June 12, 2010

Book Review - The Surge: A Military History

The Surge by Kimberly Kagan

Kim Kagan's book is just what the title says it is; a military history of the Surge. It does not cover the political aspects in Washington DC, or the formation of the Surge plan. Nor does she discuss the politics in Iraq or Iraqi society. Most important to note for commenters, she does neither weighs in on whether it was a good idea to invade Iraq in 2003 or on whether the surge itself was a good idea. What she does is simply discuss the military aspects of what happened in Iraq.

Dr Kagan is very well qualified to write on military topics. After taking her Ph. D. in history from Harvard, she taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Yale University, Georgetown University, and American University. She is currently president of the Institute for Understanding War in Washington DC. She has traveled many times to Iraq, interviewing people from General Odierno himself down to lower ranking officers and soldiers. This is not to suggest that such qualifications make her right by definition in her analysis, rather that she has the background to write intelligently on the topic.

Kagan is married to Frederick Kagan, a military scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He has been described as one of the "intellectual authors" of the surge. His brother is foreign policy analyst Robert Kagan. Their father is Donald Kagan, who is a professor at Yale and a fellow at the Hudson Institute. A more distinguished family is hard to find.

Those who are opposed to our involvement in Iraq will be tempted to dismiss Kimberly Kagan's book because she and her husband did speak out in favor of the surge plan, and as mentioned earlier Frederick's work at the AEI was one of, if not the, impetus behind it (more on that below). But again, this book is not about whether the invasion or surge were good ideas, but is rather a history of what did happen.

Introduction: The Players

The Insurgents

  • Al Qaeda in Iraq - AQI - Sunni - Commanded by Abu Ayyub al-Masri just before and during the years of the surge. Based in Falluhah.
  • Mahdi Army, also knows as Jaysh (or Jaish) al Mahdi (JAM) - Shiite - created and led by the Iraqi Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in June 2003
  • Special Groups - Shiite - Small, cell based groups created and sponsored by Iran
  • JAM and Special Groups were primarily based in the northeast neighborhoods of of Baghdad, called Sadr City
The Sunni and Shiite insurgents fought each other as much as they did the Coalition. JAM and AQI fought each other for control of Baghdad and it's environs throughout 2005 and 2006 because if you controlled the capital you effectively controlled the government. There was in effect several insurgencies taking place at the same time: Sunni v Coalition, Shiite v Coalition, Sunni v Shiite, Awakening Movement v AQI, and insurgent group v insurgent group. Sometimes the insurgent groups cooperated and sometimes they didn't.

Key Events Leading to the Adoption of the Surge Strategy

  • Mid-term Elections - November 7, 2006 - Democrats capture the House and Senate, having run partially on an "end the war" platform
  • Iraq Study Group - December 6 2006 - Report released which recommended major changes in war strategy
  • New Strategy - December 15, 2006- Team led by then-Lt. Gen. Petraeus releases U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24
  • American Enterprise Institute report - December 14, 2006 - Report by Frederick Kagan, Gen Jack Keane (ret) "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq" outlines many of the concepts that eventually make up the Surge plan
  • Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno - December 2006 - The Corps commander told his boss, Gen. Casey, that his approach of fewer American troops and handing off responsibility to the Iraqis as soon as possible will not work and recommends to President Bush that he needs at least 5 addition U.S. brigades

Announcement of Surge - January 10, 2008 - The surge plan is announced by President Bush in a nationally televised address

U.S. Personnel Changes 2006-7


  • Multi-National Corps - Iraq - December 14 - Lt. Gen. Pete Chiarelli. is replaced by Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno
  • U.S. National Intelligence Director- January 5 - John Negroponte resigned and was replaced by retired Admiral John M. McConnell will take his place.
  • CENTCOM commander- March 16 - Navy Admiral William Fallon replaced General John Abizaid as CENTCOM commander.
  • Commander of Multinational Force Iraq - February 10 - Counter-insurgency expert General David Petraeus replaced General George Casey as Commander of Multinational Force Iraq.
  • U.S. Ambassador to Iraq - March 26 - Bush U.S. diplomat Ryan C. Crocker replaced Zalmay Khalilzad, as the new ambassador to Iraq.


The Iraqi Leader

Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki or Nouri Kamil al-Maliki - Prime Minister of Iraq, Islamic Dawa Party. Elected PM May 20, 2006.

U.S. Military Unit Definitions

Division - typically commanded by a major general (two star) - 17,000 to 21,000 troops - a division typically consists of four brigades. A division is the smallest permanent unit in the United States military

Brigade (Regiment in the Marine Corps) - typically commanded by a Colonel - 2,500 to 4,000 troops - A brigade is important because it is the smallest unit that consists of all of the "parts" typically needed for a ground unit to fight a war; infantry, armor, artillery, medical, intelligence, helicopters, logistics, etc

Book Summary

The Background

The situation in Iraq was dire by the late summer of 2006. Coalition forces were not able to put down the insurgency that had started shortly after the invasion of March 2003. The death toll among Iraqi civilians and military personnel had been going up. The bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque (the "Golden Mosque"), a Shiite Muslim holy site, by al Qaeda in Iraq on February 22, 2006 and again on June 13, 2007 fueled the fire that was already raging. Some analysts that Iraq was in or headed towards a civil war, and whether that was correct or not from a technical aspect, it was starting to become clear that the insurgents were winning.

As insurgencies vary in nature, the center of gravity varies with each one. Sometimes control of the countryside is all-important, in others it's control of the capital, in still others a key industrial or crossroads. With the war in Iraq, the key to victory was controlling the capital city.

With violence was spiraling out of control in and around Baghdad, General Casey, along with his Iraqi counterparts, devised Operation Together Forward I in the summer of 2006. OTF I kicked off on July 13 and concluded on August 6. It was mostly reactive in nature, responding to insurgent attacks as they occurred.

Because sectarian violence continued to rise, Operation Together Forward II started immediately following OTF I. As with it's predecessor, it involved all elements of the Iraqi security forces as well as American troops.

The plan failed because although we could clear the neighborhoods we could not hold them. There were neither enough Iraqi or American troops. Further, many Iraqi units had been infiltrated by militia members who simply used the offensive to pursue the very violence it was supposed to stop.

Worse, the operation actually increased violence. Coalition troops would clear a Shiite neighborhood of JAM forces, but because they could not stay, AQI would move in and kill residents. Or, in Sunni neighborhoods, we would clear out AQI, only to have JAM move in as soon as we left. Commanders stopped the OTF II in mid-October precisely for this reason. Because coalition forces concentrated on clearing Sunni neighborhoods, they ended up suffering more than the Shiites.

American and Iraqi military leaders operated under fundamentally flawed concepts in 2006 and before. One was that their objective was not to secure the population, but to chase after the terrorists in a series of raids. They could not have made their primary objective to protect the people even if they had wanted to for two reasons. One, they simply didn't have enough troops, and two, the ones they had were based on large Forward Operating bases (FOBs) and thus were separated from the population.

General Casey thought that it was the presence of American troops that was fueling the insurgency, a concept that would turn out to be utterly mistaken. He wanted to get our troops out from responsibility for areas in Iraq and out of the country, thinking that if only we could train the Iraqis fast enough they could take over. This set up a race between the trainers and the insurgents; could we train Iraqis fast enough to defeat the insurgency before it won? The answer proved to be a resounding no.

As such, after we had secured an area, rather than keep our own troops there to make sure the insurgents didn't come back, we rushed to get the Iraqi Army and police in and us out. The Iraqis could not maintain control and before long the area was back in insurgent hands. The average time Iraqi forces could control a neighborhood before insurgents took it over again was 2 weeks, and this despite constant U.S. assistance.

Cart Before the Horse

From 2003 until Gen Petraeus took over, we operated under the premise that if we could get the Iraqi economy going again, and a legitimate government in place, security would follow. Readers will recall that it was primarily the Democrats in Congress who insisted on a series of political "benchmarks." The Iraqi government had to pass certain laws by certain dates or aid would be cut off and the troops brought home.

While there was a certain benefit to the benchmarks, by themselves they would have had no effect on ending the insurgency. Insisting on political progress before security had been established was putting the cart before the horse.

One of the main conclusions of Field Manual 3-24, mentioned above, was that political and economic progress can only occur after security is established. The authors of the work studied the history of insurgencies looking for trends, and it became clear that the path to victory lay in establishing security first.

The Genesis of the Surge

Commanders offered different plans to correct the situation. As mentioned above, Generals Casey and Abizaid believed that it was the presence of American troops that was fueling the insurgency, so favored plans that stressed recruiting and training more Iraqi troops. Lt. Gen. Odierno argued in favor of an increase of 5 to 10 brigades as a way of transforming the military situation. In response, Casey and Abizaid argued that an increase would only have a temporary effect because of the infighting among Iraqi politicians.

In Washington, the Iraq Study Group released a paper arguing for the plan Casey and Abizaid had put forth. The ISG was a ten person non-partisan appointed in 2006 by Congress, having first been suggested by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA-10).

Meanwhile, over at the American Enterprise Institute, scholar Frederick Kagan and retired Army Vice chief of Staff General Jack Keane presented a plan that involved sending 5 Army brigades and 2 Marine regiments to Iraq to support a new strategy of protecting the Iraqi population.

At the end of 2006 President George W. Bush adopted a new strategy for our war in Iraq, which was announced in a televised speech on January 10, 2007. As discussed above, there was a concurrent a change in commanders, the most important of which was the replacement of General George Casey with David Petraeus. The new strategy was explained by Lt Gen. Odierno as military operations designed:

...to create stability and security to protect the Iraqi people, first and foremost in Baghdad. The population and the government of Iraq are the center of gravity. Creating a stable environment in Baghdad should provide time and space for the Iraqi government to continue to mature as a government and continue to guild its capacity.

The team of Petraeus and Odierno considered two strategies to implement this new strategy of protecting the people of Baghdad. One was to attack the enemy in their safe havens outside of Baghdad, the other was to patrol the city's neighborhoods, clearing them of insurgents and then staying to ensure they didn't come back.

The answer came from Petraeus' new counterinsurgency doctrine, as ___ in the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. FM 3-24 had been written by a team led by then-Lt Gen Petraeus starting in October 2005, and was released on December
15, 2006.

As explained in FM 3-24, the path to victory lay in securing the population (or "populace," the term used in the book), not in chasing insurgents around the countryside. As such, as one element of the new strategy Odierno deployed his new surge brigades to Baghdad itself with the objective of clearing them of insurgents and keeping them from returning.

The other thing Odierno died was to assign other units to the belts around Baghdad to destroy AQI safe-havens, which extended 20 to 30 miles outside the city. OTF I & II only concentrated on security within the city, the new effort would secure the capital as well as its environs.

Surge Units

via Wikipedia, the 5 additional Army brigades sent to Iraq were:


  1. 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (Infantry): 3,447 troops. Deployed to Baghdad, January 2007
  2. 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division (Infantry): 3,447 troops. Deployed to Baghdad, February 2007
  3. 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division (Heavy): 3,784 troops. Deployed to southern Baghdad Belts, March 2007
  4. 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker): 3,921 troops. Deployed to Diyala province, April 2007
  5. 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division (Heavy): 3,784 troops. Deployed to the southeast of Baghdad, May 2007

This brought the number of brigades in Iraq from 15 to 20.

In addition, Marines in al Anbar province from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the 1st Battalion 6th Marines and the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines had their tours extended. All troops had their 12 month tours extended to 15 months.

From FOB to COP and JSS

p 32
Before the surge, most U.S. troops were stationed on one of five large well-protected Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), and only ventured out to patrol or take part in specific operations. They tended to be reactive rather than proactive, and reinforced Iraqi operations rather than leading the way themselves. Because the Iraqi forces were not able to conduct offensive operations effectively, they tended to rely on checkpoints. The strategy didn't work.

The first of the oft-cited Zen-like "Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency" in the first chapter of FM 3-24 was that "Sometimes, the more you protect your force, the less secure you may be." In other words, keeping our troops on well-protected bases most of the time made them less safe, not more so.

The reason for this was that by staying on their FOB most of the time the troops weren't as familiar their patrol area as they should have been, and because they obviously weren't sharing the same risks as the Iraqi people, the latter weren't going to take the risk of overtly helping our effort. As such, the troops were at a high level of risk from insurgent attack when on patrol or on an operation.

Odierno dispersed the troops from the FOBs into the neighborhoods, where they established Combat Outposts, or Joint Security Stations. The COPs were American only, the JSSs were set up in concert with the Iraqi security forces.

Whether stationed at a COP or a JSS, being in the neighborhood eliminated the problems they faced earlier. As has been reported many times, when the troops arrived in the neighborhoods, the Iraqis asked "are you staying this time?" When our answer was "yes," the Iraqis responded "then this time we will help you." In addition, our troops became intimately familiar with their assigned Area of Operations (AO). From FM 3-24:

7-7 ...Effective commanders know the people, topography, economy, history, and culture of their area of operations (AO). They know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader, and ancient grievance within it...

"Will you stay this time" was the question Iraqis asked American commanders when they saw our units coming into their areas. When the answer they got was "yes," the Iraqis decided they could safely support the Americans. With that support came timely, accurate, and actionable intelligence, not to mention more and more Iraqis signing up to serve in their own security forces.

Preparing the Battlefield

It is important to understand the difference between operations designed to prepare or "shape" the battlefield, and "prepare the conditions" for victory, from decisive operations themselves. The former three involve deploying forces to the area nearby or in the area where they willll eventually fight the decisive battle, and getting set up in their bases. This involved setting up the COPs and JSSs, getting supply lines set up, getting to know the neighborhoods, meeting the people, developing intelligence, etc. As part of establishing these neighborhood bases, our commanders became intimately familiar with their AO, and used that information to prepare for the fight ahead.

To be sure, preparing the battlefield involved much fighting. As most of these neighborhoods, towns, and cities were controlled by the insurgents we had to fight our way in. Insurgents then attacked our new bases. We sent out scouts to reconnoiter the area and they fought battles. But these were not decisive actions, but rather getting the troops in place and set for what would become the decisive action later.

So that the fight for Diyala province and eastern Anbar were preparatory operations. Indeed, even clearing operations in Baghdad as late as April and May were preparatory operations for the decisive battles that occurred in the second half of 2007.

Going After the Militias

The additional American troops gave Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki the strength and confidence to go after the militias. On January 11 he ordered them to disarm or face attack. Within a few days many Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) commanders had ordered their troops to stand down. Just as or even more importantly, Moqtda al Sadr issued a cease-fire, ordering his JAM forces not to fight American or government forces.

Not all JAM members complied. American and Iraqi forces went after them, arresting or killing rogue commanders and their troops. In addition, Moqtada al Sadr left the country for Iran, which left the organization leaderless and its commanders confused. As a result, JAM fractured and ceased to function as a coherent fighting force.

The result was that JAM was effectively neutralized, at least for the time being. This had am immediate and positive effect on the political scene, because without their militia Sadrist politicians ended their boycott of parliament, and became part of the political process.

The Baghdad Security Plan: Operation Fardh al Qanoon

The Baghdad Security Plan, or Operation Fardh al Qanoon ("Enforcing the Law") began on February 14, 2007. It was not the first true offensive operation, which would not come until June with Operation Phantom Thunder. Rather, it was part of what is called "preparing the ground" for the main battles that lie ahead.

Major General Joseph Fil, Commanding General of Multi-National Division-Baghdad and the First Cavalry Division, explained the operational concepts behind the plan:

This new plan involves three basic parts: clear, control and retain. The first objective within each of the security districts in the Iraqi capital is to clear out extremist elements neighborhood by neighborhood in an effort to protect the population. And after an area is cleared, we're moving to what we call the control operation. Together with our Iraqi counterparts, we'll maintain a full-time presence on the streets, and we'll do this by building and maintaining joint security stations throughout the city. This effort to re-establish the joint security stations is well under way. The number of stations in each district will be determined by the commanders on the ground who control that area. An area moves into the retain phase when the Iraqi security forces are fully responsible for the day-to-day security mission. At this point, coalition forces begin to move out of the neighborhood and into locations where they can respond to requests for assistance as needed. During these three phrases, efforts will be ongoing to stimulate local economies by creating employment opportunities, initiating reconstruction projects and improving the infrastructure. These efforts will be spearheaded by neighborhood advisory councils, district advisory councils and the government of Iraq.

In short, the main difference between the Fardh al Qanoon and OTF I & II was that this time we had more troops, and they would remain in the neighborhoods after they had cleared them of insurgents to ensure they didn't return.

The Anbar Awakening

Some people would have us believe that it was the Anbar Awakening alone that turned Iraq around, or that it was developed and was successful apart from the Surge. Neither assertion is true. Kagan

The truth is that (the Awakening) began emerging in 2006 thanks to the hard and skilful fighting and negotiating of Army colonel Sean MacFarland and a number of Marine officers and their subordinates. General Odierno met with Sheikh Sattar abu Risha in December 2006 and encouraged U.S. soldiers in Anbar to continue fighting and negotiating in support of Abu Risha's efforts.

She further explains that

"The presence of U.S. forces conducting counterinsurgency missions to secure the population made the local rejection of al Qaeda possible and effective. The leadership and example of the sheikhs of Ramadi inspired sheikhs in neighboring cities to cooperate with U.S. and Iraqi forces. As a result of their efforts, especially in late 2006 and early 2007, al Qaeda no longer controlled Ramadi or Fallujah"

More,

The awakening started when in the summer of 2006 Sunni Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu al-Risha grew weary of al Qaeda brutality against is family and decided to fight back. He enlisted other sheiks in the fall of that year formed the Anbar Salvation Council. Sattar and the other sheikhs encouraged their men to join the Iraqi police, which in Anbar had been basically non-existent.

For U.S forces, securing Baghdad was the primary objective in 2007. We concentrated on what are called "shaping operations" in Anbar and Diyala that year. Shaping operations "create and preserve conditions for the success of the decisive operation...they may occur before, concurrently with, or after the start of the decisive operation."

One objective of our operations in Anbar in 2007 was to integrate all levels of government; central, provincial, and local. De-Baathification had kept many Sunnis out of government, the insurgency frightened many into staying home, and Sunni leaders had boycotted the 2005 election. In 2007 the process of turning this around was started.

Concerned Local Citizens - Sons of Iraq

As in Anbar and elsewhere, Concerned Local Citizens groups were formed in Diyala. They complemented the Iraqi Security Forces, and protected villages when our forces were absent. Some of the CLC members were former insurgents. Having enemy troops join your side is better than killing them because it demoralizes and fractures the enemy. It also gives you another soldier.

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with Concerned Local Citizens (CLC, later called Sons of Iraq), as they were discussed during many of the press briefings of this time. Essentially, the CLCs were an organization formed by the U.S. as a sort of "super-neighborhood watch." They were paid, but not armed (at least by us, everyone in Iraq seems to own an AK-47), by t he United States. The objectives were several. One, to give a job to unemployed young men who might otherwise fight a job planting IEDs. Another was to turn around former insurgents and bring them into the process. Because they worked in their own neighborhoods, CLC members provided the Coalition with valuable intelligence. Finally, it was a means of combating al Qaeda and other insurgent groups.

In order to be effective Iraqi police had to be recruited from the neighborhoods they would patrol, otherwise they'd be considered "outsiders" and not trusted by the people. Worse, "outsiders" would themselves engage in sectarian cleansing.

AQI Reacts to the Surge

"In war the will is directed at an animate object that reacts."

Carl von Clausewitz

AQI reacted to the surge by attempting to undermine the credibility of Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces by escalating its vehicle bomb campaign. They also hoped to spark the very sectarian violence we were trying to tamp down. Their car bomb campaign was well organized and thought out. The attacks were not at random but targeted specific locations and people. The campaign started in January of 2007 and persisted in intensity through March.

For a time it was act and react. Reacting to their campaign, Coalition and Iraqi forces took actions such as erecting barricades around populated areas such as markets. Denied these targets, AQI went after locations such as bridges. The Coalition, in turn, redoubled efforts to take out the AQI networks that made and distributed the vehicle bombs. Eventually, though the walls and Coalition attacks took their toll and AQI vehicle bombs slowed down.

Operation Phantom Thunder - The Decisive Battle Begins

Operation Phantom Thunder, the start of decisive operations, kicked off on June 15, 2007. It was a highly coordinated corps-wide offensive across all of Iraq that involved all commands and many sub-operations. It was followed by Phantom Strike on August 15, and finally, Phantom Phoenix on January 8, 2008.

Planning for Phantom Thunder had actually begun in December of 2006, even before President Bush announced the "surge" of troops. "Generals Petraeus and Odierno had determined...that securing Baghdad would require a major campaign to dislodge Qaeda from the belts around Baghdad."

By June, Baghdad was encircled by Coalition troops. Not literally, of course, but circled in the sense that we had control of all major road intersections and such.

Phantom Thunder was a corps-level offensive in that it was it was coordinated with all units in the country. Unlike previous operations, in which each division or brigade operated more or less without concern for the others, this time everyone would be working in concert.

The intent, again, was to protect the Iraqi population. Doing so would allow economic and political activity to start again, buying time for the government. Negotiations among political parties and factions only work when security has been established, not the other way around.

Phantom Thunder was the largest counterinsurgency operation in history. While previous operations had degenerated into a game of "whack-a-mole," this time the insurgents were separated from the population. We were also aggressive in avoiding civilian casualties and collateral damage, which built all-important trust among the people.

Phantom Thunder and Phantom Strike in Diyala Province

Kagan: "The overarching objective of Phantom Thunder was to stop insurgents in the provinces from supporting violence in Baghdad. Controlling Baqubah (the largest city in Diyala), advanced U.S. forces toward that objective."

Following Phantom Thunder was Phantom Strike. General Odierno explained the objectives of Phantom Strike:

"This week, we launched Operation Phantom Strike, a series of targeted operations designed to intensify pursuit of extremist elements across Iraq. With the elimination of safe havens and support zones due to Phantom Thunder, al Qaeda and Shi'a extremists have been forced into ever-shrinking areas, and it is my intent to pursue and disrupt their operations. ...Over the coming weeks, we plan to conduct quick strike raids against remaining extremist sanctuaries and staging areas, carry out precision targeting operations against extremist leadership and focus missions to counter the extremists' lethal accelerants of choice, the IED and the vehicle-borne IED. We will continue to hunt down their leadership, deny them safe haven, disrupt their supply lines and significantly reduce their capability to operate in Iraq" (DoD Press Briefing, August 17, 2007).

Diyala illustrated the benefits of the strategy of securing the population first. (p141) Our primary objective was to control territory, and killing or capturing the enemy was second. (p 116) After eliminating enemy safe-havens, we were able to convince some tribal leaders to join our side, or at least turn against the insurgents. Tribal reconciliation followed the establishment of security.

Although al Qaeda attempted to reconstitute itself, we were able to fragment them into small groups. They were not allowed safe havens, as this time the Coalition had enough troops to secure all critical areas of the country.

In 2006, the Iraqis were supposed to control territory through checkpoints after we had cleared an area. The problem with this approach is that it froze units in place where they could not respond to anything that happened save in their immediate area. More, operations in 2007 and 2008 were successful precisely because their primary objective was not immediate transition to Iraqi control, a control that was beyond their capability. Rather, their objective was simply that of establishing security.

To be clear, combat ("kinetic operations," in U.S. military parlance) operations were not second or subordinate to non-combat ("non-kinetic," i.e. nation building) operations, as has sometimes been charged. Rather, the purpose of combat operations was to allow non-combat operations to take place. Indeed, the two took place simultaneously. The goal of kinetic operations was to separate the insurgents from the population and defending those Iraqis willing to work with us and their new government. Only when they felt safe would Iraqis work with Americans and their new government. To facilitate this, the American strategy was a carrot-and-stick approach, with protection and financial benefits only going to tribal leaders who rejected violence.

Iran's Proxy War in Iraq

Iran began planning operations against American forces in Iraq in 2002, some months before the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom that started on March 20, 2003. While their overall strategy and goals are not completely clear, it is clear that they have supplied weapons, fighters, and advisers to the insurgency in Iraq. Iran has supported both Sunni and Shia groups throughout all of Iraq. Iran also supported Ansar al Islam, a Sunni terrorist group tied to al Qaeda, as well as AQI itself. Iranian support increased with time. At the start of the insurgency, Iranian influence was relatively low. By August of 2007 Iranian influence accounted for half of all attacks on Coalition forces.

As such, Coalition attention to the problems posed by Iran was relatively low at first, and only after achieving success against AQI and other insurgent groups did we turn our attention to Iran.

It didn't take any deep intelligence or decryption of encoded documents to detect the Iranian influence. It was stamped on weapon after weapon captured by the Coalition. Everything from the special copper disks on Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFP) to the tail fins of mortars told the tale.

The organizing force in Iran was the Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods(or "Quds") Force (IRGC-QF)(also known as "Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution" or "Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps"). The Qods Force is part of the Revolutionary Guards, and they report directly to the Supreme Leader, who as of this writing is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. From what I can tell, the IRGC is roughly equivalent to the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel). The Qods Force is responsible for exporting the Iranian revolution. Hezbollah in Lebanon, for example, is probably the most important group formed by the Qods Force.

Qods Force and Hezbollah personnel teamed to train Iraqis in groups of twenty to sixty in Iran so that they would function as a unit; hence the term "Special Group," a term given to them by the U.S. military. Hezbollah training of Iraqis in Iran began in 2005. Special Groups usually remained separate, but possibly teamed with JAM for some operations.

Special Groups functioned alongside and in cooperation with JAM and other militia groups. Some of them came from JAM and other militia groups, being their more extreme members. Perhaps the best description is that Special Groups are an "outgrowth" of JAM and other similar groups

It's possible that Iranian support for insurgent groups was simply to create a "quagmire" for U.S. forces so as to divert attention from their operations elsewhere, rather than militarily eject us from the country. It's also possible that they thought they could infiltrate the democratic Iraqi government and get people more sympathetic to their idea of a theocracy in place. Likely they also simply did not want a successful Western-style democracy on their doorstep. Or perhaps they simply had the more limited goal of ensuring that the Baghdad government could not control the southern portion of their country. Most likely of all is some combination of the above. Either way, it was clear that Iranian influence served to undermine the nascent democracy.

The U.S. countered Iranian influence with both a diplomatic and military response. Ambassador Ryan Crocker discussed the situation in direct talks with high ranking Iranian officials, including the Iranian ambassador to Iraq. The military response targeted JAM and Special Forces directly, capturing or killing leaders, breaking up networks, and intercepting arms shipments. These operations met with some success, but Iranian influence continues to be a problem.

Final Thoughts by Kagan

The last of the surge brigades left Iraq in the summer of 2008.

As can be seen by the following chart, the surge clearly worked

Iraq Security Incidents May 2009

As the surge progressed, violence decreased. By late 2007 it was half that of mid-2005. Attack trends dropped 60 percent in Baghdad in 2007. Civilian deaths dropped 70 percent. Iraq dropped off the media's radar, itself a sign of success.

Three U.S. operations were responsible for the success. The first was Faradh al Qanoon (Baghdad Security Plan), in which Gen. Odierno placed surge units in and around the capital. Next came Phantom Thunder, which cleared AQI from the belts around Baghdad. That was followed by Phantom Strike, in which Coalition forces pursued AQI as they fled and attempted to reconstitute.

Iraqis ended up rejecting AQI and other extremist groups. The "Awakening" in Anbar and elsewhere was evidence of this. However, despite what some in the media insinuate, the"Awakening" was not independent of Coalition efforts and did not turn Iraq around by itself. The Awakening would have failed had U.S. leaders such as U.S. Army Col. Sean McFarland, some Marine officers, and Gen Odierno not seized the moment and encouraged and supported it.

Another criticism one hears is that American forces simply bribed insurgents into laying down their arms. While this is true in some cases, it overlooks the larger picture. Most of those insurgents who took money to change sides or go back to civilian life were also "encouraged" to do so by aggressive and successful American military operations.

Gen. Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 provided the overall theory on how to win, but it didn't get into specifics of what units should be deployed where or precisely how they were to be used. That task was left to Lt. Gen. Odierno, who drew up and oversaw the execution of what was know as the Surge. As Kagan concludes

It was Odierno who creatively adapted sophisticated concepts from conventional fighting to the problems in Iraq, filling gaps in the counterinsurgency doctrine and making the overal effort a success. For all the sophistication of this integrated political-military and kinetic/non-kinetic approach to the conflict, Odierno is likely to be remembered in military history as the man who redefined the operational art of counterinsurgency with a series of offensives in 2007 and 2008.

My Take

One book, and one author, cannot and should not cover everything. Those who may complain because this book does not discuss the domestic or Iraqi politics, or whether it was a good idea to invade Iraq in 2003 or execute the surge miss the point. The fact is that the surge plan worked, and Kagan explains why in this book.

The strongest part of the book is simply that Kagan explains clearly why we failed before the surge, and how the change in strategy coupled with additional troops worked. Although she does not get into the details of counterinsurgency, she discusses it well enough from a higher level so that one gets the idea. If you want to know why we once failed and then succeeded, this is the book for you.

Kagan also does a good job at outlining the various insurgent groups, and how they fought both one another and Coalition troops. Al Qaeda in Iraq, Jaysh al Mahdi, Special Groups, they are more are all there.

This is not to say the work is not without its flaws. There is not much on the commanders, and their decision making process, whether at the division or brigade levels. Discussing units without their commanders seems an omission to me. As someone who watched and blogged on every briefing by a combat commander in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2007 on, I was hoping for more names to appear.

There is also not enough about small-unit counterinsurgency strategy, but perhaps Kagan just decided to concentrate on the "big picture." There are also some grammatical and I think a few errors in word use, no doubt the result of a work rushed into print without enough editing.

All in all, this is a must-read if you want to understand the war in Iraq, especially the surge and why it was successful.

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 26, 2010

General Petraeus Explains the Intellectual Origins of the Surge

Iraq is not much in the news these days, which must mean we're winning. Afghanistan is sometimes in the news, and there the going is decidedly tough.

On this blog I have examined in some detail the situation in Iraq before and during the surge of forces in Iraq. From 2007 on I covered every press briefing by a combat commander in Iraq and Afghanistan. I reviewed the all important U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, which was written by a team led by then-Lt Gen David Petraeus and released in December of 2006. It became the "bible" of the new strategy that made the surge of troops possible.

In October of 2008 Gen Petraus gave what I called a "how we did it" speech before the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, DC.

All this, however, mostly covered the surge of troops itself, and not the situation predating the surge. It was this time period, specifically ate 2005 through 2006, the General Petraeus covered in a speech on May 6 at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC. Excerpts follow:

One recent AEI effort, of course, stands out in particular. In the fall of 2006, AEI scholars helped develop the concept for what came to be known as "the surge." Fred and Kim Kagan and their team, which included retired General Jack Keane, prepared a report that made the case for additional troops in Iraq. As all here know, it became one of those rare think tank products that had a truly strategic impact. ...

At about the same time Team Kagan was authoring its study, President Bush's senior assistant on Iraq, Meghan O'Sullivan, called me at Fort Leavenworth. "What do you think is needed in Iraq?" she asked. "Everything you can get your hands on," I said. On reflection, it would have been a bit more impressive for me to say that, based on complex analysis, precisely five more brigades were required. It might have made my subsequent Senate confirmation hearings a bit easier, too!
...

Change starts, again, with getting the big ideas right. Developing the proper constructs is essential to having the right intellectual foundation for all that follows. And doing so typically requires an ability to think creatively and critically about complex challenges, constantly testing one's assumptions and often embracing new concepts.

In my experience, big ideas don't fall out of a tree and hit you on the head like Newton's apple. Rather, they start as seeds of little ideas that take root and grow. The growth takes place primarily in discussion--spirited, freewheeling, challenging discussion of the kind that Irving Kristol would have enjoyed.
...

Now, while getting the big ideas right is critical, simply developing them is not enough. The big ideas must also be communicated effectively throughout the organization. And this is the second step in the four-step process I described earlier.

Communication should flow in multiple directions to be effective. In the military, it involves communicating downward through leaders and units, upward through the chain of command, and outward through coalition partners, interagency elements, and the press. The most important of these directions is downward--communicating the big ideas throughout the breadth and depth of the organization, and then ensuring they're understood, operationalized, and, ideally, embraced by leaders at all levels.
...

Well, having gotten the big ideas right and having communicated them throughout the organization, the next responsibility of leaders in the process of change is to oversee their implementation. This meant spending time with those turning the big ideas into reality on the ground. And, in 2006 in the United States, it meant, in particular, overhauling the process of how we prepared our units for deployment.

Now, careful oversight should not be taken to imply micromanagement.
...

The final step of the change process is to capture and share lessons and best practices, to use them to refine the big ideas, and to then begin the process all over again.

Enabling this in 2006 was the fact that all of us in uniform had worked hard over the years to ensure that our services were "learning organizations." For example, we'd established lessons learned centers in our organizational structures, routinely conducted after action reviews in the wake of exercises and operations, and developed formal processes to capture and share best practices. These initiatives had long been hugely important to the long term effectiveness of our organizations. And they were--and continue to be--especially important in Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, war requires constant learning and adaptation, and that is particularly true in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations. As the COIN Manual observed, the side that learns and adapts the fastest often prevails.
...

I can remember a time when members of our military did not always receive the support they deserved. Two generations ago, we were engaged in war in Southeast Asia. American men and women in uniform fought with skill and valor for the sake of the country they loved and took an oath to defend. Many of them bled, and more than 58,000 of them died. With every one of those casualties, a family and a community were heartbroken, mourning a loss that could never be recovered, whose grief could never fully be assuaged.

But those returning from Vietnam often were not treated as the heroes they were. Recalling that, those of us in the military today are thankful beyond words that the American people seem to have such high regard and affection for their men and women in uniform.

Working with those men and women every day, seeing them perform missions in the toughest of circumstances imaginable, I can tell you that the regard and affection accorded our troopers are fully merited.

Posted by Tom at 8:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 16, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 15 December 2008 - "Coach, Teach, Mentor"

This briefing is by Colonel Mark Dewhurst, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. With him is Mr. Conrad Tribble, who is his Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team Leader. On Monday they spoke via satellite from Camp Liberty in Iraq with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations.

As mentioned, the 4th Brigade is part of the 10th Mountain Division, also known as Task Force Mountain, currently headquartering Multi-National Division Center. However, the 4th Brigade is currently part of Multi-National Division-Baghdad. MND-Baghdad, also known as Task Force Baghdad, is headquartered by the 4th Infantry Division under Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond.

The area they are responsible for includes the "three political districts of Karrada, Rusafa and Tisa Nissan, also referred to as New Baghdad. This is a heavily urbanized area with 80 percent of the ministries. We have the Baghdad city government here. We have the -- a lot of the government leaders live in the Karrada Peninsula that we have responsibility for the security." It is mostly a Shia area, with pockets of Sunnis and Christians.

Col. Dewhurst, I believe, reports to Maj. Gen. Hammond, who in turn reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

There is an awful lot of importance in this briefing, so watch the video and follow the transcript. However, for purposes of brevity we'll only concentrate on a few areas.

From their opening comments

COL. DEWHURST:... This area's comprised of a lot of Shi'a Muslims. I do have pockets of Sunni and Christians that also live in this area. And I am partnered with four Iraqi security force brigades that are composed of 11 Iraqi security force battalions. Three of those brigades are national police brigades, and one of those brigades is Iraqi army brigade. They're commanded by highly competent Iraqi brigadier generals. They are very patriotic. They're very aggressive. And they've been working very hard to deliver security and reconciliation and reconstruction to the population over here.

In our area I operate from two forward operating bases. I have three combat outposts, known as COPs, and nine joint security stations, JSSs. And those are where we work with and live with Iraqi security force partners, and we -- we're -- we eat with them, sleep with them, prepare for missions together, go on missions together and train together.

This partnership with the Iraqi security forces has enabled us to increase their capabilities and has led to them receiving many more tips from the Iraqi people that has led to the successful detention of many unaligned extremists and criminals being taken off the streets, which has increased the security here in east Baghdad. The combined effects of these partnered operation has been the cornerstone in our fight against extremists and other criminals.

"...we eat with them, sleep with them..." This is straight out of Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 and is the major strategy change from pre-surge days. Previously, our forces more or less stayed on one of 5 major bases in Iraq, going out on raids when we got usable intel. It didn't work for several reasons. One, as soon as we left the insurgents came back. The Iraqi security forces were not able to maintain control. Second, because the populace knew the insurgents would return, they were hesitant to provide quality intelligence.

The 5 additional surge brigades (up from 15) provided U.S. commanders with the numerical safety to take the risk of leaving our bases to live among the people. This time, when we went to the communities, the leaders would ask "are you staying this time?" When the answer they got was "yes," they provided all the information and help we needed. The Iraqi security forces knew that this time they would be backed up in a fight.

See as examples

Iraq Briefing - 04 Feb 2008 - "We do not drive or commute to work"
Iraq Briefing - 22 February 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"
October 12, 2008 - Gen Petraeus' Speech on Iraq - How We Did It

COL. DEWHURST:...I like to say that our Iraqi partners are doing a superb job in the transitioning of the Sons of Iraq. In my area I have about 1,200 Sons of Iraq, of which already 400 of them have now transitioned into the Iraqi security forces, mainly to the Iraqi police. I have about 300 more that are getting ready to start into the Iraqi police academy, starting in the next month.

The Sons of Iraq program (originally called Concerned Local Citizens) has been instrumental in getting Iraqis to take ownership of their own security. The SOI program is a sort of "super neighborhood watch" of Iraqi citizens who patrol their neighborhoods and report suspicious activity to the authorities. Many of the SOI were armed, but with their own private weapons, as we did not provide them any. Because no one knows a neighborhood like the people who live there, the intelligence they provided was invaluable. More importantly, it got Iraqis "off the fence" and into our camp, taking responsibility for their own security. It also provided jobs and a paycheck; initially courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.

Ultimately, the program was temporary in nature. Now that we've largely wrapped up the insurgency, the program is being disbanded. The idea is to move the SOI participants to jobs in government, the Iraqi security forces, or private enterprise. The problem with the latter is lack of jobs, with the first two suspicion by the Maliki government. Most or many of the SOI are Sunnis, and Maliki is a Shiite. This has caused many to worry that Maliki just wants to disband the SOI without making sure as many as possible get jobs; a recipe for disaster. The U.S. command understands this full well, with Lt. Gen. Austin sending Maliki a not-so-veiled warning on the matter last September.

From Mr Tribble's opening remarks:

MR. TRIBBLE:...My team is nine people. It's a mix of State, USAID and civil affairs Army Reservists. We are -- they're experts in governance and business and industry and in agriculture, primarily, and we work directly with the brigade both at the brigade level down to the battalion and company levels, even....

The five main areas that we're working on are everything on the other side of the spectrum from the security issues that Mark was talking about. Governance -- primarily, it's helping the Iraqi institutions develop better and more effective ways of delivering essential services -- sewer, water, trash and so forth.

We do a lot of political development, focusing primarily now on elections and support for parties and candidates, and just in general the electoral process that's starting in this -- in January of 2009.

We have a lot of programs focusing on business and economic growth in our area. Again, at the sort of local level, we do -- we're working with a lot of NGOs, trying to develop a civil society, the whole network of NGOs and professional associations that makes up a society, that makes things happen outside of government, government intervention and government control.

And finally, we're doing some programming in support of reconciliation among these communities that we mentioned earlier: Christian and Sunni and Shi'a, the mix that's in our neighborhood....

I would say -- I would go so far as to say that in a lot of our areas we're beyond counterinsurgency. We're really into a development phase. And that means that our mission has changed a little bit. We're focusing not so much on individual symptoms or specific neighborhoods, but it's really about the system that is or is not in place to address the issue, whether it's sewer or water or economic development. We're trying to get away from a focus on small projects, and look at the processes that have to be in place on the Iraqi side.

Really, what it comes down to is trying to help the Iraqis develop Iraqi solutions to their problems, not impose or deliver our solutions. This means fewer projects on our side. It means less U.S. money spent. And gradually, the trajectory over the next six to eight months, I suspect, is going to be in that direction, and that's a good thing.

Although the PRTs are small in number they are big in effect. However, unless used properly, economic and political development will have little effect on ending an insurgency.

One reason for our failure in the early years is that we put the economic and political cart before the security horse. That is to say, we though that economic and political progress would make up for or even end the security problem. This was incorrect, and at odds with history. What Petreus' team found out while writing Field Manual 3-24 in 2005-6 was that history conclusively showed that unless you secure the populace economic and political progress will achieve nothing.

Therefore, now that security has been achieved can the PRTs play a useful role. We also have much political progress taking place, as for example the recent passage in the Iraqi parliament of the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement). Of course, there is much yet to do.

On to the Q & A

Q Dawn Casey, Talk Radio News Service. My question is actually for Mr. Tribble.

You said some of the areas you were assisting in, with governance, and you would give some specific examples of helping with the essential services there. I am really curious what sort of help you are helping them with and, you know, what the programs are.

MR. TRIBBLE: The big picture is, the mantra that we use is pretty much the same one that the military uses on the security force side -- coach, teach, mentor.

We have a small team of governance advisers: I myself along with some in the brigade as well as a couple of my EPRT team members. Essentially what we're doing is getting out to the municipal city, the city municipal works department, its various offices and affiliates in the city, in our district.

We're just helping them identify their priorities. It's just a constant engagement with them.

We're training them or helping them to train them on things like planning, budgeting, resource management; how they link their needs to resource requests to their higher headquarters, to the city government; things as mundane as how do they track service requests from customers or from the neighborhood councils that identify neighborhoods where the sewer is backed up. A lot of it is very mundane and it's just daily, weekly, talking to them, working with them, and sort of showing them ways to do things.

And at the same time as we work at the -- really at the sub- municipal level, then there's the -- a Baghdad PRT above us that's engaging with the mayor and the sort of leadership of the city, trying to push down resources to the local -- to the local government.
So if you came out and saw it, you'd see us going to the municipal works departments; looking at their equipment; talking to them about how they manage their equipment, how they deploy it; helping them develop plans for trash pickup and that sort of thing. It's all very -- very, very nuts and bolts and not particularly glamorous, but it is in fact, I think, having some effect.

As he mentions later in the interview, it is indeed as if we are starting from scratch. One occasionally wonders, "didn't they have an army and local governments before we came in?" The answer is yes, but they were dysfunctional to the point of being barely recognizable. Among our many bad assumptions in pre-invasion thinking was to understimate the damage a totalitarian system can do to a country. The Germans were lucky to have only been under the Nazis for 12 years.

Q Colonel, it's Mike Mount with CNN. Going back on the security situation -- as we've been talking about the SOFA, you know, pulls you back out of the main parts of the cities by June, what's your confidence level -- and you've been working with them for some time now -- what's your confidence level with the Iraqi forces and the police in your region? And do you have a high level of confidence that they're going to be able to kind of take control of the area as you start backing off and maybe further down the road, too, as troops are eventually pulled out?

COL. DEWHURST: Yeah, I can tell you from day one -- this is actually my second tour over here -- and the difference from my first tour to the second tour is the -- one is the confidence and competence of the Iraqi security forces and, two, their logistics, their supplies and equipment is much better than it was two years ago when I was over here. And what I have seen in my year of working with them, they have greatly increased their capabilities to -- a lot of the operations now are Iraqi-led, Iraqi-planned, and we are supporting their operations. And that's very encouraging for me as we look forward.

Over the past two years I have covered several briefings in which commanders have expressed concerns about the logistical capabilities of the Iraqi Army.

The saying about how "amateurs discuss strategy, pros talk logistics" may be overstated, but it has a lot of relevance. Be wary, for example, about anyone who rattles on about how we need "more troops in Afghanistan" but says nothing about how we'll keep them supplied (hint; google for the "Khyber Pass").

Continuing with his answer:

COL. DEWHURST:...However that's now created lots more challenges for us to work through. It's now, okay, we have this agreement; now we've got to work through, how are we going to start withdrawing, pulling back? And how are we going to shape that? Because we want to do that in a very methodical manner because we don't want to lose the security gains that we have made.

Hello Barack Obama, are you listening? Democrats and Republicans in Congress? Any liberals reading this post, did you catch that? Any of you types who like to say things like what Kevin O'Meara* says about bloggers like me:

Redhunter also tells us the "War is over". Ok, then let's immediately stop spending $10bl per month, bring the troops home, downsize the Pentagon and get on with life. Oh, maybe they liked the war when it was raging.

Are you paying attention? Stop with the Movon.org talking points and learn what's really going on.

Regarding the violence; what I hear time and again is that we can reduce the overall level of violence, but stopping the isolated "spectacular attack" is hard. One time I heard Gen Odierno (I believe) say that that the way they judge progress is by a 90 day rolling average.

Col Dewhurst speaks about the "spectacular attack" later in the briefing:

COL. DEWHURST:....Probably the -- you asked about the most negative thing. I don't know if it's negative or it's just -- my concern is that there -- what keeps me up at night is that -- is that extremists that still trying to do that spectacular attack. And that is my concern, of trying to find out, get the information, who that is, to prevent that attack from happening in the first place. And that's probably the only thing that still bothers me, is those spectacular attacks are -- still have the potential of happening.

The lesson is; don't let the occasional spectacular attack convince you that things have not changed dramatically since the terrible days of 2006.

The journalists challenged and questioned some of Col Dewhurst and Mr. Tribble had to say, but I think mostly on non-vital issues. Time will tell if we can translate the security, economic, and political gains into a viable state at peace with itself and it's neighbors, but you'd have to be blind or in complete denial to think that the trends are not strongly in our favor.

A defeated insurgency, and an at least somewhat pluralistic Iraq would be a major blow to the worldwide jihadist movement, and an enhancement to U.S. prestige. Just the recent signing of the SOFA alone was a blow to Iran and a sign of an ever more confident and capable Iraqi leadership.

