
Now, right now we have over 22,000 Iraqi police in Baghdad. And we're rapidly approaching our end goal of 25,000, which is at the end of what we call phase one expansion.
Phase two's expansion is going to take us up to 35,200 police in Baghdad. And I hope to get there no later than February '09. This expansion sets the conditions for the future of Baghdad under civil control with police providing the necessary security throughout the city. So what's next? I've got to tell you, I'm optimistic about the future of Baghdad. But there's still a heck of a lot of work to be done. We will build on our success in specific areas.
First, our mission of protecting the population: That will not change. Security is our number-one task. And in partnership with the Iraqi security forces, we will continue to pursue those who operate outside the rule of law.
We will continue to expand our ability to be among the people of Baghdad. We're going to follow the COIN strategy that we've grown into. And as it is today, we currently have 51 joint security stations, 23 combat outposts.
That's a significant increase. And we plan to increase this total number by probably 15 percent over the next six months. It's critical that we not spend our time in the FOBs, the conventional FOBs; that we get out with the people where we need to be.
This last part about getting out of the large Forward Operating Bases and living among the people has been a critical part of 2007 and what is popularly termed the "surge". One of our mistakes from the early years was concentrating our troops in these large FOBs and then sending them out on raids. As Field Manual 3-24 makes clear, this does not work.
To be fair to these commanders, such as Gen. George Casey, they did not have enough troops to do anything else. But the other side of the coin is that they did not ask for the additional troops. It was only when Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno took over as commander of Multi-National Corps Iraq in late 2006 (a position that made him #2 in Iraq) did anyone challenge the existing strategy. Odierno told Casey to his face that more troops were needed. Casey wouldn't listen, which is why he was replaced with Gen. Petraeus.
The other thing of note was the part about the Sons of Iraq, formerly called Concerned Citizens Councils. It's not so much "political progress" as it is winning over the people. it's all about winning the "Hearts and Minds" of the populace. NOTE: I can almost guarantee that you do not know the true meaning of "Hearts and Minds" since it is one of the most misunderstood terms in all of warfare (I didn't until recently) so please follow the link!
After Hammond's opening statement, it was time for the reporters to ask their questions. As is usual, they were smart and tough, yet polite. One thing I've noticed is that the quality of the press corps, at least in these briefings, has improved over the past few years. Of course, what their editors do with the stories is another matter entirely.
Q General, it's Tom Bowman with NPR. You mentioned that there are a thousand filed claims in Sadr City. You paid out about 70,000. Can you give us a breakdown on those claims; how many for property damage, how many for injured or killed civilians?
GEN. HAMMOND: Tom, I can't give you a specific -- I don't have the numbers in front of me. But I'd probably guess and say probably 85 percent is for property damage, much of that property damage coming at the hands of indirect fire that was shot from Sadr City. Much of that fell short. We had a few mortar rounds that fell short in Jamila market, which I think you know is the critical market that provides much to the rest of Baghdad, and about 25 percent to one-third burned down as a result of short rounds. But probably 85 percent is paid out for property damage as a result of that, and just the direct combat fighting.
I think as you know, that our soldiers are very careful in the way that we maneuver and place precise fire on targets. I would tell you quite clearly -- having been up there quite a bit -- that the folks that we're fighting against, these criminals, they didn't care much about collateral damage. But it's our responsibility -- we assume the responsibility for the ground we occupy with our partners, Iraqi security forces, and we work together in the CMOC in dealing with the people as they come in.
It's very encouraging when a thousand people step forward. In the past they wouldn't have done that, out of the fear of the militias. They wouldn't have stepped forward. But they came forward seeking the assistance, and we well support them.
Q Fifteen percent would be injured or killed civilians? Is that right? So you're talking dozens, at least, of injured or killed civilians, correct?
GEN. HAMMOND: I would say -- just an estimate -- probably about 15 percent of the citizens that I'm aware of could've -- injured. Injured or killed. I'm not -- I can't get precise there, but I will give you a more precise answer if you stay in touch with me. I'll help you out on that.