All in all, a very interesting and useful briefing, which contributed to our understanding of the situation in Iraq.

* Update - Kevin has now decided to hide his website behind a password. I'd challenged a few of his posts in comments there, and saw that at least one other conservative had too. Apparently this was too much for him.

Update II - January 3 2009 - Kevin has come out to play again, removing the password restriction from his website.

Posted by Tom at 9:45 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 11, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 08 December 2008 - "A New Hope in the Eyes of the Iraqi People"

This briefing is by Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling. Hertling is commander of the the 1st Armored Division, also known as Task Force Iron.. Until this past Tuesday, December 9, Gen. Hertling commanded, and the 1st Armored headquartered, Multi-National Division-North. This ended a 15 month deployment in Iraq.

MND-North is now headquartered by the 25th Infantry Division from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. It is now known as Task Force Lightning. MND-North and the 25th ID are commanded by Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr.

Before his rotation back to their home base in Germany, Maj. Gen. Hertling reported to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, now commander of CENTCOM. Petreaus reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Maj. Gen. Hertling spoke from Iraq via satellite Monday to reporters at the Pentagon. Here's the video:

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

As journalist Al Pessin notes in his first question, Maj Gen. Hertling and the troops of his 1st Armored Division arrived at a critical time. Violence was escalating out of control and the Iraqi government was at best chaotic. With the help of various volunteers from the State Department, the troopers of 1st Armored applied the counterinsurgency doctrine spelled out in Petraeus' Field Manual 3-24 and were able to achieve stunning successes in northern Iraq.

Readers should note that no, I don't just believe whatever military commanders say. I gather my information from a variety of sources that I have found to be trustworthy. Further, these briefings are two-way affairs; the journalists get to ask whatever tough and hard-hitting questions they want. I listen to their questions, and try and determine which part of the briefers stories they believe and which parts they challenge.

With this in mind, let's turn to Hertling's opening statement. Following is an exerpt:

GEN. HERTLING: ... When we arrived, there were nearly 1,800 attacks per month. Last week we had our lowest number of attacks in the north, with 108. When we arrived, there were four Iraqi army divisions in the north struggling to conduct operations above the company level, and there were about 55,000 Iraqi police. Nearly 75 percent of those were untrained. Today there are five Iraqi army divisions. They are conducting offensive operations at the brigade level, usually partnering with us. And they are beginning to build confident enablers, like engineers, explosive ordnance teams, intelligence and aviation. And there are 76,000 Iraqi policemen, and 70 percent of them are trained. And there's about a hundred women as well.

When we arrived, there were distrust of the central government, and the unemployment rate was staggering. For every two steps forward, we assessed, they were making one step back. Now there is improved coordination and communication between the government of Iraq and the provinces. And they are slowly executing provincial budgets, they are rebuilding infrastructure with their own dinars, and they are taking three to four steps forward for every one step back.

These actions were brought about not only by the desire of the Iraqi people but, frankly, by the performance of the U.S. military and a very small band of committed and selfless volunteers from the Department of State. The soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Provincial Reconstruction Teams that I have had the honor of serving with have been phenomenal. And I have been amazed as I -- as I've watched them make miracle happen.

We have had 104 of our comrades pay the ultimate price while we've been here, and 891 of our own have been wounded, some very seriously. Many more of our Iraqi brothers have experienced the same at the hands of an evil and committed enemy. At every memorial we rededicate ourselves to our motto, "Make these sacrifices matter." We try to do that, but our prayers are with the family members of our fallen as we complete this tour.

There are still enemies that need to be destroyed. The Iraqi government is still very fragile. And there is a need to polish the representative process and methods of infrastructure repair.

But despite the statistics and the assessments, the most dramatic change is one that only we get to see over here, and that's now a new hope in the eyes of the Iraqi people.

Hertling gives several reasons here for success

  1. An improved Iraqi government. Trust, coordination, and execution of budgets have improved
  2. The performance of the US military
  3. The performance of the PRTs (Provisional Reconstruction Teams, the "volunteers from the Department of State")

The result has been a change in the attitude of the Iraqi people.

We have discussed the role of the PRTs previously on this blog. In a previous briefing a PRT leader described their function:

The chief role of the PRT is to teach, mentor and partner with provincial and local governments, civil society organizations and other provincial actors, increase their abilities, efficiencies, technical expertise and transparency.

A January 2007 story in the Washington Post tells us that the idea behind the PRTs was to move from massive construction projects to microfinancing of Iraqi entrepreneurs.

On to the Q & A.

Q Hi, General. It's Al Pessin from Voice of America. You've been there during a very key period when things went from spiraling downward to a much better situation. What would you say was the key, or the few keys, the most important factors in the turnaround in your area?

GEN. HERTLING: Well, I think a couple things, Al. I think, first of all, as I said in the opening comments, it's been the military that's been here as well as the work of the members of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

That's certainly been a factor.

I think in some parts of the north -- and you know how big the northern area is; it's about the size of the combined states of Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland and Vermont -- I think the -- in some of those areas, the rising up of the Sahwa, the awakening movements, in areas where they could rise up, was extremely helpful.

I think the Iraqi people themselves have really, as I've mentioned several times in these formats -- they're just sick of violence and they want to push the violence away from their society and get started again after 30 to 40 years of trauma at the hands of dictators.

But I think probably one of the more important facets of the improvements has also got to be placed right in the hands of the Iraqi security forces; the improvement in the army and the Iraqi police that have stood up over the last couple of years. That's always been the strategy, to get them to stand up to take responsibility for their own work, but today that's a reality. They're getting better and better every day.

And I think a combination of those factors -- the people wanting it, the U.S. military and our State Department friends assisting, and the standup of the Iraqi security forces have been the three keys to all of this.

I'm not sure if Pessin missed what Hertling said in his opening comments or was expecting more, but Hertling pretty much said the same thing, that the reasons for success in northern Iraq were:

  1. The people wanting to end the insurgency
  2. The assistance of the State Department Provisional Reconstruction Teams
  3. The re-emergence of the Iraqi security forces as a potent force

Note that I said "keys for success in northern Iraq." There are or were several wars in Iraq, and because the problem was different in each one we used different techniques in each one.

While our military gets most of the attention, much credit must go to the PRTs and the Iraqis. In another part of the interview, Hertling says about the leaders of Iraq, civilian and military. At another point in the interview Hertling says a but more about how the Iraqis have stepped up:

GEN. HERTLING:... I'm confident that what we have allowed them to do is take on the security of their country. And what I'm seeing in the Iraqi army is some true patriotic leaders. They are in fact leading the way in terms of bringing this society into a representative government and a representative society. And they are fighting in very nationalistic terms for the future of Iraq. And it's heartwarming to see that.

In Pessin's next question we hear the word we've heard so often in these briefings; fragile. In briefing after briefing we hear the same thing; that we've pretty much got the insurgency beat but that it's too soon to just declare everything fine and solved. There are problems that require our presence, albeit at a much reduced level.

Q If I could just follow up, General: We almost always hear the word "fragile" along with declarations of progress in Iraq. How fragile or not fragile is it in your area?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, that's a great question.

What we've seen over this last -- these last 15 months is a coming together of the provincial governments -- the four provincial governments in the north with the government of Iraq. It's fragile because, frankly, they don't have the democratic processes and the bureaucracies that are needed in something like this. I mean, everything they do is starting from scratch.

Rule-of-law procedures -- I mean, you say, "Hey, you arrest criminals on the street; let's put them in jail." Well, the jails are bad. "And let's try them." Well, we don't have enough lawyers or judges. "Let's work the warrant process." Well, that doesn't exist in the rule of law, for example.

The budget execution problem -- I mean, we literally have budget offices in the four provinces that -- whereas we look at our state budgets as being executed with Excel spreadsheets, you walk into a budget office in Nineveh province, as an example, and these guys are there with big ledgers, opening up and literally writing billions of dinars worth of notes and contracts. There isn't the capability right now to hold people accountable for contract execution. Those are just some examples of the kinds of things we're talking about.

And then you throw into that, you've got an enemy that's affecting this, and in the north for the past several years, and it got extremely bad this year, there was a -- even a disaster of the drought, which affect the -- affected the agricultural area of the north.

So it's been interesting to watch everything, potentially, as a negative effect, but the Iraqi people have continued to fight this. They've fought the enemy. They fought the crisis of the drought. They've tried to put bureaucratic processes in place.

There is -- when we got here, and I think this is true throughout Iraq, nothing works right.

The infrastructure system, repair, the economy, all of the things were really in a very bad state. And that's why I would say it's fragile. And that's why you keep hearing many of the military and the civilian leaders say that it is fragile.

Maj. Gen. Hertling speaks to two things we didn't take into account before we invaded. One is cultural. The Iraqis have no tradition of pluralism or democracy.

The other is technical. We tend to forget, I think, just how backwards so many non-Western countries are.

Neither of these mean that we cannot succeed in Iraq. Our efforts to instill democracies in Germany and Japan at the end of WWII were criticized because it was pointed out that neither had a tradition of democracy, Japan less than Germany.

This said, it has been much commented on that we underestimated the cultural and infrastructure challenges in Iraq before we invaded. Once again we see that these criticisms were mostly correct.

Next, we'll look at upcoming elections, something that is crucial to building confidence in the government.

Q General, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. When you say nothing is working right and when you say the situation is fragile, how long do you think the situation needs to be resolved? How long -- what the Iraqi government needs to do to help to fix this situation? And I don't know if you could give us, like, in terms of time, how long do you need to start drawing down in your area?

GEN. HERTLING: Well, again, I'm not going to address the drawing down issue. I'll let my senior commanders address that. But in terms of some of the things that the Iraqi government has to do, they're already doing them.

They are increasing -- as an example, they're increasing the visits of Deputy Prime Minister Rafi al-Issawi to all of the provinces. Within the last month, he has been to three of our four provinces. He's been to Diyala, to Nineveh and last week he was in Salahaddin, where he was making a connection with the government of Iraq to the provincial governments, and seeing what they needed, in terms of infrastructure repair. He's been tasked by the prime minister with synchronizing the various ministries to go after the things that the central government needs to do to support the provinces. That's number one.

I think the big thing that will occur is the provincial elections, which are now scheduled for, as you know, the late January, the January 31st time frame. That, in and of itself, will be huge in order to get elected officials into power that are answering directly to the people.

Right now, all of the governors of Iraq, to include our four governors in the northern provinces, had not been elected. They had been appointed. The governors are increasing the amount of time they're spending with their people.

But I think the provincial elections, what we will see in terms of more of a representative government, the election of a true elected official as the governor and the deputy governor and the provincial counsels, that will be critical in terms of representing all the people within each one of the provinces.

So those are really two examples of things that could happen. I think a third one is, what we have seen over the last three years is a -- fits and starts in terms of execution of provincial budgets. Within the last several months, there has been great gains by the fielding of some technological equipment to the various provinces, which will allow them to increase their capability of executing their budgets to better serve their people.

At the end of the day the people have to believe that their government represents them and has their interests at heart. We've heard this time and again from American military commanders in these briefings. Petraeus (his team, anyway) wrote about it in the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24.

Next we'll do a human interest story.

Yes I know, anecdotal stories can be used to prove just about anything. And I'm not trying to argue from the specific to the general here, just relating a story that needs to be told. With this in mind I think it good though to step back from the geeky high-level analysis a bit and look at how close the partnership is between us and the Iraqis on a human level:

GEN. HERTLING:...The third one occurred about two weeks ago. That individual has confessed to the crime. But what was interesting about that particular incident is, the same day that made the news, the partnership with the American -- between the American army and the Iraqi army is so incredibly strong, the division commander called me, called -- the Iraqi division commander called me, called the regimental commander, called the battalion commander, offered his apologies. I happened to be up there that day. The Iraqi division commander literally was crying about the fact that someone within his ranks would have committed this act.

But that same day, we lost another soldier who -- and this is the part -- the kinds of things that don't get reported. And I'd just say this: The exact same day that many things were being reported about how there was infiltration within the Iraqi ranks, there was another soldier who slipped off a river bank in the Tigris River south of Mosul; another soldier jumped in to try and grab him, and drowned saving his life. Sergeant First Class Wilson drowned.

But when that body was lost, there were several Iraqis -- who didn't know Sergeant Wilson -- who entered that freezing water with that rapid current and searched for four hours for that body. This is the other side of the partnering, that sometime isn't recorded.

Finally, what can we look forward to in the future?

GEN. HERTLING:...I think when -- when you walk the streets of Mosul -- and I'd invite any of you to come over and -- well, not walk with me, because I'm leaving tomorrow, but walking with General Caslen -- what you will hear is the people not talking about security anymore. What they are now talking about is government and the economy.

And as soon as those two things are taken care of -- and I think they will be with the provincial elections -- we'll see a much stronger Mosul, and it will be the final destruction of al Qaeda in that particular city.

Previous Briefings by Maj. Gen. Hertling
Iraq Briefing - 06 October 2008 - Three Steps Forward, One Step Back
Iraq Briefing - 11 August 2008 - Going after al Qaeda with a Vengance
Iraq Briefing - 09 June 2008 - Job Creation to Defeat the Insurgency
Iraq Briefing - 11 Feb 2008 - AQI Is On the Run
Iraq Briefing - 22 Jan 2008 - Operation Iron Harvest
Iraq Briefings 15/19 November 2007

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December 2, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 01 December 2008 - From a Brigade to a Battalion

This briefing is by Col Tom James, commander of the 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, and and Mr. Howard Van Vranken, the Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team leader with the brigade. On Monday they spoke from Camp Victory via satellite to reporters at the Pentagon.

The 4th Brigade took over their area of responsibility from 4-25 Infantry on December 1, 2007. Their AOR "encompasses North Babil province and stretches from the Euphrates River Valley in the West to the Tigris River Valley in the East." it is "just over 40,000 square kilometers, an area roughly the size of Switzerland, and contains approximately 625,000 Iraqis."

The 4th Brigade is part of Multi-National Division - Center, also known as Task Force Mountain. MNF-C is headquartered by the 10th Mountain Division (Light) from Fort Drum, New York.

Col. James reports to Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, commanding general of the 10th Mountain Divison and MND-C. Oates, in turn, reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of CENTCOM, who in turn reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink website.

Although there was much of interest in this briefing, what we'll concentrate on are

  • The reasons for our success in Babil province
  • The role of the PRTs
  • The drawdown in U.S. forces from brigade to battalion size
  • The status of the Sons of Iraq program

From their opening statements

COL JAMES: ...There are five key points I'd like to make about the current situation in our area of responsibility.

First, the population feels secure, and the quality of life is improving.

Attacks are down from eight a day last year to less than two per week. When we arrived, the population could not move in 30 percent of our area of responsibility. They now enjoy freedom of movement throughout both provinces. The population believes in the Iraqi army and police, and no longer allows sanctuary to extremists.

The capabilities of the Iraqi security forces have improved dramatically over the last year, enhancing security and enabling positive and real growth in local economies and governments.

The second point: The Iraqi security forces are capable and competent. The Iraqi army and police have made great strides in terms of manning, equipping, basing and training. The Iraqi army is capable of conducting precise offensive operations, based on intelligence that they have personally generated. The army and the police work extremely well together, and the population believes in both organizations.

We continue to assist with training and provide reconnaissance and -- correction -- aviation assets as required.

The third point: Governance and economics continue to flourish in both provinces. The security situation allows the governors, provincial council leaders and directors general to routinely travel to north Babil and throughout Karbala, feats that were inconceivable only a year ago.

This -- (audio break) -- provincial leadership resulted in initiation of more than 100 government-sponsored projects in north Babil alone. Another 50 projects were facilitated by coalition forces but funded by ICERP, Iraqi money, applied at the local level.

The Provincial Reconstruction Teams mentor the provincial leadership, encouraging development and investment in areas outside the provincial seats of government. We continue to enable reconstruction team operations in both provinces.

The fourth point: We're focused on several key tasks for the future.

Number one, the successful execution of free and fair elections in January.

Number two, the transfer of the Sons of Iraq program to the Iraqi army and government Iraq for management, payment and eventual transition to other forms of productive employment.

Number three, continue to work professionalization of the Iraqi security forces.

And number four, further basing adjustments -- (audio break) -- forces in accordance with the pending SOFA agreement.

Finally, our soldiers and families are the greatest in the world. None of these -- correction -- none of these successes would be possible without the dedication and sacrifice of our soldiers and their wonderful families.

Their ability to rapidly adapt to the complex and dangerous situations never ceases to amaze me. I am honored to command such a dedicated group of warriors.
...

MR. VAN VRANKEN: Good morning. I'm Howard Van Vranken. For the last 11 months I've been the team leader of the embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team attached to Colonel James' 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID, working in -- primarily in north Babil....

The population's looking forward to the Iraqi High Electoral Commission's education campaign. That's going to kick off later this month, with the support of the EPRT and the PRT. In general, we're beginning to see vigorous campaigns by candidates. It's -- a significant importance in this election is the full participation of the Sunni population, who boycotted, in large part, the 2005 provincial elections. They recognize that the boycott was a mistake, a serious blunder on their part, and they're committed to maximizing their participation in -- (audio break). That's a big change and a big improvement, quite frankly.

There's still a lot of work to do. The progress that we've seen is not irreversible. But budget execution, the provision of essential services and improving the rule of law stand out as areas that still need to be improved.

I've said and explained why a million times here on Redhunter but it bears repeating again; security for the populace must come first, and only then can political and economic progress take place. This is why Col. James' first point above is so important.

Don't take it from me, listen to Col. James himself explain the details himself in his Feb 22 2008 briefing, which I covered here on Redhunter.

Pay close attention also to his second point, that "the Iraqi security forces are capable and competent." You don't need to be a military strategist to know that we can't be there forever and that the Iraqis must take over. The point here is that Col. James has been talking about the progress of the Iraqis for some time now, see for example his July 22 briefing which he co-hosted with Brigadier General Abdul Amir, commanding general of the 31st Iraqi Army Brigade.

Also of note is status of the Sons of Iraq. Originally called Concerned Local Citizens, the SOI program is a sort of "super neighborhood watch" of Iraqi citizens who patrol their neighborhoods and report suspicious activity to the authorities. Many of the SOI were armed, but with their own private weapons, as we did not provide them any. Because no one knows a neighborhood like the people who live there, the intelligence they provided was invaluable. More importantly, it got Iraqis "off the fence" and into our camp, taking responsibility for their own security. It also provided jobs and a paycheck; initially courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.

Ultimately, the program was temporary in nature. Now that we've largely wrapped up the insurgency, the program is being disbanded. The idea is to move the SOI participants into civilian jobs or the Iraqi security forces. The problem with the former is lack of jobs, with the latter suspicion by the Maliki government. Most or many of the SOI are Sunnis, and Maliki is a Shiite. This has caused many to worry that Maliki just wants to disband the SOI without making sure as many as possible get jobs; a recipe for disaster. The U.S. command understands this full well, with Lt. Gen. Austin sending Maliki a not-so-veiled warning on the matter last September. More on the SOI later in this briefing.

Lastly, we heard Mr. Van Vranken, leader of the Provisional Reconstruction Team attached to the 4th Brigade. The PRT's don't get the attention they deserve, and many people seem not to know they even exist. The fact though, is that they're vitally important. Providing basic services pulls the rug out from under the insurgency and denies them important propaganda points. The program has also been very successful, more so in Iraq than Afghanistan.

It also shows that people who say things like "all the Bush Administration has done is use military force, so it's time to try something different," simply do not know what they are talking about.

A Washington Post story from January 2007, when the surge and PRT program in Iraq was just getting started, is useful in explaining what it is all about.

(Provisional Reconstruction Teams provide) the U.S. military with funds for local, quick-fix reconstruction projects; and a separate quick-response fund.

All of those preexisting efforts will be expanded, along with a Pentagon-led jobs program to revitalize dormant state-owned industries and new "microfinancing" for Iraqi entrepreneurs. Having largely abandoned the huge, unsuccessful construction projects that marked its early years in Iraq, the United States will now emphasize putting Iraqis back to work to dissuade them from joining Shiite militias and the Sunni insurgency.

"It's not a bad choice under the circumstances," said one veteran of the administration's initial reconstruction effort. "Everybody who had half a brain cell knew this is what we should have done four years ago" instead of paying private U.S. contractors to rebuild and modernize infrastructure and trying to turn Iraq's highly centralized, government-owned economy into free-market capitalism overnight.

In summary, not only did our military strategy change, our reconstruction one did too. We moved from large-scale projects to financing small Iraqi entrepreneurs. Big surprise; capitalism works.

On to the Q & A with the assembled reporters:

Q This is David Morgan from Reuters. Colonel James, given the improvements that have taken place, as you say, and the optimism about the SOFA, the lack of tension over the approaching elections, how do you see the role of the U.S. military changing over the next several months? And from a practical point of view, really, how much longer would it be necessary to have a U.S. military presence in your area?

COL. JAMES: Yeah, absolutely. The progress has been enormous over the past year. The successes we have had in reducing the attacks, as I mentioned in my statement, it's -- the Iraqi security forces have improved to a point now where they can handle the security situation with minimal support from coalition forces.

We envision -- and Babil Province alone, I'll take that as an example -- that we can reduce our footprint from a brigade combat team of roughly 3,800 soldiers down to about a battalion's worth of about 1,000 soldiers to be able to handle the security situation, and that is changing because on 22 November -- correction, October -- when we did a provincial Iraqi control of the province, they took the lead. And so now we're in a support role as opposed to leading the security fight.

So we're now much less of a footprint providing resources as required and training as required, but the Iraqi security forces have been in the lead for the majority of the time we've been here and will continue in the future.

So I see us being able to reduce our footprint in Babil Province while the Iraqi security forces take this over. And we're seeing that now and we're prepared to do so.

Now, we're going to rip out -- we're going to transition with another brigade that's coming here over the next month, and when they take over, they will fall in on us about with a like-size organization, but that's just to draw equipment and pieces -- to set them up for success to be redistributed in other places with a multinational division center -- expanding as it covers more provinces. But for the most part, we can reduce almost two-thirds as far as the coalition footprint goes, but still providing the support to the Iraqi security forces, really continuing to build up their confidence that they continue to build on daily.

Q Hey, this is Courtney from NBC again. What's the timeline that you expect you can reduce from a brigade down to a battalion? What's the estimated date you think you might be able to be down to a battalion in Babil?

COL. JAMES: You know, I don't have specific timelines. I could just tell you that the conditions exist on the ground right now operationally with the Iraqi security force capability and the government's ability to control those security forces in Babil Province, that we could reduce down to about a battalion's worth now, I mean, the operational set is available now to do that. And we will see that eventually happen, but it will be in the near-term; I don't have specific timelines associated with that because it has to do with some repositioning of forces throughout the theater.

Got that? We're going from a brigade of 3,800 soldiers in Babil Province to a battalion of 1,000.

Next, Courtney Kube asked for details about about the Sons of Iraq program

Q Can I also ask about the Sons of Iraq program in your area? Can you give us sort of an update on that, how many you have, if any have been transferred over to Iraqi security forces?

COL. JAMES: Absolutely. The Sons of Iraq program has been a great program for securing the population and thickening the security lines where we don't have Iraqi army and Iraqi police. Right now, we have 5,115 Sons of Iraq in Babil Province and that's what we manage as a brigade combat team. I am optimistic about this program in the future. It's going to really require the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces to take it over from us and be able to transition it.

You know, I look at it in two ways, transition -- correction, transfer -- which is transferring the Sons of Iraq program over to the Iraqi army and the government of Iraq managed by the Iraqi army and that is going really well. We started that months ago. The Iraqi army is paying our Sons of Iraq forces -- (audio break) -- and they've been doing that for a period of time now. So that system is in place, but we're still paying them with coalition money. Around the turn of the year, January, February time frame, the GOI is going to take over that payment and the system will already be in place and plugged in and be able to work the transfer. So I'm very positive about the transfer of Sons of Iraq to Iraqi army control and the GOI.

Then the next step is transition to other forms of employment, be it the Iraqi security forces or any other employment like farming or industrial-type jobs, those kinds of things. Right now, we're looking at 20 (percent) to 30 percent transitioning of the Iraqi army and police and then further transitioning to other jobs potentially related to security -- FPS or facility protection services, those kinds of things. But it's going to really require the government of Iraq to get involved, working through the reconciliation cell and processing the Sons of Iraq into these other forms of employment, productive off-ramps.

At this point in time, its been slow-go with us trying to get Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi forces. We've prepped all of the packets and we've handed them over to the reconciliation cell and that's working right now, it's just -- it's slow, but I believe when the GOI takes this over, it will gain momentum.

MR. VAN VRANKEN: I'll just highlight. I think it's been an essential program over the course of the past year and I've got full faith that the Iraqi government is going to do as they've pledged to do and that is to maintain it and to work to find suitable employment for those current Sons of Iraq. So I think it was a good program and it's headed in the right direction the way it is now.

"...slow-go with us trying to get Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi forces...." The words of Clausewitz come to mind: "

Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult. These difficulties accumulate and produce a friction which no man can imagine exactly who has not seen war.

Yes I know, if we had done this or that differently Iraq would be a lot easier. But it's all very easy in hindsight, isn't it? In the midst of a problem, you're getting a hundred different opinions, and only in retrospect is it "obvious" which one was correct. I'm just glad we have finally got the place right. Now lets just hope our new president listens to his Secretary of Defense and military commanders like Col. Tom James on just how fast we should draw down. The situation is still fragile in Iraq, and if we don't do it right we lose all that we've gained.

Previous Briefings by Col. James

Iraq Briefing - 24 July 2008 - Confident and Capable Iraqi Leadership
Iraq Briefing - 22 February 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"

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November 28, 2008

Gen. Barry McCaffrey Report - November 2008 - Iraq

General Barry McCaffrey (ret.) is back from another fact-finding tour of Kuwait and Iraq. He was there from Oct 31 to Nov 6 and met with dozens of American and Iraqi military and civilian leaders, including Gen. Ray Odierno, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. This, his latest After Action Report, can be found on the website of MCaffrey Associates. Readers are encouraged to download the entire report and read it in its entirety.

I find McCaffrey's reports valuable as a check on other sources by someone who can usually be counted on to provide a non-partisan no-holds-barred assessment. McCaffrey lays out the good, the bad, and the ugly. He does not seem driven by an agenda. He does not see the situation through rose-colored glasses, but by the same token is not knee-jerk "all is lost."

From his bio, McCaffrey served for 32 years in the U.S. Army, retiring in I think 2001 with the rank of four star general. He then notably served as "Drug Czar" until 2005, when he took a position as the Bradley Distinguished Professor of International Security Studies at West Point. He is currently an Adjunct Professor of International Affairs there. This most recent report was undertaken as part of his professorship.

None of this makes him the end-all-to-be-all, but he does have some credibility.

Here's his bottom line on the current situation in Iraq:

3. THE BOTTOM LINE:

a. The United States is now clearly in the end game in Iraq to successfully achieve what should be our principle objectives:

  • The withdrawal of the majority of our US ground combat forces in Iraq in the coming 36 months.
  • Leaving behind an operative civil state and effective Iraqi security forces.
  • An Iraqi state which is not in open civil war among the Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds.
  • And an Iraqi nation which is not at war with its six neighboring states.

b. The security situation is clearly still subject to sudden outrage at any moment by Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) or to degradation because of provocative behavior by the Maliki government. However, the bottom line is a dramatic and growing momentum for economic and security stability which is unlikely to be reversible. I would not characterize the situation as fragile. It is just beyond the tipping point.

  • Daily attacks hit a high of 180+ in July of 2007--- they are now down to 20+ per day.
  • Civilian deaths dropped from 3700 per month in Dec 2006 --- to 400 + in October 2008.
  • US military deaths dropped from 110 in May of 2007---to 10 in October 2008.
  • Iraqi Security Forces KIA dropped from 310 in June 2007--- to 50 in October 2008.)

c. The genius of the leadership team of Ambassador Ryan Crocker, General Dave Petraeus, and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has turned around the situation from a bloody disaster under the leadership of Secretary Rumsfeld to a growing situation of security. Ambassador Crocker will be very, very difficult to replace in February 2009. We are fortunate that General Ray Odierno has stepped in to take Joint command of MNF-I. He is very experienced, knows all the players and has sophisticated situational awareness. The Iraqis trust him enormously--- they refer to him as the "big man with the quiet voice."

All this is very good. We have come a long ways and should be thankful for it. President Bush belatedly recognized that things were going wrong, and appointed the new team of Gates, Fallon, and Petraeus to fix things. They did. Later in his report McCaffrey details some of the errors that we made early in the war, remarking that "It is hard to not be bitter about the misjudgments and denial of the DOD leadership during the first years of the war. It did not have to turn out this way with $750 billion of our treasure spent and 36,000 US killed and injured."

True enough, and I do not doubt that his assessment of what we did wrong is incorrect. I won't list it all here, though, because my purpose is what we should do going forward, not what we should have done.

McCaffrey's report is only 9 pages long, and every paragraph a gem, so it's tempting just to reprint the entire thing. Here, though, are a few key statements from his "Context" section

It is unarguable that the past 18 months have witnessed a dramatic, positive change in the Iraqi internal security situation. Iraqi and Coalition Security Force casualties in a comparative sense are now at rock bottom. Ethnic strife between the Shia and the Sunnis has all but stopped. The Shia militias have in general been neutralized--- and the Sunni insurgents bought out by the Sons of Iraq Program....

The lawless disintegration of the state at province and municipal level which was apparent on my earlier visits has now largely abated....

Iranian intervention is relentless, lethal, and implacably hostile to US interests--- but has to a great extent alienated the southern Iraqi Shia and been largely ineffective.

The Maliki government remains largely dysfunctional in its ability to deliver services to the population (jobs, electricity, clean water, infrastructure repair, oil production, budget expenditure, etc)... (but) Mr. Maliki clearly has matured and gained stature as a political leader....

We should have a sense of empathy for these Iraqi politicians. They have survived a poisonous Saddam regime and a culture of intrigue and murder from every side.....

Indeed what has always struck me is the lack of respect Iraqis in general get from people in the U.S. on both sides of the political isle. Conservatives tend to ignore them, crediting everything to the U.S. military, usually even ignoring Amb. Crocker himself. Liberals tend to use them in casualty counts to "prove" how brutal the U.S. led war has been to the Iraqi people. Both sides tend to denigrate Iraqi politicians, caricaturing all of them as corrupt and incompetent.

No doubt the Iraqi government has a long ways to go. We're all familiar with the infighting based on sect, factional, tribe, and clan loyalties. Many have used the security services to murder not just opponents but numbers of ordinary civilians. Corruption is not just rife, but a way of life there, as it is in most of the Third World.

Because the surge has been so successful, we now hear from some on the left "let's immediately stop spending $10bl per month, bring the troops home, downsize the Pentagon and get on with life."

This message comes from those who either never wanted Iraq to succeed in the first place or gave up on it completely sometime after the insurgency started. They opposed the surge, saying that only political progress could save Iraq. Long after it was obvious that the surge was working they continued to deny the obvious progress. Now that the lack of violence is undeniable, and there is a relative stability, they don't even care enough to want to make sure the country does not backslide. All we hear is the same tired mantra; "troops out now!"

Despite our progress, regular readers of this blog know that most commanders, including Petraeus, still say the situation in Iraq is "fragile." Just click on "Iraq II 2007 - 2008" and search for "fragile" and you'll see what I mean.

Knowing this, McCaffrey lays out four scenarios where "success in Iraq could turn to collapse." Download the report and read all four yourself, but here's one:

Precipitous US military withdrawal before the Iraqis have developed a fully functional security presence among all eighteen provinces would also imperil the enterprise. The Iraqis do not have a functional Air Force (lift, gunships, transportation, and close air support). They do not have a Navy and Marine Corps yet capable of protecting their Gulf transportation and petroleum infrastructure. Their Border Security Forces are still anemic. The Iraqi Armed Forces in general lack adequate armor, artillery, maintenance, logistics, medical, and communications to function in counter-insurgency operations or border defense without US support. Their military officer corps is immensely better than a year ago--- but the bench is thin. The young officers at company and battalion level show great promise and courage. The legacy of the Saddam nightmare weighs heavily on the culture of the more senior officers. Finally, the confidence of the Iraqi combat force is still dependant on US mentoring and backup. Their officers are very explicit on this point---THE IRAQI SECURITY FORCES DO NOT WANT THE US COMBAT UNITS TO LEAVE---YET.

So much for blanket statements like "the Iraqis want us to leave." Indeed, USMC Maj. Gen. Martin Post offered a more nuanced statement in a press briefing that I covered Nov 11 when he said, in response to a question on the subject;

Candidly, it depends upon who you talk to. In some cases, if you talk to the local man on the street, they'll look at us and say, "Hey, I think we're ready for you to go."

If you talk to the -- the leadership -- you know, the IP leadership or the Iraqi army leadership or the provincial leadership, they would probably tell you, "Hey, we need you here for some period of time longer." Not really ever saying, "We need you here for one year or two years," but I think we're still, if you would, that security blanket for them, in the -- standing behind them....

This makes sense. If I was an Iraqi I'd say that I want the Americans gone too. No one wants foreign troops in their country. We're lucky we got the Germans to accept such large numbers for so long, Soviet threat or no.

Further, although it has been a maddeningly slow journey to get the Iraqi security forces as far as they are, Gen. Petraeus warned about this in the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. Take the time to read it if you want to understand where we've been and where we're going.

Driving home the point, at the end of his report McCaffrey says that

...It is essential for both US and Mid East security that we pull out of Iraq in a deliberate and responsible manner--- and leave a stable and functioning state. This is clearly within our capabilities.

Again; "pull out of Iraq in a deliberate and responsible manner," not in the helter-skelter manner advocated by anti-war types.

Two more excerpts from the report and they I'll wrap it up. He has this to say about the senior military leadership:

Finally of note--- the senior leadership at general officer and brigade command is remarkable. They are visible to their troops and share the personal risk of the battlefield. (This is in marked contrast to the stacked helicopters of the Vietnam War commanders.) General Odierno has personally been under direct small arms fire and IED attack during his three combat tours at Division, Corps, and now theater command. LTG Lloyd Austin nearly got nailed by direct machine gun fire while directing forward operations during the recent battle to control SADR City in Baghdad. LTG Frank Helmick and BG Tony Thomas both recently survived an IED attack of an 800 lb suicide vehicle bomb which totally destroyed their MRAP vehicle. (The survivability of the MRAP vehicles has drastically reduced casualties among our forces.)

I've heard our generals talk about how they go out with the troops, and read stories on this too, but didn't know about the attacks they'd survived. We are lucky to have such able and brave leaders.

Lastly, a note to the future:

The likely strategic outcome will be a more rapid forced drawdown than desirable in Iraq in order to enhance combat power for Afghanistan. It will be a tricky balance--- but in my judgment we will pull this off successfully. Iraq will stabilize with the rapidly increasing power of the Iraqi Security Forces ---while we reinforce the inadequate NATO combat power in Afghanistan.

I'd already figured that my own coverage would see a shift to Afghanistan in coming months and years. I've noticed that I've posted more "Afghanistan Briefings" of late.

Previous McCaffrey Reports on Iraq
The December 2007 General Barry McCaffrey Report on Iraq
Barry McCaffrey on Iraq II, March 29, 2007
"The Most Brilliantly Led Military We Have Ever Fielded" May 14, 2006

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November 20, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 17 November 2008 - Impact of the SOFA in Sadr City

This briefing is by Colonel John Hort and Dr. Theodore Andrews. Col. Hort is Commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. Dr. Andrews is the leader of the Baghdad Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team 3. They spoke via satellite from Forward Operating Base (War) Eagle with reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

The 4th ID headquarters Multi-National Division-Baghdad. it's area of responsibility is Baghdad and the surrounding cities and towns. The 4th ID, and Colonel Hort, deployed to Iraq in December of 2007. Dr. Andrews took up his responsibilities in March of 2008.

Col. Hort reports to Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond, commanding general of the 4th ID and MNF-Baghdad. Hammond, in turn, reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of CENTCOM, who in turn reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

Although much was discussed, there were three main topics covered during the course of this briefing. One was the dramatic reduction in violence caused by the neutralization of the "special groups" criminals, and the Jaish al-Madhi (or Jaish al-Mahdi) militia (which was created by Muqtada al-Sadr). Second was the transitioning of the Sons of Iraq from an independent force into the security services, and third was the impact of the recently signed SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement). Although all are important, after reviewing the Colonel's opening remarks we'll concentrate on the SOFA.

From Col Hort's opening remarks

COL. HORT: Thank you, Bryan, and good morning, everybody. Colonel John Hort, as Bryan said, commander of the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division.

But first of all, we've got the Adhamiya District on the east side of the river on the northeast side of Baghdad as well as Sadr City. So they're two very large districts -- Fort Baghdad, about 4 million strong, in terms of the population density. About 40 percent of the Baghdad population kind of resides in our area of responsibility, as well as one Iraqi army division, the 11th Iraqi Army Division, which comprises the 42nd Iraqi Brigade as well as the 44th Iraqi Brigade that partners with us in the security component of our responsibilities over here.

Significant amount of progress, as I'm sure that you all know, has been made in the last year in terms of security, as well as the local governance and economic and essential services progress that we're seeing here on the ground.

To start off with Adhamiya briefly, we've -- when I got here, we were averaging roughly around six to seven attacks a day, which was actually down from the 14 attacks they were -- they were seeing prior to the surge. Since I've been here, in about a year now, we're down to less than one attack a day in the Adhamiya District, which is primarily a Sunni area, just on the river. And then it kind of transcends over to the Shi'a side as you move farther to the east. So a significant reduction in violence in that part of our area of responsibility. And I attribute that largely to what the Iraqi security forces have been able to do over the last year as we partner with them in defeating al Qaeda, which tends to be our biggest threat over here, as well as some special groups of criminals that do, in fact, operate in the Adhamiya district.

What I would call our main effort -- Ted and I's main effort -- is Sadr City, comprised of about 2.5 million people, as most of you might be familiar with; a large population density -- probably the largest density of Iraqis living in one area in Baghdad and probably all of Iraq; prior to the March time frame a very very kinetic area to operate in, not only for coalition forces but for Iraqi security forces.

But through the March-April-May time frame, a significant amount of combat operations were conducted in this area against the special- groups criminals, and some Jaish al-Madhi militia, that resulted in the cease-fire that you probably heard about in May that has really turned the corner, in our estimate, in terms of the special groups being significantly disrupted over here and, some would argue, actually defeated in some cases.

But they're certainly on the run inside and outside of Sadr City....

Most of the key leaders fled around the middle of May, went to various countries or south of Baghdad, and today we're seeing some of those individuals try to make it back, but what's different -- what's different today that they did not see before is that they are, in fact, fugitives now. The Iraqi army is in pursuit of them, attacking them, capturing them and bringing them to justice. And I think that's one of the most significant changes that I have seen in my 12 months, is the Iraqi security forces' willingness and capability to actually go after some of the special-groups criminals that really did not have that to worry about, about seven months ago....

We've been able affect health clinics, schools, parks, to some extent, the electricity in this part of Sadr City as well as trash and sewage, which has been a major focus. And that has worked extremely well, not only in the security component but also giving the people a sense of normalcy and bringing this part of the city back to life.

And it's also had an impact on the government of Iraq, as they have watched kind of our support to the local government down here, in the south part of Sadr City, also start to see some progress up in the northern parts or the parts beyond the gold wall, as we call it.

So once again we see the success of the surge. Not only did it quell the violence, but it has led to political progress. The Iraqi security forces are picking up the pace, and local Iraqi governments are stepping up. As Col Hort noted at the end, there's a cascading effect whereby the central government is affected by success at the local level. Some have said that it progress could only happen from the top down, but this has been disproven by facts on the ground.

Next was the Q & A between Hort, Williams, and the assembled reporters. As mentioned above, we'll concentrate on those questions that touched on the SOFA.

A Status of Forces Agreement is a legal document that provides the legal basis for one country to keep military forces in another. It also covers all manner of legal issues that pertain to individuals and property, both those of regular military personnel and civilian contractors. For example, it covers whose court system tries a soldier or civilian if they are accused of A or B crime. It covers damages that might be made to civilian property by military vehicles in the course of exercises or warfighting. The United States has a SOFA with every country where we have troops.

As everyone knows, a long-awaited SOFA was signed between the governments of the United States and Iraq over the weekend. I have neither the time, the inclination, nor the expertise to analyze the details and all that they mean. That said, The Washington Post has a useful backgrounder(and see this Post story. The Iraq Oil Report claims to have a leaked copy of the agreement itself, though I'll let readers judge the reliability of it for themselves.

So far, Maliki's cabinet has unanimously approved the SOFA, which is good news. Now it must go before the Parliament, and like in any democracy there will be at least some disagreement.

Let's go to the Q & A:

Q Colonel, this is David Morgan from Reuters... The question is this: Given the Sadrist opposition to the SOFA agreement, how do you assess the threat of violence on that count? And is it possible that the May cease-fire could be vulnerable to violence coming from opposition to the SOFA?

COL. HORT: What -- my assessment right now of that particular part of the insurgency is that it is -- it is severely disrupted. As I mentioned, a lot of the leaders left, and they -- we've seen some return of the leadership, either from different countries like Iran or Syria or wherever they fled to, or in parts from the south that they've come back. But they have not all come back. And so that part of the leadership -- at least 50 percent, in my estimation -- is still missing that we saw prior to the May cease-fire. So the leadership itself is not completely intact yet to really affect a large-scale uprising or anything that we have seen before. We still watch that very closely.
...

Q Ken Fireman from Bloomberg News. A question for both Colonel Hort and Dr. Andrews. It now looks like there's a good chance that the SOFA will take effect, given what happened in the cabinet yesterday. If it does take effect, how will that affect the environment -- the political and the security environment in which both of you and your people operate? And how will it affect your day- to-day operations?

COL. HORT: Did you want to --

DR. ANDREWS: Let me just -- excuse me, let me just take an initial swing at that. I don't see any immediate effect on our operations. Our -- (audio break) -- in promoting governance, promoting economic development, promoting essential services for the people.

On this day-to-day level, the SOFA is not a big issue, not with the local-level politicians with whom we're working most closely. It's obviously a piece of the background news and people, I think, will be a little bit apprehensive in the day or so after it, but there's no great apprehension of major problems.

The election is coming up. A lot of the leaders down at the provincial level are really concerned about that. A lot of them are going to be running for the election. And they're also really worried about how are they going to get services in their area. And that's the focus of things, not the SOFA.

COL. HORT: I would just say from the -- taking the security standpoint as we look at SOFA -- (audio break) -- obviously been able to read, kind of, exactly what all of the points and pieces of it are, but as I understand it, it will probably look something like a transition period for coalition to move more to a perimeter type of, you know, support to the Iraqi security forces inside of Baghdad.
...

And so, I think there will be some transition that we have to work through if that's, in fact, where's going. But in general right now, with the exception of Sadr City, we're kind of already moving in that direction, even prior to the SOFA with the Iraqi army taking more and more responsibility, more and more of the lead, particularly the targeting of the bad people -- and I talked about, the special groups, but also the al Qaeda that is not -- is still somewhat out there within certain parts of our area. So I don't -- I don't see a significant change.

We do have some joint security stations and combat outposts that are inside the city that we would probably have to push more out towards the perimeter of the city, but I think that we can work through all of that. And I just will say that the Iraqi army today, more so than when I was an adviser, has got a tremendous amount of confidence in themselves and is doing more and more each and every day that we work with them.

Q For Dr. Andrews, you said that some people in your area may feel a little bit of apprehension about the SOFA. Could you specify what the source of their apprehension would be? What will they be concerned about?

DR. ANDREWS: No, I think -- I'll backtrack a little bit from that, but the issue's that they hear the news stories and just wonder whether things might happen. A few days ago we met with some leaders and they said: Oh, did you hear, the -- you know, that the cabinet had made this decision? Do you think anything is going to happen? And we could say we don't think anything serious will happen.

So it's an issue in the news. People here have been through a lot over the last few years, and they've got very -- you know, they have paid, almost all of them, some sort of personal price. So they've got an obvious concern, but I don't think there's anything specific that they know that we don't know about, of any great danger, that's going to arise simply by the signing of this.

I'll take these two at their word because it makes sense that the signing of the SOFA would cause little immediate effect in Sadr City. It will be interesting to see what happens in future briefings, especially by senior commanders such as Lt. Gen. Austin or Gen. Odierno.

As for the larger picture, an article in yesterday's Washington Times says that the Iraqi PM sees the pact in terms of restoring sovereignty. Iraq is an "honor society," and as such image and perception are all-important. All people want to run their own affairs, and the Iraqis are no different. What is different between them and post-WWII Germany and Japan is that we beat the latter two into oblivion before occupying their countries. Their people were so war-weary they were in no mood to resist whatever treaty or constitution we foisted on them. Our experience in Iraq has been dramatically different, to the point where the Iraqis are asserting themselves sooner.

From our perspective, there certainly are problems with the SOFA. First, although our troops will be tried in our military courts for any alleged crimes they commit while in Iraq, our contractors will have no such protection. Second, we cannot use Iraq as a base for operations against other countries. Third, all U.S. troops must be out by 2011.

Even with these I'm not as worried as some. All this is renegotiable and it won't be for a year or so before we know where things are really headed.

The editors at National Review see mostly good in the pact, saying that it's successful conclusion is "a blow to the schemers in Iran -- and to their cat's-paw, Moqtada al-Sadr -- who did all they could to torpedo the pact." True enough.

On the other side, Andrew McCarthy, also writing at National Review, sees cause for worry. He says that "behind the smiles" lies the inconvenient fact that "the Iraqis don't like us," and he cites polls to support his thesis. To McCarthy, winning is not about establishing a democracy, it is about defeating radical Islam. Because of the terms of the SOFA and leaks as to how the negotiations went, he concludes that the "Iraqis are more concerned about prosecuting Americans than embracing them."

Readers of this blog know that I have a lot of respect for McCarthy, and time will tell whether he's right or not. For now I think he's being a bit too pessimistic. Recall the Nov 10 briefing by Maj. Gen. Martin Post (USMC) in which addressed the issue of whether "the Iraqis" want us to leave or not and said that

Candidly, it depends upon who you talk to. In some cases, if you talk to the local man on the street, they'll look at us and say, "Hey, I think we're ready for you to go."

If you talk to the -- the leadership -- you know, the IP leadership or the Iraqi army leadership or the provincial leadership, they would probably tell you, "Hey, we need you here for some period of time longer." Not really ever saying, "We need you here for one year or two years," but I think we're still, if you would, that security blanket for them, in the -- standing behind them....

This makes sense. Things could go either way in Iraq but right now I'm cautiously optimistic.

More than that, though, I've always taken the long view with regard to Iraq. I know this sounds terribly Wilsonian (not to mention neoconservative!) but I do think that a pluralistic society in Iraq will serve American and indeed Western interests. It's not so much about this or that policy, or whether they allow us to have bases on their soil, but whether it changes their attitude towards the relationship of government to the individual and the role of religion. Sure, Islam is enshrined in the Iraqi Constitution, and I'm less than pleased about it. This may well though prove to have been a temporary measure to satisfy entrenched interests. The enemy of radical Islam or jihadism is pluralistic societies more than it is military bases or particular policies. I think McCarthy is wrong in that there is a link between democracy (or liberty or a pluralistic society, choose your term) and defeating jihadism.

Further, although in the long run having the Iraqis "like us" would be nice, in the short term it's not the point. Much of counterinsurgency revolves around winning the "hearts and minds" of the populace, and note that this is probably the most misunderstood term in all of warfare. From the book that then Lt. Gen Petraeus wrote (ok he led the team that wrote it), the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24

"Hearts" means persuading people that their best interests are served by COIN success. "Minds" means convincing them that the force can protect them and that resisting it is pointless. Note that neither concerns whether people like Soldiers and Marines. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts. Over time, successful trusted networks grow like roots into the populace. They displace enemy networks, which forces enemies into the open, letting military forces seize the initiative and destroy the insurgents.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Before we end, let's look at two other exchanges that highlight issues of importance. In this first one, in response to a question Dr. Andrews discusses something that goes to the heart of counterinsurgency warfare:

DR. ANDREWS: I would just add to that that the biggest problem that we would face is not the -- the biggest problem we would face is that people sometimes feel a little bit hopeless after all the years of fighting that they've had. And the thing we're trying to push them for is not to feel that, not to feel helpless, to let them know they've got institutions that can work to represent their interests, to push their interests. And we're trying to show that there's benefits of working in a democratic way, and I think the vast majority of people in our area get that. So there are services, there is pressure to get more services and that's -- (audio break).

Read this post at Small Wars Journal for the complete explanation.

Beating insurgents is about a lot more than what the military calls "kinetic operations." That's important, to be sure, but in the long run you can't shoot your way out of an insurgency. Sure, violent military operations are important, and no one is saying otherwise. But in the end you have to give the people a reason to side with the government other than that you'll kill them if they don't. This is where the "hearts" part of the phrase comes into play.l

See then-Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno's "exit interview" of February 2008. Odierno said of the Iraqi people that

As long as they (the Iraqi people) feel safe... they will continue to support us... if they feel rejected by their government.. that will be a turning point on what decision they make.

Dr. Andrews and his team are trying to make sure the Iraqi people believe that the government has their best interests at heart. Only if they do will final victory and a stable Iraq be assured.

And speaking of how the people see their situation, this last exchange is important:

Q Okay. This is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. Quick question. Based on your assessment, how do you see the current status of Jaish al-Mahdi, and how do you see its future?

COL. HORT: ...talking with the Iraqi military that operates a lot inside the parts of Sadr City that I don't go to, they are not seeing the militia that we used to see before, which was brandishing weapons, controlling neighborhoods, extorting money.

And one of the true signs that we see in change is the Jamila market. This market is inside Sadr City. It's the largest market in Baghdad, and I think in Iraq, if I'm not mistaken. It basically distributes out to all different parts of the city, as well as receives the goods in.

So it's a large, large market that supports, you know, millions of people in the city of Baghdad. That market used to be the primary funding -- financing of the Jaish al Mahdi militia, as well as parts of the special groups. Today, that's a free market, controlled by the market owners, the businessmen, as well as those that lease the stalls in that area, and we're not seeing any extortion at all. So that's a sign of progress that the Jaish al Mahdi militia are trying to step away from that type of nefarious activity that they were doing before.

Free markets, owned and operated by Iraqis, largely free of corruption, and where people feel safe, will save Iraq as much as any round from an M-4.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 16, 2008

See, I Told You We Were Winning

Reporting from Iraq, Michael Yon tells Glenn Reynolds that

"The was is over and we won"

Lucky for the Democrats Iraq wasn't an issue in the election.

"There's nothing going on. I'm with the 10th Mountain Division, and about half of the guys I'm with haven't fired their weapons on this tour and they've been here eight months. And the place we're at, South Baghdad, used to be one of the worst places in Iraq. And now there's nothing going on. I've been walking my feet off and haven't seen anything. I've been asking Iraqis, 'do you think the violence will kick up again,' but even the Iraqi journalists are sounding optimistic now and they're usually dour." There's a little bit of violence here and there, but nothing that's a threat to the general situation. Plus, not only the Iraqi Army, but even the National Police are well thought of by the populace. Training from U.S. toops has paid off, he says, in building a rapport.

It turns out that it's even better than that. Reynolds one bit wrong, and Yon emailed in this correction:

"Actually, NONE of them have fired their weapons in combat during this tour, and about half of them are combat veterans from Afghanistan and/or Iraq."

With news like this it's no wonder that my liberal commenters have nothing to say about my Iraq posts.

After all, after Bush announced the surge in December of 2006, rather than support it the Democrats turned into Civil-war era Copperheads, squawking that the war was lost and there was nothing we could do.

But as I reported at the time, those who promoted the surge (General David Petraeus, Sen. John McCain, Dr. Fred Kagan, Gen. Jack Keane (ret), Australian Lt. Col. (Dr) David Kilcullen, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, and many others) said that no, we can do it.

Then, as the surge was implemented, throughout 2007 and into 2008 I reported on our progress through many "Iraq Briefings" and more. It became clear in late 2007 that we were winning, and since then we've done nothing but consolidate our gains.

Let us now review a little history.

First up is an excellent video documenting Senator Obama's pronouncements opposing the surge. Listen to him announce his "Iraq War De-Escallation Act of 2007" on January 30 of that year in which he demands an immediate withdrawal before the surge can take effect. Note also when he says that he believes that sending 20,000 additional troops would be counterproductive:

As late as last January, the Obama campaign was insisting that the surge was not working

Sorry, but although much still remained to be done, by January of 2007 it was clear that the surge was working.

I know, I'm "piling on." After all, Obama has been elected president and we on the right should just learn to deal with it.

Not to worry, I'll cut him a break when he takes office.

But the reason for this post is that I see a President Obama claiming credit for all this. Call me cynical, but I can just see him making big announcements everytime a unit comes home from Iraq, and all the leftie bloggers proclaiming too that it was all due to the wisdom of The One.

We'll know the truth, though, which is that Obama, Biden, and virtually all other Democrats wanted to quit the war back in 2006 if not earlier, and opposed the surge and all that it entailed. Then, months after it was apparent to everyone else that the surge was working and we were winning they denied it and continued to denigrate our effort.

Anyone who has followed the "Iraq Briefings" I've posted on this blog know that we have been so successful that troop withdrawals have in fact been going on for months.

Interestingly, our commanders on the ground tend to be more cautious than reporters like Yon. Last October, Col. Philip Battaglia said what we were "not yet at the tipping point" whereby success could be assured. Battaglia is commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, which is part of Multi-National Division - Center, which in turn is headquartered by the 10th Mountain Division, which is the area where Yon reported from.

Still, that we have been winning is evident. Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, Commander of Multi-National Division-Center, and the 10th Mountain Division, reported last July on the incredible changes he'd seen since his last deployment, saying that "it's indisputable that the level of attacks are phenomenally low."

In that same month Col Tom James, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, part of f Multi-National Division - Center, headquartered by the 10th Mountain Division, told us about the confident and capable Iraqi leadership that he'd seen.

As for troop withdrawals, we've seen a lot of that too. Just last week Maj. Gen. Martin Post, Deputy Commanding General, Multi-National Force-West, headquartered by the I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), spoke of how the Marines had reduced their forces by 50% and had turned over all of al-Anbar to Iraqi control. They're closing bases down (including Camp Fallujah!) and the remaining units are in oversight mode only.

Part of Multinational Division-Center, Col. Dominic Caraccilo, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), said that his 4,000 man unit will be replaced by two battalions that total 1,800 troops.

To be sure, some commanders are reporting that although their areas are stable now, things could take a turn for the worse if we're not careful.

Col. William Hickman, Commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which is part of Multinational Division-Baghdad and headquartered by the 4th Infantry Divison, said in October that although there has been much progress, "the situation's certainly fragile."

As always, Steve Schippert provides some of the best analysis of Yon's report and what's going on over at The Tank. Don't miss it.

In the end, though, if Obama wants to claim that the drawdown is all due to him, I'll just have to sit back and watch. I just hope that he listens to our commanders and follows their advice on just how fast we should bring them out.

Update

Here are two excellent articles by Peter Wehner in Commentary that are worth your reading

From April of 2008, "Obama's War," in which Wehner traces Obama's evolving position on the war. He's held several. Basically he went from total opposition before it, wondering whether he was wrong after seeing the statue of Saddam toppled, to wanting to send more troops to Iraq, to opposing the surge and finally denying that it was working. In other words,he's been anything but the model of consistency that he's claimed himself to be.

Second is "Liberals and the Surge." In this piece Wehner describes how no matter what the news about how successful the surge was, leading liberals continued their mantra that all was lost and that nothing was or could work. Finally, when it could no longer be denied that violence was way down, they claimed that it was not because of anything our military did or due to any Administration policy.

Posted by Tom at 8:45 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 11, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 10 November 2008 - Anbar: "We don't think it's fragile out here"

This briefing is by Major General Martin Post, Deputy Commanding General, Multi-National Force-West, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), speaks via satellite with reporters at the Pentagonyesterday.

The I Marine Expeditionary Force took command from the previous MEF (Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin, commanding) in February of this year. Gen. Post spoke Monday from Fallujah.

Gen. Post reports to Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) and MNF-West. Kelly, in turn, reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Odierno reports to Gen. Petraeus, commander of CENTCOM, who in turn reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

The initial set of questions was about infiltration from Syria in the wake of the October U.S. raid into that country. Post replied that there has been little cross-border activity, and no fallout from the raid. All good news.

Since Obama won the election, I suppose we're going to get a lot of questions like this next one;

Q Sir, it's Mike Mount with CNN. The new president-elect has a kind of rapid timetable to start moving troops out of Iraq. You've just kind of given us a pretty positive look at the Iraqi security forces there. Do you have any concerns, if the U.S. troops are pulled out early, what effect that might have on advances that the Iraqi security forces have made?

GEN. POST: Well, obviously, I can't or won't comment necessarily on decisions being made in Washington or in Baghdad.

I know those discussions are going -- are being had and will be had here in the future. And obviously Multinational Force-West is providing recommendations to our higher headquarters, as far as how we believe our stance is.

I think, as you all know, since we arrived here last February, we've reduced over 50 percent of our ground forces, our actual maneuver battalions, if you would, with the coming down from the surge and then from the Army BCT that left, the two Marine battalions that left. And then just recently here as a matter of fact, this week, another Marine battalion is headed back home, without a replacement....

One of our big efforts has been to start to close some of the bases down, i.e., closing Camp Fallujah, as we -- General Kelly talked to you about here a couple weeks ago. And we've also -- there's been a big effort to move all the Marine forces out of the cities. And so as you go throughout, from Fallujah all the way up the Euphrates River Valley, up to Al Qaim, where we used to have Marines actually living in the cities, we've pulled them all out.

And so where we have our tactical locations, where the Marines are living, they're all in expeditionary facilities right now, outside the urban centers, if you will. And of course, that's one piece of the discussion here, as we wait to see what will happen with SOFA, if SOFA is in fact signed, and what the final agreement will be.

SOFA refers to the Status of Forces Agreement, an agreement between on country and another for keeping troops from one country in another. In this case, it refers to U.S. forces in Iraq. The idea is to reach a long-term agreement, and it would cover a range of issues, among them who gets to prosecute U.S. troops accused of various crimes against Iraqi civilians, and vice versa. Theoretically, if we cannot reach an agreement we'll have to immediately withdraw.

Lest you become alarmed, I think Steve Schippert has it right when he says that it's all just jockeying for position by the Iraqi government. The Iraqis are 1) trying to get the best deal they can so see no reason to sign before the deadline, and 2) have to look tough to their own people, this being what they call an "honor society."

A theme of recent briefings is the drawdown of U.S. forces. The Iraqis are now able to handle security on their own with the U.S. in a support role, and anyway violence is way down as AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) and other insurgent forces near defeat.

Q Hi, General. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. Just a couple of quick questions. Can you talk a little bit more about the move, the headquarters move to Al Asad next week? How many Marines does that involve?....

GEN. POST: Yeah, I can. I'll first answer the comment here about the Camp Fallujah, I mean the basing. You know, we had -- when Camp Fallujah was full up with all the units, we had probably over 8,000 Marines and sailors and soldiers and contractors here on Camp Fallujah.....

So it's a -- really, numbers-wise, I mean, you can go from where we're going -- from 8,000 in here earlier this summer to zero. So we're just reposturing those forces. In some cases, some of those forces -- (audio break) -- you know, would be transitioned home....

Percentage-wise, obviously, you could probably look at -- you know, we were -- when we arrived here in Anbar Province, MNF-West was about 34,000 strong. That's between Marine forces, Army forces and our support from the -- from the Navy. We're probably going to be at the end of this month here, early December, down about 26,000. So you can see it's almost 8,000, approaching 9,000 service member -- men and women -- reduction.

Gen. Post also discussed upcoming elections that will seat new provincial governments. They'd hoped to hold them in October but they've been delayed. He stressed that unlike in 2005, when the Sunni's mostly sat them out, this time their polls showed they could expect a 70-80% turnout.

Several U.S. Army commanders have said in recent briefings that while there is much progress in their AORs (Area of Responsibility) it is "fragile" and we must be careful how fast we draw down. Not so for the Marines;

Q General, if you don't want to give figures for the coming six to 12 months, can you give us some idea -- we hear this word "fragile," that there's good progress, but it's fragile. How fragile -- or is it fragile in Anbar Province?

GEN. POST: No, I don't believe it's fragile at all. You know -- (audio break) -- for Anbar Province. The -- you know, as we say it, the AQI is marginalized here. The people of Anbar don't want that back. Surely we have -- we have incidents out here where we believe AQ is still trying to inject themselves when they and where they can and where we stay very heavily engaged on that, as you would expect....

Candidly, it depends upon who you talk to. In some cases, if you talk to the local man on the street, they'll look at us and say, "Hey, I think we're ready for you to go."

If you talk to the -- the leadership -- you know, the IP leadership or the Iraqi army leadership or the provincial leadership, they would probably tell you, "Hey, we need you here for some period of time longer." Not really ever saying, "We need you here for one year or two years," but I think we're still, if you would, that security blanket for them, in the -- standing behind them....

But what we're seeing is that -- they're comfortable in their role, and I would probably see -- as decisions would come out at CENTCOM and MNFI here, and later this year or early -- early 2009, there would probably be potential continued reductions out here. I think we would be able to probably handle that quite nicely.

Often I hear the anti-war crowd seize on one or another statement by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or a survey which purports to show that "the Iraqis don't want us there." As the statements by Gen. Post illustrate, this is simplistic thinking and the reality is a bit more complicated. I don't want to go through the whole issue with Maliki now but let's just say that he often seems motivated by factors other than what's best for Iraq.

No one wants foreign troops on their soil. The Germans got tired of us by the late 1970s, and we saw large protests over the placement of Pershing II and GLCMs in the 80s. Truth be told, I am halfway surprised we were able to keep such large numbers of troops and weaponry in Western Europe for so long.

So of course they want us out. The Iraqis are a proud people (when asked about Iraqi achievements, one response you hear is "we invented the wheel" - made only half in jest). And with violence so far down, everything I see (including from this briefing; watch the whole thing) the Iraqis are more concerned now with social services.

Mid-level Iraqis, however, know that for now they need U.S. support. The good news and bottom line lesson from this briefing is that the surge was a tremendous success (Obama and the left are wrong on the reasons for our success in Anbar), the Iraqis are able to handle the situation with less and less U.S. support, and that we can slowly draw down.

Posted by Tom at 8:45 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 30, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 28 October 2008 - No More The "Triangle of Death"

This briefing is by Colonel Dominic Caraccilo, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), also known as the Rakkasans. They are also known as the Strike Brigade Combat Team. Col. Hickman spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon last Wednesday.

Caraccilo's 3nd Brigade Combat Team is part of Multinational Division-Center, otherwise known as Task Force Mountain. The 3rd Brigade has been operating in a rural area to the south of Baghdad, and are scheduled to return home next month, after which they will have served 15 months in Iraq. They are the last unit on a 15 month tour, all current and future unit deployments will revert to the 12 month standard.

Caraccilo reports to Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, the commander of MND-Baghdad. Hammond, in turn, reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Petraeus, in turn, has been appointed the next commander of CENTCOM.

Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is acting commander of CENTCOM until Gen. Petraeus assumes command there on October 31. The commander of CENTCOM reports directly to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

Remember the "Triangle of Death" which in 2006 was considered lost to the insurgents? No more.

COL. CARACCILO: ... the Rakkasan's area of focus has been in the Mahmudiyah Qadha, and this qadha's part of the Baghdad Province, but it's primarily a rural area situated south of the city and its focus is on agriculture. The region's approximately the size of Rhode Island, and it has four main cities named Yusufiya, Lutifiyah, Al Rashid and Mahmudiyah. The qadha's population is 75 percent Sunni and 25 percent Shi'a, with the concentration of Shi'a residing in the towns of Mahmudiyah and Lutifiyah and along the road that connects the two cities.

Now, you're probably most familiar with this region by the name given it -- given it over two years ago, and it was called the Triangle of Death. From 2004 to 2007 the area bound by Yusufiya, Mahmudiyah and a town called Iskandariyah to the south was a nexus for enemy activity, which included Sunni insurgency in the countryside, Shi'a death squads and extrajudicial killings along the -- (inaudible) -- corridor and a virtual highway for both Shi'a and Sunni insurgency resources coming in from western and southern Iraq.

In the past, the Triangle of Death was the site of brutal attacks against coalition forces. It was riddled with IEDs and it was considered no-man's-land for both coalition forces and non-combatant Iraqis.

It's important to highlight the atrocities of the Triangle of Death in order to appreciate how far this region has come. One year ago, in November 2007, coalition forces encountered 73 IEDs. In September, 2008, that number was 15 and most of those were found before they -- before they were detonated. One year ago, the average number of attacks per week was 28. That number today is less than two.

A year ago, our preceding unit lost 50 American soldiers and 277 others were wounded in action. We have only felt the hardship of a fallen soldier once during our deployment, and have sustained only 22 combat-related casualties in the last 14 months.

These traditional statistics of combat, however, do not capture other significant changes in the landscape. In May 2008, Iraq Sons in the 4th Brigade and the 6th Iraqi Army Division launched a wide- sweeping offensive, which focused on security enhancements as well as infrastructure improvement. Our embedded provincial reconstruction team played a significant role in the operation as well....

The Rakkasans are clearly approaching the end of deployment to Iraq, as was stated. When General Oates first addressed the brigade commanders of Multi-Division Center, he asked two questions. First, what do we need to do to leave Iraq, and then what does the plan for transition to Iraq look like?

From my vantage point, it looks like the Iraqis (are) in the lead on a host of issues and strong support for coalition partners....

The improvement all over Iraq is amazing. The "Triangle of Death" is no more.

On to the Q & A. From the first exchange, the dramatic improvement is evidenced by the fact that we will not need to replace Caracillo's brigade with another unit of equal size. Instead, his 4,000 man unit will be replaced by two battalions that total 1,800 troops. The reason is that security is much improved and the Iraqis are capable of managing on their own with only U.S. assistance.

Q Hi, Colonel. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. I'm just a little bit confused about the very end of your statement there.

So when you leave, when your BCT leaves in a few weeks, you'll be -- you will not be backfilled by U.S. forces. And instead you'll have Iraqi security forces there. Is that what you're saying? Or can you talk a little bit more about that?...

COL. CARACCILO: There is not a BCT that's going to backfill us. So that's the short answer. A brigade combat team will not replace the 3rd Brigade Combat Team from the 101st.

To give a little more background on this, in July or June and July of this past year, there were three brigade combat teams operating in the southern belt -- the Madain qadha, Arab Jabour just to the east and then in this portion of the Mahmudiyah qadha. Now there are two brigade combat teams. When I leave with our brigade combat team, there will be one brigade combat team....

The -- this brigade consists of 4,000 soldiers, the 3rd Brigade of the 101st. When it leaves, it'll be two battalions, approximately 1,800 soldiers at the -- at the very most, U.S. forces. The Iraqi security forces we define as the Iraqi army plus the Iraqi police plus the Sons of Iraq. That's up of -- close to 30,000 Iraqi security forces that operate in this area.

So while the coalition force is drawing down exponentially the security forces have increased greatly. And so there are 30,000 Iraqi security forces standing guard at over almost 1,000 checkpoints and 23 patrol bases throughout our battle space....

Presently 12 of 18 provinces in Iraq are under Iraqi control. Tomorrow that number moves to 13.

So has the violence increased in areas where the U.S. has withdrawn our forces? This is an important question, because it goes to the heart of the "surge" strategy. The surge, if your not familiar, was to temporarily increase our presence in Iraq from 15 to 20 brigades. It was temporary because the Army and Marine Corps cannot sustain 20 brigades there. The idea was to use the extra forces to implement a true counterinsurgency stragegy, which we couldn't really do at 15 brigades (at 2006 levels of violence, anyway). But if the violence went up after we went back down to 15 brigades then they whole thing would be a failure. As a matter of note we have been back down to 15 brigades for several month, the surge having ended mid-2008.

Therefore, this next exchange is important:

Q Colonel, this is Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. As you begin to shrink your presence in that area, what do you see are the risks of a revival of violence? And what are the, you know, possible things that could lead to that, things that have to be avoided that could result in a return of violence in your area?

COL. CARACCILO: Yeah, any time we turn over part of the battle space to the indigenous force, the force that lives here, the local population, there's always been a concern that the void that the -- that is perceived will be filled by something other than security.

There is such a large footprint of Iraqi security forces in this area that we don't see and we haven't experienced any return of violence in any form. We've already turned over 17 patrol bases, and tomorrow will be the 18th. And as of yet we have not seen any return of al Qaeda's stronghold, any kind of insurgency -- insurgent activity, because quite frankly the population controls that, and the population has decided that they're not going to have that in their neighborhood. So the Shi'a extremists that were once in Mahmudiyah or along the Jackson Corridor are no longer in this part of the country. Al Qaeda has all but been nullified and neutralized.

As always, you will benefit if you watch the entire briefing. However, there is one more thing that Caraccilo said that I want to discuss:

Q So would it be fair to say that even if there is a flare-up of violence, essentially you're going to be leaving that to the Iraqis to handle at this point?

COL. CARACCILO: I don't want to make it sound like the coalition is not involved in continuing to professionalize the Iraqi army. We have MiTT teams in place, Military Transition Teams, at the division, at the brigade level. They maintain their presence with the Iraqis. They continue to coach, teach and mentor. When an Iraqi division commander or brigade commander wants to have coalition forces with him to continue to train or continue to learn how to conduct operations, we're there.

And we lead from behind at this point, and we enable the Iraqis to be able to conduct their operations. We're not trying to make them look like a U.S. Army force. We're allowing them to work through their processes and to ensure that they can sustain themselves, because that's what's going to matter once, in fact, the coalition actually leaves.

This is straight out of the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (FM 3-24 is the guide for everything we've been doing in Iraq since early 2007. It was written in 2005-6 by a team led by then-Lt. Gen. David Petraeus. Essentially, he was then sent to Iraq to implement the strategy outlined in his book). A few quotes from FM 3-24 will make the point:

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....

6-11. Perhaps the biggest hurdle for U.S. forces is accepting that the host nation can ensure security using practices that differ from U.S. practices. Commanders must recognize and continuously address that this "The American way is best" bias is unhelpful

6-29 Training HN (host nation) security forces is a slow and painstaking process. It does not lend itself to a "quick fix".

A-43. By mid-tour, U.S. forces should be working closely with local forces, training or supporting them and building an indigenous security capability. The natural tendency is to create forces in a U.S. image. This is a mistake. Instead, local HN forces need to mirror the enemy's capabilities and seek to supplant the insurgent's role.

So although this briefing did not lend itself to any big lesson or message to our presidential candidates it does help us understand what is going on in Iraq.

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October 28, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 22 October 2008 - Much Progress, but "the situation's certainly fragile"

This briefing is by Col. William Hickman, Commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). They are also known as the Strike Brigade Combat Team. Col. Hickman spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon last Wednesday.

Hickman's 2nd Brigade Combat Team is part of Multinational Division-Baghdad, and have been operating in Northwest Baghdad for the past 11 months.

Hickman reports to Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond, the commander of MND-Baghdad. Hammond, in turn, reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Petraeus, in turn, has been appointed the next commander of CENTCOM.

Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is acting commander of CENTCOM until Gen. Petraeus assumes command there soon. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

As with so many other briefings, there is a message here for our presidential candidates, most particularly Barack Obama.

From his opening comments:

COL. HICKMAN: Okay, thank you.

Good morning. It's a pleasure to spend some time with you today to discuss our operations in Northwest Baghdad. As mentioned, I'm Colonel Bill Hickman. I command the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), also known as the Strike Brigade Combat Team.

We're out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and currently attached to Multinational Division-Baghdad. Our brigade has been operating in Northwest Baghdad for the past 11 months. And I feel it's important to update you on some of the changes, since our arrival, and entertain any questions that you have.

First, I'd like to comment that the trends you see, on the reduction of violence, across Iraq, are certainly present here in Baghdad and especially visible in our area.

Across the Multinational Division-Baghdad area, there's been an 83 percent decrease in overall attacks from a year ago. Enemy attacks in our area are down more than 62 percent, since our arrival, and over 92 percent since January 2007.
...

With our Iraqi partners, we are fully engaged and committed to the security of the Iraqi people and the reconstruction of northwest Baghdad. It has been a solid year that we -- we think we made a difference in Baghdad. The situation's certainly fragile. We have a critical mission here in the heart of Baghdad.
...

Q Colonel, it's Andrew Gray from Reuters here. You had some pretty dramatic statistics on the decline of violence there. Can you explain why, given that dramatic reduction, you still describe the situation as fragile? What are the factors that mean that you still require substantial presence there? What are the areas that you're concerned about that could reverse those trends?

COL. HICKMAN: Well, I still think there are small very disrupted cells that do not want to -- this to progress forward. And those cells right now we continue to target with the Iraqi army, Iraqi police.

I would tell you what I think, if I could get into it, is -- take that, is the reconciliation that's occurring in northwest Baghdad -- I think that's the key. And I think the key is going to be -- and there are really four areas. I think it goes back to what you asked. It's the resettlement, and I'd like to go into more detail, if you'd like to, in a few minutes on that. It's the election piece. It's integration of the SOIs, the volunteers, into the Iraqi security forces and other ministries. And it's the release of the detainees that the coalition force have. I think those are the four key areas that we have to work in northwest Baghdad. And as we progress down the road and are successful in those areas, I think security then will become more evident as we go forward.

I have heard this in every briefing since Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil (Commanding General of Multi-National Division-Baghdad and First Cavalry Division) gave his final briefing before leaving Iraq in December of 2007. During the briefing Fil said

Now, I want to be absolutely clear that while we have seen significant progress during our tour here, we are very mindful that it is fragile and that there is very tough work ahead. Al Qaeda is down, but it is by no means out.

I have heard a similar theme in almost every briefing since then: "We're making tremendous progress but it could all fall apart if we don't stick with it." This is no doubt a warning and message to the American people and our political leaders that we must not declare victory and withdraw troops too soon.

We made the mistake at the beginning of the war of declaring victory too soon and not sending more troops into Iraq to stabilize the situation. At the time we thought that because we'd defeated the regular Iraqi army the country would be like post-war Germany or Japan and we could get on with rebuilding with minimal attention to security. We were wrong then, so let's not make the same mistake twice.

I've posted dozens of briefings on this website. Go through them and you'll hear time and again our commanders making this point. During these briefings I pay attention to assertions the reporters challenge and what they don't. Mind you the journalists who cover these briefings are knowledgable in military affairs. They're not the big-name stars who talk about everything and anything whether they know anything about it or not. I've come to respect the journalists who cover these briefings. And they seem to accept both that we've made great progress but that it's fragile.

It's not just military leaders making this point, either. Jay Nordlinger of National Review recently returned from Iraq, and posted a five part series on his visit (see the October 2008 listings in his archive). However, he sums it up best in his summary article in the November 3, 2008, print edition of the magazine. It's behind a firewall so you can't get it on-line unless you pay, but here's the beginning:

You hear certain things over and over, as you spend some time in Iraq. You hear them from Iraqis, Americans, and others. What you hear is: We've made great progress in 2008. Al-Qaeda, the militias, and the rest of those lovelies are on the run. But our progress is fragile and reversible. If the coalition leaves too soon -- before Iraq can defend itself -- there will be hell to pay. If we leave too soon, our work will be for nought.

You also hear, Iraqis don't want Americans and other foreigners in their country. (That includes foreign terrorists too, of course.) No one likes to be occupied. At the same time, Iraqis are very, very worried about the American departure: a departure that precedes stabilization. It's "Yankee, go home -- but don't leave us at the mercy of the wolves. Go home at the right time."

What did I tell you?

At the very end of the piece he tells of their interview with General Ray Odierno, commanding general of all coalition forces in Iraq. Odierno was commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq during the critical days of the surge, and he was the one who implemented Petraeus' vision (Odierno was to Petraeus what Patton was to Eisenhower).

In the Faw Palace, we sit down with Gen. Ray Odierno, who is "CG" -- commanding general -- of coalition forces in Iraq. He gives us an overview. And we question him hard. He has a knack for putting things plain. For example, "In 2006 Iraq was a failed state. Now it is a fragile state." We have not yet reached the point of Iraq's being a "stable state." But that is what we're driving toward. Gradually, we are turning matters over to the Iraqis, alone. "I want our forces to reduce their visibility yet maintain their effectiveness. I tell them I want everything." We have invested so much, over these five and a half years: "I hope we'll be able to finish this and do it right."

I fear that Sen. Obama might win the election and become our next president. He has pledged to immediately withdraw our forces from Iraq. This would be a terrible thing to do and risks losing all that we have gained.

The left talks about our losses in Iraq being in vain. They are wrong now, but it might become a self-fulfilling prophesy if Obama carries through on his promise.

Odierno and the other generals would argue mightily with Obama if he was to give such an order, but of course in the end would either carry out his wishes or resign. This would all be supremely ironic, for in the early days of the way the anti-war liberals castigated Bush for "not listening to his generals." I hope and pray that if Obama wins he listens to our generals and sticks it out until victory is assured. I hope for the best but fear for the worst.

Posted by Tom at 8:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 25, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 23 October 2008 - Shifting to an Iraqi Operation

If you don't watch the video or read any other part of this post, please skip to the bottom of this post and read Gen. Kelly's final remarks. You won't want to miss them.

This briefing is by Major General John Kelly, Commanding General, Multi-National Force-West, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). He spoke via satellite Thursday to reporters at the Pentagon.

Maj. Gen. Kelly reports to reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Petraeus, in turn, has been appointed the next commander of CENTCOM.

Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is acting commander of CENTCOM until Gen. Petraeus assumes command later this month. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

The good news from this briefing is that in Anbar the Iraqis are absolutely in control and can handle their own security. That said, we still need stay for a bit longer, but the situation is looking very good.

From Maj. Gen. Kelly's opening remarks:

GEN. KELLY: ...We started a share-the-road program where no longer would Iraqi traffic have to do anything particularly different when they came upon military convoys. That was a big change. Moved most of our convoys -- I think something on the order of 95 percent of all military movements, administrative, logistics movements, and that includes the contract convoys -- they all move late at night, certainly after 21:00 or 9:00 at night and they're off the roads by 5:00 a.m. The average Iraqi, of course, is home in bed in at that particular point in time, so they don't even see much traffic, much military activity in the province anymore.

We started to tear down literally hundreds of checkpoints, particularly the ones that had -- certainly were once very necessary as defensive positions all over the province but no longer serve the purpose. And it was kind of an operation Rudy Giuliani that we did to clean up the cities and to, as I say, take down these unsightly defensive positions, roll up the barbed wire in this attempt to convince the average Iraqi that the good news of reduced -- significantly reduced security over the last couple years -- correction, violence -- was real and even the Marines, even the coalition forces felt confident enough to allow them to travel on their own roads around us without having to stop, pull over, be under the threat of any type of gunfire and, at the same time, to break down these defensive positions.

We did PIC on the first of September. That has gone very well. We're still very much engaged but in overwatch with the Iraqi security forces. We are outside the cities, for all intents and purposes -- not to say that we don't go in frequently, to meet with them, to bring training to them.

We still have Marines and some U.S. Army soldiers as police advisers that still live inside police stations, but down to a very small number in comparison. We were up over 115; now we're down below 30. And that's -- the good news is, we are backing out. They're on their own and all we're doing is providing them training.

Even in the area of funding, we have probably in April started to shift away from the U.S. -- the use of U.S. money; as much as we could, started to rely on government of Iraq funding. It's a little harder or more frustrating because the U.S. CERP money, as I think you all know, is -- you know, we can use that in a relative sense, in a lightning quick way, but that doesn't teach the Iraqis how to budget and how to execute a budget, so we really started backing off on the use of money that I have, U.S. money, and forcing -- not forcing them, but teaching them, working with them, to use their own money. And that's turned out very well.

I turned back a fairly significant amount of money of CERP money this year, U.S. CERP money, and I recommended about a 64 percent reduction next year, to only $50 million. But the thrust, the theme will still be to use Iraqi money, not U.S. money, just as in the security LOO, it's to use Iraqi police, Iraqi army, with Marines and soldiers, U.S. personnel, in overwatch.

So as you can see we are well along in the process of handing Anbar back to the Iraqis. Our forces are now in "overwatch" and are not doing the front-line work. We are reducing our footprint as much as possible, by doing everything from running our convoys at night and taking down checkpoints. And because it's such a big issue back here at home, it's also very good news that the Iraqis are paying more of their own way.

A bit more on the money; I've read too many short-sighted people say that the Iraqis should pay us back. One, if we did this it would seem to confirm the left's argument that "it's all about the money and oil." Two, and more importantly, we are not doing this out of the goodness of our hearts (though that is a factor) but because it is in our self-interest to have a stable, pluralistic Iraq. I am convinced that the money we are spending their now will pay dividends in the future, if we stick it out and do not withdraw too early.

Recall that in 2005 and most of 2006 Anbar was considered "lost" to the insurgents. The Anbar Awakening changed all that.

There has been much nonsense written by leftist revisionists on this subject, in which they claim that the turn around in Anbar had nothing to do with the U.S. military and happened on its own. Senator Obama has even adopted this line. They are wrong, as I wrote here in Obama Wrong on Anbar.

The issue in Anbar was that initially after the invasion the Sunnis there thew their support to AUI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) and turned against U.S. forces. U.S. Marines, who were responsible for Anbar, were unable to quell the insurgency, which consisted of indiginous Sunnis and foreign AQI fighters.

AQI wore out its welcome by 2005, however and the Anbaris grew to resent them. They resisted, but so many were brutally killed by AQI that their resistance was pretty much in vain. In 2006, one Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha led the effort to "reach out" to the Marines, who took advantage of the situation movement, teamed with the Anbaris and have been able to defeat AQI. Sheikh Sattar, now known as the founder of the Anbar Awakening, was murdered, probably by AQI, in September of 2007.

I've explained our new counterinsurgency tactics in detail elsewhere, but essentially it involved moving out of our large bases and living among the population, and from there defeating the insurgency village by village. See Iraq Briefing - 04 Feb 2008 - "We do not drive or commute to work" and Iraq Briefing - 22 Feb 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"

Moving on, Maj. Gen. Kelly touches on an aspect of our counterinsurgency strategy that was absolutely key to our success; living with the Iraqis.

Prior to the arrival of Gen. Petraeus, our strategy was twofold: One,we mostly kept our troops at five large bases and send them out on raids based on available intel. Second, we concentrated on building an Iraqi army that could take on the insurgents. Neither worked

The problem with the first was that unless you are living among the populace you don't get good intel, and the people don't respect you because you are not sharing in their danger and their lives. The problem with the second was that the insurgents were building up their forces faster than we could build up the Iraqi Army. We were, in short, losing the race.

In the Q & A session, Andrew Gray of Reuters asked for some statistics. The part of Kelly's response, though, that I find most interesting is about the counterinsurgency:

GEN. KELLY:...And I would tell you, when we first started working with the police, three, four years ago, the relationship was very different. The relationship was we lived in their police stations with them, and took them out on patrol, a very dangerous time, where police were killed in very, very large numbers. So that was the relationship then.

Now the relationship is -- actually when I arrived here it was much more they went on patrol -- that is, the police -- and the Marines went with them but they were in the lead. And at that point, we started to reduce even the numbers that were in the cities with them, because clearly -- the numbers of U.S. personnel, because they were clearly doing well, and it's that whole image of, you know, we took the training wheels off, they were more than ready to leave the driveway and get out on the street. And they've done quite well, actually.

Again, we see that it is the Iraqis who are in the lead.

Another thing of importance that Kelly discussed in this exchange was how far violence had declined:

GEN. KELLY: When I got here -- when I left here, let me put it that way, in '04, we had several hundred incidents a month on a pretty routine basis. When I got here, the incidents were down to the level of about 35 a week. And an incident -- you have to understand in todays' world an incident might be an IED we find, doesn't go off. Another incident would be an IED that goes off but doesn't hurt anyone. It could be a single shot of gunfire. If there's five people shooting at you, that's five incidents. So, frankly, the way we account for it's almost meaningless now.

Because of this decline in violence, Iraqis have been able to redeploy their forces to a more population-friendly manner

GEN. KELLY:...the police now are in the cities. The Iraqi army are outside the cities, but around the cities, but out beyond the suburbs, if you will. And then the Marines are in various places doing various things for the most part outside that -- those areas that even the Iraqi army are responsible for.

Let's be honest, no one wants military units in their neighborhood

The Sons of Iraq program is an important reason for our success in quelling the insurgency I've written about them in previous briefings,so I wont' go through it all again here, but suffice it to say that they are a sort of "super neighborhood-watch" program. Funded by the U.S. we did NOT arm them, though everyone in Iraq seems to have an AK-47. Originally called Concerned Local Citizens, the Iraqis gave them the much more Iraqi sounding name Sons of Iraq.

The SOI program is at an end, as with the near-defeat of the insurgency they just aren't needed anymore. They need to to be disbanded as no society needs a paramilitary force separate from the regular army. The issue is how to do it, because you simply cannot release thousands of young men into an economy with poor job prospects and expect that there won't be trouble. The idea is to move them into other occupations.

There has been some controversy over ending the program, and whether the national government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. See Lt. Gen. Austin's "warning" to al-Maliki in Iraq Briefing - 22 September 2008 - A Warning from Gen. Austin

It is interesting that Kelly reports that he isn't having any trouble with ending the program.

Q General, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. I would like to know what's your assessment of the current status of the Sons of Iraq. How do you see the process to make them join the Iraqi forces?

GEN. KELLY: Yeah, the Sons of Iraq -- we're -- you know this -- depending on where you are in Iraq and where -- what province you're in, the Sons of Iraq are a different issue in each place.

In our case, we have right at about 4,000 of them. They work directly -- don't operate with, but they work directly for the American -- and in today's world, the post-PIC environment, for the local Iraqi army commander. They're given tasks. They're organized in small units....

(What) we asked them about was what they might want to do for an occupation after, what would -- what life would be like after the Sons of Iraq. Interestingly enough, most of them would prefer to go back to being farmers. Anbar used to be a very productive rural province. A lot of things happened in the old days: food for oil -- you know, the impact of the sanctions did a lot to hurt the economy of Anbar, particularly putting its agricultural industry in collapse.

But these young guys would prefer to go back to being farmers. Those that didn't look towards farming very much would like to be police officers and even join the Iraqi army. So I'm hoping that we'll be able to expand a little bit on the police numbers. But they have pretty quality guys. They -- again, they read and write.

So we don't have the same kind of challenges, by any means, that some of the other provinces are having.

One more exchange which gives a flavor of daily life, and how Iraqi concerns have moved beyond security

Q Those cells as refugees, if the Marines start really pulling out, will they just die, in your assessment, or is there still the potential that they could come back?

GEN. KELLY: Well, you know, I walked through the city of Kharma this afternoon with the provincial police chief. No helmet, no flak. And now, it's not -- you know, you do certain things for certain reasons, but we walked down through there today and met with the Kharma city council and the mayor and all, did the same thing yesterday -- two days ago, rather, in Ramadi with the police chief.

And their security concerns -- or a better way to put it, when they talk to me about the things that they need from me, they'll talk about electricity, which is absolutely number one. In the last several months, we have solved -- for all intents and purposes -- we have solved, with the government of Iraq, the fuel problem in Anbar province. We went from 8 percent of what they needed here, gasoline and diesel and that kind of thing, 8 percent, and we've solved that now and they're -- and they're getting at least 90 percent of their allocation every month. So that's off the table. But they talk about health care and schools and all of this.

When I first got here, they'd hit security at the three or the four mark. Now, when we talk, they'll talk about five, six, seven things that they need -- they need help from me; they need help from the government of Iraq -- and then I'll have to say, well, what about security? So we'll remind of them security and then they'll say, "Well, yeah. Okay, security, too." But then I'll look at the police chief and say there's nothing right now that I can conceive of that could come back here that the police, in partnership with the Iraqi army, couldn't handle. And that is my message to them. They can handle it.

But before you lefties say "this proves Obama is right about withdrawing!" read what Kelly says next

GEN. KELLY:...they're not quick to have us leave -- not that they want us to do their fighting for them. They just want us to reestablish something that we decided to disestablish. And when we do that, they're very confident that we can -- we can, you know -- you know, be friends with Iraq forever and not be here forever. That's the key point.

So if we stick it out we can make this thing work. I know that lefties roll their eyes at this, but yes I believe that Gen Kelly is right; if we do this right we can have the Iraqis as friends for a long time. And having an ally - even an imperfect one - in the heart of the Middle East is priceless.

Are you listeniing, Senator Obama?

Previous briefings by Maj. Gen Kelly
Iraq Briefing - 09 March 2008 - "Levels of violence -- stunning to me how low they are"

Posted by Tom at 4:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 12, 2008

Gen Petraeus' Speech on Iraq - How We Did It

Gen David Petraeus spoke at the 2008 Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, DC, October 7. To be sure, his speech wasn't really called "How We Did It", as I just made that up. But it might as well have been. It's just listed as a "Special Presentation" on the schedule. No matter.

I realize it's long, at 90 minutes, but if you have time it's well worth watching. Gen. Petraeus goes through the horrific situation in Iraq at the end of 2006 and what he and Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno did to change the situation from one that was rapidly deteriorating to the near-victory that we have today.

This speech, as well as other briefings and military videos, can be seen at DODvClips

However, if you don't have time to watch the video, you're in luck, because I did, and my notes follow.

Teaser; if you read on, you'll discover Gen Ray Odierno's nickname.

Regular readers will recognize almost everything here, because these are themes that have been the subject of many posts since the "surge" started. Interspersed with my comments are some of the press briefings in which our commanders have spoken of the strategy and tactics that Petraeus discussed in his speech (note that I have covered many more briefings than appear here. See sidebar, categories, Iraq II 2007 - 2008



  • Surge - focus on securing the population

  • Before the surge, 55 dead bodies every morning in Baghdad

  • The only way to secure a population is to live with the population, to share the risk. You cannot "commute to the fight." See Iraq Briefing - 04 Feb 2008 - "We do not drive or commute to work" and Iraq Briefing - 22 Feb 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"

  • Gradually get the population to tell you who the bad guys are

  • You must use all the tools in your kitbag. Military force, yes and necessary. But you can't win with that alone. Yes before you can have legislation you must have security. But by the same token once military force has done it's part you then move into economics and building projects.

  • The idea is to "spiral upward" - kind of the opposite of a "vicious cycle" downward.

  • The political line of operation (Ambassador Crocker) often or sometimes trumped the military

  • Petraeus and Crocker worked very closely together. The presented a united front, usually meeting together with Maliki or visiting congressional delegations.

  • Cannot allow the enemy to have any sanctuaries, at least within Iraq. See Iraq Briefing - 02 June 2008 - "Attack, Attack, Attack"

  • Before you start to clear, you must have a plan to hold and build. Clearing then leaving does not work. See Iraq Briefing - 14 April 2008 - "From Clear to Hold and Build".