Q (Off mike ) -- when you talk about mortars and rockets falling short and creating damage -- I mean, clearly, if you're paying out compensation claims, it's your rockets, the MLRS, it's the Predators dropping Hellfire missiles and it's the tank rounds that are also causing damage. Isn't that right?
GEN. HAMMOND: Well, no. No and yes. Let me -- let me be more precise. No MLRS rockets have been fired anywhere near Sadr City. It was a limited number of rockets on a precision strike against a series of high-value targets. And I can tell you that the collateral damage from that was very, very limited, and I know that because I got in a helicopter; I flew right over the site and sat on top of it and looked at it personally and examined it.
As far as any short rounds, as I describe them, from mortars or rockets, we didn't fire any mortars or rockets anywhere into Sadr City. It was the militia that were firing these from different ranges within Sadr City off of sort of rigged-up rails that might or might not be accurate, and quite often -- not quite often, but at times -- would create conditions where a short round, in fact, would fall on the innocent people. So they not only -- they made a point of not only embarking -- terror at the range they were trying to shoot the rocket but also at short range where they made the mistakes, definitely.
As far as any tank rounds that we shot which -- we did fire some well-placed tank rounds in very limited numbers when it was necessary to defeat a threat that was being imposed upon the people or our soldiers, but we are very -- we've been very specific and careful in how we have fought up there. I've been very proud of our soldiers, the fact that we haven't made many mistakes because of the concern for the number one mission we had. The number one mission was not to defeat the militia; it was to protect the people, to protect the people.
Q Right, but you -- if you -- just one last thing. If you've been so careful, why do you have the thousand claims against you?
GEN. HAMMOND: Well, a lot of people came out of the -- because these people had a legitimate claim, they felt, that they wanted to process. A lot of these -- that sort of gives you some sort of indication, I think, for the amount of indiscriminate damage that was imposed upon the innocent people by a relentless, unforgiving -- lack of conscience -- enemy.
I have problem with these tough sorts of questions. Theya re fine, insofar as the objective is to make sure that we are trying to fight as cleanly as possible. This is in keeping with FM 3-24. The problem comes when the press use issues like collateral damage to simply bash the U.S., or to insinuate that we're the only ones causing damage, and that if only we weren't there Iraq would be a nice peaceful place. Tough questions are admirable if the objective is to help us win the war, disgraceful if they're used to encourage cut-and-run. The other consideration is whether the critic spends all of his or her time attacking the U.S., or whether they spend time exposing the horrors caused by the terrorist insurgents.
So we'll see what NPR does with this story. Ok, I'm not optimistic either.
The reality of warfare is that no matter how careful you are things will be destroyed that we didn't mean to hit, and people will be killed or hurt that we weren't aiming at. I know this sounds macabre, but what it comes down to is a calculation as to whether the gains are more than the losses. One thing that should be noted, especially by hawkish right-wingers, is that if you want to win a counterinsurgency you had better keep the use of force to just what is absolutely necessary and no more. If you don't believe me pick up a copy of Field Manual 3-24.
Later we had the "Nancy Pelosi" question
Q General, it's David Morgan from Reuters. In terms of the cease-fire agreement that brought the recent spate of violence in Sadr City to an end, can you tell us, to your knowledge, did Iran play a role in restraining the special groups that were involved in the attacks?
And to what extent did their influence bring an end to the violence?
GEN. HAMMOND: Well, I don't know. I think that, you know, any time -- we've seen the past the Muqtada al-Sadr's declaration of cease-fire have impact. In the particular case this time around, what we dealt with, I think there were really two groups. There were those that chose to honor the desire to decrease, to eliminate the violence, and there are those that chose otherwise. And the ones that otherwise -- the ones I'm talking about, all you can really label them as is criminals. You know, there's either those that follow the law or those that wish to break the law.
And we're at that point now where I think the real influence in all this, in my opinion, is the people. I think we're seeing -- and I've been here before in Baghdad, in MND-Baghdad, in a different role. I've seen a significant difference now, where more and more I'm seeing the people, the people are stepping forward, and the number of tips we're receiving now, it's unbelievable. They're stepping forward. They're sharing information. They're telling us in Sadr City, in Area Gold, they're very thankful to the Iraqi army. They don't want the Iraqi army to leave. They're thankful that the militias have backed away. These people want to get on with life. It's really a remarkable situation to see as it's developed here in the last -- really last month. Very positive. Very positive what I see out there ahead.
In other words, Madame Speaker, you don't know what you're talking about.
There is a lot more to the briefing, most all of which is encouraging. You know we're on the right track when Voice of America reporter Al Pessin voices optimism as to the state of the Iraqi Security Forces in a question. But for that and other exchanges you'll have to watch the video or read the transcript. I'll move on to Maj. Gen. Hammond's final remarks:
Thanks for your time. The only thing I'd ask -- the message I'd ask you to take back is something like this. These youngsters you have here, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, they're your credentials.
They're the nation's credentials. They're less than 1 percent of the nation who volunteer to serve here. And they want -- they want this mission. They're doing one heck of a job. I think I'd ask you, as you go forth, to find an Army, Navy, Marine or Air Force family member somewhere, in a local mall, wherever you go about places, and thank them. Because those folks have lent -- they've lent to us their service member here to fight this battle for freedom and for the needs of these Iraqi people. And their service member's doing one heck of a job.
I think the glass is half-full. I think clearly that it's an encouraging situation we have right now. But we still got a lot of work we got to get done. And we're up for it, we're up to it, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow.
I have nothing further. Thanks for your time.
June 2, 2008
The Legal Jihad in Canada
Anyone who thinks that other democracies like Canada have freedom of speech "just like us" haven't been following Mark Steyn's travails up there very closely. He and the Macleans (sort of their equivalent of Time or Newsweek) have been hit with a legal jihad designed to silence all criticism of Islam that the usual suspects find objectionable. Background here, if you're not sure what it's all about.
The trial is now underway, and I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Steyn fills us in with a post over at The Corner
Jonah, re: Omar Sharif saying that, when he has a problem with some guy, he finds it far easier to go to the neighborhood sheikh to sort it out than to have to mess around with all that western legal mumbo-jumbo. He'll be happy to know they've introduced a similar system in British Columbia: The sheikhs sit on a "human rights" tribunal and lay down the smack without any time-wasting rubbish about rules of evidence, presumption of innocence, etc.
Andrew Coyne is live-blogging the first day of the Steyn/Maclean's show trial from the Robson Square courthouse in Vancouver, and from the Omar Sharif perspective it seems to be going swimmingly. The Canadian Islamic Congress lawyer says that freedom of speech is a "red herring". If it were, it would be on the endangered species list. And the New York Times guy says he "can't believe what he's witnessing".
With their usual low cunning, the "human rights" sheikhs chose a courtroom that only seats 40 people so a big crowd (including CBC reporters) were wedged up peering through the glass in the door until the head sheikh (a judge best known for fining the Knights of Columbus for declining to rent their hall for a lesbian wedding) said the pressed faces of the people were distracting her and shooed them away. Typical. A third-rate bureaucracy that tells everyone from McDonald's to Maclean's magazine how to run their affairs can't even organize a show trial with minimal competence.
Maybe the folks who can't get in should file a "human rights" complaint against the "human rights" tribunal for denying them the human right to attend a human rights trial. Say what you like about Saddam's justice system, but at least I'd be dead by now and out of my misery.
This is a big deal. From what I can tell the Canadian Human Rights Commission does have some serious powers. More than outright legal sanctions, though, is the message that will be sent if Steyn and Macleans loses; any serious criticism of Islam and we'll haul you before a tribunal and force you to spend thousands of dollars defending yourself. Still want to publish a book here?
June 1, 2008
Strategic Defeat for al Qaeda in Iraq...
It's too early to say for certain, but signs everywhere point to a strategic defeat for al Qaeda in Iraq. You know we're winning when The Washington Post admits it
THERE'S BEEN a relative lull in news coverage and debate about Iraq in recent weeks -- which is odd, because May could turn out to have been one of the most important months of the war. While Washington's attention has been fixed elsewhere, military analysts have watched with astonishment as the Iraqi government and army have gained control for the first time of the port city of Basra and the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, routing the Shiite militias that have ruled them for years and sending key militants scurrying to Iran. At the same time, Iraqi and U.S. forces have pushed forward with a long-promised offensive in Mosul, the last urban refuge of al-Qaeda. So many of its leaders have now been captured or killed that U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, renowned for his cautious assessments, said that the terrorists have "never been closer to defeat than they are now."