  • Promote reconciliation; reach out to those who are willing to be part of the new Iraq

  • Col. Sean McFarland meeting with Sheik(s) to recognize the Anbar Awakening and reach out to them. See Iraq Briefing 10 December 2007 - Maj Gen Walter Gaskin (the subject is Anbar) and Iraq Briefing - 13 March 2008 - Tremendous Turnaround in Al Anbar

  • We could not hand off responsibility to Iraqi security forces until at the very least they ceased to become part of the problem. One of the first things Petraeus had to do was arrest some top level Iraqis - sometimes at the behest of Makiki himself. Although Petraeus doesn't say so, this is another reason why the Rumsfeld/Abizaid/Casey strategy of reducing American forces while counting on the new Iraqi Army to take over was failing. See Iraq Briefing - 04 March 2008 - State of the Iraqi Army, and Iraq Briefing - 24 July 2008 - Confident and Capable Iraqi Leadership

  • Be upfront with the press. "Don't put lipstick on a pig" Just tell it as it is. No spin

  • Ray Odierno's nickname is "The Big O"

  • Me: General Odierno is now the commander of MNF-Iraq, having assumed command earlier this month. During the vital period of 2007-08, he was number two in Iraq, a Lieutenant General in command of Multi-National Corps Iraq. I covered many of his briefings, but his "exit interview" is perhaps the most incisive (and brief, so it won't take much of your time).

  • Correct interrogation techniques. We must uphold our values even when the enemy is barbaric

  • Several times he mentions Field Manual 3-24 (Petraeus lead the team that wrote it in 2006, while he was a Lieutenant General, and it provided the strategy for what became known as the "surge"). See Book Review - U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24

  • You can never stop learning and adapting. The enemy may be barbaric but they are thinking. It is an enemy to be respected in that it is a thinking enemy. What works one day may not work another. What works in one area of the country might not work in another. What works in Iraq might not work in Afghanistan.

  • Mentioned the Sons of Iraq (SOI, originally called Concerned Local Citizens) as important to success. They were important to sustain the progress. Me: The SOI were the subject of most briefings, which shows their importance).

  • Get the irreconcilables out of society, detain them, and take the pressure off the population. Eventually you might be able to reconcile some of them though and release some.

  • Education, social services job opportunities important to long term success. See Iraq Briefing - 09 June 2008 - Job Creation to Defeat the Insurgency and Iraq Briefing - 04 August 2008 - Achieving Durable Security

  • They call the strategy "Anaconda" because the idea is to squeeze the insurgents from all directions at once. For example, money is the oxygen for the insurgency, more important over time than ideology

  • - The February 2006 bombing of theal-Askari Mosque (the "Golden Mosque") which set off a tit for tat cycle of violence that was spiraling out of control

  • Aug 2007 was the turnaround, when the militia lost the support of the populace. Eventually they declared a ceasefire.

  • The violence went back up when PM Maliki sent the Army into Basra, but it was a temporary increase.

  • The sectarian ethnic cleansing didn't stop because all the people had left/been "cleansed", but because of our troops.

  • Violence has of course come down but is still too high. See Iraq Briefing - 09 March 2008 - "Levels of violence -- stunning to me how low they are"

  • We found more and more weapons caches as we began to live with the populace. It's starting to fall off because we think we've found most of them

  • Mentioned many of the divisional commanders, Major Generals such as Lynch, Fil, Hammond, Oates, as he went around the map of Iraq. All of them were key to our success. There is more work to be done, though.

  • Total 200 Iraqi combat battalions today. See Iraq Briefing - 24 July 2008 - Confident and Capable Iraqi Leadership

  • Iraq is only producing half of the electricity of what they need. Progress is never as fast or as easy as you'd like.

  • Oil production has hit a record for recent years (not sure about way back).

  • Many countries have sent ambassadors back to Iraq

  • Debt relief is moving forward

  • Iraq is open for business

  • There are potential storm clouds:

  • The SOI need to be reintegrated. 50,000 have, but there is a long way to go

  • Can we meet the rising expectations of the population?

  • AQI will try to reignite the violence

  • Other Sunni and Shiite extremists will try and return

  • Iranian special groups

  • Violence during elections

  • Political disagreements

  • Return of displaced families

  • Various ethnic disputes

  • So progress is real but fragile. Me: This has been echoed in briefing after briefing. See for example Iraq Briefing 17 December 2007 - Maj Gen Joseph Fil

  • Our military is vastly better than at any point in our history. We have never fought a war this long with a professional military. See Gen Barry McCaffrey (ret) report "The Most Brilliantly Led Military We Have Ever Fielded"

  • We have and need leaders who can do it all; major combat operations to stability, reconstruction, humanitarian operations.

  • How we train our leaders is different now.

  • Counterinsurgency is the "graduate level" of warfare. Still, our leaders can do all types of operations.

  • Video goes out at 65 min, resumes at 68:13

  • The way our soldiers have responded to the challenges should be an inspiration to us all

  • Our soldiers reenlist knowing they'll be sent back to a combat zone. No bonus can make you do that. They do it because they believe in what we are doing.

  • Tom Brokaw said that what he saw in Iraq that day (big reenlistment) led him to say that he had seen the new greatest generation

  • We are deadly serious about being first with the truth

  • I stand by my bottom-line assessments. See The Gen Petraeus - Amb Crocker Hearings Day 1 and The Gen Petraeus - Amb Crocker Hearings Day 2

  • - All units must work as an integrated whole. "Fusion Cells" that broke down barriers between intel centers and government departments. Everyone must work together.

Posted by Tom at 8:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 11, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 09 October 2008 - Not Yet at the Tipping Point

This briefing is by COL Philip Battaglia, Commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. He spoke via satellite Thursday to reporters at the Pentagon.

I believe that the 4th Brigade Combat Team is part of Multi-National Division - Center, which is headquartered by the 10th Mountain Division. Major General Michael Oate is the commanding general.

Maj. Gen. Oates reports to reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reporst to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Petraeus, in turn, has been appointed the next commander of CENTCOM.

Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is acting commander of CENTCOM until Gen. Petraeus assumes command later this month,. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

There was quite a bit of interest in this briefing. If there was any one theme, or question that got asked more than any other, is was about Iranian influence. Since they're relatively close to the border, this is to be expected. But political influence is bad enough, arms and insurgency unacceptable.

From their opening statements

COL. BATTAGLIA:... My mission is to partner with the Iraqi security forces to secure the population, defeat terrorists, interdict the flow of munitions into Iraq and enable the reconstruction efforts of the PRT.

We work very closely with the 10th Iraqi Army Division, the Iraqi border enforcement units and Iraqi police every single day on a wide variety of security tasks. We live where they live, amongst the population and at various outposts and smaller bases throughout our area of operation. We're having tremendous success because we've combined our technological advantages with Iraqi firsthand knowledge of the terrain, the culture and those intangibles that only come from being an Iraqi.

We've seen the security in this area improve significantly since our arrival in July. The provinces are overall very stable, with occasional attacks by special groups and other criminal elements. Our combined offensive operations represent only a small part of what we do. We are very focused on improving the effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces and enabling Dan and his PRT to conduct their reconstruction efforts.
...

MR. FOOTE:... As Phil mentioned, there had been no American presence or coalition forces presence in Maysan province for well over a year before Iraqi military operations commenced in mid-June. This is a province that has historically faced a lot of empty promises from outsiders and has seen significant militia influence and illegal arms smuggling from Iran

Let me touch briefly on what we're talking about when we mention capacity-building. The chief role of the PRT is to teach, mentor and partner with provincial and local governments, civil society organizations and other provincial actors, increase their abilities, efficiencies, technical expertise and transparency.

So the Maysan province has been neglected, which is a challenge but also creates an opportunity. If we can provide security and then boost the economy in a place like this, we'll have gone a long ways towards defeating the insurgency and stabilizing the country. Hopefully this will also create goodwill that we can leverage.

On to the Q & A

Q Colonel, this is David Morgan from Reuters.

Can you tell us about your border security operations and what you've been able to interdict, what you've been seeing in terms of weapons flowing in from Iran?

COL. BATTAGLIA: Yeah. Thank you very much for that question, David.

As -- in terms of our border interdiction efforts, the improved security throughout Iraq has allowed us -- has allowed coalition forces to focus more in Dan's province, in Maysan. And since my arrival here, I have moved two battalions in the Maysan province, approximately about 1,800 soldiers. And we are partnered with the 38th Brigade of the 10th Army in that province, along with the Department of Border Enforcement forces right along the border and of course the Iraqi police.

In the past three months, our operations, in coordination with Iraqi security forces, have seized well over 8,000 -- I believe you have a sheet here that kind of talks about what we have interdicted -- a lot of the improvised explosive devices, IEDs, the EFPs, the explosively formed penetrators, about 600 of those deadly devices that we have taken off the streets, along with rockets -- 107, 122- millimeter.

What we have found is -- in the rockets in particular, we find that the manufacturer and lot numbers are Iranian-made.

So I hope that answers your question.

Q Give us some idea of whether the volume of weapons has been increasing or decreasing, and who the intended recipients are.

COL. BATTAGLIA: Yeah. Our intelligence indicates that -- we know that we have had an effect and we have disrupted the flow of weapons. After the first two months, primarily in July, August time frame, we have found that our discovery of caches of these weapons systems has decreased. So we believe that and we know that we have interrupted the flow of these explosives. What the normal -- our intelligence indicates that Amarah, in the province of Maysan, was an area -- since there was no previous coalition forces there, for a while, it was an area where these devices were assembled and them from there shipped to other parts of the country, into Baghdad and other places.

The bad news is that Iran is still smuggling weapons into Iraq, the good news is that we are doing a better job of interdicting them.

Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War has an excellent paper (published Oct 6) on the subject of whether recent attacks were carried out by AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) or Iranian Special Groups. The authors, Claire Russo and Marisa Cochrane, examine the publicly available evidence and believe that it is most likely Iranian elements that are responsible

In any event, they say, i's important to get it right, because "Giving AQI credit for attacks of which they are not capable has serious consequences. This benefits Special Groups, AQI, and Shi'a sectarian political agendas, and is problematic for Coalition Forces and the SoI(Sons of Iraq)."

Continuing on the same theme of Iranian influence:

Q Colonel, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. Do you think there is any Iranian influence through political -- Shi'a political parties in your area?

MR. FOOTE:...There's no question that there is a certain level of Iranian influence. The four main parties in Maysan province are a Sadrist umbrella party, ISCI, Da'wa and Fadhila. ISCI and Da'wa have ties to Iran, long and fairly strong. Ironically, the Sadrists are probably the most nationalistic of those parties.

Have we seen a ton of malign political Iranian influence to date? Not that I'm aware of. With provincial elections on the horizon, I think we're going to be looking at an interesting time. Iranian influence in Maysan province is to be expected. It's a neighboring country. The tribes along the border have people on both sides. There's going to be some of that that happens, and we expect and accept some of that to happen.

It's the smuggling, the malign influence, the Iranian accelerants that Colonel Battaglia and his folks are very focused on taking care of.

COL. BATTAGLIA: Yeah, exactly, and Dan's absolutely right on that.

We are -- what we experience and what we hear, what I hear from the, from the Iraqi security forces, some of the leaders of the 10th Iraqi Army Division, the police and so forth, same thing.

There is some Iranian influence, you know, not very overt at this time. And, but everyone is kind of bracing a little bit to see what happens during the upcoming provincial elections, I think.

So if I'm reading this right most of the Iranian involvement is military and not political.

One more exchange on a theme that we've heard time and again in these briefings; that although the fighting ability of the Iraqi forces have improved considerably, they still have big problems with logistics.

Q Gentlemen, Bill McMichael, Military Times papers. General Petraeus has repeatedly warned that this might be -- the positive trends in Iraq and the gains that have been made, that the situation is very fragile and things could easily reverse. I wonder if you would discuss what you see in the province you're working in.

COL. BATTAGLIA: I can, you know, lead off on that a little bit and talk about, you know, the Iraqi army and the Iraqi security forces. I have -- I have mentioned here to you about how capable they are. They're able to plan and to execute operations. But of course, we're there and we supply a lot of those enablers -- some, you know, additional intelligence -- intelligence air assets, intelligence platforms to kind of narrow their focus of their operations. All those types of enablers, the Iraqi army has yet to build.

The Achilles' heel of the Iraqi security forces, in my opinion and what I see here in these provinces is their logistical system. And you know, that's well-acknowledged, in terms of maintenance and availability of repair parts. So although the Iraqi security forces are capable and willing to go out there -- that's my experience -- at the same time there are other facets of these security forces that must continue to grow -- you know, logistics, like we talked about, their intelligence assets and other type enablers -- to make them a more capable force....

Logistics is an "unglamorous" aspect of warfare. It's much more fun, if you will, to discuss weaponry and tactics. Yet history shows time and again that wars are as often won or lost on the ability to supply an army or navy in the field. All the advanced weaponry in the world, and the best strategy and tactics, do you no good if you can't keep your troops fed, ammunition coming, and vehicles working.

I am not quite sure what the difficulties are but obviously it is something that needs to be resolved.

The final comment by Mr Foote presents both an opportunity and a warning:

MR. FOOTE: I think the population of Maysan is a very fickle one. Through history -- World War II and the British, earlier Iraqi regimes, Saddam Hussein, the British -- they've heard a lot of empty promises over the years.

We have an opportunity as coalition, American and with the new power of the Iraqi security forces in there, to take advantage of the opportunity to give them optimism and show them reason for a better life. It's not going to last forever. And we're certainly working hard and have had some quick wins with the population, some good press events and humanitarian assistance, some infrastructure things.

Are we at the tipping point, as General Petraeus likes to say, where Maysan has tipped and will be stable? Not yet. I think over the next six to 12 months what Phil and I do and our teams do and what the Iraqi security forces and the result of the provincial elections is going to be key to what happens there.

Are you listening, Barack Obama? If you win, don't pull them out precipitously just to satisfy your extremist anti-war base (and probably your own instincts). If you do, you risk losing everything we've gained so far. President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld were criticized in the early years of the war for not listening to their generals and colonels, some of whom were warning that the strategy was not working and that they needed more troops. Let's not make the same mistake again.

Posted by Tom at 2:13 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 9, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 06 October 2008 - Three Steps Forward, One Step Back

This briefing is by Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North (also known as Task Force Iron) and the 1st Armored Division. He spoke via satellite Monday to reporters at the Pentagon.

Maj. Gen. Hertling reports to reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reporst to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Petraeus, in turn, has been appointed the next commander of CENTCOM.

Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is acting commander of CENTCOM until Gen. Petraeus assumes command later this month,. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

Unfortunately there were technical difficulties about halfway through the briefing and it had to be terminated, but we still have plenty of information that we can learn from.

From General Hertling's opening statement:

GEN. HERTLING: Well, good morning to all of you in Washington. Thanks for having me again. You know, we're right now in our 13th month of this deployment, and it's more and more apparent to me that we measure progress in Iraq not by wins and losses but by gains and regressions, steps forward and then steps backwards.

When we first arrived in the north last September, we saw progress, but it was usually two steps forward for every one step back. Now most days are marked by three steps forward, one step back, and on a good day, we sometimes even experience four steps forward. But there's always that one step back, to be sure. And that's usually pretty frustrating, but it's progress and, most importantly, it's their progress.

Since we talked a few months ago, we had begun Operation Iron Pursuit. We began that at the end of July. We had just started it when I talked to you. And we're doing it to go after al Qaeda fighters further out in their support zones as we had -- as we had chased them from the cities, a few key areas they had-- we had identified in each province.

Basha'er al-Kheir, the operation which means "glad tidings of benevolence" was going on in Diyala. We were seeing significant security gains during the month of August, but during the month of September, quite frankly, because of the Ramadan holidays and the holy period of Eid, the tempo of operations began to wane a little bit towards the end of the month. We'll continue to partner with the ISF as operational tempo increases in the next few weeks now that the holiday's over.

Umm Al-Rabiain, Operation Mother of Two Springs, in Mosul and Nineveh Province, continues. We've executed some extremely successful operations in the north in the last few weeks and some even this weekend. And those have resulted in reduced violence in the key city of Mosul. There's also been an interruption in the foreign fighter flow from Syria, although it's critical to note that al Qaeda is desperately trying to hold on to that city of 2 million Iraqis. Our assessment is that the insurgents have become fractured -- certainly still capable and lethal -- and they are increasingly relying on intimidation to garner support from the local populace.

If you talk to the Iraqi citizens in any of our four provinces, which I do quite a bit, they will tell you that security has improved.

And that's true because across the board in our north, we have seen almost a 60 percent reduction of attacks since we arrived last year.

The Iraqis will also tell you that the economy and the government functions are also improving, but each province is proceeding at a different rate. While we've seen improvements in infrastructure repair and employment figures rising, there are still anywhere between 40 and 50 percent unemployed or underemployed, as we sometimes call it, in every one of the provinces. And much is yet to be done in the area of schools, hospitals, electricity, water and industry in the four northern provinces.

What's different today than when we arrived here over a year ago is the contributions of both the provincial government and the central government.

First, a summary of the operations mentioned above

  • Operation Iron Pursuit - I can't find much about this other than a few private Youtube videos.
  • Umm Al-Rabiain/Operation Mother of Two Springs - See the excellent analysis over at Understanding War.
  • Basha'er al-Kheir/ "glad tidings of benevolence" - The best I could find is a short article in the Los Angeles Times.

Other things to note are:

  • The importance of economics in ensuring long term stability
  • While much of the focus in the press is on the Iraqi national government, just as important is how well local government functions.
  • Our troops are combination warfighters, mayors, city managers, sociologists. They have to get to know their areas like the back of their hand (see Petraeus' Field Manual 3-24).

On to the Q & A

Q This is David Morgan from Reuters. You said that the insurgents have become fractured. Can you talk a little bit about the nature of the threat as it stands now and how it has changed in recent months? What is it that has led to this fracturing, as you describe it? ...

GEN. HERTLING:...There are contributions from both the Iraqi security forces, the people of Iraq, who are tired of the insurgency. This -- both those things have been recurring themes that I've talked about before and that I think all the other commanders have talked about. But also in the north what you're seeing is a combination of the increase in the capability of the Iraqi government, both at the provincial level and at the central governmental level, reaching out for the -- reaching out to the provinces in the north.

So I think there is a feeling, first of all, that the Iraqi citizens are certainly sick of the insurgencies. Over the last year we have killed or captured several hundred -- and, in fact, in the thousands -- of insurgents of different insurgency groups, not only al Qaeda but also Jaish al-Islami, Ansar al-Sunna, Jaish al-Mujahideen, several of the insurgent networks in the northern provinces.

So I think it's a combination of continuing to pursue the enemy, making the cities more secure, allowing the people to get back to work and the governmental outreach to help the people feel like they're being secured by a newly evolving government of Iraq. So I think all of those things continue to fracture the insurgencies more and more.

But having said that, there is still a desire by al Qaeda and other extremist groups to hold on to key areas. We have seen that most of all in Mosul. As they have lost Baghdad, for all practical purposes, there have been other areas which they've tried to hold on to. Mosul is one of those. And because of the proximity to the Syrian border, the proximity to the port of Rabiya, the ability to gain safe havens in the desert around that city of 2 million people, the fact that they can blend in very easily in that very cosmopolitan city, which has quite a few different populations within the city -- Sunnis, Arabs, Kurds, Yazidis, Christians, Assyrians -- they continue to try and control that city.

There was a bit more, but not much. As mentioned above the audio part of the transmission stopped working and the briefing had to be terminated.

Nevertheless, we hear again that AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) is down but not out. This has been a theme of briefings and is not challenged by the journalists.

The obvious conclusion is that we are winning but have not won. We need to keep the troops there as long as they are succeeding, rotating them in and out as necessary. Contrary to what Maliki spouts off about occasionally (and some in the US parrot), "the Iraqis" do not want us out before they are secure.

Here are a few points that Bing West made in the Sept 15 print edition of National Review

  • If we leave before the job is finished and Iraq flys apart, they will hate us because our action precipitated a disaster.
  • If we leave before the job is done, and Iraq stays together, the Iraqis will still resent us for not finishing the job that we started and making them do what they will say we should have done ourselves, "since you started it."

So we are where we are whether anyone likes it or not.

We're winning, so let's finish the job.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 29, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 22 September 2008 - A Warning from Gen. Austin

Yes I know, the big issue today is the fiscal crisis and the bill that got voted down in the house, and why am I not writing about that? The truth is that I don't understand the economics of the matter and don't like writing about things I don't really understand. I'm no expert on Iraq or military matters but I do have a clue. So here goes:

This briefing is by the commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin III. Austin replaced Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno in February 2008, who at the time had been appointed Vice-Chief of Staff of the Army. On September 16 Odierno assumed command of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, replacing his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus. Petraeus, in turn, has been appointed the next commander of CENTCOM.

As the second-highest commander in Iraq, Austin reports directly to Gen. Odierno. Odierno reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until last month. Until Petraeus assumes command of CENTCOM later this month, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey will remain as acting commander. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The divisional commanders report to the corps commander. The overall commander in Iraq sets strategy and the corps commander executes it. He carries out the day to day operations.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

Unlike in his last briefing on Aug 18, in which I said that he "tends to skirt questions, is less conversational, and isn't as decisive in his answers" this time we get some real insight into the situation in Iraq.

Read out to find out about his stern warning...

Before we get to that, though, a progress report from his opening statement:

GEN. AUSTIN: ...We've had a productive month since my last Pentagon press conference. We've experienced continued low levels of violence, with 15 of the last 16 weeks remaining below the 200-attacks-per-week mark. In Baghdad, which as you know is a city of roughly 6 million people, we've averaged less than 4 attacks per day for the last 13 weeks. And this is truly remarkable and it would've been hard to imagine this just six months ago.

In another sign of progress, Anbar province, which was at one time the home of the Sunni insurgency, transitioned to Iraqi control just three weeks ago. This milestone would not have been thought possible a year ago, but because of the hard work of our men and women and our Iraqi partners, Anbar continues to maintain a very low level of violence, even after the transfer....

Combined coalition and Iraqi security force operations in the north, in the west and in Baghdad have put al Qaeda in disarray, and these operations have significantly reduced the number of foreign fighters coming across the border.

And while al Qaeda has a complex network that is good at reseeding these fighters, our actions to stem the flow of foreign fighters and our ability to take extremist leaders off the battlefield are having positive effects on the security conditions.

We've also had success against special groups criminals in the south. We've isolated them from the population and we've dealt considerable blows to their network of lethal accelerants.

Once again our efforts have put "al Qaeda in disarray". It has been a long time since I've heard any journalist challenge this assessment, so you know it must be true.

Then it's on to the Sons of Iraq (SOI). Note how the general uses his platform to issue a stern public warning to the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki:

GEN. AUSTIN:....One of our primary focus areas as we move forward is transitioning the Sons of Iraq program to the Iraqi government. The volunteer movement that started in Anbar and spread across the rest of the country significantly contributed to the security successes that we are now taking advantage of.

The sons of Iraq have paid a heavy price fighting al Qaeda and other insurgent groups, and it's important that the government of Iraq responsibly transition them into meaningful employment. Prime Minister Maliki has assured me that the government will help those who help the people of Iraq. And so next week in Baghdad the government will accept responsibility for approximately 54,000 Sons of Iraq, and we will be there to assist in the transfer.

We spent the last few weeks working hand in hand with our Iraqi partners on this transition, and I'm confident that this will go well. And you should know that we will not abandon the Sons of Iraq. We'll continue to follow up in the future to ensure that they get paid and that they do in fact transition to meaningful employment.

This is a significant opportunity for the government to demonstrate to the Iraqi people and to the rest of the world that it is serious about reconciliation and about honoring its promises -- promise to the Sons of Iraq. And so with increased security comes different challenges, challenges that I am confident that we will continue to overcome with our Iraqi partners. As a result, I remain optimistic about the future of this country.

Wow. There's a lot here. Maybe I'm misreading this, but I don't think so. The SOI are mostly Sunni, an it is well known that the Shiite government of al-Maliki is suspicious of the SOI and sees them as a threat. There has been much recently about how Maliki was going to disband the SOI and basically just tell all of them to go home.

We, on the other hand, want to transition as many SOI as we can to paying civilian jobs or to positions in the Iraqi Police or Army.

The point is that the SOI should remain around forever. Once the insurgency is gone they've served their purpose. And it is not entirely unfair for Maliki to want them gone. The problem is that we have to do it the right way. If we just turn them lose when they've been expecting jobs, there will be trouble

The SOI (originally Concerned Local Citizens) were and are a sort of "super neighborhood watch." They have been paid out of the U.S. Treasury, and no we do not give them weapons, it's just that everyone in Iraq seems to have an AK-47.

Anyway, the point of the SOI was to get the Iraqis involved in their own defense, take ownership of their situation, and all that. If they have a stake in their future they'll fight for it and if they fight for it we win.

So it might not have sounded very tough when Austin said that Maliki had a "significant opportunity for the government to demonstrate to the Iraqi people", but I think it was "diplomese" for "you screw this up pal and you risk reigniting the insurgency."

Austin publicly mentioned Maliki's promise and is now publicly holding him to it.

Austin, as commander of MNC-Iraq, is in a position where he works directly with the top levels of the Iraqi Government. It is part of his job.

In his closing statement Austin came back to this again when he said that "And I'd like to close by saying that the government of Iraq will have a great opportunity over the next several months to make some significant progress and the Multinational Corps will stand side-by- side with them each step of the way." In other words, we'll help you but you had better come through.

Then Lt. Gen. Odierno explained the stakes last February in his "exit interview" when he left as corps commander:

What I worry about is, there's a window. And we need is some political progress in order to maintain this window. And if we don't maintain the window, the populate will feel that they have no where to turn and I don't know what will happen then, and so this is what makes this somewhat of a tentative security gain right now. Because unless you have the populace behind you you will not maintain security.

So if the Sunnis in the SOI get the impression that the government doesn't care about them then risk reigniting the insurgency. Odierno got it. Austin gets it. Let's hope that Maliki gets it. .

Two reporters followed up on this during the Q & A part of the briefing:

Q General, Bill McMichael, Military Times newspapers. You mentioned that next week the government of Iraq will accept responsibility for 54,000 Sons of Iraq. Could you give us some detail on what sorts of jobs they'll be put into? Are they all going to be accepted into the Iraqi security forces for training and integration into the ISF?

GEN. AUSTIN: Well, as you no doubt know, the total number of Sons of Iraq throughout the country is about 99,000. And 54,000 of that number reside in the Baghdad province.

And so we will start with the Baghdad province next month and transition that element first, and then we will begin to move to other parts of the country and transition those elements.

We set aside -- we said up front that about 20 percent of the total number of Sons of Iraq would go into the security forces, and so we're looking to get about 20 percent of the total population hired as policemen. There will be others that join the army, but the rest of that population will go into other types of jobs. We're working with the Iraqi government to help provide job skills and training for those that are interested. And we've made some progress there, but that will be -- that will take time.

But we should know or we should recognize that the government is committed to taking care of the Sons of Iraq. And I talked with Prime Minister Maliki and others that are senior leaders in the government, and they assure me that they will stick with the folks that have helped us or helped the country of Iraq over time, and they will ensure that these folks who have helped us are properly transitioned into civilian employment.

Q General, the 54,000 that are going to be transitioned out of the 99,000, that's in addition to the roughly 15,000 to 20,000 that have already started to be transitioned over into the ISF or into security forces jobs?

GEN. AUSTIN: Well, we've got about 9,000 that have gone into police forces, and so there will be a number of others that will transition into police forces. And so again, the total number of people that go into security forces will be about 20 percent.

And later:

Q Hi, General. JJ Sutherland with NPR.

I just wanted to follow up quickly on the SOI program. You're saying 54,000 of them will be transitioning to the government of Iraq. Does that mean they're coming off of the American payroll and going onto the Iraqi government payroll?

GEN. AUSTIN: Yeah, that's a great question. That's exactly what it means. That means, for that 54,000 in October, the Iraqi government for the month of October will begin paying their salaries.

Now, this is a deliberate process that we'll go through to hand off responsibility from us to the Iraqi government.

We'll work through, you know, all of the details to make sure that every individual's accounted for and they are paid, and most importantly that they, at some point in time, get meaningful jobs. But that's exactly what it means. It means beginning the month of October for that 54,000, the government of Iraq will pay their salaries.
...

Q ...what happens in October? I understand eventually you want to have them be plumbers of electricians, but in October, there are a lot of checkpoints that have been manned by the Sons of Iraq. Are those checkpoints all going to go away? Are they only going to be staffed by Iraqi police now? That's my question. It's not eventually, it's next month.

GEN. AUSTIN: Yeah, next month the Iraqi government will begin to work their way through this. And there's no question that some of them, some of the checkpoints, many of the checkpoints will be -- will be manned by Iraqi security forces. In some cases, there may be SOI that will be tasked to help with that work. But in most cases, I think the Iraqi government will be looking to transition people into different types of jobs.

So Austin implicitly acknowledges that transition is going to be a problem, and refused to be nailed down on a time line.

I'll follow the issue of transitioning the SOI and will report back as developments arise.

As always, there was much more of value in the briefing, so watch the whole thing

And ok, maybe it's not as big a deal as the financial mess but I thought it was important.

Tuesday Update

What timing, a Yahoo News/Time story appeared today about just this issue. Money quote:

The last time the U.S. was involved in disbanding large Iraqi military units, things didn't go well - the fateful 2003 decision to dissolve the Iraqi army proved to be a key strategic blunder that gave a massive boost to the insurgency. This week the U.S. will try again, transferring control of 54,000 of the 100,000-strong largely Sunni citizen patrols known as the Sons of Iraq (SOI) to a Shi'ite-led government many of them view with suspicion. The rest will remain on the U.S payroll, as part of a phased transfer.

Some 20% of these anti-al-Qaeda groups - many of whom had been insurgents paid by the U.S to switch sides - will be incorporated into the Iraqi security forces. The rest will be given civilian jobs or training in a bid to help reintegrate them into the general population. But it won't be that simple: after years of vicious sectarian violence, many Sunni Arab patrol members fear retribution from the government; and indeed, some government officials consider the SOIs as little more than thugs and murderers. And as is so often the case in Iraq, the U.S is being blamed - this time by Sunni allies, such as tribal leader Sheikh Saleh al-A'ghayde, who accuse the Americans of abandoning them.

There's some dispute over whether we really disbanded Saddam's army or whether it dissolved itself in the aftermath of the invasion, but I'm not worried about that right now. The important thing is that the Iraqi and American governments handle transfer of SOI personnel correctly.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 16, 2008

A New Commander in Iraq

Earlier today Gen. Ray Odierno took command of Multi-National Forces-Iraq. It was a well-deserved promotion, and Iraq and our country is the better for it.

Gen Petraeus, who turned over his command to Odierno, is a man who needs no introduction. He is well known as the man who saved Iraq, and our country's reputation, from our near-debacle in that country.

Ray Odierno is perhaps less well known. From November 2006 to February 2008 he was commander of Multi-National Corps Iraq, which oversaw the day to day operations. It is the job of the corps commander to carry out the strategy devised by the country commander (MNF-Iraq). Odierno was the man who implemented Petraeus' counterinsurgency strategy and made it work. Because he was to Petraeus what Patton was to Eisenhower, Frederick and Kimberly Kagan called him The Patton of Counterinsurgency.

The promotion, which was approved by Congress, also meant a rise from three-star Lieutenant General to four-star full General for Odierno.

Gen. Petraeus, meanwhile, will assume command of CENTCOM in late October, which oversees the entire region, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Once more, then, Odierno will report to Petraeus. Petraeus, in turn, reports directly to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Odierno_MNF-Iraq.jpg

Here's a brief news report from The Pentagon Channel of the change of command ceremony

Here's the entire ceremony

From the press release on the MNF-Iraq website:

The change of command occurs after incredible progress in the country, said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who traveled to Baghdad to participate in the ceremony.

"When General Petraeus took charge 19 months ago, darkness had descended on this land," the secretary said. "Merchants of chaos were gaining strength. Death was commonplace. Around the world, questions mounted about whether a new strategy - or any strategy, for that matter - could make a real difference."

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that a national intelligence estimate in January 2007 doubted whether Iraq could reconcile over 18 months.

"Here we are, 18 months later, and Iraq is a vastly different place," Mullen said during the ceremony. "Attacks are at their lowest point in four years, 11 of 18 provinces have been turned over - including the once-written-off Anbar province - to Iraqi security forces, who are increasingly capable and taking more of a lead in operations."

The Iraqi government is providing for its people, the legislature is passing laws and the courts are enforcing justice, the chairman said. "In more places and on more faces we are seeing hope; we see progress," the admiral said.

Odierno's bio is on his MNF-Iraq page.

Retired Army Chief-of-Staff Jack Keane, and scholars Frederick W. Kagan & Kimberly Kagan (all of whom were among the intellectual architects of the "surge"), have more in The Weekly Standard. There message is that although we have achieved much, it would be premature to simply declare victory now and pull out the troops:

On September 16, General Raymond Odierno will succeed General David Petraeus as commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. The surge strategy Petraeus and Odierno developed and executed in 2007 achieved its objectives: reducing violence in Iraq enough to allow political processes to restart, economic development to move forward, and reconciliation to begin. Violence has remained at historic lows even after the withdrawal of all surge forces and the handover of many areas to Iraqi control. Accordingly, President Bush has approved the withdrawal of 8,000 additional troops by February 2009.

With Barack Obama's recent declaration that the surge in Iraq has succeeded, it should now be possible to move beyond that debate and squarely address the current situation in Iraq and the future. Reductions in violence permitting political change were the goal of the surge, but they are not the sole measure of success in Iraq.
...

Reducing our troop strength solely on the basis of trends in violence also misses the critical point that the mission of American forces in Iraq is shifting rapidly from counterinsurgency to peace enforcement. The counter-insurgency fight that characterized 2007 continues mainly in areas of northern Iraq. The ability of organized enemy groups, either Sunni or Shia, to conduct large-scale military or terrorist operations and to threaten the existence of the Iraqi government is gone for now. No area of Iraq today requires the massive, violent, and dangerous military operations that American and Iraqi forces had to conduct over the last 18 months in order to pacify various places or restore them to government control. Although enemy networks and organizations have survived and are regrouping, they will likely need considerable time to rebuild their capabilities to levels that pose more than a local challenge--and intelligent political, economic, military, and police efforts can prevent them from rebuilding at all.

I'm sure this is just what Gen. Odierno will tell whoever is elected in November. If, heaven forbid, it is Senator Obama, I just hope he listens. Sadly, I doubt he will.

Posted by Tom at 10:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 6, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 04 September 2008 - The Meaning of Pink

Col. Scott McBride, Commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday. His current tour dates from October 2007.

McBride's 1st Brigade Combat Team is part of Multi-National Division North, also known as Task Force Iron. Responsible for an area including the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra. MND-North is headquartered by the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division.

I'm not sure, but I do not think that the entire 101st is in Iraq. As such, my guess is that Col. McBride reports to Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North. 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 (Gen Ray Odierno will assume command of MNF-Iraq sometime later this year). Petraeus reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until April. Until Petraeus assumes command of CENTCOM sometime later this year, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is the acting commander. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.


This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

There was much of interest in this briefing, but if you want to find out what I meant by "The Meaning of Pink" you'll have to read the excerpts below.

COL. MCBRIDE: ...As was pointed out, we're going on our 12th month being gone from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and our brigade combat team of 4,000 soldiers continues to perform, in my opinion, exceptionally well.

I will tell you up front that the situation here continues to improve from a security standpoint. And having said that, we still have work to do.

There's still an active enemy out there that we are pursuing and going after every day. And all indicators across the board -- economic, governance and development of our Iraqi security forces -- is getting better. And it's significantly better than it was in January, February of this year, which -- when, in my opinion, was probably the low point of our tour.

So having said that, I'm happy to take any questions that you've got.

Although I did not include all of it, it was a very short intro. On to the Q & A

Q Colonel, this is Dave Wood from The Baltimore Sun. I know that you've been doing a pretty intensive job in terms of trying to penetrate the IED networks and that's sort of a multifaceted, multidimensional kind of -- part of the fight. How much of that are the Iraqis able to take over now? And do you see them taking over that fight, including the -- all the ISI hook-ups and everything else that goes into it, the battlefield forensics, any time in the near future?

COL. MCBRIDE: ...Okay. I'm going to answer that in two parts. One, the amount and volume of improvised explosive devices continues to decline in the province. The way that we've approached IED and -- combating IEDs is, we look at how they affect the population and their ability to move. If you look at MSR Tampa -- and MSR Tampa is a main highway that runs from Baghdad, runs through the length of this province and then runs all the way up to Mosul -- in November of 2007, probably 10 or 11 IEDs a day on MSR Tampa; today, an average of maybe one or two a day.

The important part of that is that those IEDs are largely ineffective. And for that reason, the population is able to travel those roadways. And my concern with IEDs, quite frankly, is not how they affect our forces -- and we have not had one soldier who's been seriously wounded on that main highway -- but how it affects the population and their ability to move. So that's how we've approached combating the IED network, because frankly, we've always seen it as a tactic the enemy uses to force use to lock down those highways and restrict the way the population moves.

And we've taken kind of counterintuitive approach, and now the population is moving on those highways. Economic commerce is moving. I think it's helped the economy, and the people believe they're safe on those highways.
...

The second point is, if you look at all the major -- the major supply routes or movement routes and then the auxiliary movement routes in our province, those are manned largely and secured largely by the Iraqi security forces. Our soldiers really aren't doing that. They are doing that on a day-to-day basis. So what the people see out there is the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police and the Sons of Iraq securing those roadways.

We've heard in other recent briefings that while the IED threat is still present, there are not only fewer of them but that they are less effective. Col Ted Martin, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said that "we're seeing homemade explosives, low quality, and many that have improper initiation systems" in his briefing on August 4. Col. Tom James, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division said in his July 24 briefing of al Qaeda that "we see that the recent attacks are IEDs of a primitive nature." So we seem to have a trend.

Q Hi, Colonel. This is Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes. The Army is going to be holding a roundtable later today on suicide prevention. Can you talk about what trends you have noticed with suicides in your unit?

COL. MCBRIDE: Thankfully, we have not had any suicides in our outfit since we deployed. Back in back in May, it was about our halfway point, and I was doing some serious thinking about what we wanted to accomplish as a team our last six months. And one of those things was, as a goal, to go home without a soldier having committed suicide.

And really the key there is our junior leaders communicating and then listening to our junior soldiers, and then leaders talking to other leaders. That's -- one of the things I see is that many times, leaders at the rank of staff sergeant, sergeant first class, captain, who have been here two or three times and are leaders, are reluctant to share the struggles they have with other leaders. I encourage them to do that. I share the struggles I have, because I'm on my third deployment. ...

This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed continually.

Suicides are a favorite topic on the leftist blogs. One wonders, what was the suicide rate in previous wars? I hate to sound smart-alecy, but if you just listen to the left you'd think that suicide and post-traumatic stress syndrome were never problems before the war in Iraq.

Q Colonel, this is Andrew Gray from Reuters.... At what point do you think your area will be ready to have a smaller U.S force there? At what point will the Iraqis be able to take up more of the responsibility?

COL. MCBRIDE: I will tell you that having been here in 2006 and worked -- and having worked specifically in that job with the Iraqi security forces and then being here for a year now, they have improved dramatically. I was not encouraged in 2006 when I left here in September. And we got back here in October last year, and over that period of time, this Iraqi army and these Iraqi -- and these Iraqi police -- Iraqi national police that work with us have made dramatic improvements....

And the other thing I see is the quality of leadership is significantly better at the company and battalion level than what I saw two years ago, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Col. McBride went on but would not commit to a time frame. This is the standard answer all commanders give. It's all "conditions based" and they refuse to be locked to a date.

The other important point is that the Colonel sees dramatic improvement in Iraqi forces from his time in 2006 and today. I've also heard this from most other commanders, most of whom have also served multiple tours.

The next question is about the all important issue of political reconciliation. Remember that Col. McBride can only answer for his area of responsibility.

Q Colonel, it's Luis Martinez of ABC News. How would you rank the challenges that you face right now? Which is the greatest challenge? Is it still the security challenge or is it more the infrastructure or getting funds, let's say, from the central government into the provincial government?

COL. MCBRIDE: Five months ago, hands-down, I would have told you security was our greatest challenge. Security is still a challenge, but if I had to rate them now, it's governance, security, economics all kind of neck-and-neck here. Because of the increased security we've got here we're able to get on with some development and then governance.

So I am working very hard while paying attention to our security operations and tying the provincial government with the equivalent of the county governments and then the county governments with our equivalent of the city governments, because in this province there's an inherent distrust, at all levels, of each other. And it's mainly because they don't talk.

That's improved pretty dramatically in the past three months. I'll give you an example. We have the city of Ad Dawr. If you'll remember, just north of Ad Dawr, that's where Saddam Hussein was captured when he was captured. The people of Ad Dawr in 2005 did not vote in the elections, therefore they had no representation on the city council.

Ad Dawr lies about six or seven miles from the provincial capital of Tikrit. For the last two years, no one from the provincial government had been to Ad Dawr and visited their people or their government.

At my urging, working with my partner, the governor and the deputy governor and the provincial leadership, I encouraged them to go to Ad Dawr and listen to the people, go talk to the people. And we've done that twice and it's made a tremendous impact on that city.

About two -- about three weeks after that, things started to happen in that city, and then the population began to have a little bit of trust in their government. And then business owners came together and over a stretch of about one mile, as you run through the center of the city of Ad Dawr, which is about probably 65,000 people, they had painted every shop pink, which was quite amazing to see.

But I asked them, why did you paint everything pink? They said this is the color of peace and reconciliation.

But I think that effort by the provincial government to tie itself to that district made a huge difference. So that's taken up a large amount of our -- of my personal effort and efforts of junior leaders at their respective levels, to tie and to develop the trust so these different levels of government can work together and achieve something for the population.

Wow. What could Code Pink think of this?

Al Pessin, known by me for asking some of the more tough questions, followed up on Andrew Gray' earlier question about drawing down U.S. forces.

Q Colonel, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. I want to follow up on two of the earlier questions. You said that Iraqi security forces have made dramatic improvements, and yet your unit will be replaced by a unit of similar size and capability. When do you see that changing? When will the Iraqis, with these dramatic improvements, be able to stand more on their own in that province? ...

COL. MCBRIDE: Okay. Okay. The first question, I guess back in 2006 I saw how -- I saw how ineffective they were, because they, in many cases, were at their infancy. So that's what I mean when I say a dramatic improvement. I would hope that in, you know, the next several months to the next year, we could look at -- if everything stays progressing at the way -- at the rate it is now, some reduction of forces here. And that's going to be -- and on a -- and I would say a repeated phrase, but that's going to be contingent upon conditions on the ground....

The Iraqi police are not progressing as quickly as the Iraqi army is. Their performance is uneven across the board. That's largely dependent on leadership. Most of these forces have their equipment. They have their cars. They have their weapons. It's dependent on leadership....

...I wouldn't advocate any drawdown yet, plus we have a huge geographical area where now I can push or we can push both our forces and Iraqi security forces out into deserts, both east and west, which -- frankly, six months ago, al Qaeda had their way in these deserts. They moved from north to south in the deserts, both east and west.

So a little while longer -- we don't -- we haven't held enough to do -- to -- to talk about a drawdown, in my opinion, in the province. And oh, by the way, if you talk to the provincial leadership here, they'll tell you, "We are not ready for you to leave. You need to stay. We're making progress. It's not time."

Two steps forward, one step back. In other words, a typical war. The friction is all around, yet we move forward, if slowly. The key is to fight smart and never get complacent. What works today might not work tomorrow.

"I wouldn't advocate any drawdown yet." I hope whoever is elected in November listens to the troops who are fighting this war.

Posted by Tom at 5:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 30, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 28 Aug 2008 - "The progress...since my last visit is absolutely phenominal"

This briefing is by Pat White, Commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, who provided an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq on August 28. In Iraq, he spoke via satellite to reporters at the Pentagon.

White reports to Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of Multi-National Division-North (also known as Task Force Iron), which is headquartered by the 1st Armored Division.

Hertling 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 assumes comman of CENTCOM later this year, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is the acting commander of CENTCOM. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The PentagonChannel website also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink website.

As is always the case, there was much of interest in this briefing. Perhaps most important though was the differences Col White saw in Iraq during his last deployment and what he encounters today:

COL. WHITE: ...And before I begin, I'd like to say this is my second tour in Iraq. My first was as a commander of the Iron Dukes -- 2nd Battalion, 37th Tank Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division -- from May 2003 to July of 2004, where I served in Baghdad. First Armored Division, as you all know, was extended for three months during Muqtada al-Sadr's first uprising and my battalion fought for five weeks in An Najaf.

Honestly, the progress here in Iraq since my last visit is absolutely phenomenal. I can state this because a portion of my current brigade sector was also a portion of my battalion sector five years ago. Five years ago, as a battalion commander, I never worked with an Iraqi army unit. The combined security cooperation effort depended almost solely on an Iraqi police force heavily infiltrated by the Jaish al-Mahdi. At that time, we supported the recruitment and training of a nation organization named the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

Today, I'm partnered with an Iraqi army division and the qadha has six fully functioning Iraqi police stations with a district headquarters, highway patrol and an emergency response unit. Now Iraqi security forces routinely plan, prepare and execute offensive operations and the population clearly respects and trusts them.

Our mission, in partnership with the Iraqi security forces is to secure the population and interdict accelerants -- accelerants being described as enemy forces and munitions -- from entering Baghdad.

Clearly, there is a measurable improvement in the security of the Madain. And this improvement is primarily a function of the hard work done by our predecessor unit, the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, known as the Hammer Brigade, which is one of the surge brigades that operated out here in the Madain prior to our arrival.

When Colonel Wayne Grigsby's brigade assumed responsibility for the Madain in 2007, attacks averaged two and a half a day. In April, as we began transitioning with the Hammer Brigade, attacks were down to one per day. And today, as I sit here and speak to you, attacks are less than one per day, with over half of those directed at Iraqi security forces.

I believe the significant reduction and the fact that attacks remain low can be attributed to two things: first and obviously, the astounding efforts of the Hammer Brigade over 14 months and now our 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, in an area that really saw very little U.S. presence prior to 2007. Now the populace is absolutely assured of our commitment and the commitment of the Iraqi security forces. The second contributor to the decrease in attacks is the ever-increasing professionalism of the Iraqi security forces. Coupled with the security contributions of the Sons of Iraq, we have achieved a point here in the Madain where operations are by, with and through Iraqi security forces.

All these efforts combined deny anti-Iraqi forces sanctuary and provide a solid foundation of hope for the free citizens of the Madain.

So as you can see progress has been tremendous. I've seen this in briefing after briefing by commanders who have had previous tours in Iraq. Go over to the sidebar of this blog under "Categories,", select "Iraq II 2007 - 2008", scroll though the briefings and you'll see what I mean. More importantly, the reporters never challenge this assertion. The key new is moving forward to economic and political progress.

Fortunately, both seem to be happening. The Iraqi government has met most of the benchmarks set by Congress, and oil revenues are helping spur the economy. It is vital that we Americans not get stupid and short sighted by demanding the Iraqis "pay us back" before this thing is settled. Sadly, I've seen this call for "pay back" come from some on the right as well as the usual suspects on the left.

On to the Q & A. The camera shows that this briefing was pretty sparsely attended. Odd that this would be so. Given that these are military/Pentagon reporters, I wouldn't think that that they're all off covering the conventions. Maybe it's just an acknowledgment that the war is winding down. No bad news is no news.

The first major topic was the Sons of Iraq (SOI), formerly called Concerned Local Citizens, which have been discussed extensively in numerous briefings. They function as a sort of super-neighborhood watch. Many are armed, but not by us or the Iraqi government. The point is to get the Iraqis involved in their own security.

Many of the SOI are Sunni, and are thus regarded with suspicion with the mostly Shiite government in Baghdad. Reports are that the Iraqi government wants to disband them....but that may only be in certain areas, I'm not totally sure.

Our objective is to integrate members of the SOI into the police, army, or government, but this is easier said than done.

Q Colonel, Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes. I've seen reports that the government of Iraq is actually arresting members of the Sons of Iraq. Are you having to deal with any of that in your area?

COL. WHITE: Well, here in the Madain, as I mentioned, we've got 6,000 Sons of Iraq. ...We have not experienced any warrants or any arrests at this point in time for any of our Sons of Iraq, and I think that really goes back to a question of who reconciled with the government of Iraq and who -- and who did not.
...

Q Could you talk about how the -- what progress you're making in either integrating these Sons of Iraq into the security forces or training them for other jobs?

COL. WHITE: Absolutely. And I think this is a common theme across Iraq, but let me talk about specifically in the Madain. Again, I have a pretty low number of Sons of Iraq, and it's -- and it's based on the security situation here and the need for them. We have a number of programs that we transition. The first and most important for us and for the government of Iraq is that transition from Sons of Iraq into either the Iraqi police, the Iraqi army or the Iraqi National Police.

We currently have over 400 packets in with Ministry of Interior to transition Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi police force. Next month we'll begin a recruiting drive again for another 1,000 Iraqi police shurta. Now not all of those will be Sons of Iraq, but it's another opportunity for us to engage the Sons of Iraq. They consistently look at how they can backfill into the Iraqi army with Sons of Iraq after they are recruited and trained.

But that is just one area where we transition Sons of Iraq. Here in Madain we have nine civil service corps projects that are solely employing Sons of Iraq. Most of them are down in the Salman Pak area. I do have two that are in the Jisr Diyala area, and then we have three more that we're looking at for the Nahrawan area, to assist us in providing them the training that is required to seek and gain a sustainable job over time.

There are a number of Iraqi initiatives that will also begin, as we are familiar with it, on the new fiscal year. And as we study and look at those programs, I'll be able to pass along what we think from a percentage-wise that we be able to transition.

But truly we remain committed to the Sons of Iraq. The government of Iraq has also recently said they're very committed to maintaining the Sons of Iraq here in the Madain -- can't speak for the rest of Iraq.

So we'll see. The SOI are not so important as an institution, but as an idea or attitude. It is vital that the Iraqis believe that their government cares about them and that it has their best interests at heart. Further, they must believe that they can take part in that government, that they have a say in their future. I'll be watching these briefings and other news sources carefully for future developments.

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Iraq Briefing - 18 August 2008 - "al Qaeda is in disarray"

This briefing is by the commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin III. Austin replaced Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno in February 2008, who at the time had been appointed Vice-Chief of Staff of the Army. This Wednesday Odierno was appointed commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, the position now held by Gen. David Petraeus. Petraeus, in turn, has been appointed the next commander of CENTCOM. Both of these changes require Senate confirmation and so even if approved they will not take their new jobs until later this summer.

As the second-highest commander in Iraq, Austin reports directly to Gen. Petraeus. Petraeus reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until last month. Until Petraeus assumes command of CENTCOM later this year, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey will remain as acting commander. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The PentagonChannel website also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink website.

Truth be told, this wasn't a terribly exciting interview. Austin doesn't come across as well as his predecessor, or most of his subordinates, for that matter. But I'm pretty well determined to cover all of these briefings as we can learn something from each of them.

GEN. AUSTIN: ...Let me say up front that our mission in Iraq has not changed. Our number one task remains protecting the Iraqi population. We're also focused on developing a capable and professional Iraqi security force and helping to build civil capacity.

And we're making progress in each of these areas every day. And while these efforts are progressing at a different pace, they're all moving forward in a positive and tangible manner.

Today, the Multinational Corps Iraq is operating in more areas of the country with fewer troops, and our security gains continue to trend in a positive direction even after the redeployment of five brigade combat teams, and most recently the Georgian brigade. We've been able to achieve this success because of an increasingly effective Iraqi security force, one that is growing in capability and in confidence. And as a result, we have seen signs of hope and prosperity return to many parts of the country that were once previously threatened by criminals and terrorists and others who don't want Iraq to achieve its full potential.

For 10 of the last 11 weeks, we've sustained less than 200 attacks per week nationwide. It is undeniable that Iraq is in a much better place than it was several months ago. And we're very encouraged by these positive trends, but we realize that there remain threats to the population and there is still much work to be done.

In the north, al Qaeda is in disarray, and its capability to conduct well-planned and coordinated attacks is limited, but they still pose a real threat to the population. And a couple of weeks ago, I walked through an open market in Mosul that was several kilometers long, and it was overflowing with Iraqis. Now that's something that would not have been possible just a couple of months ago, and this is a clear sign that we are making progress indeed.

We must, however, keep sight of the fact that al Qaeda retains the capability to perform high-profile attacks on the population. Suicide vests, which are a trademark of al Qaeda, account for less than 3 percent of the total number all of all attacks, but they account for 65 percent of all casualties. And most of those casualties are innocent civilians. So you can see that while al Qaeda is in disarray, they are still capable of ruthless attacks.

In short, we've scored a decisive victory but dangers remain.

"Our number one task remains protecting the Iraqi population." This is straight out of U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. Today such a strategy sounds obvious, but as unbelievable as it sounds this isn't what we focused on until the adoption of classic counterinsurgency tactics under Gen Petraeus.

Our focus from 2003-06 was on raiding from large, secure bases. As we learned, this simply doesn't work. To win, counterinsurgent forces need to live among the populace.

GEN. AUSTIN:...The Iraqi security forces have gained valuable experience through their operations in Basra and Sadr City, Mosul, Amarah and now in Diyala. And the operations in Diyala are some of the best Iraqi-planned and executed operations to date. And this is impressive because the Iraqi security forces are growing and training all while fighting an insurgency.


Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling
, commander of MNC-North, spoke about this on Aug 11 in his press briefing. Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War also has an excellent report on the situation in Diyala.

Troop levels are a concern back home and it's only natural that the American people want to know when we can bring more troops home. Al Pessin from the VOA asks about just this:

Q General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. I know that you and General Petraeus are now in the period of assessment. I wonder if you could share with us -- I see you smiling. You know -- you knew this was coming, I guess. Can you share with us your at least general feeling about how low you can go? You said security's been sustained with the withdrawals you've already had. What more do you think you can do, say, by the end of the year?

GEN. AUSTIN: Well, sir, as you know, we've always been clear that, you know, we'll make our recommendations based upon the conditions on the ground at the time when we have to provide those recommendations.
...

And so at the point that we make those recommendations, we'll take all of those things into consideration. And General Petraeus and I are in continual dialogue about these issues. And I'll make a recommendation to him. And at some point, he will make a recommendation to the leadership, at Central Command and in Washington.

But again it is a continual process of assessing the conditions on the ground, what we're faced with and our ability to provide the level of security necessary to continue to move forward. And we have seen some progress, some significant progress over the last several weeks, last several months.

Not getting the answer he quite wanted, Pessin tried again:

Q General, based on what you see today, do you feel like you could lose more combat brigades or battalions, between now and the end of the year, and still sustain security?

GEN. AUSTIN: Based upon what I see today, again, I'm always encouraged by what our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are causing to happen and the things that they're doing, working with the Iraqi security forces, to improve conditions on a daily basis.

If conditions continue to improve, absolutely, that presents some opportunities for us. But again we're not making that recommendation today. We'll make that recommendation at some point in the future. And that will be based upon what we're looking at at that point.

And once again Austin said that it depends on "conditions on the ground" at that moment. Our military leaders have been quite clear in that it is inappropriate to commit to numbers of troops ahead of time.

The Sons of Iraq program, originally Concerned Local Citizens, have been important to contributing to our success. It got the Iraqi people to take responsibility for their own security. For a variety of reasons the program is coming to an end, and the question is what will happen to its members.

Q General, David Wood from the Baltimore Sun. Could you give us a status report on the Sons of Iraq program; how many you've got nationwide, how many you envision being absorbed into the Iraqi security forces by the end of the year? And what are you going to do with the rest of them? GEN. AUSTIN: Well, a couple of weeks ago, we had about 101,000. Today, we're down to a little over 99,000. And the reason that that number has reduced is because some of those Sons of Iraq we've helped to find jobs. Others have been either wounded and some have lost their lives in the process of helping us to provide security for the country; helping us to help the Iraqis provide security for the country. ...

What we will look to do with the Sons of Iraq is to place about 20 percent of them into security force positions with the police or the army. And then the remainder of those Sons of Iraq's -- Sons of Iraq we hope to help find jobs, meaningful jobs that can help them provide for their families.
...

Q Hi, general. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. When you answered Tom Bowman's question earlier, about transitioning Anbar to provincial Iraqi control, you said that the agreement wasn't yet finalized; there were still details to work out. Several weeks ago, we were told that it was a dust storm that was the delay in this PIC transition.

What's the reality here? Was the agreement never really finalized?

GEN. AUSTIN: At that point, it was, I think. But since then, they've gone in to work out some more details that they would have liked to have seen worked out. And that was, in fact, what delayed the ceremony at that point in time. It was a dust storm. And so again as the provincial government and the government of Iraq work things out, they will announce the scheduling of the ceremony. And I'll leave that to them to announce.

Q (Off mike.) changed since then? What's still not agreed upon?

GEN. AUSTIN: Well, you know, I'm not involved in that dialogue, between the provincial government and the Iraqi government. And so I'm really not the best person to outline, for you, the details that they may be finalizing.

Try as she might, she couldn't get much of an answer.

Overall Lt Gen Austin is less impressive than his predecessor, Ray Odierno. He tends to skirt questions, is less conversational, and isn't as decisive in his answers. He may well be a good corps commander and just doesn't come across well in press briefings. I've gotten more from the briefings given by his divisional and brigade commanders.

Previous
Iraq Briefing - 23 April 2008 - Meet the New Commander of MNC-Iraq

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August 12, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 11 August 2008 - Going after al Qaeda with a Vengance

Yes I know, I suppose I should be writing about the Russia-Georgia war. The truth is I want to but don't have the time to put together a proper post on it. I had some discussion on it with a commenter in my previous post, and if you want to talk about it in the comments to this post instead of the briefing that is fine.

Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North (also known as Task Force Iron) and the 1st Armored Division, spoke via satellite Monday 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.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The PentagonChannel website also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink website.

There were several items of interest in this briefing, but perhaps most interesting was Gen Hertling's description of how they have chased most of the insurgents from the cities into the countryside.

GEN. HERTLING:...Since Operation Umm al-Rabiain or Mother of Two Springs started on the 15th of May, we've seen a sharp decline, not only in attacks but in foreign fighters traversing the western Ninewa deserts. And we have captured or killed dozens of mid- and high-level AQI operatives in the province and in the city of Mosul itself. With the Iraqi army, we've also disrupted the flow of foreign terrorists from Syria, as I said, through that western Jazirah Desert.

I visited Mosul yesterday and walked the streets of that city with my good friend Lieutenant General Riyadh, who is the Ninewa Operations Command commander, real good friend of mine, as well as Governor Kashmula. It is still a city recovering from years of harsh combat, but the population is feeling more secure every day. We talked to many of the people on the streets on both sides of the city, and they are becoming increasingly concerned not so much about security but about infrastructure repair and their number one topic of jobs.

This pretty much mirrors what we've heard in the last two briefings, whereby operations have gone from kinetic to economics and jobs.

And, just as with all the other briefings I've watched recently, Hertling warns that it's still not over yet. Continuing with his opening statement:

GEN. HERTLING:...While security is improved, we are still involved in a tough fight against hardcore al Qaeda and other extremists in this city and this province. They've resorted to using car bombs. In fact, al Qaeda has called it -- the fight for Mosul -- the battle of the car bomb. And they have been seen to randomly kill innocent -- (inaudible). They are also using murder and intimidation to an increasing degree in Mosul, because those are crimes that can be done quite simply without being detected. So with our Iraqi friends, we are going after the cells that conduct all three of those types of operations with a vengeance.

The cities of Diyala and the large cities throughout the northern provinces are increasingly more secure because of Iraqis turning against al Qaeda and other extremists. The Iraqi police and army are becoming more capable. The extremists are being pushed into the rural areas because of this. They're active, so -- AQI is active, that is, so to secure the people of Iraq, we must continue to pursue the enemy -- and that's, in fact, the name of our operation, Iron Pursuit -- and we must capture or kill the hard-core terrorists that are residing now out in the hinterlands.

Keeping up the pressure against AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) and the other insurgent groups is obviously key. We don't want them running around in the countryside either, but when they were in the city they could wreck much more havoc.

The first exchange goes to the heart of counterinsurgency strategy:

Q Hi, Major General Hertling. You had mentioned that the strategy in Diyala is to pursue the enemy. AP is reporting that the Iraqi government is giving insurgents a week -- has called a week-long cease-fire in Diyala in order to give insurgents a chance to turn themselves in. How does that fit into the strategy of continuing to pursue the enemy

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah. Well, we will continue to pursue with coalition force operations. We have heard of that tactical pause. And I think quite frankly, Jeff, that was a result of a session that was occurring on Saturday, which I attended, with the new deputy prime minister, Mr. al-Aswari (sp). He, in fact, got the governor of Diyala together, as well as the senior military leaders, as well as many of the sheikhs and provincial council members in that particular province, pulled them all together. And as we were conducting operation, he was looking not only to continue to go after the hard- core extremists and terrorists, but also to give those who are perhaps just along for the money or because they are gang members an opportunity to change their mind and perhaps not get killed or captured but instead turn themselves in.

We've seen the success of that particular strategy in other provinces. In fact, in Salahuddin, I can tell you that we've had over 2,000 former insurgents turn themselves in. Some of them have been tried in court, and in fact several of them are serving sentences now. But they came to us and said: Hey, we don't want to run, and we don't want to be killed anymore. We see the power of the vote overcoming the power of the gun, so we're turning ourselves in.

So I think -- I hope this answers your question -- I think what the Iraqi government is doing in this particular case with this cease- fire is as a result of the visit on Saturday of the deputy prime minister, to give those who don't want to fight anymore, the less hard-core, a chance to become a part of the society.

Some, primarily on the right, will object that we're pardoning insurgents who have attacked and maybe killed U.S. troops. And indeed they may have.

The answer is "do you want to win or are you just interested in making a moral point?" The fact is that history shows that successful counterinsurgencies win through a combination of militarily defeating the irreconcilables and moving into our camp those who can be reasoned with.

Although I don't have time to look up the exact quote the strategy outlined in the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24.

Yes it is painful to realize that we've got to accept and forgive some insurgents who were involved in attacks on U.S. troops. I'm not minimizing that. Yes also that if we want to win it's something we've got to live with. Divide and conquer is part of every successful counterinsurgency.

Next, as with all insurgencies it is complicated, and we're not just facing one "al Qaeda in Iraq." Hertling explains:

Q It's Kimberly with CBS. Can you walk us through the makeup, as near as you can figure, of AQI, any other insurgents you're facing right now, foreign fighters versus domestic? Are you facing any militia activity as well, and what kind of -- you said car bombs; do you also have EFPs?

GEN. HERTLING: ...We have not seen very many EFPs. We have over the last several months. We have not over the last several weeks...

Yes, in fact, Kimberly, what I'll tell you is, we think, as we've looked at the enemy in the foreign northern provinces, we've -- we have about seven different enemies, seven different fights. Many of them are calling themselves al Qaeda. I would almost tell you that in the north, we have more foreign fighters associated with al Qaeda in Ninewa province, in Mosul itself. We are seeing reflections of several different foreign fighters coming in through the Syrian desert, and those are the ones we've been targeting very hard, the Shari'a cells, the emirs of Mosul, some of the areas in the western desert.

When you go to Diyala, they will call themselves AQI, or the Islamic State of Iraq. But they're more the homegrown extremists, and in fact many of the parts of ISI or AQI are truly gang members. And that's why I say this reconciliation -- or the Iraqis use the word "musalaha" -- is going after them to try and win them over, maybe show them the error of their ways.

In the areas in the central provinces, we've got really a mixed bag of Jaish al-Islami, Ansar al-Sunna, Naqshbandi, some new groups that are forming because the old groups are either breaking down or being literally sought and pursued, and they are trying to combine to keep viable. So we really have several organizations that are affecting the Iraqi people.

But the good news is, the Iraqis see them all as terrorists. They will call them all al Qaeda, although there are some differentiation between the different groups. But I've told my bosses that I think I've got about seven different organizations that I'm fighting in the north, and it depends on where you want to go to talk about which one is the most prevalent. That's -- (audio break) -- I know, and I'm sorry for that.

The Sons of Iraq (SOI) program, originally Concerned Local Citizens, has been a major factor in beating the insurgency. As with everything,though, there is controversy.

The purpose of the SOI is to get the Iraqi people to take ownership of their own security. In the battle of "hearts and minds" (please follow the link) it is essential to get them "off the fence" and into our camp. If they remain on the fence (or obviously if they support the insurgents), the insurgents win.

There are a few controversies over the SOI. One is that most or all of them are paid for by the U.S. and not the government of Iraq. This is a legitimate thing to bring up, but only to a point. There are some, on the right as well as the left, who seem willing to cut off our nose to spite our face. Their main objective seems to be getting money from the Iraqis rather than winning the war.

Two, the government of Iraq is wary of them because they're perceived as an alternate power structure. Many are Sunni, and of course Maliki is Shiite. Apparently the government is determined to disband the SOI program in the near future.

Q General, it's David Wood from the Baltimore Sun. Could you bring us up to date on the Sons of Iraq in your sector -- how many you've got on your payroll; how successful you've been in helping them move into the ISF? And are you telling them that this program is going to come to an end pretty soon and they ought to look for jobs as they can find them?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, I can, David. Thanks. That's a -- I can tell you to the number how many we have, but I'll just give you generalities. We started a few months ago with about 32,000 Sons of Iraq. We're down just under 29,000 today because we have been very active either in -- to getting them into the Iraqi security forces, primarily the police, but some into the army. And there's an interesting differentiation there. Most of them want to go into the police force because they can stay close to home. Some of them want to join the army.

There have been other programs established. In fact, the opening ceremony I was at this morning saw about 500 Sons of Iraq in Kirkuk province -- (audio break) -- into the civil service corps, which will train young men to be carpenters, electricians, farmers and things like that, all being paid for by the Iraqi government. So we're gradually transferring the responsibility to the Iraqi government, both from a security standpoint but also of getting them jobs and in some cases even giving them education.

We have an internal task force goal in the north of cutting that by about 40 percent by October. So we hope to be down somewhere around 16(,000) or 18,000 by October that are still on U.S. payroll, with a continual effort to get those into other jobs and other commitments. And it's working relatively well to get them down that way.

There was another question I was going to answer. It is -- oh, have we told them that this is happening? Yes, we have. In some cases, they choose not to believe it. They're putting this off, because some of these young men have done a very good, patriotic job of defending their country and would like to enter the security forces or other jobs, but right now the jobs just aren't available in those numbers. But we hope to have them available and have these individuals either trained or educated to join the security forces or get after jobs.

During his closing remarks, Gen Hertling reminds us as to why he is so optimistic regarding the future:

GEN. HERTLING: ...But what I'll tell you today is, I have never been as confident or as hopeful for Iraq as I am right now. It is -- today it was 127 degrees when I was out with some both Iraqi army forces and U.S. Army forces, and they were continuing to take the fight to the enemy. And then immediately I switched to a session with some politicians. I was with the governor of Diyalah on Sunday -- correction, Saturday. I was with the governor of Ninewa on Sunday. I was with the governor of Kirkuk today. And all of them are trying to get jobs for their people and make the system work.

Previous briefings by MG Hertling

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August 5, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 04 August 2008 - Achieving Durable Security

This briefing is by Col. Ted Martin, Commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. The 4th ID relieved the First Cavalry Division in December of 2007. This is Col Martin's first press briefing.

The 4th ID is part of Multi-National Division Baghdad, also known as Task Force Baghdad. Its major area of responsibility is the city of Baghdad. MND-Baghdad is headquartered by the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas.

Col. Martin reports to Maj. Gen. Hammond, commanding general of the 4th ID, and thus of Multi-National Division-Baghdad. 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 (Gen Ray Odierno will assume command of MNF-Iraq sometime later this year). Petraeus reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until April. Until Petraeus assumes command of CENTCOM sometime later this year, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is the acting commander. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

his and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

There's quite a bit of interest in this brlefing, but perhaps most important was the issue of whether our security gains are permanent. From the Colonel's opening statement:

COL. MARTIN:...The mission of my brigade is to protect the population. We accomplish this by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our Iraqi security force brothers defending the people of Rashid. Together, we conduct relentless offensive operations designed to kill, capture or drive from Rashid anyone who threatens the safety and security of the people we have sworn to protect. This is a straightforward mission and it translates into hours of backbreaking work in miserable conditions, patrolling alongside our Iraqi counterparts to defeat anti-government forces.

Our hard work and sacrifices have paid off. There's been a measurable improvement in the security in the Rashid district since our arrival here in March. When we arrived, we averaged five attacks per day in the Rashid district. By July, we'd reduced that average to 1.5 attacks per day. As a reference point, in the same security district there were 824 attacks in July of 2007 with a daily average of 27 attacks, making Rashid one of the most dangerous places in Iraq.

I believe this reduction in violence is a direct result of the conditions set by the success of the surge in forces and combat power. We built on this success and have seen a dramatic reduction in violence in the past four months. For example, we have reduced the number of attacks from 122 in April to 48 in July. This represents a 61 percent reduction. The daily attack average was four in April and has been reduced to 1.5 in July. Additionally, there were 18 rocket and mortar attacks in April and only three in July of 2008. This represents an 83 percent decrease. Regarding the IED (Improvised Explosive Device), there were 69 attacks in April and 37 in July, and this is a 46 percent decrease. When we look at direct-fire attacks, we saw 30 in April and five in July. This represents an 83 percent decrease.

"The mission of my brigade is to protect the population." This is the strategy laid out in U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24, which has been the bible for our troops in Iraq since its release in December of 2006.

The key to success in counterinsurgency is making protecting the population your first priority. Without that nothing else is possible. Political and economic progress can only occur after security has been achieved. Our mistake in the early years was in thinking that if we could put a stable, representative government in place, coupled with public works programs, we could win over the populace. This strategy failed.

Now that the populace has been secured, it is time to get on with the political and economic progress that is vital to ensuring that our gains take hold and are permanent.

Continuing with the Colonel's opening statement:

COL. MARTIN:(continued) What this reduction in violence in Rashid district has allowed me to do is to shift my focus from kinetic operations to enabling the improvement of essential services and to continue to improve the capabilities of our Iraqi security force partners. It is my firm belief that the decisive defeat of the special group criminals and militias in May and June of this year has opened a window of opportunity for us to make substantial and lasting improvements in the Rashid district...

Seizing on the improved security conditions, we are pursuing reconstruction progress -- projects to improve the quality of life for the Iraqi people. To date, we have completed 22 projects valued at more than $5 million. Currently, we are managing 78 active projects valued at more than $45 million. We've also proposed an additional 117 projects valued at more than $26 million. Each product -- project is coordinated with the Rashid district council leadership to ensure that we are meeting the needs of the people. I'm very proud of the work my soldiers have done working hand-in-hand with the Rashid district council.

In closing, I'd like to thank the American public for their support. We receive care packages from family, friends and caring and patriotic people that we've never met from all across America, from an elementary classroom in Frankfort, Kentucky; Cub Scout Pack 773 in Houston, Texas; volunteers from Operation Gratitude from Encino, California and many others.

If like me you are sending packages to Iraq, do not think that your efforts are unrecognized.

As for the switch from "kinetic" to " enabling the improvement of essential services", this is a fundamental part of counterinsurgency. 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 condition requires the government to eliminate as many causes of the insurgency as feasible. This can include eliminating those extremists whose beliefs prevent them from ever reconciling with the government. Over time, counterinsurgents aim to enable a country or regime to provide the security and rule of law that allow establishment of social services and growth of economic activity. COIN thus involves the application of national power in the political, military, economic, social, information, and infrastructure fields and disciplines. Political and military leaders and planners should never underestimate its scale and complexity; moreover, they should recognize that the Armed Forces cannot succeed in COIN alone.

Before we go on, though, some clarification was needed about the number of attacks:

Q Hi, Colonel. Jeff with Stars and Stripes. Just a really quick housekeeping question.

I think you said initially attacks had dropped from an average of 5 in April, 5 per day, to 1.5 per day in July. But later I thought I heard you say it had dropped from 4 per day to 1.5 per day. Can you kind of clarify that?

COL. MARTIN: Yeah. If I confused you there, it should be -- it's averaging right at 5 attacks per day when we arrived. It's down -- (off mike) -- a day now.

The issue of Iranian involvement in Iraq is much in the news and is important for many reasons. One, if it makes defeating the insurgency that much harder. Two, if they are supplying the insurgency, as I'm sure they are, it shows the true nature of the Iranian leadership.

Q Colonel, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. You mentioned that some of the folks you've captured have gotten support from Iran. Can you tell us what the time frame of that support was? Is that still going on? And what sort of support are they getting?

COL. MARTIN: Well, I can only speak for the Rashid district. But I can guarantee you that we have found Iranian-made munitions inside of the Rashid district. Upon arriving into the battlespace in March of this year, pretty much we coincided with the uprising of the Special Group criminals. We started uncovering caches.

Some of these, we uncovered through reconnaissance operations, through active patrolling. But many of them were -- actually the people of Rashid district called in on our tip lines. And just as an example, within the last two weeks, we found a cache of munitions hidden inside of a water tank. That was a combined operation between the national police and my forces in the vicinity of the town known as Abu T'shir. Inside of that water tank, we found 107-millimeter rockets that were clearly Iranian made.

Now, I am not an expert on munitions. I rely on the experts, in the explosive ordnance disposal company and the other assets we have in Baghdad that can determine the origin of these weapons. So in this case, we found rockets which had obviously been used or been planned to be used against the people of Iraq; Iranian-made, I believe, February 2008.

Despite this, you don't have to go far on the Internet to see the left furiously denying Iranian involvement in Iraq. Their claim is that it's all falsified evidence and part of yet another plot by the evil neocons to invade another country.

The MRAP (link) has been a politically hot issue (also link to your post on Humvee armor). The Administration has been criticized for not getting more armor into the field faster.

MRAP stands for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, and refers to not one but a whole family of vehicles. They were developed specifically in response to the IED threat in Iraq.

This is all a bit ironic since during the 90s the call was for "faster and lighter" fighting forces. Heavy armor was said to be "Cold War", and thus the product of old thinking. At the time The Enlightened Ones were severely critical of anyone who thought that we might just need armor on the battlefield.

However, as soon as it became apparent that we needed more armor in Iraq to protect our soldiers, the Administration came under attack for having too light of a force. When Rumsfeld made the common-sense statement that "you go to war with the army you have" (verify) he was chastised by those who apparently think you can field new equipment overnight.

Q Yeah. This is Kernan Chaisson with Forecast International. The GAO has talked about the MRAP program, saying that in order to get the vehicles to the field, multiple manufacturers were used, and as a result, there's the potential for problems with maintenance, sustainability, training and that sort of thing. Has your unit received its full complement of MRAPs? Are they all from the same company? And have you experienced any problems as a result of them being so new?

COL. MARTIN: Sure. I'm in a heavy brigade combat team. My primary mode of transportation on the battlefield are tanks, Bradleys and howitzers.

We do have our fair share of MRAPs. I think they're fantastic pieces of equipment. I currently have 136 MRAPs. There are, I think, three or four different varieties. Just like there's different varieties of humvees, there's different varieties of MRAPs. We have some of the larger troop-carrying ones and some of the smaller versions. My operational readiness rate is -- maintained over 90 percent since I arrived in country, and I don't see that falling off. There's not a reliability problem with the MRAPs.

I'm very pleased with the -- both the MRAPs and the maintenance support I've received at Forward Operating Base Falcon. It's a good piece of equipment.

The question on everyone's mind, though, is whether the success of the surge will be permanent:

Q This is Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. I was wondering if you could talk about how durable you think this decline in violence is in your sector and how you would go about judging that.

COL. MARTIN: Sure. That's interesting you use the word "durable," because our commanding general had challenged us to achieve sustainable security in Baghdad, and I thought, as I arrived in the country, that was a pretty lofty goal, a tough mission. And we went after that.

Just before -- I guess just about a week ago, I was talking to the commanding general, and I told him I think we're on the cusp of achieving durable security. So we share the same word. I think that what I'm seeing right now in Rashid -- and again, I'm -- my view goes back to 2003, when I first arrived, through 2004 and again in 2005, and I've been studying this area since October of last year. There's been a phenomenal change in the security situation in Rashid district. And I don't want to speak to all of Baghdad, because that's not my area of operation. But in the southern quadrant, what I've seen is, I've seen the people come forward now and not accept militias.

This really broke in the May-June time frame. There seemed to be a wedge that was placed between the people and the insurgents and we tried to exploit that. And we've exploited that by continuing to improve the effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces. We also went all-out on our clearance operations to take away the base of support, and by that I mean he can't fight unless he has access to munitions.

A signal that I see in the Rashid district is the quality of the improvised explosive device. When we see the Iranian-made explosively-formed projectile, we know that the pipeline has not been cut off. Less and less do we see these specific anti-armor improvised explosive devices. We're seeing homemade explosives, low quality, and many that have improper initiation systems. So not only are they -- have they not been very effective in the past 45 days, that -- we've actually been able to discover more. That means that the quality foot soldiers of the enemy have either been killed, captured or driven away and now the amateurs are at work in our area.

A less-effective IED was exactly what Col Tom James, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, was saying just last week in another briefing. Seems like we have a trend - a good one.

Continuing with Col Martin;

COL. MARTIN:(continued) Now, that is not to say that there's no threat to our soldiers, because frankly it's -- the improvised explosive device is very deadly. And complacency, when it sets in, is a big danger to our soldiers. So I would say that we're aggressively pursuing the IED threat. And what I'm seeing on the battlefield right now is telling me that there has been a fundamental shift in the security situation in Iraq and we are moving out fast to exploit that.

Q What would you have to see to go beyond it being on the cusp of durable security to being durable security? What more are you looking for?

COL. MARTIN: Well, as a military man, I'm pretty conservative. I'm going to look at the battlefield and I'm going to have to feel it in my gut. And I've got quite a bit of time here in Iraq and I've had different feelings in my gut. But right now, my gut is telling me that if we're not there, we're close.

And I think to actually say that the security is durable in my district, I need a little bit more time to convince myself. Again, I said I'm very conservative here. I don't want to -- I don't want to make a rash judgment on what I'm seeing, because, you know, it's easy to get disappointed in a combat zone. But I think, with the attitude of the people -- and that's what's different, the attitude of the people. These people are reaching out. They're opening their stores back up. They're participating more in the government. And the Rashid district council's one of the best in Baghdad.

I have a great relationship with District Council Chairman Mr. Yaqoub. I see that Mr. Yaqoub and the Iraqi security force brigade commanders, of which there are three in this area -- he's got a great relationship with them. So the voice of the people is shared between both the security forces and the governing forces in Rashid. And I've never -- frankly, I've never seen anything like that. And that is enabled by the blanket of security, the hard-fought and hard-won blanket of security that's been provided in the Rashid district. And I'll be honest; a lot of that success is because of the quality of the Iraqi security forces that we're seeing.

Field Manual 3-24:

A-60 ...Whatever else is done, the focus must remain on gaining and maintaining the support of the population. With their support, victory is assured; without it, COIN efforts cannot succeed.

A few more comments by Col Martin that are illustrative:

COL. MARTIN:...So more than 60 percent of my brigade is forward-deployed to a small company-sized outpost. And really, that's what makes us so successful, our connection with the people....

Field Manual 3-24:

A-24 The first rule of COIN operations is to establish the force's presence in the AO (area of operations).... This requires living in the AO close to the populace. Raiding from remote, secure bases does not work.
COL. MARTIN:...But they're (his soldiers) confident and they're confident in themselves and their leaders and their equipment. And that confidence also, I think, inspires the people of Rashid. At least that's what I've seen. And that -- it's kind of hard to put my finger on what I'm seeing. Maybe I'm not articulating it well enough. But what I'm seeing is a level of confidence that I've never seen before and a willingness to take a risk, you know, to open the store, to transit the area, to drive around to, you know, spend a little money on better clothes.

I'll tell you, that's one thing I've noticed. When the security situation is better, people dress better. And I'm seeing a lot of that in the area; a lot of little intangible things that you really can't put your finger on. But I think the biggest thing I've seen is, you know, the people of Rashid, they trust the Iraqi security forces. And that is a big leap.

Notice that Col Martin is intimately familiar with is AO (Area of Operations). Again, straight out of 3-24:

7-7 ...Effective commanders know the people, topography, economy, history, and culture of their area of operations (AO). They know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader, and ancient grievance within it...

7-8 Another part of analyzing a COIN (counterinsurgency) mission involves assuming responsibility for everyone in the AO. This means that leaders feel the pulse of the local populace, understand their motivations and care about what they want and need. Genuine compassion and empathy for the population provide an effective weapon against insurgents.

So as you can see, Col Martin knows exactly what he is doing. Let's not satisfy some political promise made during the heat of the primaries and ruin it all with a precipitous pullout.

Because if current trends continue, we're on the way to victory. And the United States, Iraq, and the Muslim world in general will be the better for it.

Posted by Tom at 10:15 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 4, 2008

"The New Reality in Iraq"

Time to post some of the more important articles on Iraq that I've seen in the past few months.

First up is one in the Wall Street Journal of a piece by Frederick Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, and Jack Keane. The Kagan's are married, and both are scholars with all sorts of degrees and whatnot. Jack Keane is retired chief of staff of the army. In December of 2006 Frederick Kagan, Jack Keane, and some others developed a plan to save Iraq that they presented to President Bush in December of 2006. Bush was impressed, and long story short their ideas helped lead to what we call "The Surge" (though they were hardly the only ones involved.

All of the most important objectives of the surge have been accomplished in Iraq. The sectarian civil war is ended; al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has been dealt a devastating blow; and the Sadrist militia and other Iranian-backed militant groups have been disrupted.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has accomplished almost all of the legislative benchmarks set by the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration. More important, it is gaining wider legitimacy among the population. The attention of Iraqis across the country is focused on the upcoming provincial elections, which will be a pivotal moment in Iraq's development.

The result is that we have an extraordinary - but fleeting - opportunity to advance America's security and the stability of a vital region of the world.

If you don't want to believe the Kagan's and Jack Keane because they were influential in promoting the plan that eventually became the Surge (are we to capitalize this or not?) maybe you'll believe the Associated Press. From an AP news analysis piece that has been quoted widely:

Despite the occasional bursts of violence, Iraq has reached the point where the insurgents, who once controlled whole cities, no longer have the clout to threaten the viability of the central government.

That does not mean the war has ended or that U.S. troops have no role in Iraq. It means the combat phase finally is ending, years past the time when President Bush optimistically declared it had. The new phase focuses on training the Iraqi army and police, restraining the flow of illicit weaponry from Iran, supporting closer links between Baghdad and local governments, pushing the integration of former insurgents into legitimate government jobs and assisting in rebuilding the economy.

Scattered battles go on, especially against al-Qaida holdouts north of Baghdad. But organized resistance, with the steady drumbeat of bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and ambushes that once rocked the capital daily, has all but ceased.

This amounts to more than a lull in the violence. It reflects a fundamental shift in the outlook for the Sunni minority, which held power under Saddam Hussein. They launched the insurgency five years ago. They now are either sidelined or have switched sides to cooperate with the Americans in return for money and political support.

Insurgencies don't end all at once, World War II style. They tend to peter out over many years. Lt. Col. (Dr) David Kilcullen (Australian Army, ret), senior advisor to Gen Petraeus in 2007 for counterinsurgency, was asked about timeframes by Charlie Rose in an interview on October 5, 2007. What Kilcullen said astonished Rose:

DAVID KILCULLEN: . there's two issues. One is a territorial issue. The other one is time. Let me talk time. There has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years.

CHARLIE ROSE: Less than 10 years?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Successful.

You have to watch the interview to get the full force of Rose's surprise. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.

Kilcullen did not mean that in a successful counterinsurgency there would be ten years of heavy fighting. What he meant is that there would be ten years where there would be some insurgents somewhere who could at least theoretically pose a danger.

While on her fourth trip to Iraq since May of 2007, Kimberly Kagan, mentioned above, visited the headquarters of a small Iraqi political party in Baghdad. She wanted to find out more about their campaign plans for the upcoming elections. After a tour of their headquarters, she and her fellow visitors spoke for a few hours with about 30 political activists and aspiring politicians, some young, some older. Most were men, but there were several women. Her observations make for fascinating reading:

We sip our tea and discuss the upcoming provincial elections. The party leader proudly takes out a folder containing the results of last week's poll, which the party commissioned from an independent firm. He has very high name recognition, strong favorable ratings, and low unfavorable ratings. If these continue until Iraq's national elections in 2009, he thinks he will retain his seat in parliament, and the party may gain a few more.

We are guests, so we ask our questions first. We discuss the party and its campaign, national issues such as foreign investment in Iraq, and foreign affairs including the Iranian nuclear program. We ask what they tell people when they go door to door: Why should anyone join and vote for their party? One older woman answers, We are religious people, but we are not a religious party. Any Iraqi can join, regardless of sect. We stand for all Iraqis. She says this gravely, and it does not seem a platitude.

These party members are hardly naive, despite their optimism. They have experienced politically driven and sectarian violence. The headquarters is surrounded by low, concrete barriers to protect it from vehicle bombs. After the party signed a lease for its first headquarters in Baghdad in 2005, the homeowner reneged on the agreement for fear that his property would be bombed, so the party moved.

I ask the young people why they have joined the party, and whether they hope to have careers in politics. One young man, who has been to college, explains that many young Iraqis have not had a proper education. He has joined the party and its youth committee to help improve Iraqi education, recruit good teachers, and ensure that all young people can not only read and write, but also acquire the skills that they will need to pursue their careers in a high-tech world. This is important, he insists, not only for the young people themselves, but also for the future of Iraq's economy, which must be able to compete in the global market. Another young man will not pursue a career exclusively in politics, but believes that when he enters the business world his political connections will come in handy.

The young woman with highlighted hair is frankly ambitious. She intends to have a political career and hopes to be a high party official someday--so she can better help the people, she adds as an afterthought. The older woman seated next to the party leader smiles wryly at this comment and cleans her spectacles so no one will notice her expression. She is evidently the high official that the young woman aspires to replace.

This could be the future of Iraq. These people have a strong vision of what their country can become, and are working to bring it to fruition in their lifetimes. They are not alone.

Read the whole thing.

All this is possible because al Qaeda in Iraq is disintegrating. In a press briefing last week, Col. Tom James, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, said that "we see that the recent attacks are IEDs of a primitive nature." He concluded from this that "the weakening (of al Qaeda) over time is obvious to us based on their ability to deliver an effective IED."

I've followed these press briefings pretty carefully for the past few years, and one thing I've noticed is that after our early and foolish over-optimism of the early years of OIF, we learned to be more circumspect and cautious in predicting the future. So when a MNF-Iraq release is titled "Al-Qaeda support structure dwindling" we need to pay attention.

If for some crazy reason you haven't been reading this blog (shameless self plug alert) and so don't know why we've been successful in 2007-8 where we failed earlier, Michael Yon explains what we did in an interview with Kathryn Jean Lopez this past April on NRO. Money quotes:

We are winning partly because in the most violent sections of the country this became a war of competing values, terrorist values vs. American values. But only when we got off our big bases, and out of our tanks and deeper into the neighborhoods, could we make that choice very clear. Few people with a choice choose al Qaeda. ...

...most of all I began to see the fruits. I saw it working, the Iraqi people beginning to align with us and for themselves. I saw it in big "kinetic" battles where we took a fraction of the casualties we expected because the citizens told us where almost every terrorist ambush and booby trap was hidden. And I saw it in neighborhoods in which the American military had become the most respected institution in Iraq, and it was our soldiers whom the people turned too for protection but also for justice.
...

You win a counterinsurgency by walking the neighborhood, not by flattening it.

Christopher Hitchens is always clear thinking on most issues of foreign policy. A leftist on most matters, he grants them no quarter on Iraq. In "Fighting good fight in Iraq" he goes after the notion that we should have concentrated on Afghanistan instead of invading Iraq:

Would we be bound to say, in public and in advance, that the Western alliance couldn't get around to confronting such a threat until it had Afghanistan well under control? This would be similar to the equivalent fallacy that nothing can be done in the region until there is a settlement of the Israel-Palestine dispute. Not only does this mean that every rogue in the region can reset his timeline until one of the world's oldest and most intractable quarrels is settled, it also means that every rogue has an incentive to make certain that no such settlement can occur. (Which is why Saddam supported, and now the Iranians support, the suicide-murderers.)

It would also be very nice to accept another soft-centred corollary of the Iraq v Afghanistan trade-off and to believe that the problem of Afghanistan is a problem only of the shortage of troops. Strangely, this is not the view of the Afghan Government or of any of the NATO forces on the ground.

The continued and indeed increasing insolence of the Taliban and its al-Qa'ida allies is the consequence of one thing and one thing only. These theocratic terrorists know that they have a reliable backer in the higher echelons of the Pakistani state and of its military-intelligence complex and that, while this relationship persists, they are assured of a hinterland across the border and a regular supply of arms and recruits.
...

If we had left Iraq according to the timetable of the anti-war movement, the situation would be the precise reverse; the Iraqi people would be excruciatingly tyrannised by the gloating sadists of al-Qa'ida, who could further boast of having inflicted a battlefield defeat on the US. I dare say word of that would have spread to Afghanistan fast enough and indeed to other places where the enemy operates.

The notion that fighting a low-intensity wars (another term for "counterinsurgency") in Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously is too much for the United States is more than faintly ridiculous.

During World War II we fought two high-intensity wars simultaneously on opposite sides of the planet. During the Cold War we maintained plans to fight two and a half high-intensity wars simultaneously.

The idea that we cannot fight two counterinsurgencies that are geographically near each other at the same time is not sustainable.

Finally, let's give the Iraqis some credit, in particular Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Now, for the record, to put it mildly I'm not entirely happy with al-Maliki, but when he does come through it needs to be recognized. He came through a few months ago by defeating Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Basra. From the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Maliki took a big risk when he decided to move against his fellow Shiites to reclaim Basra for the government. Iraqi troops were untested for such a complex, divisional-level operation and, in hindsight, their battle plans were too hastily drawn. The early setbacks might easily have emboldened Mr. Sadr, caused the Iraqi army to crumble and led to the end of Mr. Maliki's government.

Instead, Mr. Maliki and Iraqi forces persevered. And two months later, hundreds of Mahdi Army fighters have been arrested and weapons caches found. Following the model of the U.S. surge in Baghdad, Basra's streets are far safer thanks to the visible presence of 33,000 Iraqi troops. The Mahdi vice squads that terrorized the city's population are gone. The U.S. and Britain provided air support during the early stages of the operation, and continue to provide advisory support. But the Basra operation has clearly been an Iraqi success.

If you don't trust the WSJ, you can read largely the same story in The New York Times:

Three hundred miles south of Baghdad, the oil-saturated city of Basra has been transformed by its own surge, now seven weeks old.

In a rare success, forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki have largely quieted the city, to the initial surprise and growing delight of many inhabitants who only a month ago shuddered under deadly clashes between Iraqi troops and Shiite militias.

More details on Maliki's Operation Knight's Charge in Basra can be found at Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War.

Despite all this, Iraq could still go south. A war with Iran will upset Iraqi Shiites, possibly to the point of reigniting the civil war. The government could degenerate into autocracy. And you or I could be killed in an auto accident tomorrow. But as Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson once said, "Never take council of your fears." His point was not that we should ignore or dismiss danger, but rather that it should not paralyze our thinking. Despite the dangers of what lies ahead, the future or Iraq has never been better.