Iraq passed a turning point last fall when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in early 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence and quelled the incipient sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites. Now, another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country, dispersing both rival militias and the Iranian-trained "special groups" that have used them as cover to wage war against Americans. ...
If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq's 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.
Unfortunately for the nation, I wouldn't count on Senator Obama changing his tune
A Strategic Victory
In another Washington Post story ouCIA Director Michael V. Hayden outlines the larger implications
CIA Director Michael V. Hayden now portrays the terrorist movement as essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda's allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group's core leadership.
While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers.
All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with The Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA.
"On balance, we are doing pretty well," he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: "Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally -- and here I'm going to use the word 'ideologically' -- as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam," he said.
The sense of shifting tides in the terrorism fight is shared by a number of terrorism experts, though some caution that it is too early to tell whether the gains are permanent. Some credit Hayden and other U.S. intelligence leaders for going on the offensive against al-Qaeda in the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the tempo of Predator strikes has dramatically increased from previous years. But analysts say the United States has caught some breaks in the past year, benefiting from improved conditions in Iraq, as well as strategic blunders by al-Qaeda that have cut into its support base.
"benefited from improved conditions in Iraq" And how did that occur? Not, as Speaker Pelosi says, because of the good graces of Iraq, but because of the surge. It was the right thing to do and it worked.
The Domestic Political Implications
Obama is to wedded to the leftist mantra that we've lost in Iraq and that nothing can salvage the situation. Since the forced exit of the last hawkish Democrat, Senator Joe Lieberman, I don't think there are any members of his party left to whom Obama could turn to for support should he decide on a "plan for success." The entire Democrat party is too tied to the Movon.org and Daily Kos version of events.
The Republican Bush Administration may have screwed up the war in it's early stages, but Senator McCain can claim to have recognized this early on and called for changes. Obama opposed the war from the start, something he trumpets on the campaign trail. Now that the evidence of both military and political success are impossible to ignore, he is reduced to claiming that a trip to Iraq would be a "stunt". The truth, as everyone knows, is that Petraeus and his generals will present him with so much evidence of success that denial will make him look silly.
In short, if current trends continue, McCain will look better but Obama will have some 'splaining to do.
What it All Means
The Wall Street Journal summed it up nicely
Zawahiri himself last month repeated his claim that (Iraq) "is now the most important arena in which our Muslim nation is waging the battle against the forces of the Crusader-Zionist campaign." So it's all the more significant that on this crucial battleground, al Qaeda has been decimated by the surge of U.S. forces into Baghdad. The surge, in turn, gave confidence to the Sunni tribes that this was a fight they could win. For Zawahiri, losing the battles you say you need to win is not a way to collect new recruits.
General Hayden was careful to say the threat continues, and he warned specifically about those in Congress and the media who "[focus] less on the threat and more on the tactics the nation has chosen to deal with the threat." This refers to the political campaign to restrict wiretapping and aggressive interrogation, both of which the CIA director says have been crucial to gathering intelligence that has blocked further terrorist spectaculars that would have burnished al Qaeda's prestige.
One irony here is that Barack Obama is promising a rapid withdrawal from Iraq on grounds that we can't defeat al Qaeda unless we focus on Afghanistan. He opposed the Iraq surge on similar grounds. Yet it is the surge, and the destruction of al Qaeda in Iraq, that has helped to demoralize al Qaeda around the world. Nothing would more embolden Zawahiri now than a U.S. retreat from Iraq, which al Qaeda would see as the U.S. version of the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan.
Those who claim that Iraq has nothing to do with the war on terror miss these last points entirely. Winning in Iraq helps defeat al Qaeda around the world, whereby a cut-and-run would embolden them around the world. This is why a victory in Iraq constitutes a strategic defeat for al Qaeda, and not just a tactical setback in one place. Likewise, it would be a strategic victory for us, and not just a tactical achievement in one place with no larger meaning.