Posted by Tom at 9:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 28, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 24 July 2008 - Confident and Capable Iraqi Leadership

In February Col. Tom James gave one of the most powerful presentations that I've seen as part of his Iraq briefing. It is worth following the link and watching it for yourself.

I was therefore pleased last Thursday to see him give another Iraq briefing. Col James commands the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division. James' brigade deployed to Iraq sometime around November of 2007. The rest of the 3rd ID deployed to Iraq in early 2007, and, having completed it's mission, deployed back home to Fort Stewart GA in May of this year. I am not sure why the deployment of the 4th Brigade Combat Team does not match the rest of the 3rd ID, and frankly do not have time to reach why this is so.

Briefing us with Col James is Brigadier General Abdul Amir, who commands the 31st Iraqi Army Brigade. Gen Amir is responsible for security in the Babil province, which is located 50 kilometers south of Baghdad. Both are connected via telecommunications link from Baghdad to the Pentagon briefing room.

I believe that they are part of Multi-National Division - Center, which is headquartered by the 10th Mountain Division.

This video and others can be viewed at DODvClips. The transcript is at DefenseLink. More videos, briefings, and military news can be seen at The Pentagon Channel.

What is most interesting about this briefing, I think, is simply that it featured an Iraqi co-hosting with the American. I've noticed this happening more often in these briefings, and is hopefully a trend. It is important because Americans need to see and hear from the Iraqis, and because the Iraqis need to step up and brief the American people on what they are doing. Most importantly, the Iraqis in these recent briefings appear confident and capable.

GEN. AMIR: ...Another reason for security improvement is the people roles of supporting the Iraqi security forces and provide information to the Iraqi security forces and to the U.S. forces, and also this increases the trust between U.S. and the citizens. The Sons of Iraq program also played great roles in improving the security situation. Also, the U.S. forces provide enormous economical projects to support farmers, civilians, schools, roads and clean up canals for farmers. All this creates a good cooperation and a great environment with the Iraqi and the Iraqi citizens.

Sons of Iraq, previously Concerned Local Citizens, or simply CLCs. Vital to winning the "hearts and minds",it moves the Iraqi people from bystanders to participants, which is so vital getting them "off the fence" and into our camp.

Back to General Amir's opening statement:

In addition to the security improvement, there was a great improvement in the capability of the Iraqi army. Last year we were working with two battalions. This year we are working with four battalions. Next year we will have new equipment, such as artillery forces. At this moment, at this time, we also -- we have Lieutenant Colonel McDowell (sp)) training our -- one of our platoons on a route clearance method and such missions like that.

One reads this and thinks, ok, I'm happy this is happening, but didn't they have artillery before we showed up? How is it that it seems that we have to start from the ground up? Yes yes, we allowed the old Iraqi Army to melt away and maybe should have tried harder to keep it (easier said than done), but once we started their new army surely they had old stuff they could have reconstituted?

Following Gen Amir, Col James gave his opening statement. Following are excerpts:

COL. JAMES:...First, a quick orientation to our operating environment. Babil province is located 50 kilometers south of Baghdad, on the key avenues of approach into the capital city. The population is an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis, 70 percent Shi'a and 30 percent Sunni. The majority of the Sunni population resides in the northern portion of the province, in and around the towns of Jurf al-Sakhr, Iskandariyah, Jabella and and Diyara (ph). Currently the majority of our combat brigade is positioned in north Babil.

We maintain a Military Transition Team, as well, further in the provincial capital of Hillah, and we are partnered with the 31st Iraqi army brigade under General Abdul Amir's command and control. And we also work very closely with the Babil police throughout the province.

Our mission is, in partnership with the Iraqi security forces, to secure the population, defeat extremists and neutralize resistance groups, increase the professionalism of the Iraqi security forces, build the capacity of government institutions and economic programs, and transition security and local development tasks to the Iraqi security forces and government over time.

The essential point of what I want to make today is this: The population feels secure and the quality of life is improving. There are two main reasons for this current condition. First, the Iraqi security forces have improved significantly and in partnership with coalition forces have drastically improved the overall security situation in Babil province. Second, the improved security has enabled positive growth in governance and economic systems, creating tangible improvement in the daily lives of Babil citizens.
...

Security improvements are based on three key factors: first, a highly professional and greatly improved Iraqi security force; second, the Sons of Iraq program; and third, combined security forces. That is Iraqi security forces and coalition forces living with the population, on distributed patrol bases and joint security stations throughout our area of operations.
...

We are focused on several key tasks looking to the future -- first, successful execution of free, fair and safe elections; second, GOI-driven SOI or Sons of Iraq transition to other productive employment; and third, assisting with professionalization of the Iraqi security forces; fourth, assisting with local economic development to increase employment opportunity; and fifth, basing adjustments of the Iraqi army and police into key locations we see that's required for security -- all of these tasks while simultaneously conducting relentless pursuit of extremists with our Iraqi partners.

Iraq provincial elections are scheduled for October 1 2008 but might be delayed. They are key because ultimately the people have to believe that their government represents them and has their interests at heart.

On to the Q & A. First was a discussion of the remaining security threats:

Q This is David Morgan from Reuters. Can you please rank for us the security threats that you now face in Babil province in terms of their importance and give us an assessment of their numbers and capabilities?

COL. JAMES: We sure can. General Abdul Amir, I'd like to defer to you first for a comment on that. What do you see as the primary threats in our area of operation?

GEN. AMIR: Babil province area of operation and northern Babil -- as I mentioned in my brief, there were some areas used to live under the control completely of al Qaeda. Some areas used to be under the control of the sectarian violence, which Sunnis and Shi'a lived together in these areas. But because we conducted numerous amount of operations -- joint operation between U.S. forces and Iraqi army forces, we were able to disable all these cells and enemies. We detained most of al Qaeda leaders in all of the areas.

Recently, all the area is under our control. We are conducting basically daily patrolling in several areas -- such area that encounter some sectarian violence such as the Jabella area. We are working through the tribes and pushing them forward for the national reconciliation. And we are -- patronage and held all these conference and ceremony for these tribes and tribal leaders so we could create a real reconciliation between the fighting tribes.

I would love to say and I would like to say that all area of operation in northern Babil is under control 100 percent. There is no threat from al Qaeda. There is no threat from the extremist militia and the outlaw militias. Thank you.

COL. JAMES: And I'd like to add to what General Abdul Amir says. And he is tracking 100 percent. The key here, though, is that as we plan for a potential threat in Babil province, we see the number one threat being extremists that are influenced by al Qaeda, that could potentially attack us with suicide vests, bombs or IEDs, and as well vehicle-borne IEDs on concentrations of population that may be observing a religious festival or something like that. But for the most part we've seen that the Iraqi security forces have been able to take that under control and prevent that from happening in the recent past here.

So we continue to work with that. So that's the first one. And then as he mentioned as well, the militia. The militia threat -- they're much more capable with the EFP and potentially indirect fire systems, but we have not seen that in Babil province in the past month and a half to two months, based on an aggressive Iraqi security force campaign supported by coalition forces.

"There is no threat from al Qaeda. There is no threat from the extremist militia and the outlaw militias." Pretty confident. I hope he's right. Col James didn't go that far, saying that "The organization related to al Qaeda is severely disrupted, as described by General Abdul Amir, and as well the militia are as well in Babil province."

Interestingly, the reporters didn't really challenge this statement. Also, it is in keeping with what else I've been reading about Iraq from other sources.

Q I think you said that the pace of attacks has now fallen off to about one per week. What element is responsible for these attacks, by and large, would you say? And how would you describe the attacks themselves?

COL. JAMES: I would answer that and then pass off to General Abdul Amir. We see that the recent attacks are IEDs of a primitive nature. What we're seeing is IEDs that are affixed to vehicles, that are targeting SOIs. And these are typically influenced by al Qaeda. And what they want to do is discredit the Iraqi security forces. And they're going after mid- to lower-level leaders in that program. And so that's the primary threat that we've seen over the last couple of weeks, and that is what General Abdul Amir has oriented his focus in the operation he described earlier on. So we continue to focus on that, and that is our primary threat. But like I said, that is significantly decreased and we're seeing less than one a week.
...

And one other point is al Qaeda -- the weakening over time is obvious to us based on their ability to deliver an effective IED. Typically, we have seen in the past the suicide vest or the deep- buried IEDs. We're not seeing those anymore. We're seeing them to be much more primitive and much more less effective. And we see this as a very positive thing.

"recent attacks are IEDs of a primitive nature" This is significant, because from 2003-07 what we read was that IEDs got more sophisticated each year. If the insurgents are using "primitive" ones now, this can only mean that we've killed or captured their top bomb makers and now it's the second or third string trying to make do.

Back to the elections. As we'll recall, early in Iraq's post invasion history, the Sunnis held out and didn't vote in several of the elections.

Q This is Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. You mentioned that one of your missions was to prepare for upcoming elections, and I'm wondering what, if any, effect the prospect of elections is having on security -- the security situation in your area. And I was wondering if these attacks involving the SOI were interfactional, or is it Shi'a against SOI? ...

COL. JAMES: If I could just add a couple of points to that as well, I had the distinct pleasure of attending several planning sessions -- with General Abdul Amir and Major General Fadil, the police chief of Babil province -- related to election security.

They have just over 20 sites that are registration sites they're securing. And they have a very detailed plan. And they've allocated and distributed resources, to protect those sites, to allow both Shi'a and Sunni to participate in registration.

And that is a true good-news story that we're seeing in Babil province, that General Adbul Amir mentioned, was that the Sunni want to participate. They held out last time and they see the fruits of democracy and want to pursue them. So that is a very positive situation.

Going back to the tail end of your question, about factions and about the IED strikes that we've seen to this point over the last couple of weeks, we see that as al Qaeda, Sunni-based extremists trying to influence the Iraqi security forces, correction, not the Iraqi security forces -- Sons of Iraq program, which is predominantly Sunni.

So we're not seeing sectarian violence at all at the levels that were in the past; very minimal if at all in Babil province. So this is just a al Qaeda attempt to try to discredit the Sons of Iraq program.

Watch the entire briefing.

The security situation is, for now anyway, under control. It is important to seize the moment and push ahead politically and economically. All Iraqis need to feel that their government represents them and has their interests at heart. The economy needs to show visible signs of improvement so that Iraqis will believe that their interests are best served in pursuing legal employment and business opportunities.

It'll be interesting to see how the average Iraqi reacts if elections are in fact delayed. This hasn't been something I've followed much but will have to get more informed. Hopefully the assessment by our briefers that the Sunnis' will fully participate in upcoming elections will hold true.

Important to note for the future is how well General Amir's 31st Iraqi Army Brigade continues to perform, especially once Colonel James' brigade deploys back home. Right now, though, it's so far so good.

Posted by Tom at 7:30 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 23, 2008

Obama Wrong On Anbar

Senator Barack Obama wants us to believe that he would have been right about Iraq if only the Anbar Awakening had not occurred. Really.

I think that, I did not anticipate, and I think that this is a fair characterization, the convergence of not only the surge but the Sunni awakening in which a whole host of Sunni tribal leaders decided that they had had enough with Al Qaeda, in the Shii'a community the militias standing down to some degrees. So what you had is a combination of political factors inside of Iraq that then came right at the same time as terrific work by our troops. Had those political factors not occurred, I think that my assessment would have been correct.

Unfortunately for him, we have Steve Shippert of Threatswatch to explain what really happened. I had the pleasure once of meeting Steve, and have followed his work over at NRO's The Tank, and believe he knows what he's talking about. Here's Steve, (h/t The Corner):

Presidential Candidate Obama's statements in and about Iraq in the past 24 hours have been nothing less than shameless and disgraceful. While we strive to avoid political discussion at ThreatsWatch, criticism of his words transcends rank political partisanship if for no other reason than his claims are simply and flatly untrue, made in a war zone, during a time of war and while running to become the Commander in Chief of US Military Forces. This simply cannot stand unchallenged.

Not only does Senator Obama apparently think the Anbar Awakening and the Shi'a militia stand-downs that have occurred are somehow separate developments from the surge, which is a remarkable feat of logic in and of itself, but he is implying that they are part and parcel indigenous to what his 'plan' for 'political progress' would have afforded.
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I would remind the candidate that the Anbar Salvation Council (which later grew exponentially and developed into al-Sahwa al-Iraq - the Iraq Awakening) started with one man, Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu al-Risha, and seventy men fighting al-Qaeda in defense of their families, not in pursuit of a 'political' anything. They simply wanted to live and end al-Qaeda's assassination and murdering spree against their families and tribe. Sheikh Abdul Sattar, later assassinated by al-Qaeda in Iraq, had seen 10 family members, including 4 brothers, killed by al-Qaeda for their cooperation with US forces. He had had enough.

Obama's plan - unoriginal and pieced together like a quilt from others against the Iraq war - was entirely Baghdad-centric, about laws and revenue sharing and conferences. The Anbar Awakening had nothing to do with Baghdad when they began and when they turned the neighborhood tides in Ramadi and elsewhere in Anbar province. It was about killing the terrorists before the terrorists killed them. One must, after all, live to ultimately see progress on any scale beyond one's neighborhoods.

Obama wanted laws written, press conferences, and an immediate pull back of US troops. As Senator Chuck Schumer so brilliantly said at the time about 'the plan,' US forces were to withdraw post-haste to the periphery "in more of a counterterrorism role." This would have abandoned the Anbar Salvation Council - and Anbar Sunnis and Shi'a alike - entirely. It would have been feeding them to the bloodthirsty wolves of al-Qaeda so that domestic American political figures could champion themselves as 'ending a war' and conducting business "in more of a counterterrorism role."

This is precisely what I tried to scream when I wrote "This Is Counterterrorism, Senator" over a year ago for National Review Online. And winning the counterinsurgency is about aligning a population with us. Neither of these, counterterrorism nor counterinsurgency, could have been successfully addressed by 'The Plan' put forth by Obama and others in opposition to The Surge. The Surge was all about protecting the population within their own neighborhoods, while 'The Plan' was about abandoning said population to complete animals unassisted. Yet Obama - and surely others - would oppose it all over again.

The Iraqis have done what they have done for themselves in spite of the likes of Obama, Schumer, Pelosi and all the rest. What's more, now that The Surge has accomplished much of what it set out to do to help the Iraqis - again in spite of Obama, Schumer, Pelosi and the rest - a presidential candidate who opposed the surge, would still oppose The Surge and had absolutely no clue about the Anbar Salvation Council when it was pleading and begging for US support (since at least September of 2006) wants to champion their success as somehow his brainchild and a sign of the political development he envisioned?

One is left to suppose that he overlooks the fact that so many in Anbar and throughout Iraq are alive in spite of attempts to push such a sacrificial 'Plan.' There's no other way to describe it. Dead people - crucified, baked and beheaded - do not live to contribute to 'political progress.' Sheikh Abdul Sattar - and today, his brother Sheikh Ahmed al-Rishawi - understood this. Too many Americans seem flip to dismiss this comfortably from afar.

The Anbar Salvation Council didn't have a damn thing to do with political resolution. It needed to simply survive first; family by family, town by town, tribe by tribe. The movement that eventually saved Iraq laid ignored and unsupported until General David Petraeus changed that when he arrived to command The Surge that Obama said he would still oppose.

Obama's (et al) 'plan' and 'political' demands would have fed them to the wolves, slaughtered with their families while we were to have breathed a sigh of relief that the war was finally over. Funny thing about the Iraqis: They want to live, no matter what our politicians profess.

Today's remarks simply could not be left to stand unchallenged.

An excellent history lesson. It's obvious Obama has no idea what he's talking about. Like someone who's spent his entire life pursuing politics, he doesn't understand anything that's not political. Like his fellow Democrats (and some Republicans), the military is a strange and alien thing that he cannot get his arms around. All he gets is big-government deal making and legislation.

What proved successful was not political deal making but securing the population. Security first, politics second. This is the lesson of counterinsurgency that Gen Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Odierno understood and implemented. It's the thesis of the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24; the one written by the team led by then Lt. Gen Petraeus in 2006 and is the basis for everything we've done in Iraq since then. You'd think that by this time Obama would get it.

Laid out more formally, let's once again go over the factors that have led to our success. In the February 11, 2008, print edition of National Review, Wesley Morgan identified four interconnected efforts:

  1. The adoption of classic counterinsurgency tactics, with U.S. battalions spreading out among the population and earning their trust;
  2. The grassroots reconciliation of many Sunni and some Shiite communities;
  3. A series of meticulously planned corps-level offensives across Baghdad and its surrounding areas. All of these efforts have hinged on one major change:
  4. During 2007, every echelon of the U.S. command -- from the four-star headquarters down through the critical corps and division levels to the brigades and battalions in the field -- was closely integrated into a cohesive whole. Without this integration, none of the four efforts that have brought Iraq forward would have made much difference.

Last December VOA reporter Al Pessin asked Maj Gen Walter Gaskin, the USMC commander in Anbar, about why the Anbar Awakening occurred and whether it would have occured without US troops and the Surge:

Q General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. I wanted to ask you about the Awakening, and you talked a little bit about how there's this blood feud, and how the Anbaris have rejected the brutality of al Qaeda. Would you say that the progress that we've seen this year in Anbar had to do with something that MNF-I did? Or was it entirely indigenous to the inner workings of the people who live in the province?

GEN. GASKIN: I think it's a combination. You know, you can't separate the fact that this multinational corps and force out here was designed to eliminate al Qaeda.

And al Qaeda is a part of why the Awakening came about, is to awake and see that you can have self-reliance. We can join with the coalition forces and rid ourselves of the brutality and the caliphate and the just plain disregard for how the Anbaris live.

Now, it kind of manifests itself out here in Anbar because these were Sunnis -- (audio break) -- and therefore, they resisted the Taliban-like life -- the life and ideology that al Qaeda was bringing to this area. But it did not come without a cost. Al Qaeda was very brutal to the sheikhs, and this is a very tribal society. As a matter of fact, the sheikhs often say that we were tribal before we were Muslim, and therefore, this is a(n) anchor point within our society. And so when al Qaeda attacked that, they did some very brutal things to the sheikhs, did not follow customs allowing the sheikhs to die in the desert and not burying them within 24 hours. That's what I mean by the blood feud and that they have created a schism that I don't think will ever be repaired.

And because they really want to return to a life where they can have control of their own destiny, I see this as an opportunity since -- (audio break) -- have joined with al Qaeda -- with the sheikhs and the people against al Qaeda. This is going to work, and I think it's enduring.

Q But General, might that not have happened anyway without MNF-I, without the surge, without the new counterinsurgency strategy?

GEN. GASKIN: I doubt it. I think if you -- if you look at the history of the fighting here, you will see that several times the sheikhs have attempted to rid themselves of al Qaeda.

They started in about 2005 out in al Qaim, where the sheikhs raised up, calling themselves the Desert Protectors, put down brutally by al Qaeda. It started again in and around Ramadi, where 11 sheikhs raised up to try to rid themselves of al Qaeda and its caliphate and shura law. And 11 of -- of those 11 -- (audio break) -- were put down brutally.

And so again, in Ramadi with Sheikhs Sattar Abu Risi (ph) who started the Sahwa Allah Iraq, which is the Awakening movement. He had lost two brothers and a father in that fight. So he realized, too, that the joining of the coalition who had there to aid them in getting rid of al Qaeda, that we were better equipped, better trained and had a better principle (sic) of what was happening to them and all of that. This joining of us with them would not have happened -- it definitely would not have happened in the time frame for which we are experiencing now because al Qaeda was better organized, better financed and a lot more brutal than the Anbaris ever expected in dealing with them.

And so I think this was a -- (audio break) -- and it's proved to be ridding them of al
Qaeda and allow them to get on with their economic development and governance of this province.

I rather take Maj Gen Gaskin's word over that of Sen Obama.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 19, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 14 July 2008 - The British in Basra

UK Army Maj. Gen. Barney White-Spunner, general officer commanding, Multi-National Division-Southeast, spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon, July 14, 2008. Gen White-Spunner was connected via telecommunications link to the Pentagon from Camp Victory in Baghdad.

From the MNF-Iraq website, "MND-SE operates in the southern most part of Iraq, including the cities of Basrah, An Nasiriyah, Al Amarah. The division is headquartered by elements of the British and Australian militaries."


This video and others can be viewed at DODvClips. The transcript is at DefenseLink. More videos, briefings, and military news can be seen at The Pentagon Channel.

What is most interesting about this briefing is simply that it was the first one I've seen conducted by a non-American general in this setting. I fully realize that there's been no small amount of controversy surrounding the question of just how much the British have done over the past year. I've seen many reports that they more or less retreated to their compound outside the city and let the locals have at it. Word is then that it wasn't until recent operations by the Iraqi Army that Basra was secured.

But my purpose here is not to go through all that again, but simply to see what the British general has to say and what we might make of it:

GEN. WHITE-SPUNNER... But I think what I want to say just to start off with is that the last four months have seen a really overwhelming change in Basra.

If you'd been there in the spring -- and some of you may have been -- you'd have found a very different situation, because since then the tide has well and truly turned. And as a result of the Operation Charge of the Knights, which Prime Minister Maliki launched at the end of March, the Iraqi security forces reasserted their authority over Basra, which did degree -- had experienced a degree of violence and lawlessness. And whereas not so long ago the militias controlled parts of Basra, we now find people free to go about their daily business without fear of intimidation.

And the situation you find in Basra today is very similar to many other Middle Eastern cities, let alone Iraqi cities. And an air of normality has returned and the government of Iraq has very carefully managed the humanitarian situation, not that it ever got very serious, with only minimal coalition support. The curfew's been lifted and water and fresh food are obviously in plentiful supply.
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But even more significantly, from our perspective, what Charge of the Knights did was to show that there was very little deep support for the militia in Basra. And once the leadership fled, the ordinary rank-and-file militia, if you like, very soon returned to normal life, which supports our contention that they weren't committed terrorists or committed militiamen. They were poor Shi'as who didn't have opportunities for jobs or whatever and have been perverted by the militias.
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I don't deny that at the beginning, some elements of Iraqi security forces did wobble a bit, but the Iraqi government soon brought in reinforcements. And with a combination of our help and planning -- coalition help and planning and provision of combat and logistic support, the situation was very soon under control, showing a degree of speed and flexibility as I think would have been impossible only a year ago.

Central to the progress has been this concept of MiTTs, these Military Transition Teams that we have embedded with the Iraqi forces in roughly platoon-sized groups, as that gives us a far greater situational awareness about what's going on and allows us to go every step of the way with the Iraqis. And these MiTTs are still embedded across the city today.

I think the -- where we've got security, what we're doing at the moment is ensuring that security stays. With the Iraqi forces, we're putting in place in Basra a counterterrorist structure so that when those violent extremist elements do try to come back -- and some inevitably will -- then they're ready for them.
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...the real issue now confronting Basra is economics, something the Iraqi government very much accepts. And this is really the key to the long-term success of Basra. The -- we've got security now, and we're going to make certain that security lasts. And at the moment, opinion polling shows us that security -- whereas it was 23 percent of population's prime concern a month ago, now only 8 percent of the population say that it is a major concern.

So we've got that security. What we've got to do now is get economic success. We've got to create jobs.

The first question went to the heart of the security issue; how permanent are the security gains?

Q General, this is David Morgan from Reuters. Would you say that the extremists in Basra have been decisively defeated? And when you say that many of them fled the city, where does it appear that they have gone to?

GEN. WHITE-SPUNNER: Yeah. The sound isn't the greatest, but I think I got the gist of that.

When I say the extremists have been decisively defeated, I think what has happened decisively is that the militias have lost control of the areas of Basra that they control. I do not think you will see militias reestablish control over areas of Basra again.

I do think that violent extremists, some of whom -- the leadership of whom fled, will try to come back, and I think we need to be ready for them. And that is why we are concentrating, with the Iraqi security forces, in putting this counterterrorist structure in place.

So I think the militias -- I think the insurgency has been decisively defeated. I think there will be an ongoing terrorist campaign for some time, because there are violent extremists who have seen their aims frustrated by what the Iraqis and the coalition have done together, and they're the people we've got to be ready for.

During the interview, Gen White-Spunner said that logistics was still a problem for the Iraqi Army, something we've heard time and again in these briefings. In the next question, Mike Mount with CNN asks whether the Iraqi Army can handle operations on their own:

Q (Mike Mount with CNN) If I could follow up, how much of that control is now you all or U.K. troops as opposed to Iraqi troops?

GEN. WHITE-SPUNNER: It's us in support of Iraqi troops. It's Iraqi troops in the lead with us very much in support. And the plans see the Iraqi troops being there and the Iraqi security forces, I should say, because obviously when you come to things like the border, it's not just the Iraqi army. It's the Iraqi police and also the DBE, the department of border enforcement which includes the coastal border guard because, of course, there is a large water border in the Basra area.

So what we're trying to do here is to get sustainable structures in place. We're out in support at the moment, and the Iraqis are in the lead. There will come a time when the Iraqis won't need us.

But I would emphasize that it is us supporting them. They're very much in the lead. This is an issue which they are really concerned about and they're absolutely determined to get right.

The next big issue Iraq faces is the upcoming elections

Elections go the heart of legitimacy. If people see the government as legitimate and as representing them, they will get "off the fence" and support the government. If not, they'll allow the insurgency to come back.

From the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (Essentially the "bible" for our troops in Iraq since it was published in Dec of 2006. Gen. Petraeus led the team that wrote it). A few excerpts:

1-4 Long term success in COIN depends on the people taking charge of their own affairs and consenting to the government's rule.

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.

"Essential though it is, the military action is secondary to the political one, its primary purpose bieng to afford the political power enough freedom to work safely with the population" David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare, 1964

Here's the part of the briefing where they discussed elections:

Q This is Jim Mannion again. Did the provincial elections have any -- raise any special security concerns from your perspective?

GEN. WHITE-SPUNNER: Yeah. Elections are a big issue for us. What's really encouraging about elections is how seriously people are taking them, because if people weren't taking elections seriously, they wouldn't begin to take the results seriously, if you follow my logic. So the fact that there is so much interest in the elections, I think, is hugely encouraging. I think it shows how far Iraq has come. And it's really fitting in this current climate of increased security. So the elections -- i.e., the establishment of a democratic process -- should be so much to the fore, and I take enormous heart in that.

What are my particular concerns, to answer your question? I think to make certain that the voter registration goes ahead from the 15th of this month. We've got 34 voter registration centers across Basra province. And I'm confident -- having reviewed the plans of those in detail with the Iraqi security forces --I'm confident that that process will go ahead smoothly.

When we get to the elections themselves, I'm at the moment pretty confident that we will have free and fair elections here. Again, as I say, they're being taken very seriously. The security of the polling centers is something that's been taken very seriously by the Iraqis. So, if you like, concern in that we are determined that elections and the voter registration is going to go really well.

Specific concerns at the moment, not a huge number of detailed ones. You know, a few things like individual voting stations here and there, but nothing significant. Nothing at the moment that makes me think we're not going to have a really successful election in the autumn. And as soon as, of course, the election law is passed in Baghdad, then we'll be clear about a date for that.


Posted by Tom at 8:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 12, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 10 July 2008 - Changes Since 2006

This briefing was by Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, Commander of Multi-National Division-Center, and the 10th Mountain Division, and Major General Ali Salih Farhood OOothman (I am not certain of his unit's designation). They are connected via telecommunications link to the Pentagon from Camp Victory in Baghdad.

From the MNF-Iraq website, "Multi-National Division - Center, also known as Task Force Mountain, assists Iraqi Security Forces with security and stability missions in the area south of Baghdad ranging from Najaf to Wasit provinces. MND-Center is headquartered by the 10th Mountain Division (Light) from Fort Drum, New York."

The 10th Mountain Division replaced the 3rd Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch) in this role on June 3.

Maj. Gen Oates 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 takes his new position, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is the acting commander of CENTCOM. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

I have no information about the Iraqi chain of command and frankly do not have time to do the research.

This video and others can be viewed at DODvClips. The transcript is at DefenseLink. More videos, briefings, and military news can be seen at The Pentagon Channel.

What is most interesting about this briefing are the differences Oates sees in Iraq from his last posting here in 2006:

GEN. OATES: Ladies and gentlemen, I would just like to make a couple of brief observations. I've been back to Iraq now for about six weeks, and I previously departed here in late 2006. And there's three very distinct changes that I've observed. The first is the security situation is much improved over my last two tours here. In fact, it's indisputable that the level of attacks are phenomenally low, and that's a great development.

The second is the capability, competency and initiative of the Iraqi security forces is significantly better than when I left here in 2006.

And the third most significant thing I've seen different is that there is now a measure of Iraqi government action to address the basic needs of their population, and that was virtually unseen previously.

So we have some work left to go, and I'd like to highlight a couple of those. We are going to continue to work to improve the professionalism of the Iraqi security forces. But quite frankly, in most of my area of southern Iraq, they are already doing great work, most of it through their own initiative.

The second is, I believe we can coach some practical civics classes to some of the local governance to help them understand the sheer mechanics of assessing the Iraqi population's needs and how to go about funding and getting those programs under way.

Third is we need to continue to kill or capture the extremist group leaders and al Qaeda in Iraq, who threaten both the coalition force and the government of Iraq.

And finally, we need to focus on defeating the Iranian malign influence, principally the transfer of lethal munitions that comes largely through southern Iraq.

So we have some work yet to go. I've assigned some focus areas for my division for this year. The first will be that we assist the Iraqi government with achieving fair and safe elections in the fall this year.

The second is we will look at ways we can assist them at the local level in developing economics, so that they can begin a robust employment program for a great number of their males that still lack work.

Third is, we're going to professionalize the Iraqi army. This army, since it's been formed, has been fighting. They did not have the luxury we do of going to schools; they were fighting right out of the box. And now we intend to go back and rework some of those areas. We will work to defeat the Iranian clandestine lethal smuggling network as it proceeds through southern Iraq.

And finally, we will continue to work to defeat al Qaeda's influence and the special group leaders that operate in this area. And that's our focus for this year.

In summary, the improvements Maj. Gen. Oates sees are:

  1. Improved secutity, as evidenced by a lower level of attacks
  2. Improved Iraqi security forces
  3. The Iraqi government is starting to provide basic needs

The first lead to the second, which led to the third. You can have no progress without security, but in the end the Iraqis have to step up.

The things we have still to do are:

  1. Make sure the upcoming elections are free and fair. This is vital because gaining the confidence and trust of the populace is crucial to winning a counterinsurgency.
  2. Assist the Iraqis in their economic development, which means putting more men to work.
  3. Professionalize the Iraqi Army. In other words, take it from a "start up" to where it can not only fight on it's own but earn the respect of the Iraqi people.

Note this and virtually everything else coming out of Iraq against the blatantly false statement Obama still has on his website regarding violence in Iraq and lack of political progress

At great cost, our troops have helped reduce violence in some areas of Iraq, but even those reductions do not get us below the unsustainable levels of violence of mid-2006. Moreover, Iraq's political leaders have made no progress in resolving the political differences at the heart of their civil war.

Maybe Mr "fight the smears" should work on getting his facts straight. No less a source than The New York Times says that "throughout Iraq, violence is at its lowest level in four years." Further, as of three months ago the Iraqis had met 12 of the original 18 benchmarks and have made substantial progress on 5 more. Not exactly "no progress."

What amazes me about our troops is how they are able to perform all sorts of tasks beyond direct warfighting. Winning an insurgency is about a lot more than killing bad guys. It's about building up the local economy and government, and you can't just rely on the State Department and USAID to do that.

Q General Oates, yesterday, General Dubik told the House Armed Services Committee that he felt as though Iraqi ground forces will be able to operate largely autonomously by the middle of next year, by next summer. Based on what you've seen so far there in your area of operations, would you agree with that assessment, in terms of what sort of progress they're making?

GEN. OATES: That's a great question. My observation over the last six weeks, watching the Iraqi army in particular operate in the southern areas and most recently in Maysan province and Amarah, is that they're very capable. They are seeking the initiative in planning their operations. And they just recently completed a very successful operation in Maysan province logistically and with their own planning.

I do believe that they are very capable.

I'm not prepared to give you a date on when they can operate autonomously, but I will tell you that my partner here, General Oothman, operates in his area with very little support from us, and when he needs certain capabilities that he does not possess, he asks and we provide. And I might ask him maybe to assess when he thinks his division might be fully capable without assistance.
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Contrary to popular opinion, their maintenance program has actually gotten much better than what I recall from '06. And so while it's not where they want it to be, it is getting better.

And I would tell you, personally, the rate of change in the Iraqi army is what has impressed me the most. They plan their operations. They consult us but they do plan them. And then they initiate the action.

GEN. OOTHMAN: (Off mike) -- and to be independent in our effort now combating in this battle. We have some of our battalions are fully ready. In Karbala and Najaf, we have the authority over all the matters in Najaf and Karbala -- (inaudible). In the next five days we are going to have the authority of Al Qadisiyah.

The challenge we do face in general in the whole Iraqi army is the logistic and the supplies and the administrative work. For instance, we don't have any medic facilities or hospitals where we could take our injured or killed people to. We don't have the garages or the shops to fix and maintain our vehicles, especially the humvees.

At the beginning, we started concentrating on the battle and we neglected the administrative and logistic work. We are seriously working in concert with coalition forces to establish such administrative institution.

Time and again we hear this about the Iraqi Army. I've listened to just about every press briefing held by a division or brigade commander and they all say the same thing; the problem is not so much in the fighting capability of the Iraqis as it is in their logistics. They simply do not have all that they need. No medical facilities or hospitals is pretty bad.

We can't send them any more money. We can provide advice, but this is something that they're going to have to solve on their own.

Al Pessin gets to the heart of the matter and what most concerns most Americans; did the surge work and when can our troops come home?

As with all American commanders, Gen Oates is cautious in his response and won't provide dates or a timeline.

Q General Oates, this is Al Pessin from Voice of America. Can you tell us what the impact is on your area of the end of the surge and whether you think during the time that you're scheduled to be in Iraq, whether it would be possible to further draw down U.S. forces in your area without endangering the gains that have been made?

GEN. OATES: Sure. Let me start with the impact of the surge. I think the security situation is probably the best we've ever seen it, at least in my area, and I attribute that to three different things all working together. The first is, in fact we have done a great job both with the Iraqis and with coalition forces to really weigh into al Qaeda and the militia groups. They have been severely attrited, and although not completely defeated, they are not the force that they were a year ago.

The second is the capability of the Iraqi forces -- to include their police, but mostly their army -- has significantly improved. And they are largely in control of most of the neighborhoods in Iraq. And then the third thing is that the government of Iraq itself has taken positive steps to reach out to its population. And this can't be discounted. It's a significant impact in that people begin to realize, although they're not where they need to be to deliver essential services, they've made huge strides. And that's a major component of the security situation.

From the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (Essentially the "bible" for our troops in Iraq since it was published in Dec of 2006. Gen. Petraeus led the team that wrote it):

Chapter 6: Developing Host Nation Security Forces

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.

6-6 U.S. and multinational forces may need to help the host nation improve security; however, insurgents can use the presence of foreign forces as a reason to question the HN government's legitimacy. A government reliant on foreign forces for internal security risks not being recognized as legitimate. While combat operations with significant U.S. and multinational participation may be necessary, U.S. combat operations are secondary to enabling the host nation's ability to provide for it's own security.

6-29 Training HN (host nation) security forces is a slow and painstaking process. It does not lend itself to a "quick fix".

Back to the briefing:

GEN. OATES: (continued) With regards to our own troop status, I think right now we're looking at the current situation, and our mission really is to sustain the security environment we have. The next real milestone for me personally is the election period in the fall. I believe that if we can hold the security gains we have and continue to make progress in the areas I've already described, I think it would be an appropriate time at the election to make an assessment of where we're at. And if asked, I'll make that recommendation to my boss. I know that we are in this self-described period of assessment now and observing.

I will caution that the absence of attacks does not necessarily mean you have security. We do have fewer attacks. We're trying to see -- observe this time period to determine whether the security situation will hold.

Q Do you see the potential for further drawdowns as you move later into your time in the country into the winter and next spring?

GEN. OATES: I think the force allocations will be determined based on the situation on the ground. So, if the situation remains in good shape and we're able to continue to make progress with the professionalism of the Iraqi army, especially in the areas that General Oothman and I have described, I think that would be appropriate. Obviously, those decisions will be made by my seniors, but they'll certainly ask me about that and we'll provide an assessment at that time.

"The absence of attacks does not necessarily mean you have security." At first glance this seems to contradict what he said at the beginning, but I think here mostly serves as a caution. We on the right have been (rightly) trumpeting the decrease in the level of violence, and that's all fine and good as far as it goes. We should just be cautious about declaring victory too soon.

On the other side, the left needs to understand that we cannot withdraw the troops too soon, or we risk losing all that we have gained. Whoever wins the White House needs to listen to incoming MNF-Iraq commander Gen. Odierno before making decisions.

What threats remain?

Q General, this is Lisa Burgess with Stars and Stripes. A question for both of you, please. Which would you say is the greatest threat right now, with the understanding that both groups have been attrited, al Qaeda or the special militias?

GEN. OATES: I'll put that to the subject-matter expert first. And then I'll attempt to comment. Which, does he think, is the greatest threat? Or what is the greatest threat?

GEN. OOTHMAN: In my area of operations, I have the al Qaeda organization and I have the militias. In the capital cities of my provinces, I have the militias.

Actually the more threat in my AO are the militias, especially the special forces, Special Groups, they call them. They are trained and equipped by the Iranians.

Those groups, they don't face you in the field. I mean, they put IEDs and they try to stab our forces from the back of the politicians. The militias reach a level. They can't face our Iraqi army. Therefore most of them are in Iran.

Therefore the Iranians, they train them, equip them, provide the necessary materials they need. And they send them back through our borders, to assassinate some of the targets and politicians or our military leaders.

They can't face us, but they have certain missions, or they do have the rockets -- some rocket attacks. They have different kind of groups, some of them to launch rockets, others to put IEDs. Others try to assassinate leaders.

GEN. OATES: I would say currently my greatest concern is al Qaeda, not because they're terribly strong right now but because they remain very virulent. They remain dedicated and set in destruction of both the coalition force and Iraqis. They really don't have any problem attacking anyone, to include all innocent civilians. And so we know that they're actively trying to reenter Iraq and reestablish -- they have been seriously attritted, but they are very virulent and they are very dedicated.

The Shi'a extremist groups are very worrisome. As long as they continue to be supported by external actors, Iran in particular, I believe that they'll practice mischief in Iraq, and that's not helpful. But I believe that they present probably a longer-term threat than al Qaeda to the government of Iraq. And we're dealing with both these threats right now.

MR. WHITMAN: Generals, we have actually gone past the time that we've allocated for this. We certainly appreciate you taking the time. But before we bring it to a close, let me just throw it back to you in case there's any final thoughts that you have before we end this.

GEN. OATES: I appreciate the opportunity today.

It's not by mistake that General Oothman and I are here together. We do -- literally, in our area, everything is done together in partnership, and that's a very fundamental change across Iraq today as well. The Iraqi army is very capable, and I'm very proud to serve along with them. Make no mistake about it; they're taking the initiative in driving most of the operations, at least in my area right now. I remain here as a full partner to assist him in areas where he's still developing -- logistics, medical, intelligence, signal, those kinds of things -- and to provide whatever additional assistance I can to develop his officer corps and his NCO corps. But they are making huge strides.

I believe that this year we have a great opportunity, with the government of Iraq, with the elections beginning in the fall and the continued focus on developing economics, especially employment opportunities; that we can hold this security situation; that it will continue to improve.

And I'm very optimistic about the future.

There is no reason at this point for undue pessimism regarding Iraq. Caution, yes. There are many dangers and things that could go wrong. But we're on the right track and there's no need to change strategy now.

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July 11, 2008

Odierno and Petraeus Confirmed

Yesterday the Senate confirmed Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno for his new position of commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, and Gen. David Petraeus as commander of CENTCOM. The vote for Odierno was 96 - 1, with Petraeus by a vote of 95-2. The Hill reports that "Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) opposed the confirmation of Petraeus, while only Harkin opposed Odierno."

Why did they oppose his confirmation?

Byrd's office released a statement saying his vote against Petraeus's confirmation reflects concern over constant turnover among U.S. commanders in Iraq, as well as Petraeus's "unwillingness to address questions regarding other regional issues, such as in Afghanistan or Iran, during his confirmation hearing."

Byrd also criticized the U.S. military's "stop-loss" policy, which he says is preventing 12,000 service members from leaving the service even though they have fulfilled their obligations.

"Sen. Harkin opposed these nominations because he does not believe that either Gen. Petraeus or Gen. Odierno will take us in the direction we need in Iraq, namely setting a timetable for redeployment of U.S. forces so that our country can begin to more effectively address the very real threat posed by terrorists around the globe," said Harkin spokeswoman Jennifer Mullin.

I'll give Byrd and Harkin this, at least they're honest. On the one hand I am happy to see the Democrats vote for them. On the other I wish they'd be consistent and come out in favor of the policies the two generals have been and will implement.

Most everyone is familiar with Gen. Petraeus. Lt. Gen. Odierno has received much less press, which is understandable, given the way the press operates. You just don't get anything beyond the surface in the mass media.

The short version is that during the "surge", Odierno was to Petraeus what Patton was to Eisenhower. He has been rightly described as "The Patton of Counterinsurgency"

Odierno took command of Multi MNC-Iraq on Dec 14, 1007, and on Feb 14 2008 was succeeded by Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III as part of normal rotation. Odierno had been nominated to become the Army's next vice chief of staff, a four star position. With the forced resignation of Admiral Fallon at CENTCOM, and the promotion of Petraeus to fill that void, someone was needed to command MNF-Iraq. There is no one better suited than Odierno.

Of course, the whackjobs at Code Pink had to stage a protest in the hearing room. Four of their members were arrested, something they brag about on their website. One of them even held up a sign saying "Generals Lie Soldiers Die." This particularly grates because Odierno's son, Army Capt. Anthony K. Odierno, lost his left arm in an August 2004 RPG attack in Iraq.

Petraeus will also be invaluable at CENTCOM, where his main task will be to thwart Iranian expansion. Adm. Fallon failed at this, and went public with his criticism of the administration, which is a big no-no, so was rightly fired (those who think he should not have been relieved of command should consider what they would say if a sitting general publicly criticized a President Obama). Also, if things should get rough with Iran, I can think of nobody better suited to handle sht situation than Gen. Petraeus.

Senator Joe Lieberman issued this fitting statement on their confirmation.

"I am very pleased by the Senate's bipartisan vote today to confirm General David Petraeus as the next Commander of U.S. Central Command, and General Raymond Odierno to become the Commander of Multi-National Forces - Iraq.

"There is no doubt in my mind that General Petraeus and General Odierno are the two best men to assume these two critically important commands.

"General Petraeus has won the admiration and respect of the entire country over the past eighteen months. As commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, he has overseen one of the most dramatic turnarounds in American military history, quite literally seizing victory out of the jaws of defeat. There is no one better qualified or more capable to lead America's brave men and women in uniform in the Middle East, which remains one of the most strategically vital regions of the world for America's national security.

"I also have full confidence in General Odierno. As commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, General Odierno brilliantly adapted General Petraeus' overarching counterinsurgency strategy into operational art. As much as anyone else, he deserves credit for the extraordinary transformation in security conditions in Iraq over the past year.

"In addition, General Odierno's willingness to accept another tour in Iraq -- having only just recently returned to his family in the United States after fifteen months there -- is a testament to his extraordinary patriotism and inspiring dedication to duty. There is no one better qualified to succeed General Petraeus in Baghdad than General Odierno."

The Middle East, and indeed our nation's security, is in good hands with these two at the helm.

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July 6, 2008

This is Encouraging

From today's Sunday Times of London

Iraqis lead final purge of Al-Qaeda

American and Iraqi forces are driving Al-Qaeda in Iraq out of its last redoubt in the north of the country in the culmination of one of the most spectacular victories of the war on terror.

After being forced from its strongholds in the west and centre of Iraq in the past two years, Al-Qaeda's dwindling band of fighters has made a defiant "last stand" in the northern city of Mosul.

A huge operation to crush the 1,200 fighters who remained from a terrorist force once estimated at more than 12,000 began on May 10.

Operation Lion's Roar, in which the Iraqi army combined forces with the Americans' 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment, has already resulted in the death of Abu Khalaf, the Al-Qaeda leader, and the capture of more than 1,000 suspects.

The group has been reduced to hit-and-run attacks, including one that killed two off-duty policemen yesterday, and sporadic bombings aimed at killing large numbers of officials and civilians.

American and Iraqi leaders believe that while it would be premature to write off Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni group has lost control of its last urban base in Mosul and its remnants have been largely driven into the countryside to the south....

Major-General Mark Hertling, American commander in the north, said: "I think we're at the irreversible point."

In February Maj. Gen. Hertling said he had AQI on the run. Looks like he wasn't blowing smoke.

But wait, there's more. From another story in the Times

Al-Qaeda is driven from Mosul bastion after bloody last stand
The murder toll is dropping, the insurgents are on the run. Our correspondent is on the front line as the Iraqi army takes control

Brigadier-General Abdullah Abdul, a senior Iraqi commander, said: "Al-Qaeda in Mosul is pretty much not able to do the attacks that they could do previously. They are doing small attacks and trying to do big ones but they are mostly not succeeding."

The Iraqis and Americans have got Al-Qaeda on the run. How have they come so far, so fast? ON the night of May 9, 87 "target packets" landed on the walnut desk of Abdul, the commander of the Iraqi army's 2nd Division.

The details of each named target were specific. One read: "Action: capture. Characteristics: white hair, hazel eyes, sunburnt skin. Alias: Abu Mohamed. Car: drives a station wagon. Residence: a two-story house painted black (with map attached showing location). Credibility of source: reliable."

By early the next morning - the launch day for Operation Lion's Roar to recapture Mosul - hundreds of police and army checkpoints had been set up across the city.

Iraqi security forces began conducting raids to round up the targets in the packets on Abdul's desk. Many of them were detained in the first two days. Two weapons caches were found and cleared.

It quickly became clear that the Iraqi army and the Americans' 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment were combining their forces effectively. American tanks formed cordons while Iraqi soldiers went from house to house.

First they said the surge wouldn't work. They were proven wrong. They they said the Iraqi government would never meet the benchmarks. They've met most of them. They still denigrate the Iraqi Army. It looks like the critics are being proven wrong on this one too.

Update

This story in USA Today is also a must-read

Security in Iraq continues to improve even after the withdrawal of nearly 25% of U.S. combat brigades, increasing the prospects of further cuts in American forces.

Although U.S. commanders are cautious about predicting further withdrawals, interviews with military experts and recent official statements indicate growing optimism about the potential to pull out more forces.

"I believe the momentum we have is not reversible," said Jack Keane, a retired Army vice chief of staff who helped develop the Iraq strategy adopted by President Bush in January 2007.

There will be "significant reductions in 2009 whoever becomes president," said Keane, who regularly consults with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki echoed Keane's optimism Saturday by declaring that "we defeated" the terrorists in Iraq. U.S. commanders remain cautious.

It was only a year and a half ago that we seemed on the verge of losing. It just shows how wars can sometimes be turned around by those determined to do so.

Posted by Tom at 8:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 1, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 30 June 2008 - Support Needed from the Central Government

This briefing is by Col Lewis Craparotta, Commander of U.S. Marine Corps Regimental Combat Team 1. He is connected via telecommunications link to the Pentagon from Camp Fallujah, which is in the Anbar Province of western Iraq.

Regimental Combat Team 1 is part of Multi-National Force-West. MNF-W is headquartered by the U.S. I Marine Expeditionary Force. Their area of operations include the cities of Ar Ramadi and Fallujah.

Col Craparotta reports to the commander of I MEF, Maj. Gen. John Kelly. Kelly 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.

This video and others can be viewed at DODvClips. The transcript is at DefenseLink. More videos, briefings, and military news can be seen at The Pentagon Channel.

While many things were discussed, it seems that the ,main theme of this briefing is that localities in Col Craparott's area of responsibility need more support from the central government:

Q Hi Colonel, it's Courtney from NBC News again. Just to clarify, so the support that the area is looking for from the government of Iraq, is that all monetary or is there another -- any other kind of support that's still lacking? And is that the number one thing that you're hearing from the sheikhs when you go out and meet with them, or what are their main concerns? Are they concerned that the U.S. is going to draw down and the violence will return? Could you talk a little bit about those meetings that you have with them?

COL. CRAPAROTTA: Yes, Courtney. I think they're concerned about funds and the availability of funds down to the local governments. And we're still working through the whole process of how the money actually gets from the provincial government down to the local governments. But we're working that very hard and I think we're on- track in that area.

The other element of support that we need comes from the ministries. And I will tell you that we need support from the Ministry of Interior, for example, when it comes to our police force. We're short vehicles; we're short other resources. So again, some of the support from the ministries directly to the province have been lacking. And we expect that that support should pick up as we transition to provincial control and we tie that link between the provincial government and the national government.

Q Has this lack of resources caused any kind of operational problem? I mean, has the Iraqis -- have they not been able to complete a mission or have they had to borrow things from the United States?

COL. CRAPAROTTA: Well, we've been providing them training and support all along. That's part of our mission. But we're at a point now where if we can get this additional support from the central government, that in my view the -- certainly the policemen that I work with, we would see a -- we could see a dramatic increase in their effectiveness with some additional support.

Q Colonel, it's Mike Mount again from CNN. Keeping on the theme with this support, is this -- what's the cause of the delay? Is this the continued friction between -- you know, a Sunni-Shi'a thing between the two governments? I mean, why do you think the support will come after the turnover and why hasn't their been support up to now?

COL. CRAPAROTTA: I think, quite frankly, it's a matter of priorities.

And if you look at the provinces, the 18 provinces across the country, the priority is probably not as high in Al Anbar, based on the success we've had in the security situation here.

Therefore they've put some resources in other provinces that have been higher up on the priority list. But again I expect that some of that will change when we transfer to PIC(Provincial Iraqi Control).

There was more along these lines but you get the point. It's all part of what Clautzwitz called the friction of war. Yes we've made much progress since the "surge", but there are still problems and things that we and our Iraqi partners need to do better.

It will come as not surprise that another concern is how soon the Iraqis can take control of their own affairs

Q Colonel, you were pretty optimistic in your opening statement about the Iraqi police. I'm just wondering, have they caught up in terms of training to the Iraqi army? And how would you assess their readiness? And what more needs to be done?

COL. CRAPAROTTA: I think the police, certainly the police here in Fallujah and the police in Ramadi, are ready to take the lead.

I will give you an example. Yesterday, certainly, we sat down with the police and the army and talked about this incident in Karmah. And we decided there was a need to conduct an operation that has been -- was completed this morning. And the Fallujah District police chief, Colonel Faisal, when I asked him what he needed to execute the operation he told me that he would just as soon I watch my students go out there and execute and that he was confident he could do it, and if I was available to provide a QRF, that that would be enough.
...

Q Colonel, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News.

The Iraqi operation down in Basra required a shifting of forces within Iraq by the Iraqis themselves. How does that affect your situation or the security posture for your people inside Anbar province?

COL. CRAPAROTTA: Well, initially, we had some concern, because again, we're at a point where the surge was over here in AO East, and we were relying heavily on the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police. And when we transitioned forces outside of Anbar, we really reduced the amount of Iraqi army available to me by two-thirds. But the Iraqi police have been able to get the job done. And I know I keep saying it, but I have complete confidence in the police force, and I think their record over the past four or five, six months certainly speaks for itself if you look at the security situation here in AO East.

And this lead to a discussion on the impact of increased effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces

Q Yeah, I was -- Colonel, it's Luis Martinez again. I was going to continue on this line of questioning. Sound like a prosecutor -- (chuckles) - sorry about that. With the Iraqi forces no longer being -- with that brigade still remaining in Basra, how -- are you increasing patrols? I mean, you said that you were increasing reliance on the Iraqi police, but how does that affect your posture, in the sense that obviously they have different capabilities and different missions? COL. CRAPAROTTA: Well, without going into too much of what we're doing operationally, we are reducing some of our presence in the urban areas and relying more on the police there.

Good news, and hopefully the Iraqi forces will be able to keep a lid on the violence and destroy AQI if they raise their head.

The Colonel's closing statement is worth reprinting

COL. CRAPAROTTA: ...I'd just maybe close by saying that I hope as the Fourth of July approaches that everybody's as proud of the service of the fighting men and women as I am. They continue to do a tremendous job over here under very difficult circumstances. And they've earned both the respect and the admiration of the Iraqi people here in eastern Anbar.

The cooperation with the State Department and the work of the Embedded Reconstruction Teams cannot go unrecognized here today. They've enabled success, and the accomplishments that we've made in governance, economics and reconstruction would not have been possible without them. And I expect that their role will increase in the coming months as we transition to provincial Iraqi control.

And then lastly -- and I've said it several times -- is our Iraqi partners. These are brave leaders, and they see a future for this province and this country, and they work every day with that future in mind. They're sheikhs; they're soldiers; they're policemen, mayors, city council members. Each of them has stepped up for the people and the future of this country.

And we know the fight's not over, but we're going to win the fight together, with the support of the Iraqi people. And success for us is simply providing these citizens with the greatest opportunity to enjoy a safe and a prosperous future here in al Anbar.

So thank you very much.

Craparotta's mention of the vital work don by the ERT's illustrates the point that reconstruction facilitates reconciliation and solidifies security gains.

Reconstruction in Anbar was also discussed at a GRD Roundtable briefing in Iraq the other day. Col. Robert Vasta said that the reason why reconstruction is proceeding is that now there is security. No security, no rebuilding. That and partnership with the Iraqis are responsible for recent successes. 21 minutes into the video he says that improvements in security are "...impossible to emphasize how important that has been to the reconstruction of Iraq"

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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
counterinsurgency operations....

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.

Posted by Tom at 9:33 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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.

This and other videos can be found at DODvClips. The transcript is at DefenseLink. More videos, briefings, and military news can be seen at The Pentagon Channel.

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.

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Iraq Briefing - 07 January 2008 - Col Charles Flynn

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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.

This video and others can be viewed at DODvClips. The transcript is at DefenseLink. More videos, briefings, and military news can be seen at The Pentagon Channel.

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

  1. The adoption of a true counterinsurgency strategy
  2. Improved Iraqi security forces
  3. 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

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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.

This video and others can be viewed at DODvClips. The transcript is at DefenseLink. More videos, briefings, and military news can be seen at The Pentagon Channel.

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.

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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.

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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.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The PentagonChannel website also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

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.

Posted by Tom at 9:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel website also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

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.


Posted by Tom at 9:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 27, 2008

Yes We Are Safer

To the left it is an article of faith that we are no safer today than we were on Sept 12 2001. Nothing the Bush Administration has done matters one bit. Their primary argument seems to be that Iraq is a distraction from the "real" war.

John Hinderaker of Power Line has done us all a service by actually researching terrorist attacks against the United States at home and abroad. Here's what he found:

On the stump, Barack Obama usually concludes his comments on Iraq by saying, "and it hasn't made us safer." It is an article of faith on the left that nothing the Bush administration has done has enhanced our security, and, on the contrary, its various alleged blunders have only contributed to the number of jihadists who want to attack us.

Empirically, however, it seems beyond dispute that something has made us safer since 2001. Over the course of the Bush administration, successful attacks on the United States and its interests overseas have dwindled to virtually nothing.

Some perspective here is required. While most Americans may not have been paying attention, a considerable number of terrorist attacks on America and American interests abroad were launched from the 1980s forward, too many of which were successful. What follows is a partial history:

1988 February: Marine Corps Lt. Colonel Higgens, Chief of the U.N. Truce Force, was kidnapped and murdered by Hezbollah.

December: Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York was blown up over Scotland, killing 270 people, including 35 from Syracuse University and a number of American military personnel.

1991
November: American University in Beirut bombed.

1993
January: A Pakistani terrorist opened fire outside CIA headquarters, killing two agents and wounding three.

February: World Trade Center bombed, killing six and injuring more than 1,000.

1995
January: Operation Bojinka, Osama bin Laden's plan to blow up 12 airliners over the Pacific Ocean, discovered.

November: Five Americans killed in attack on a U.S. Army office in Saudi Arabia.

1996
June: Truck bomb at Khobar Towers kills 19 American servicemen and injures 240.

June: Terrorist opens fire at top of Empire State Building, killing one.

1997
February: Palestinian opens fire at top of Empire State Building, killing one and wounding more than a dozen.

November: Terrorists murder four American oil company employees in Pakistan.

1998
January: U.S. Embassy in Peru bombed.

August: Simultaneous bomb attacks on U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed more than 300 people and injured over 5,000.

1999
October: Egypt Air flight 990 crashed off the coast of Massachusetts, killing 100 Americans among the more than 200 on board; the pilot yelled "Allahu Akbar!" as he steered the airplane into the ocean.

2000
October: A suicide boat exploded next to the U.S.S. Cole, killing 17 American sailors and injuring 39.

2001
September: Terrorists with four hijacked airplanes kill around 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

December: Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber," tries to blow up a transatlantic flight, but is stopped by passengers.

The September 11 attack was a propaganda triumph for al Qaeda, celebrated by a dismaying number of Muslims around the world. Everyone expected that it would draw more Muslims to bin Laden's cause and that more such attacks would follow. In fact, though, what happened was quite different: the pace of successful jihadist attacks against the United States slowed, decelerated further after the onset of the Iraq war, and has now dwindled to essentially zero. Here is the record:

2002
October: Diplomat Laurence Foley murdered in Jordan, in an operation planned, directed and financed by Zarqawi in Iraq, perhaps with the complicity of Saddam's government.

2003
May: Suicide bombers killed 10 Americans, and killed and wounded many others, at housing compounds for westerners in Saudi Arabia.

October: More bombings of United States housing compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia killed 26 and injured 160.

2004
There were no successful attacks inside the United States or against American interests abroad.

2005
There were no successful attacks inside the United States or against American interests abroad.

2006
There were no successful attacks inside the United States or against American interests abroad.

2007
There were no successful attacks inside the United States or against American interests abroad.

2008
So far, there have been no successful attacks inside the United States or against American interests abroad.

I have omitted from the above accounting a few "lone wolf" Islamic terrorist incidents, like the Washington, D.C. snipers, the Egyptian who attacked the El Al counter in Los Angeles, and an incident or two when a Muslim driver steered his vehicle into a crowd. These are, in a sense, exceptions that prove the rule, since the "lone wolves" were not, as far as we know, in contact with international Islamic terrorist groups and therefore could not have been detected by surveillance of terrorist conversations or interrogations of al Qaeda leaders.

It should also be noted that the decline in attacks on the U.S. was not the result of jihadists abandoning the field. Our government stopped a number of incipient attacks and broke up several terrorist cells, while Islamic terrorists continued to carry out successful attacks around the world, in England, Spain, Russia, Pakistan, Israel, Indonesia and elsewhere.

So if we're not safer, where are the terrorist attacks? i

As for Iraq, I can do no better than quote the words of General Petraeus himself as he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 8 and explained why winning in Iraq helps us defeat al Qaeda everywhere, and helps us defeat terrorism in general:

As we combat AQI we must remember that doing so not only reduces a major source of instability in Iraq, it also weakens an organization that Al Qaeda's senior leaders view as a tool to spread its influence and foment regional instability. Osama bin laden and Ayman al- Zawahiri have consistently advocated exploiting the situation in Iraq, and we have also seen Al Qaeda-Iraq involved in destabilizing activities in the wider Mideast region....

...withdrawing too many forces too quickly could jeopardize the progress of the past year; and performing the necessary tasks in Iraq will require sizable conventional forces, as well as special operation forces and adviser teams.

The strategic considerations include recognition that: the strain on the U.S. military, especially on its ground forces, has been considerable; a number of the security challenges inside Iraq are also related to significant regional and global threats; a failed state in Iraq would pose serious consequences for the greater fight against Al Qaeda, for regional stability, for the already existing humanitarian crisis in Iraq, and for the efforts to counter malign Iranian influence.

After weighing these factors, I recommended to my chain of command that we continue the drawdown in the surge to the combat forces and that upon the withdrawal of the last surge brigade combat team in July, we undertake a 45-day period of consolidation and evaluation. At the end of that period, we will commence a process of assessment to examine the conditions on the ground and over time determine when we can make recommendations for further reductions. This process will be continuous, with recommendations for further reductions made as conditions permit.

This approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable, however it does provide the flexibility those of us on the ground need to preserve the still-fragile security gains our troopers have fought so far and sacrifice so much to achieve.

With this approach, the security achievements of 2007 and early 2008 can form a foundation for the gradual establishment of sustainable security in Iraq. This is not only important to the 27 million citizens of Iraq, it is also vitally important to those in the Gulf region, to the citizens of the United States, and to the global community.

It clearly is in our national interests to help Iraq prevent the resurgence of Al Qaeda in the heart of the Arab world, to help Iraq resist Iranian encroachment on its sovereignty, to avoid renewed ethno-sectarian violence that could spill over Iraq's borders and make the existing refugee crisis even worse, and to enable Iraq to expand its role in the regional and global economies."

Posted by Tom at 9:58 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 15, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 14 May 2008 - "The enemy does fear us"

This briefing is by U.S. Army Colonel Wayne Grigsby, Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.

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 Grigsby 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 Forces - Iraq, who reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until last month. 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.

This video and others can be viewed at DODvClips. The transcript is here.

Grigsby's 3rd Brigade is a "surge brigade", which I think means it is not normally part of the 3rd ID, but came in as an "extra", when we bolstered our forces from 15 to 20 brigades the first half of 2007. They deployed in March of '07 to the Madain qadha just east of Baghdad as the third of five surge brigades. As such, they are nearing the end of their 15 month deployment, and are due a well-deserved rest back home.

This past February I featured Col Grisby in one of my "Iraq Reports", so you can go back and view that one and compare it with this one.

In his introduction, Col Grigsby gave a strong account of his unit's success, but avoided giving direct answers to the reporters questions.

The questions from the reporters were smart and good. The Col tended to fall back on talking points when answering, however. I'm not sure if this is because of instructions from above, concern on his part about saying something that gets him in trouble, or whether he doesn't want to give sensitive information to the enemy (who no doubt watches these broadcasts).

Anyway, here are the parts that I found to be the most informative:

COL. GRIGSBY: ...When we arrived, violent crime was out of control. Shop owners were extorted by criminal elements, and we were getting attacked about four to five times a day.

In our time here, murders have declined by greater than 50 percent, from 631 in '06 to 253 in '07. Shop owners are selling their goods in revitalized markets and we are now down to maybe one attack every other day.

We accomplished this by conducting doctrinally correct, sound, full-spectrum counterinsurgency operations on the fundamental base of conducting aggressive, intel-driven combat offensive operations. We wanted to bloody the nose of the enemy and make them fear us. We did bloody the nose of the enemy and the enemy does fear us, both coalition forces and Iraqi security forces.

We never forgot what a U.S. Army heavy brigade combat team is built to do: to close with and destroy the enemy. We killed 160 enemy combatants, detained more than 500 suspected criminals, 47 of which were division and brigade high-level individuals, or "most wanted." And we cleared every enemy sanctuary that existed prior to our arrival.
...

But beyond killing and capturing the enemy, we knew that we needed the good people of the Madain qadha to trust and respect us. While we were conducting 25 air assaults into enemy sanctuaries in the dead of the night, we were building relationships with the townspeople that we lived with as neighbors in the major population centers. Since we worked out of eight patrol bases and four joint security sites in the middle of population centers, we never commuted to work. We did not ride to work. When a combat patrol began each day, Sledgehammer Soldiers were already among their neighbors, living with them.

We built these relationships by trust, by treating local residents with dignity and respect and giving them their communities back. By taking extremists and criminals off the streets in Jisr Diyala, Wahida, Salman Pak, and Nahrawan, we emboldened the good people to step back into the traditional roles of leadership, leadership by the tribal leaders, leadership by local governmental officials rather than leadership by fear where individuals use murder, intimidation to control the masses.

The major population centers of the qadha all now have revitalized markets, health care facilities, water distribution systems, schools, and even some windmills.

These tactics are straight out of the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. If you're somehow not aware, this is the book written by a team led by then Lt. Gen. David Petraeus in 2006, and released in December of that year. It is the "bible" of U.S. troops in Iraq, and following its prescriptions is a major reason for our astounding success since then.

Continuing with Col. Grigsby's introduction

But with all positives in Iraq, our hold on this momentum and these gains is tenuous. To make these tenuous gains permanent, we will continue to hunt the enemy where he sleeps and we will continue to assist our Iraqi partners where they look to make improvements. We will continue to shake hands and build relationships during the daytime and kill or capture the extremists at night. We will never forget what a heavy brigade combat team is built to do. As I said earlier, we have been here for 15 months, so we are scheduled to soon redeploy. We have a lot of work to accomplish before we depart, however. We are integrating another combat-tested brigade, Colonel Pat White's 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, the Iron Brigade, into the Madain qadha, and they are iron-strong. ...

The Sledgehammer Brigade is the most deployed brigade in the Army, and our Sledgehammer Soldiers can be proud that we are leaving this country in a far better condition than we arrived. Just a couple days, a couple of the kids came up to me and said, "Sir, you know the difference between last time and this time is no kidding. We see the difference. We see the transformation from 15 months ago today. We see the gains that we've made."

I mentioned earlier that Col. Grigsby tended to evade directly answering many of the reporters questions, and that is true. But what is also interesting is that none of the reporters directly challenged his assessment of the situation.

The first exchange is representative:

Q Colonel, it's Andrew Gray from Reuters. Could you tell us something about the strength of Iraqi forces in your area? What kind of size of Iraqi security presence do you have and how capable are they? The fact that a new brigade is coming in to replace you, does that indicate they're not yet ready to take over security in that area?

COL. GRIGSBY: Well, that's a great question. We have some great Iraqi security forces in the Madain qadha. I was here in OIF 2, where we were just starting with the Iraqi security forces, and I can tell you over the last 15 months I see some great gains, the best I've seen in 37 months of combat.

We have an Iraqi National Police brigade that we focus a lot of effort on, the 3-1 National Police commanded by Brigadier General Emad. And they are the center focus of that Marne Dauntless operation. And they're conducting independent operations. He has an intel network and he goes out and he kills or captures extremists along with the 3-1 Cav and now 1-35 Armor.

We also have a great Iraqi army brigade that came into the southern portion of our battlespace which is a known brigade, the 35th, out of Baghdad. They came out to the Madain qadha -- saw the great gains. And they're keeping the southern portion of our battlespace free of the Sunni extremists. They're doing a great job.

And we continue to work with the Iraqi police. We will continue to partner with them. We'll continue to help them with their community policing within the towns so that when the common Iraqi comes out of their house, they will see that guy on the beat.

And we can't forget about the Sons of Iraq, the 7,000 Sons of Iraq, that has helped us with security, and their support in assisting the Iraqi security forces within the Madain.

And we are one of the surge brigades, but we're the only brigade that is being back-filled. And 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division will come out here and support and assist the Iraqi security forces within the Madain and take it to the next level.

Hope that answers your question.

Q Sure. Just to follow up, though, Colonel, does the fact that you need to be back-filled by another brigade indicate that they still have some way to go? What do they still need to do before they can take over security for their own area?

COL. GRIGSBY: I think it indicates that people see that the Madain qadha's a key piece of terrain. Before we came here there was maybe one or two companies coming across on the east side of the river -- Sunni extremists, Shi'a extremists and Persian influence were doing what they wanted to.

They no longer can do that. The Madain qadha has a government that's standing up. The Madain qadha has 70 percent agriculture, which was shown by a farmers' co-op we've done just two weekends ago, where over 1,500 farmers came and worked.

There's a lot of ways to go out here, not only with security, but also with the capacity build, with governance and economics. And the Baghdad government is starting to see, and they're bringing $86.1 million out here to help us out. I think we were backfilled because we see this as a key piece of terrain and we see that this also is a door into Baghdad and we can continue to interdict the accelerants, if they are out there, that may try to threaten Baghdad.

He didn't really answer Andrew's question, which means that although the Iraqis are making progress they're not ready yet to fully take over.

As for the gains being fragile (read "reversible"), this has been stated by commanders at all levels for months. I suppose you can compare it to WWII in late 1944. Things looked good for the allies, but as we discovered the enemy still had surprises for us; the Germans with what was termed the "Battle of the Bulge", and the Japanese with the kamikaze.

Lastly, this important information about R 'n R for the troops when they get home

Q Colonel, Nathan Hodge with Jane's Defence Weekly.

You mentioned, in your opening statement, a brigade had been deployed 41 months since 2002. You also mentioned the utility of a heavy brigade combat team in these kinds of operations.

When brigade returns back to home station, will you see the need for any kind of focus on things like the traditional operations that you would have -- high-end warfighting? What kinds of things does the brigade need to focus on when it returns to home station?

COL. GRIGSBY: We always need to remember that we're a heavy brigade combat team. But I tell you what, these boys have been fighting for 15 months. And as we go home, we're going to go home. We're going to give them a 48-hour pass.

We're going to go through 10 half-days deliberate training, dictated by Major General Rick Lynch, on 10 half-days of reintegration training. As we get all the soldiers back into the Fort Benning, back into Fort Benning and their family members, and make sure that's straight.

And then we'll give them 30 days of leave or more, and they'll come back off of leave rested.

We'll do some leadership changes, and then we'll start conducting some individual training.

But during that first six months, these soldiers won't train at night. These soldiers will have Thursday afternoons off, called Marne family time, and these soldiers won't train on the weekends. So we get these guys back with their families. That's the most important thing.

And then as the leadership changes over in the December-January time frame, we'll start it again, but we'll start off like a heavy brigade always starts off. We'll focus on marksmanship, killing what we shoot at. We'll focus on maneuver. All this stuff, we'll focus on synchronized and indirect fire and attack aviation. Everything that built a fundamental base of this heavy brigade combat team.

And just as a side note, as we go back, this brigade on 17 February made its reenlistment objectives on 17 February, five months into the fiscal year. We made that along with the great 3rd ID. So we have soldiers not only that want to stay in the Army, they want to stay at Kelly Hill and continue to get after it. And I couldn't be more proud of them.

That's time off well deserved.

Bottom line, nothing in this briefing leads me away from my oft-stated conclusion that our gains are real and if current trends continue we will win, which means a stable, at least somewhat democratic Iraq that is an American ally.

Note: I've received a report about getting an error message when leaving comments. If you do get an error message (not "pending") please do me a favor and send email to me at redhunter43@yahoo.com Thank you.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 26, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 23 April 2008 - Meet the New Commander of MNC-Iraq

This briefing is by the new commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin III. Austin replaced Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno in February 2008, who at the time had been appointed Vice-Chief of Staff of the Army. This Wednesday Odierno was appointed commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, the position now held by Gen. David Petraeus. Petraeus, in turn, has been appointed the next commander of CENTCOM. Both of these changes require Senate confirmation and so even if approved they will not take their new jobs until later this summer.

As the second-highest commander in Iraq, Austin reports directly to Gen. Petraeus. Petraeus reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until last month. Until Petraeus is confirmed, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is acting commander of CENTCOM. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This is Lt. Gen. Austin's first press briefing as commander of MNC-Iraq.

This video and others can be viewed at DODvClips. For some reason the transcript is not on the Defenselink site. I am trying to get one from Federal News Service, and if I do will post it or excerpts here.

Until then, please watch the video in its entirely. These briefings are good sources of information about what is happening in Iraq(which are also at The Pentagon Channel). The should be used to complement what we get from mainstream media and independent journalist-bloggers. Each source counter-checks and counter-balances the other.

Posted by Tom at 12:26 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 23, 2008

Petraeus to CENTCOM, Odierno to MNF-Iraq

Today we have excellent news coming from the Pentagon. From CNN

Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has been chosen to become chief of U.S. Central Command, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday

Petraeus would replace Adm. William Fallon, who said last month that he was resigning. Fallon said widespread, but false, reports that he was at odds with the Bush administration over Iran had made his job impossible.

In addition, Gates said, Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the Multinational Corps-Iraq -- the No. 2 position in Iraq -- is being nominated to fill Petraeus' post. Odierno has been home from Iraq for only a couple of months but has agreed to return, Gates said.

The plan is for Petraeus to leave Iraq in late summer or early fall, Gates said, to ensure a smooth transition and plenty of time for Odierno to prepare.

Lt. Gen Odierno was slated to become the next Vice-Chief of Staff, but that is obviously now off.

Anyone who has followed the war in Iraq knows that these two men were the architects of our success in 2007. Along with a few others like Frederick Kagan and Jack Keane, they designed and implemented what is popularly known as the "surge".

Everyone is familiar with Gen. Petraeus. Odierno less so. Here's the short version for the uninitiated; Odierno was to Petraeus what Patton was to Eisenhower. Odierno is, in fact, known as the "Patton of Counterinsurgency".

I've blogged quite a bit about Petraeus and Odierno, and have covered most of their press briefings and/or appearances before Congress. Go to the sidebar under "Categories" and choose "Iraq" and "Iraq II 2007 - 2008".

Both commanders will have their work cut out for them. Adm. Fallon failed at CENTCOM in what was arguably his most important task; stopping Iranian interference in Iraq. His successor, Gen Abizaid, failed in this as well (Contrary to what the leftist blogosphere said, no Fallon was not the lone sane guy preventing the Bush Administration from bombing Iran). Petraeus succeeded in Iraq where his predecessors Sanchez and Casey failed, so he certainly has experience in saving losing situations.

As for Odierno, he is well suited to taking over command of MNF-Iraq. As he said during a press conference (I forget which, so sorry no link), he "got the memo" regarding the need to adopt true counterinsurgency warfare. He did a masterful job as commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, coordinating action between the divisional commanders, setting policy, implementing the "surge", and allocating resources.

I will have much more to say about this in the months to come. Both will have to be confirmed by Congress, and so will appear in testimony.

Richard Fernandez ("Wretchard") had this to say

Gen Petraeus has been nominated to head CENTCOM, according to the Washington Post. And Gen Odierno, his deputy, will take over command of ground forces in Iraq. I think this news will be received with great alarm and trepidation in Teheran.

As I've written in the past, I don't think an invasion or bombing campaign of Iran is in the works. What I think will happen (and it's just my own opinion) is that Petraeus plans take a hammer to all the places where Iran has poked its finger; turn its own allies against it with a combination of targeted force and politics.

More important than his battlefield successes in Iraq may be the implied victory in Pentagon politics that his nomination to CENTCOM chief suggests. It's important to remember that before the Surge, Petraeus' ideas were on the margin. Now they are in the mainstream.

Now it's the Democrats who need to "get the memo" about what's now mainstream.

There's also a great roundup of opinion over at Small Wars Journal. Read the whole thing, but here are two quotes:

Max Boot: Odierno spent the year from early 2007 to early 2008 working closely with Petraeus to supervise the implementation of the surge. They were by far the most successful team of commanders we have had in Iraq-potentially the Grant/Sherman or Eisenhower/Patton of this long conflict.

William Kristol: The allegedly lame duck Bush administration has--if this report is correct--hit a home run. CENTCOM is the central theater of the war on terror, and the president is putting our best commander in charge of it. What Odierno achieved as day-to-day commander in Iraq was amazing.

Thursday Update

The Wall Street Journal approves


This means that both men will be able to build on the Iraq success of the last year, without losing time as new commanders learn the ropes. It also means that General Petraeus won't face a superior at Centcom agitating that he withdraw troops before Iraqis are ready to handle their own security. That was the case with former Centcom chief, Admiral William Fallon, who recently resigned with a well-deserved White House push. As a theater commander with a direct line to the Defense Secretary and President, General Petraeus also won't have to answer to service chiefs jealous of his success and resources....

If confirmed by the Senate, the pair will lead their commands into 2009 and the next Presidency. This means the next President will get the candid advice of Generals who will not want to jeopardize hard-won progress with a too-hasty withdrawal. As patriots, they will of course follow civilian orders. But knowing first-hand the sacrifice of their soldiers, they well appreciate the consequences for Army morale if the U.S. fails in Iraq. Who knows: Barack Obama might even listen if General Petraeus explains why retreat in Iraq would make victory in Afghanistan harder, not easier.

Now compare Sen. Harry Reid's statement on these promotions with that of Sen. Joe Lieberman. Here's Lieberman (via The Weekly Standard)

"I applaud Secretary Gates' recommendation to nominate General David Petraeus to become the next Commander of U.S. Central Command, and General Raymond Odierno to become the Commander of Multi-National Forces - Iraq. There is no doubt in my mind that General Petraeus and General Odierno are the absolute best men to take on these two critically important assignments.

"General Petraeus has won the admiration and respect of the entire country over the past fifteen months. As commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, he has overseen one of the most dramatic turnarounds in American military history, quite literally seizing victory out of the jaws of defeat in Iraq. There is no one better qualified or more capable to lead America's brave men and women in uniform in the Middle East, which remains one of the most strategically vital regions of the world for America's national security.

"I also strongly support the nomination of General Odierno. As commander of Multi-National Corps Iraq, General Odierno brilliantly adapted General Petraeus' overarching counterinsurgency strategy into operational art. As much as anyone else, he deserves credit for the extraordinary transformation in security conditions in Iraq over the past year.

"In addition, General Odierno's willingness to accept another tour in Iraq -- having only just returned to his family in the United States after fifteen months there -- is a testament to his extraordinary patriotism and inspiring dedication to duty. There is no one better qualified to succeed General Petraeus in Baghdad than General Odierno.

And here's Reid

The next CENTCOM commander and field commander in Iraq will have to help the next President with a number of critically important challenges: making America more secure, restoring America's power and influence in the world, fixing our costly strategy in Iraq, and articulating a more effective strategy for winning in Afghanistan and defeating Al Qaeda in Pakistan....Our ground forces' readiness and the battles in Afghanistan and against al Qaeda in Pakistan have suffered as a result of the current costly Iraq strategy. These challenges will require fresh, independent and creative thinking and, if directed to by a new President, a commitment to implementing major changes in strategy...The Senate will carefully examine these nominations and I will be looking for credible assurances of a strong commitment to implementing a more effective national security strategy.

As Michael Goldfarb points out, the statement is so political that Reid can't manage "a word of thanks or praise for the remarkable job Petraeus has done in Iraq."

Tuesday Update

This article in the LA Times (h/t SWJ blog) describes perfectly why Odierno is the right general to succeed Petraeus

When Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno began his second tour of duty in Iraq late in 2006 as the war's No. 2 commander, he was handed a battle plan that he and his staff quickly determined was out of touch with reality -- a set of precise timetables for handing over whole provinces to Iraqi security forces, regardless of their readiness.

"This race to victory based on a timeline did not pass the common-sense test," said a top Odierno aide, citing the threat of widespread violence.

So Odierno made a fateful move: He challenged his boss, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., to change the strategy. It was an opening salvo in the behind-the-scenes battle over what became known as the "surge."

And Odierno's challenge, though initially spurned, goes a long way toward explaining why he was nominated last week to succeed Army Gen. David H. Petraeus as the overall commander in Iraq.

The tall, intimidating artilleryman with a shaved head and a grave bearing was an early believer in what is now basic U.S. policy in Iraq. And he has proved he will stand up for it under fire.

Odierno's commitment to the new approach is all the stronger because he embraces it with the fervor of a convert. During his first tour in Iraq, in 2003 and 2004, critics charged that his dedication to overwhelming force and firepower was the antithesis of counterinsurgency doctrine.

As a result, although Petraeus has become the face of the war, it is Odierno who more truly mirrors the American military's experience in Iraq.

Read the whole thing

Posted by Tom at 9:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 15, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 14 April 2008 - "From Clear to Hold and Build"

This briefing is by Marine Colonel Pat Malay, commander of Regimental Combat Team 5, and Mr. Robert Carrington, who is the Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team leader.

They are part of Multinational Force West, and began their current tour in January of this year. MNF-W is headquartered by the U.S. II Marine Expeditionary Force. Their area of operations include the cities of Ar Ramadi and Fallujah. Maj. Gen. John F. Kelly serves as commanding general for II Marine Expeditionary Force.

Maj. Gen. Kelly 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. Petraeus reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until last month. Until a permanent replacement is found, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is acting commander of CENTCOM. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This video and others can be viewed at DODvClips. The transcript is here.

Here are what I found to be the most interesting parts of the briefing

Q Sir, it's Kristin Roberts with Reuters. I'm hoping you can give us a little detail about your efforts to incorporate the CLCs or the Sons of Iraq, the local folks there, into the Iraqi security forces or other government jobs, specifically how many want to be transitioned into the ISF and how many have been already.

COL. MALAY: All right. Well, I need to point out to you right off the bat that the Sons of Iraq are common to the Ramadi-Fallujah area. In Al Anbar, we progressed way past that months ago, and we have Iraqi policemen, we have provincial security forces, we have Iraqi highway patrol and the Iraqi army. That constitutes the security forces that we work with out here.

Getting the population involved in it's own defense is a primary goal of counterinsurgency. Because of the difficulties and time involved in getting Iraqi Police (IP) and Iraqi Army (IA) units up and running, one of the things Petraeus did was start a "Concerned Local Citizen" groups throughout Iraq. These were essentially neighborhood watch programs on steroids. A few months ago the Iraqis renamed them Sons of Iraq. The original CLCs grew out of the Anbar Awakening movement.

The idea was to get something for neighborhood defense up and running asap, and then later recruit from the CLCs to build IP or IA units. What Col Malay is saying is that they have gone through the CLC/Sons of Iraq stage and have already turned them into IP or IA units.

Q Hi, Colonel. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. You spoke about the successes you're having in some of the bigger cities in your area of operations, but I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about the more rural areas that your Marines have been moving into in recent weeks, specifically down in the southwestern part, near Rutbah. Can you talk about the economic situation there? And then, are you seeing foreign fighters continuing to flow into that area, and weapons? Can you update us on that situation?

COL. MALAY: Certainly, Courtney. You know, we're still very much working the clear, hold, build aspect of the counterinsurgency. We're well past clear in all of the areas, to include Rutbah, and now what we're concentrating on is hold and build. The hold is fulcrumed on how well the Iraqi security forces are able to integrate into the city areas and then extend out into those rural areas that you're talking about.
...

I wanted to comment quickly about the foreign fighters. Yes, they're still out there and we're still running into them, and we're finding them -- they're hard to find. They're hard to fix in place because they're running from us. But once we find them and we fix them, they're very easy to finish. We've had great success destroying them and a good portion of their network in the wadi systems, in particular around Rutbah.
...

Q Can you give us any -- sort of quantify the foreign fighters Have the numbers gone up, gone down, since you've been there, or even since the last time you were in the area?

COL. MALAY: Oh, goodness, last time I was here was 2004 and they were coming across literally by the busload, full-up weapon systems, grenades, chest plates, chest rigs, the whole thing. It's completely different now. These guys are few and far in between. When they see us, they run like crazy. They're living in caves in the wadis. And there's very few of them now.

The first goal of counterinsurgency warfare is to secure the population. Only when this is done can political and economic progress take place, as was explained in the a href="http://theredhunter.com/2008/03/book_review_us_army_marine_corps_counterinsurgency_field_manual_324.php">>U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 3-24)

The point here is that we have secured the population in Col Malay's AOR (Area of Responsibility), western Al Anbar. The enemy is on the run.

Q Colonel, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. I was planning to ask something that you partly already answered, where you talked about how much clearing, how much holding, and how much building. It sounds like most of the -- most of your AOR is in the hold and build phase. Can you, again, try to quantify the percentages for clear, hold and build? And as you move more towards this role that you say you're already playing to a large degree, the overwatch role, when does that translate into an ability for that area to function without so many U.S. Marines there?

COL. MALAY: Well, we're already well -- (audio break) -- three months, we've gone from five battalions to three battalions. We've taken a 40 percent cut in our combat power and a 30 percent reduction of personnel in my area of operations. And we're doing quite well with that because we're thickening the Iraqi security forces.... And what we're seeing is tremendous response and positive atmospherics from the locals.

I recently did a patrol in Baghdadi and I asked the people, hey, have you seen any Takfiri -- said, we haven't seen them here in 18 months, and if they ever come back we'll kill them and lay them in the street for you.

So as you can see, we -- we're pulling back. I haven't had Marines out in that area in months and months and months. And it is still very peaceful, very prosperous. And people are very comfortable with the fact that the Iraqi security forces and their governing bodies are giving them what they need to get on with their lives in the 21st century.

Takfir - "rendering (Muslim) opponents infidels", the purpose of which is to purify Islam against those who, in this view, have corrupted it. A (rough) Western synonym might be "inquisition". A Takfiri is someone who has adopted this version of Islam.

Iraqis, at least the Sunnis in al Anbar, have taken to calling the al Qaeda "Takfiris". A sort of term of opprobrium, it shows how AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) has gone from being seen as allies against the infidel occupiers, to being seen as the lowest of the low. The Sunnis may not like us, but the hate AQI even more.

As such, we have been able to reduce our forces. All of this is very good news. Here's more on the same subject.

Q I have a question. Colonel, you were saying that a couple years ago you had a lot of foreign fighters running around in western Iraq there, western Anbar. Where did they come from? Were they, like, from Syria? Were they coming over the border from Syria, or where were they coming from? And how do you account for the reduction? Has the border been sealed off?

COL. MALAY: This was two years ago? I was in Fallujah. What I understood is a good many of them were coming across the Syrian border. And they came from all over the world. And why are they not here now? Well, quite frankly, I think we've killed a lot of them. I think that the enemy is having a more difficult time recruiting to the numbers that they had in the past. And no, they're not coming across.

As we all know our presence in Iraq attracted every Muslim who wanted to be the reincarnation of Saladin. It is pointless to argue whether this was part of a deliberate U.S. "flypaper" strategy or happened unexpectedly. What matters is that they came, they fought, and they died. And now they've not coming any more. Maybe they've gotten the message that the Democrats haven't; we're winning.

(In his closing) COL. MALAY: And no doubt about it, what I've seen in the last -- since I was here in 2004, it's mind-boggling the changes that have taken place here. I mean, we're past clear, we're past hold, and we're so far into build -- I mean, it's a civil society that we're building here.

For example, before, there was no government. There was no city council, and then we built one. But they couldn't drive around. You had to fly them anywhere before they could start to function. Now they get in their cars and they drive all over the place. They visit the governor at will. Places from al Qaim and Rutbah, they just get in the car, drive down the road, and they're taking care of business. So tremendous change, and if you're looking for a reason, it's because we've got some great servicemen and -women following orders and getting the job done out here.

Here the Col. somewhat contradicts his earlier statement that "what we're concentrating on is hold and build". It's a small matter, though. FM 3-24 makes clear that the nature of an insurgency can vary greatly from one village to the next, so in some areas we may still be more in the "hold" phase than others. In most of the briefings I've watched the commanders say that while AQI is on the run, it could come back if we're not vigilant.

After Somalia it became fashionable, on the right as well as the left, to say that we shouldn't engage in nationbuilding. The situation in Iraq has left us with little choice. We can either cut-and-run, which is what the left wants us to do (whether they like the term or not), or we can stay and make the country work. Staying involves nationbuilding.
As I have said many times, it's pointless to argue about the past. We are where we are. The good news is that if we stick to our current strategy we stand a very good chance of making Iraq work, which would be good for the U.S. and certainly for the Iraqis.

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April 9, 2008

The Gen Petraeus - Amb Crocker Hearings Day 2

Before we get into today's testimony, did you know that today is Iraq Liberation Day?

On April 9, 2003, this image greeted television viewers worldwide:


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Thank you to all American troops who have participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom, from the invasion to today!

As with yesterday, I listened to the testimony today on and off. Today Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker testified before the House Armed Services Committee.

Following are my impressions.

As with the Senators yesterday, the Representatives give longwinded introductions. Drew Cline says today's took thirteen minutes and 52 seconds between Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) the committee chairman, and Rep. Duncan Hunter, (R-CA) the ranking minority member. Ridiculous. I guess that's better than yesterday's 19 minutes, 57 seconds in the Senate Armed Services Committee, and 22 minutes, 47 seconds in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, but it still seems like a bit much.

In his opening speech Skelton felt necessary to claim that we started the war on the basis of "false information" (as if WMD was the entire basis of the war, see the actual authorization for details). The supposed purpose for all this is that they're here to find out what's going on in Iraq, but most seem to have their mind made up.

Rep Hunter actually used his intro to tell Petraeus and Crocker what he wanted to find out today. In other words, Hunter laid out his expectations for what information he was looking to obtain. I always knew he was a stand-up guy.

Skelton, like so many others, is myopic when it comes to the war. They see it in the narrowest of terms; a war just against al Qaeda and only in Afghanistan. Frederick Kagan did a good job today of pointing out that the Democrat claim that they want to fight the "real war" against al Qaeda in Afghanistan is a lot of hot air; if they cared so much about the country they could vote for the supplemental defense appropriation that would send much needed money to our troops already there. Development money, not so much more troops, is what that country really needs.

Crocker said that "the era of US funded major infrastructure improvements is over" Congress will want to hear that.

Crocker also said that support from other Arab states "has not been strong" Me: That's because they fear a democracy in Iraq. The left tell us that everyone in the region, including Iran, wants a stable Iraq. Bunk. They may not want violence that spills over into their countries or sends refugees streaming into their countries, but what they really want is a weak Iraq that they can dominate.

Like Petraeus, he stressed the Iranian Quds forces that are causing trouble in Iraq. Wretchard over at The Belmont Club has perhaps the most insightful explanation for all the talk about Iran at the hearings yesterday

If America loses in southern Iraq, Iran will have strangled a nascent rival political power center on its border. But if America wins, then the Ayatollahs will be facing what amounts to a domestic challenge.

That's why I believed that the really big news in the Petraeus/Crocker testimony was their repeated emphasis on Iran. It's no accident. They want to focus the policy attention on Iran. Because the Iran/Southern Iraq phase will be the most important phase in the Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Iraq was always a two-front war, even from the days of the First Fallujah. In those days the US made a strategic decision to leave the south alone and deal with the Sunni insurgency first. Now that has been dealt with and the Syria/AQI front been substantially won. That's what the Petraeus charts are saying. On the clock of World War 2 History the defeat of the Sunni insurgency would correspond to the crossing of the Rhine. VE isn't there yet, but the enemy is in flight. Maybe there's still a Battle of the Bulge ahead for the Sunni insurgency/AQI, but they are essentially beaten, absent a blunder.

In response to a question by Hunter, Petraeus gave the Iraqi Armed Forces a "B minus or B". Some units are very good but some are "new". Says that the Iraqi special ops are very good. Also, that Iraqi deployment to Basra went very well.

Rep John Spratt (D - SC) gave a speech before asking questions. These politicians just can't stop from pontificating. Spratt even had his own cost charts. This is the new Democrat argument against the war, the one that the surge couldn't stop the violence, and that the Iraqis weren't making political progress, having been proven wrong.
Me: So now Freedom has a cost. Hope the Dems remember this. Spratt also complained that Iraq is taking resources from Afghanistan.

Had Spratt read Frederick Kagan on NRO yesterday, he would have learned that compared to past wars, this one's pretty cheap. Larry Kudlow makes similar points. As a percentage of GDP, this war barely registers. It's all that social welfare spending that's killing us.

With a 5 minute rule in the House, you'd think that the Democrats would would want to spend most of the time learning from the General and Ambassador. But that would assume that their purpose was to learn. Most, but not all, Democrats use their time to give speeches, with the question being purfunctory. Most Republicans get right into their questions.

Rep Jim Saxton (R-NJ) asked a real question instead of speechifying

But Rep Solomon Ortiz (D - TX) only speechified more than asked questions. He said that the security gains of the surge were "arguable". He stressed that the military had been stretched by the surge. Me: then authorize more money to expand the size of the force.

Petraeus to Ortiz: The troops "get it" with regard to counterinsurgency doctrine. We have much better equip than when I was a division commander. He also praised the MRAP family of vehicles and thanked Congress for voting the money for them.

Gen Petraeus and Amb Crocker are first-class gentlemen and scholars. They are absolutely unshakable and unperturbable.

Rep John McHugh (R - NY) brought up the British withdrawal from Basra, and how the lessons there may be learned about the dangers of a precipitous withdrawal from all of Iraq. Petraeus somewhat agreed, and also pointed out that this is why he opposes a timetable and wants withdrawal to be conditions based.

The most foolish question I heard was asked by Rep Vic Snyder (D - AR), who said that a commander (I didn't get the name) told him that we need 2,000 more troops in Afghanistan. He asked Petraeus how Congress should respond to that request. Petraeus, looking only barely incredulous at this bizarre question, responded "you're asking the commander in Iraq?" And then said words to the effect that "I only command the troops in Iraq, sir?"

It was clear that Snyder had no idea that the commander of MNF-Iraq doesn't follow the situation in Afghanistan in detail, and can't just order some of his troops to move to there. Sheesh!

Petraeus continued, half asking "I think you're already funding an increase for the Army/Marines?" in what almost looked like an attempt to help Snyder out of his predicament. However, Snyder ignored Petraeus and went on, saying that Afghanistan is not getting the troops they need because of Iraq. Me: oh brother. Snyder showed the "Anaconda Plan" chart (see yesterday's post), and complained that it didn't show social services. Crocker went into social services, and Petraeus "put in a soldier's plug for the PRTs"

Rep Buck McKeon (R - CA) had a fantastic quote from Osama bin Laden and how bin Laden sees the struggle in Iraq as central. I can't find the quote on the Internet, but if you've got the time you can go to McKeon's House webpage and watch the testimony.

McKeon asked Petraeus about troop morale. Petreus said that morale had been going down until sometime in 2007 (I didn't catch the exact date) when it started going up. Today morale is good overall, and the reason is because the troops can see tangible results and that believe that we are making progress. He also pointed out that reenlistment rates among troops in-theater was way up.

Rep Loretta Sanchez (D - CA) gave what must have been the longest speech disguised as a question that I heard all day. She talked about a report by Gen James Jones (USMC Ret) unofficially called the Jones Commission Report, which essentially criticized the new Iraqi Police. She seemed to go on forever. Good question, but she just went on for too long.

Petraeus said he agreed with the report and had in fact acted on it's recommendations. At the end of her question he even joked with her (again he is unflappable). He also said that the IP did need to be cleaned out but has now made much progress. The Italian Caribinieri have been helping out tremendously in training them.

The next rep, who's name I didn't get, asked about the benchmarks, and that the GAO said we'd only met 3 of 18(?) Crocker disagreed with that number, but annoyingly would not give a hard and fast number of how many had been met. But he did say that it's more complicated than just a checkoff. He said that you can check something off but are not getting reconciliation, and vice versa. But Crocker promised to get info on the benchmarks in writing to the committee next week (see this article for a comparison, where Frederick Kagan says that "Government of Iraq has now met 12 out of the original 18 benchmarks set for it, including four
out of the six key legislative benchmarks"). The bottom line is that the issue of reconciliation in Iraq is complicated and it's not a simple check-off of something on a sheet of paper.

Rep Ellen Tauscher (R - CA) brought up lots of polls and how at least her constituents are all against continuing the war etc. Me: So...we change direction every time the polls change? Petraeus tried to answer her question, and she basically cut him off. Petraeus had to then give her a lesson on how the military takes orders from the civilian authorities.

All in all the Democrats gave speeches and the Republicans asked questions. Maybe the Dems should have read Barham Salih's article in today's Washington Post, in which he sees real military and political gains in Iraq, if they don't believe the testimony they heard today.

Gen Petraeus and Amb Crocker? They were magnificent and could not be shaken. I feel good with them in charge over there.

Update

Don't miss the background information, video, slides, and links to editorials and analysis pieces over at Small Wars Journal.

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April 8, 2008

The Gen Petraeus - Amb Crocker Hearings Day 1

I managed to catch part of the hearings in the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee today in which Gen David Petraeus and Amb Ryan Crocker testified. Below the fold are my notes, but first, here are most of the slides that Gen Petraeus used in his testimony (thanks to Michelle Malkin You can also download all them from the Senate website )

PetraeusCongress1.jpg

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For context and explanation see the transcript of Gen Petraeus' opening statement at RealClearPolitics

(also, don't miss the excellent commentary on them at The Belmont Club)

What strikes me is that many of the Senators already seems to have minds made up. Some ask good questions and others just give speeches. The opening statements of the Senators I heard (Levin & McCain) indicate to me that they have their minds made up.

Sen. Kennedy, in particular, used most of his Q & A time to simply give a lecture. Kennedy complained about our "open ended commitment", yet this is the same guy who demands more and more money for an endless "war on poverty" which seems without end or success. Every year we hear the same thing from the libs; the poor are getting poorer and we need to spend more money on anti-poverty programs. Hello?

Did you also notice that Kennedy had the shortest "thank you for your service" of any of the senators? Even the other critical senators seemed genuine in their thanks but for him it was totally pro forma (video here).

Also, notice how the critics are almost totally dismissive of the sacrifices made by loyal patriotic Iraqis? They just totally ignore all this. When this was pointed out to Kennedy, he just brushed it aside with a "well there have been 4,000 Americans killed"

To a large extent that the whole thing is sort of a show, with everything said decided ahead of time. Each side is speaking really to the public.

Senators Leiberman (I-CT) and Inhofe (R-OK) asked good questions, as did Sen Reed (D-RI)

Some of the critics do bring up good points. The issue, it seems to me, is whether they state problems in order to find a way to solve them or are just looking for an excuse to withdraw.

We've all heard about how the Army is stretched too thin, and that troops are not getting enough rest time. This complaint is usually made as a veiled excuse to bring the troops home. Yet when the schools say that they are stretched we spend more money on education, and do not cut back on classes. When the military says it is stretched we cut back on commitments. It seems to me that the obvious solution to is to increase the size of the force.

Sen Collins (R-RI, or is that RINO-RI?) did the same thing. She said that they in congress are always told that progress is being made by Iraqi armed forces, yet problems continue. Again does this apply to other foreign aid? She says that as long as we take the lead in combat operations, the Iraqis will never step up to the plate. Well, as long as we provide handouts to poor countries around the world, why should they step up to the plate? Does the same logic not apply? Yet if the U.S. does not pony up for some new program designed to help Africa or wherever we are attacked as "miserly", and how dare we ask whether the money is well spent.

Sen Bill Nelson (D-FL) brought up the "retired general" complaint, saying that he'd heard retired Generals McCaffrey and Odom say that things weren't going swimmingly in Iraq. He did at least admit that the Iraqi parliament had been passed several of the laws required in the "benchmarks", but complained that they had not been implemented?. Again, the goalposts keep moving.

Sen. Warner (R-VA) asked whether the Iraq war made us safer. Gen Petraeus said "I do believe it is worth it", and Amb Crocker said that "Al Qaeda is our mortal and strategic enemy. To the extent that its capabilities have been diminished in Iraq, it makes our country safer." Not the best answers they could have given.

Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on the other hand did well and pointed out the the surge changed the trend lines, which had been going in all the wrong directions. He admitted that the challenges were real, but sees the glass as half full and getting fuller rather than as half empty. Rather than everything falling apart he sees the surge has having reversed the negative trend lines. For all the grief conservatives have given Sen Graham he shone during the hearings. For what it's worth, he's a (Lt Col ? in the Army or Air Force reserve ? ) Graham's main thing was to point out that the trend lines are all in our favor. Also asked if Iraq as a failed state would negatively affect US national security and Petraeus said "yes"

Sen Ben Nelson (D-NE) wants the Iraqis to pay us back at least some of the money we've given Iraq. I've heard this also from the right. Well ok, I understand the complaint, but I see it as very shortsighted and spiteful. btw, are we asking countries who receive food or other assistance to pay us back? Do we even put realistic conditions on them for the aid? Or track it to make sure it isn't wasted, and if it is cut off future aid? And let's ask those on poverty assistance programs to pay us back also once they "step up to the plate" and get self-sustaining jobs.

At 1:55 the hearings adjourned. Code Pink members sang and held signs in the back of the hearing room. Boring....

All in all the Dems seemed less aggressive. There was no "willing suspension of disbelief" moments and no Movon.org "General Betrayus" ads. They seemed to have learned their lesson from a PR perspective, at least.

All in all, I'd say that the Democrats were shooting blanks. They may have satisfied their anti-war base but that's about it. Petraeus and Crocker told it straight; we're winning, success so far is fragile but if we cut-and-run all would probably be lost, and that a failed Iraq harms the U.S. We should listen to them.


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April 5, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 03 April 2008 - "The Conversation Has Changed"

This briefing is by Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of Multi-National Division - Central. the 3rd Infantry Division, also known as Task Force Marne. "Its major area of responsibility is the security zones located along the southern edge of Baghdad and scales from the border of Saudi Arabia to the border of Iran. MND-Center is headquartered by the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Georgia."

Maj. Gen. Lynch 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. Petraeus reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until last week. Until a permanent replacement is found, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is acting commander of CENTCOM. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The 3rd ID is probably nearing the end of it's deployment in Iraq, having been there since February 2007.


This video and more like it can be viewed at DODvClips. You can download the transcript here

Here's why Gen Lynch says that "the conversation has changed:"

From his opening statement:

MAJ GEN LYNCH: The first element of that progress was the surge forces gave us the opportunity to take the fight to the enemy. The second piece, and you'll see that in the tri-fold that you have, was that we changed our procedures. We focused on securing the population. And as a result of that, we needed to live with the population so we have built 57 patrol bases. And those 57 patrol bases, 25 of which are occupied by the Iraqi security forces as well, were with the population. So in general terms, 75% of my soldiers live with the population. Those patrol bases went to places that the enemy owned. We did these major operations and as a result of every operation, we now own the terrain and we could build the patrol base to help us secure the population. And what we have found is the local population, as a result of seeing the patrol base, come forward and they ask two questions. The first question is, "Are you staying?" And when the local population's convinced that we're going to stay, the next question is, "How can we help?" And as a result of that second question, what we have now in Multi-National Division - Center is almost 36,000 Concerned Local Citizens, the Sons of Iraq, who are securing their respective areas. We've always defined sustainable security as locals under positive control, securing their population. And that is what has happened across our area....

What had happened over the last 13 months is the conversation had changed. Early, with major attacks taking place, I'd find myself on patrol bases planning major operations, kinetic operations. What happened about the fall timeframe, based on the things I just talked about, the conversation changed. And after the first of the year, I was able to publish a new order that focused on capacity building. Now when I go to patrol bases, like today I went to one of my patrol bases, I immediately leave the patrol base and go visit with the population and talk to the people. Today it was in the Jezurdiyala[ph] area. Yesterday it was in Musayyib. And the conversation now has changed. It's no longer about security, it's about jobs. It's about capacity. It's about the economy. It's about local governance. And that's exactly where we were all the up until the 25th of March.

This is important because it shows how Gen Lynch has adopted classic counterinsurgency tactics. The "surge" was about a lot more than sending additional troops. Prior to Petraeus/Odierno, we concentrated our forces in 5 large bases, and sent them out on raids. While it may seem that this approach might better protect our troops, in reality it does not. The only way to win against insurgents is to protect the people, and the only way to do that is to live among them. To be fair to previous commanders, they didn't have the troops to send troops out to live among the populace. Prior to 2007 we were caught in a vicious cycle.

From The U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24

1-149 SOMETIMES, THE MORE YOU PROTECT YOUR FORCE, THE LESS SECURE YOU MAY BE. Ultimate success in COIN (counterinsurgency) is gained by protecting the populate, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained...These practices endure access to the intelligence needed to drive operations. Following them reinforces the connections with the populace that help establish real legitimacy.

5-69 To protect the populace, HN security forces continuously conduct patrols and use measured force against insurgent targets of opportunity. Contact with the people is critical to the local COIN effort's success.

A-24 The first rule of COIN operations is to establish the force's presence in the AO (area of operations).... This requires living in the AO close to the populace. Raiding from remote, secure bases does not work.

Once security is established, the next step is to improve the well being of the people. Again, FM 3-24

5-1 ...Successful counterinsurgents support or develop local institutions with legitimacy and the ability to provide basic services, economic opportunity, public order, and security.

Insurgents exploit local grievances on various issues, and use them to try and win the support of the population. There is much in FM 3-24 about taking these grievances away from the insurgents.

So as we know, then, there was a spike in insurgent attacks on March 25. Gen Lynch explains

Now you can see in your graphics (see video for graphs. I am trying to obtain the charts) and you can see on this chart, there was a major spike of attacks coincidental with the operations in Basra and Baghdad. We've always said that inside of Iraq there are three types of enemy: Sunni extremists, Shi'a extremists, and then marked Iranian influence. And we've been fighting those three types of enemy as long as we've been here. We've had great effect against the Sunni extremists primarily because of the things that I talked to you about already. We truly have the Sunni extremists either killed or captured or have left our area or have gone to ground....

Now I'll show you exactly what happened. You can see that there are major Shi'a population centers across my area of operation and they are reflected on your graphic with these squares. What we had were attacks in those Shi'a population areas generated by Shi'a extremists....

In that period of time, 25 to 30 March, in MND-C's area, we experienced about 78 attacks all across the area. And the high on any one day was 28 attacks. Over the last four days now, we have reverted to the normal level of attacks. Yesterday we had one attack. The day before we had no attacks. When I left my headquarters today, there were no attacks across our entire operating environment which, again, is Mahmudiyah qaddah, Mada'in qaddah, Karbala, Najaf, Babil, and Wasit province. But in that period of time, 25 to 30 March, there were, indeed, attacks and a lot of those attacks took place in Wasit province in Al Kut

Now what I saw was I saw a tactical and an operational opportunity. Remember, three types of enemy: Sunni extremist, Shi'a extremist, and marked Iranian influence. And when the attacks increased, what happened is the Shi'a extremists in my area that we were having problems finding, came out of their holes. And as a result of them coming forward to conduct attacks against the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi people, and the coalition forces, we could then take the fight to them.....

What happened over that six-day period of time, the local citizens came forward and showed us where the enemy was storing their ammunition and these weapons caches

Spin or no? Yes in that it would have been better if we had been able to get the Shia extremists without going through the attacks. No in that the nature of counterinsurgency is such that it's hard to identify the enemy unless he acts.

On to the Q & A. Some of the questions were tough, as they should be:

REP1: Yup. First question is you talk about this huge spike of activity and then completely back to where you were before. Doesn't that just show the power of Muqtada al-Sadr that when he issues the order, everything stops?

MAJ GEN LYNCH: Well, it shows three things. You know one is we were glad that Muqtada al-Sadr issued an order and the conventional Jaish al-Mahdi forces laid down their arms. We were happy about that. That had an affect and we're happy about that. The second thing that happened in my area is we took a lot of the enemy away. You can't do attacks if you are detained or killed. And we took a lot of their munitions away. So it's a combination of those three things.

Surely the reporter didn't expect a straight out yes or no. I think the answer is a qualified "yes".

REP8: Tina Susman from The LA Times. In terms of reconciliation in general, you know you say you can't reconcile with your friends, but would you say that there's been, on the Government of Iraq level, reconciliation with--solid reconciliation with anybody at this point? How satisfied are you with the process of government reconciliation?

MAJ GEN LYNCH: Sure. Nothing ever happens as quickly as you'd like. All of us would like to see all this reconciliation happen overnight. As a result of that, everybody stops shooting and everybody works toward a prosperous Iraq. So it doesn't happen as quickly as you'd like. The reconciliation that I see, Tina, on a daily basis, I find to be most encouraging.

Lynch went on to give several examples. Reconciliation is discussed in FM 3-24, and I have heard Lt Gen Ray Odierno (former commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq) discuss this also.

1-102. Counterinsurgents remain alert for signs of divisions within an insurgent movement. A series of successes by counterinsurgents or errors by insurgent leaders can cause some insurgents to question their cause or challenge their leaders. In addition, relations within an insurgency do not remain harmonious when factions form to vie for power. Rifts between insurgent leaders, if identified, can be exploited. Offering amnesty or a seemingly generous compromise can also cause divisions within an insurgency and present opportunities to split or weaken it.

Oh, and as for the benchmarks? 12 of 18 have been met. As Frederick Kagan points out over at The Weekly Standard, "including four
out of the six key legislative benchmarks. It has made substantial progress on five more, and only one remains truly stalled." If that's not progress then I don't know what is.

Iran in Iraq

Iran is active in Iraq supplying parts of the insurgency with weapons and training. First from his opening statement and then some Q & A

MAJ GEN LYNCH: On one cache was 106 AK-47s, small weapons, 9 sniper rifles. You can see that on the 28th of March, a large cache that included 18 complete explosively-formed penetrators. These explosively-formed penetrators are killing my soldiers, killing the Iraqi security force soldiers, killing innocent Iraqi civilians, and are traced back to Iran....

Okay, this will scroll through the caches that we found. You can see rockets. You can see EFPs--that's an explosively-formed penetrator already rigged to be placed against one of our soldiers. You can see Katyusha rockets there - supplied, again, by Iran....

Many rounds, ammunitions, detonating cord. You can see that is a Katyusha rocket, an Iranian rocket, that's rigged--that's on a rail and is rigged to explode--to launch....

These Iranian munitions, placed in the hands of the Shi'a extremists, are causing devastating affects on Iraqi security forces, on the coalition forces, and your innocent Iraqi people. And that just has to stop....

So clearly there are Iranian weapons coming into Iraq. We've never actually intercepted any at the border, though, and this is sometimes used by cynics as "proof", or at least evidence, of another "Bush Lied!" conspiracy.

Blogger and independent reporter Michael Yon took a trip to the border and found out exactly why nothing has been intercepted; because it's a superhighway of commerce between the two countries. There is simply no way anyone could inspect every truck, so it 's easy to smuggle in weapons. After observing the situation Yon concluded that "we could probably put the entire Coalition on the Iraq-Iran border, and the area would not be sealed."

REP9: Abigail Housliner[ph]. Time Magazine. If you are practicing this aggressive outreach to anyone you said, if there is this significant Iranian influence in the south, then presumably that aggressive outreach - for something to really make a difference - you would have to talk to Iran. Do you feel that that's limiting you significantly? Do you think that's going to limit your progress if Iran is playing such a huge role and you can't negotiate with them and reach out to them in the same way that you are reaching out to people on the local level?

MAJ GEN LYNCH: I'm convinced that there are people reaching out to the Government of Iran. I'm convinced of that. And these are people from the Government of Iraq who ought to be legitimately negotiating with their neighbors. Remember, we've always said that the end state in Iraq is an Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors, is an ally in the war on terror, that has a representative government that respects the rights of all Iraqis, has a security force that can maintain domestic order and deny Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists. So the negotiations with neighboring countries ought to be happening by the Government of Iraq; and I believe that is, indeed, happening. I do know that there are overtures on the part of Iran that try to be helpful. But I can just tell you at my level, at my level, I'm still seeing Iranian munitions. At my level, I'm still attending memorial services for my soldiers who were killed by Iranian munitions. So all that has to stop.

REP9: Would you like to see the U.S. reach out - U.S. forces - in the way that you have worked with the Awakening Groups?

MAJ GEN LYNCH: Well, I believe it's important to have a dialog, an open dialog with all the actors to see what we can do to facilitate moving towards that end state in Iraq that I just described.

One wonders what exactly we say to the Iranian representatives and how they respond. So far I haven't seen any good information on this so if commenters have something it would be most appreciated.

Steve Schippert, writing on NRO's The Tank, points out that it was CENTCOM commander Adm Fallon's job to stop such shipments, and didn't. FM 3-24 states the obvious with regard to the matter

1-85. Access to external resources and sanctuaries has always influenced the effectiveness of insurgencies. External support can provide political, psychological, and material resources that might otherwise be limited or unavailable. Such assistance does not need to come just from neighboring states; countries from outside the region seeking political or economic influence can also support insurgencies. Insurgencies may turn to transnational criminal elements for funding or use the Internet to create a support network among NGOs. Ethnic or religious communities in other states may also provide a form of external support and sanctuary, particularly for transnational insurgencies.

Of course, it's easy enough to say we need to stop Iran from supplying the insurgents in Iraq, another to bring it about. This post isn't the place to explore that in detail.

There's much more in the interview, so again please watch the whole thing and follow along with the transcript.

All in all, we've made tremendous progress in Iraq, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the bravery of thousands of Iraqis. It's fragile, though, and could be lost if we pull out prematurely. Again, from FM 3-24

"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

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 19, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 13 March 2008 - Tremendous Turnaround in Al Anbar

I'm a bit late in getting this one up, but events intervened. I did want to post this though because it is important.

This briefing is by Colonel John Charlton, who is commander of 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. Multi-National Division - Central is the responsibility of the 3rd ID, and "its major area of responsibility is the security zones located along the southern edge of Baghdad and scales from the border of Saudi Arabia to the border of Iran." The 1st Brigade is headquartered in the provincial capital of Ramadi in Al Anbar province. 1st Brigade (or maybe all of the 3rd ID, I'm not sure) is nearing the end of it's deployment in Iraq, having been there since February 2007.

Col Charlton reports to Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, otherwise known as Task Force Marne. Lynch 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. Petraeus reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until last week. Until a permanent replacement is found, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is acting commander of CENTCOM. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This video and others can be viewed at DODvClips. The transcript is here.

Following are what I think are the most important parts of this briefing, but please click on the video and watch the whole thing.

We'll start with Col Charlton's opening statement and move to the Q & A with the reporters

COL. CHARLTON:... Central Anbar province was a devastated war zone when we arrived in January 2007. Ramadi was the most violent city per capita in the world and averaged 30 - 35 daily attacks. That number is now less than one per week. We have experienced weeks without a single incident, and Ramadi has experienced 300 days without an attack since March 31, 2007.

Al Qaeda was entrenched in Ramadi and controlled the population through their murder and intimidation campaign by killing innocent men, women and children who refused to follow their radical interpretation of Islam. We were able to overcome Al Qaeda's ideology with the guidance and support of the area tribal and religious leaders. They recognized the atrocities committed by Al Qaeda and partnered with Coalition forces to establish stability and security. The attitude of the Iraqis toward Al Qaeda in Iraq can be summarized by a local sheikh saying, "It is better to die a free man than live under the thumb of Al Qaeda." With their help and the Anbar people's rejection of Al Qaeda, they now live peacefully with security and stability.

A year ago, the Iraqi security forces were in their infancy with less than 2,000 police, and the two Iraqi army brigades in my area were operating at 50% strength. We helped recruit and train the police, increasing their ranks to 9,400 police in central Anbar, and our partnered Iraqi army brigades are operating more than 100% strength. We built joint security stations, police stations, expeditionary forward operating bases and a city-wide security perimeter that enables the police to provide security.

Note the section in bold. Col Charlton did not say "we went in and killed the al Qaeda". Of course they did that, but bombs and bullets ("kinetic operations" in the current lingo) alone do not win a counterinsurgency.

We did not have a true counterinsurgency strategy until December of 2006, when then Lt. Gen. Petraeus' team published the U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 that is now our troops bible. From the field manual

A-60 ...Whatever else is done, the focus must remain on gaining and maintaining the support of the population. With their support, victory is assured; without it, COIN efforts cannot succeed.

Back to Col Charlton

Once we established security, we were able to devote our attention to reconstruction and economic development. We have completed 1600 reconstruction and day-labor projects that have transformed Ramadi from a war zone into a thriving community. We made outstanding progress by focusing development in several areas. We built a small business center to award future reconstruction projects, facilitated micro-grants for small business owners, identified economic zones throughout the city to help ignite economic growth, helped the Iraqis open a ceramics factory and created fishing and farming co-operatives that modernized and improved agriculture in central Al Anbar.

Again, all classic counterinsurgency tactics. The first rule is to establish security, the second is to promote economic development which leads to jobs.

What impresses me is that our troops have to know so much more that "just" warfighting. They are virtual mayors, diplomats, city planners, city managers, water and sewer engineers, business development specialists and economists.

The defeat of Al Qaeda has allowed the citizens of Ramadi to reclaim their great city. City markets, schools, playgrounds, soccer fields and businesses are all alive and thriving. The Iraqis held a 5K fun run through downtown Ramadi in September 2007, along a route that was once the deadliest street in Iraq. They celebrated their liberation from Al Qaeda with two parades. There is a flourishing women's civic center and a city museum, making Ramadi the only city in Iraq beside Baghdad to have a museum. All of this happened in the last 12 months by working closely with our Iraqi partners.

As we move forward and prepare to return to Fort Stewart, I can say that the Raider brigade contributed immensely to defeating Al Qaeda and stabilizing central Anbar province. We have witnessed Anbar transform from one of the most dangerous provinces in Iraq to one of the safest. In the opinion of many people, this has been one of the most remarkable chapters of the US military's operations here in Iraq.

Later on, though, Col Charlton warned that although al Qaeda was down it wasn't out

Well, you know, first of all, the security situation is good, but we're always ready. Al Qaeda really wants Ramadi back. I mean, this was their capital. They declared -- (audio break) -- Islamic State of Iraq.

And so they're continuing to try to launch attacks into Ramadi. We've had several cases where the police have successfully interdicted suicide vest bombers or car bombs. So the threat is still out there, and so we're always, you know, keeping our eyes open for that, not letting our guard down.

Now it's on to the Q & A. The first one get's straight to the heart of another major issue in counterinsurgency; government legitimacy

Q Colonel, this is Bob Burns with AP. As Bryan mentioned, we didn't hear all of what you said, but I believe you made some reference to the local political scene and activity in Ramadi and the rest of your area. I'm wondering, given the uncertainty now about provincial elections this year, what's your assessment of what impact it would have if in fact there are no provincial elections in October, as once thought?

COL. CHARLTON: Well, I think that the -- the people that we talk to here in Anbar are looking forward to the elections. They realize that their lack of participation in 2005 hurt them in the long run, and there's been many issues associated with that. So they're very much looking forward to these elections. And when I talk to the sheikhs, they still believe that those elections will happen in October or in that time frame. So they're anticipating it very much.

Now, if they were not to happen, there would certainly be some disappointment. The one thing that I've observed, though, in the months that I've been here is that the Iraqis are very patient people. They understand the challenges that face the government, and they lead a tough life in many instances. But I do notice that they're very patient.

So there would be some -- there would be some disappointment. There would probably be some -- you know, potentially some demonstrations, certainly would be that the people of Ramadi would continue to ask for the elections to occur. I don't think there would be any violence. I don't see that occurring. But there would certainly be some disappointment.

This is exactly what Lt. Gen. Odierno (formerly commander of MNC-Iraq) worried about last month when he said that

What I worry about is, there's a window. And we need is some political progress in order to maintain this window. And if we don't maintain the window, the populate will feel that they have no where to turn and I don't know what will happen then, and so this is what makes this somewhat of a tentative security gain right now. Because unless you have the populace behind you you will not maintain security.

FM 3-24 makes it pretty clear that political progress must happen also

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.

Now, in case there are any anti-war types reading this, counterinsurgency warfare also stipulates that before the political progress can take place the population must be secured.

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.

So all of the lefties running around saying that Iraq is a failure because "there isn't a military solution" and we haven't made sufficient political progress don't know what they're talking about.

Q Colonel, it's Luis Martinez of ABC News. Since the security situation's so much improved in your sector, how important is economic development? Has there been any economic development there, so you can get the jobs that will keep people permanently off the streets?

COL. CHARLTON: Well, that's a huge part of fighting a counterinsurgency, is that you have to help stimulate economic growth because of just what you said. You want to have some alternatives for people out there. You know, if someone has a steady job and they're providing for their family, they're going to be less likely to join the ranks of the terrorists. So we've been working very hard on that.

(Audio break) -- city was in ruins. There was just rubble everywhere -- (audio break) - we created kind of a New Deal program for the Iraqis here -- (audio break) -- they started spending money. And shops started to open -- (audio break).

We've also helped the Iraqis build two business centers...

And I'll tell you, if you drive through Ramadi right now, you'll see construction going on everywhere. And I'll drive down a -- (audio break) -- that I had been on just a week earlier, and I'll see two or three more shops opening up. Our biggest problem right now in the city is traffic. We've opened up the main route, and because the economy is booming, traffic has really started to become a problem. So it's a good problem to have, but it's amazing to watch the economic growth.

Now, I don't know what the unemployment figures are. They're still way too high. My best estimate would probably be 30 to 40 percent, so we're continuing to work on that issue.

Next comes the toughest question of all. To win a counterinsurgency you have to get the population on your side. They want to sit on the fence, which is a loser for the government side. One of the things we've been doing is starting and getting citizens to join what we called "Concerned Local Citizens" groups, recently renamed to "Sons of Iraq" (there is a separate program for women). We are not providing arms to these groups, though everyone in Iraq seems to have an AK-47.

Q Colonel, it's Jamie McIntyre from CNN. You talked a little bit about this, but I just want to press you a little bit more, on the concerned local citizens, the Sons of Iraq. Some people have characterized the payments to them as essentially bribes that are, you know, bribing people to stop fighting each other, and when the money dries up, the violence will return. I know you've talked about transitioning them into the Iraqi government. But how do you respond to that criticism generally that we're essentially buying off the sides at the moment to get a short-term peace?

COL. CHARLTON: Well, I mean, that's certainly a pessimistic opinion. But what my experience was out here was that when we moved into an area with the Iraqi army and cleared it of terrorists, immediately young men from those villages or from those tribal areas or from the city would come up and want to volunteer in the police. And so they were doing it truly out of -- for patriotic reasons as part of their obligation to their tribe, to their country, to their community. I mean, that's what I saw.

And like I said, when we first started these programs, these guys weren't getting paid a dime. And they were -- through the hot summer, they were standing post in their neighborhoods, protecting those neighborhoods from being re-infiltrated by al Qaeda. And I was really impressed by that. I mean, this was true patriotism at the lowest level.

And we helped them out with -- you know, with some humanitarian assistance, but they were not being paid. It wasn't until late summer that the system was developed to actually pay them. And we felt that was a moral obligation since these guys were putting their lives on the line....

And I understand those criticisms, but I'll tell you, we didn't advertise, you know, that "Hey, join the police force and we'll give you money." These guys lined up by the hundreds because they were sick and tired of what al Qaeda was doing to their communities and they knew that they had to stand up and fight.

I'm glad McIntyre asked that question so we can get these issues out into the open. Col Charlton answered it pretty well, I think. I'm not going to say that no one joins the Iraqi Security forces or Sons of Iraq for money, but he demonstrated that this certainly wasn't the case in any widespread sense in his AOR.

There's a lot more to the interview, so again please watch the whole thing and follow along with the transcript.

All in all, we've made tremendous progress in Iraq, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the bravery of thousands of Iraqis.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 13, 2008

"Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" - March 2008

This past Tuesday the Department of Defense released it's quarterly report, "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq". As stated in the report,it is "submitted pursuant to the section entitled "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" of House Conference Report 109-72 accompanying H.R. 1268, Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005, Public Law 109-13." You can download this and other valuable reports from the Defenselink Publications website.

Following are a few quotes from the report, followed by my comments. Although I have looked at all 69 pages, my time is limited and I've skimmed through rather than read the entire document. Readers are encouraged to download it and judge for themselves. Copy-and-paste has been blocked, so I had to type the sections that follow. All errors are therefore my own.

From the Executive Summary:

The security environment in Iraq continues to improve, supported by limited but important gains on the political, economic and diplomatic fronts. Violence levels have declined since the last report and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are gradually assuming responsibility for maintaining law and order and promoting stability. New strides have been taken in reconciliation at the national, provincial, and local levels, and the Iraqi economy is growing. However, recent security gains remain fragile, and sustained progress over the long term will depend on Iraq's ability to address a complex set of issues associated with key political and economic objectives
Violence levels are down throughout most of Iraq. Since the June 2007 report, deaths from ethno-sectarian violence are down nearly 90%. Total civilian deaths and Coalition deaths have each dropped by over 70%. A number of factors have contributed to the decrease in violence in Iraq, to include a Coalition focus on securing the population, progress against Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), rejection of AQI by significant portions of the population and the continued strength of the tribal Awakening movement and Sons of Iraq (formerly known as Concerned Local Citizens,) limitations on malign Iranian influence, Muqtada al Sadr's order to jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) to suspend attacks, actions in source and transit countries against foreign fighter facilitation networks, and an increase of over 100,000 Iraqi Army, police, and border forces.

However, their remain a number of concerns. AQI and other extremist groups remain resilient; though they have sustained significant losses, these groups continue to post a substantial threat and continue to carry out barbaric attacks. While their strength and influence are significant reduced in Anbar Province, Baghdad, the belts around Baghdad and many areas of Diyala province, AQI elements remain highly lethal in parts of the Tigris River Valley and in Ninewa Province. AQI members have,in particular, been targeting key figures in the Awakening movement and Sons of Iraq groups and have also been conductiona smaller number of less effective, high-profile attacks against the local population. Additionally, ethno-sectarian struggles over power and resources continue, and among Shi'a groups, criminal activity and infighting continue to impede progress.

Several things are noteworthy from what we have so far. One, that tremendous progress has been made in the all-important area of stopping insurgent violence. Just this past Sunday, newly arrived in Iraq Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John F. Kelly (I Marine Expeditionary Force FWD) said in a press briefing that he was stunned at how low the levels of violence were in comparison with his previous tours. Other commanders have echoed similar themes, documented here at The Redhunter.

Second, the adoption of classic counterinsurgency tactics played a large role in bringing us to where we are. Although some will try and portray the Anbar Awakening as a completely indigenous movement, the truth, as Maj. Gen Walter Gaskin said in December that it would not have happened without U.S. forces.

Lastly, that although we have achieved much, the gains are fragile and we still face significant challenges. "Fragile" was just the word used by Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil in December to describe the gains made by his 1st Cavalry. Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, in his February "exit interview", also made clear that things could still go very wrong.

Continuing, here is a section the summarizes the economic and governmental issues

On the economic front, enduring improvements are dependent on the the GoI's (Government of Iraq) still-tenuous ability to provide essential services and improve oil, electricity, and water infrastructure. Advances in these areas are critical to keeping Iraq on the path to sustainable economic development. On the political front, much will depend on continued legislative progress and the implementation of recently passed legislation, improvements in the effectiveness of Iraq's ministries and whether Iraq's political leaders have the will and ability needed to turn nascent political accommodation at the local and national levels into lasting national reconciliation. Further progress will depend on the continued ability of Iraqi leaders to capitalize on the hard-fought gains achieved by the Coalition and Iraqi forces and other courageous members of Iraqi society who are dedicated to peace.

The report itself is a mix of good-news-bad-news, but there is definitely more of the former than the latter. Quoting anything from the body of the report runs the risk of becoming too selective to be useful, and I think the Executive Summary accurately represents the facts presented in the report.

My conclusion is pretty straightforward; we're on the right track, and rather than talk about how fast we can pull out, we ought to be talking about how to consolidate and expand upon our gains. People who either want us to lose or don't care take the first position, those who want us to win the latter. I look at our current crop of political candidates and judge them on whether they want to win or lose in Iraq. So far, the choice is pretty clear.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 11, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 09 March 2008 - "Levels of violence -- stunning to me how low they are"

Maj. Gen. John F. Kelly (I Marine Expeditionary Force FWD) is the new Marine Corps commander in Iraq, having replaced Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin (II Marine Expeditionary Force FWD) in February at Multi-National Forces - West as part of normal rotation. Within MNF-W are the cities of Ar Ramadi and Fallujah.

Maj. Gen. Kelly 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. Petraeus reports to the commander of CENTCOM, who was Admiral Fallon until earlier today (I will write about this when more facts were known). Until a permanent replacement is found, Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is acting commander of CENTCOM.

This video and others can be viewed at DODvCLIPS. The transcript is here.


Gen Kelly spoke about their partnering with the Iraqi Army

GEN. KELLY: ...That is, the training teams that we have with them, Army and Marine, are very large, larger than what were required originally. We made them that way so that the training teams could live with the Iraqi units 24/7, fight with them, eat with them, shower with them....

We also partner. There's almost nothing that goes on anymore that we do, that we're not partnered, that is to say accompanied, by a like-size Iraqi army unit. But there's an awful lot going on recently of Iraqi army only. And when I say Iraqi army only, they're not out there with a Marine or a U.S. Army unit, but they're doing it on their own. But once again, the MiTT teams, the training teams are with them.

As part of covering these briefings, many times on this blog I've covered the "Sons of Iraq" program (formerly "Concerned Citizens Councils") that are so important . Because of attitudes towards women which are typical of traditional societies (and not so long ago in our own), the men do not want women as part of their Sons of Iraq units. Gen. Kelly describes how they solved that problem

For a long time, the individuals that we work with, particularly around Fallujah, did not want to have women in their police force, but then came to us and asked us to help them organize some women into what they termed Daughters of Iraq to help with the security, the searching of Iraqi women as they go in and out of checkpoints. We always did this, of course, before with our own female Marines and soldiers, but the Daughters of Iraq have even given us a little bit more advantage in that regard.

Indeed, there's a related story about the "Sisters of Fallujah" on the MNF-West website.

When the Q & A started, the first and understandably most important subject was the status of al Qaeda.

Q General, it's Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press. Could you describe how much influence or clout al Qaeda still has in Anbar, and whether you could -- do you see the possibility of them reasserting themselves as they're pushed out of Nineveh and elsewhere?

GEN. KELLY: Well, I think the best way to characterize it, I think, is that they're down but they're not out. When I came in about a month ago and took over, the briefings I received was that the al Qaeda units or individuals that were here had been beaten to some -- to the degree, at least, that they had either gone to ground or just simply left the province and went to other parts of the country. What we're seeing -- down but not knocked out. What we're seeing is, there is still some occasional violence that we attribute to -- in the province that we attribute to al Qaeda.

But, you know, the good news story is, and it is very key in an insurgency, they don't last very long in anything approaching a built- up area, even a village, without us being notified by the locals. I could give you any number of examples, even since I've been here, where the local folks have come to us, either through tips lines or just in the general day-to-day contact we have with them, and told us about people who are either hiding out or if they're down in the reeds near the river or something unusual is going on over here. Then we set up a watch, obviously, and take it down.

And so they're still around, and of course they watch very closely what we do and have the luxury of acting only when they think they can get away with something, where we always, of course, have to be a hundred percent effective. But they're still around, but not to any degree like they were when -- certainly when I left here.

The first part of Gen. Kelly's answer is interesting for the military details, but it's his second part - where he assesses the level of violence in Anbar, that was the most important part of this entire briefing.

Q Yeah, Jon Karl with ABC News. How many coalition forces are now in MNF-W? And what is the primary threat you're seeing? Give us an idea for numbers of attacks and where those are coming from....

GEN. KELLY: Well, we have a lot of coalition forces in the province. Wouldn't want to go into the details, but roughly in the neighborhood of 25(,000) to 30,000 U.S., all service personnel, majority Marines. We have -- again, when I think of what I'm dealing with day in and day out in terms of my security forces, I also include those two Iraqi divisions and the 24,000 police. I don't technically command the divisions, of course, nor do I command the police, but with the training teams that are down there in the police stations and with the battalions, brigades and the division, we certainly heavily coordinate everything that we do. And we've got, you know, great communication going. I'm out and about, as I mentioned before, a lot. I drop in unexpectedly to the police stations to see my people, who are the training teams. So when I talk -- when you talk coalition forces here, I think you really have to probably say we've got about -- coalition force is roughly 30,000, but I think -- you can't discount the other 45,000 that we work with every day here and really are in the lead. And that is the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police.

Levels of violence -- stunning to me how low they are. I mean, absolutely, when I left here three years ago, you could not go into the cities here, Fallujah, Ramadi, places like that, without a rifle company of Marines, and it was a gunfight going in, gunfight coming out. You couldn't drive from Ramadi to Fallujah, which I did almost every day back then, and not see four or five IEDs or the end result of four or five IEDs on that 40 miles of road. I mean, it is nothing like that now....

I mean, I've been here a month and haven't heard much in the way of gunfire, even, except on Thursday nights, when the weddings take place.

This next exchange is interesting for what it shows about the cultural differences between the United States and Iraqi society. We often get absorbed with dates and anniversaries, but to the Iraqis it's just not that important.

Q To follow up, this IO (information operations) campaign -- is it tied to anything such as the five-year anniversary of the war or an upcoming religious holiday?

GEN. KELLY: All right. No, I -- you know, I don't -- it is the fifth anniversary. I don't -- you know, I've got a fair amount of time here, and of course, as I said, it was my third time back. We tend to -- and I can remember this before -- we tend to tie -- dates and, you know, anniversaries tend to be a bigger deal, I think, to us than it is to them. They operate on their own time schedule, and they are -- you know, they try something, and perhaps if it doesn't work, they try something else. If they try something that works, they'll stay with it for a while, until we can counter it.

So no, I don't think there's anything tied to an anniversary or anything like that. I don't think they -- they're not as hung up on these kind of things as we seem to be sometimes.

Another subject of discussion was "nation building", though of course no one used that term, verbotten as it is.

Q General, this is Andrew Gray from Reuters. I wonder if you could tell us when do you expect Anbar to go to provincial Iraqi control (PIC)in terms of security. And when would you expect to start drawing down Marines in Anbar?

GEN. KELLY: ...Interesting enough, the -- we're very close to PIC here. The -- I wasn't really handed any kind of a timeline. All of these kind of things are event-driven. We do have a -- we do have kind of a checklist of things that both the governor -- and he plays a huge role in this, and should -- that the governor has his side of the checklist. I have my side of the checklist. We comment on each other's bits and pieces, and as an example, you know, whether the police can assume certain roles because of the equipment they have or may not have....

But it's really a collaborative effort, and we are very, very close here in the province as we sort out just a couple of things, equipment-type issues in the province, as well as just the -- and this is key -- the relationship between the province -- and this is governor stuff -- between the province and the national government. I think, as I view this relationship right now, you have a very -- you know, their background, their experience has been socialism, you know, very tightly controlled central government and everything is kind of just -- all of the rules, regulations, diktats go down into the provinces. I think the provinces prefer -- the governors prefer to have an awful lot of input. They want to identify what Al Anbar province needs and then provide that to the government and the ministries. And we're working it out with them.

One of the things on both sides of that equation, they're learning how to be a central government and they're learning how to be provincial governors and officials in a world that is very, very alien to them.

One of the amazing things about Iraq is that it seems we are starting from scratch. Sometimes I sit and think, "didn't they have a government and military before we went in?" Even Germany or Japan weren't this tough, we we utterly destroyed their military, so it can't be that.

No, rather one major reason for our trouble is that the damage Saddam's totalitarian control did was more tremendous than we ever imagined. How did we miss this? Perhaps because our experience with Germany and Japan was misleading. Hitler had (thankfully) only been in control for 12 years, and the Japanese fascists did not try and destroy their society. Saddam and his Ba'athist party destroyed theirs.

Finally, in his closing comments, Gen. Kelly invited the reporters to come to Iraq and see for themselves

But I would just certainly welcome you, if you haven't been out here in a while or even if you have, to come on down to the province and see what's going on. I think it's, as I say, it's pretty enlightening to see how this thing is going in all the right directions right now. And for sure, the opportunity to talk to the local mayors and police chiefs, and get their opinion and their perspective on what's going on.

I hope that many take him up on it.

Update

I promised that I'd have more to say about the resignation of Admiral Fallon, but I now think that I'll just link to a few articles that seem to sum up the situation.

"On Fallon Fallout", by Steve Schippert, at National Review
"Demagoguing Adm. Fallon's departure", the editors, The Washington Times

Posted by Tom at 11:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 10, 2008

Book Review - U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24

In a way this is the oddest "book" I have reviewed. For one, it's not really a book at all in the traditional sense, but more a manual, and a government publication at that. It's written for the soldier, marine, and to a lesser extent airman, yet is vital for civilians and policymakers. It's also freely available for download; a quick search in google and it yours free of charge (I purchased mine hardcopy from Amazon). Lastly, it's a government publication.

There is also no single author, and other than one appendix no one is given direct credit for any section.

The The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (For the Army, it is referred to as "FM 3-24". For the Marines, "Warfighting Publication 3-33.5") was released on December 15, 2006, and has been the bible for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan during the "surge" of 2007. I should have read and reviewed this much earlier, but either hadn't heard of it, or when I did, didn't realize how invaluable it was to understanding our overall strategy in both wars. So now it's better late than never.

The bottom line is that if you want to know what we are trying to do in Iraq and Afghanistan you have to read this book. Period and end of conversation.

The genesis of FM 3-24 was the realization early in the Iraq insurgency that we had forgotten how to fight counterinsurgency warfare. We simply had no current counterinsurgency doctrine. The Army and Marine Corps had not seriously considered the matter since the 1980s campaign in El Salvador, and the last field manual on the subject was FM 90-8 Counterguerrila Operations, released on Aug 29, 1986. Once matters in Central America settled down, however, few Army or Marine Corps officers had spent much time studying the matter.

When we realized our error, the Army went to work to rectify the matter. On October 1, 2004, an interim counterinsurgency field manual was published, designated 3-07.22. However, serious work on a full-scale replacement did not begin until then Lt Gen David Petreaus returned from Iraq in October of 2005.

Petraus immediately assumed command of the Army's Combined Action Center and set out to gather the team that would turn out FM 3-24. To help lead the effort, he recruited one of his West Point classmates, Lt Col (Dr) Conrad Crane (ret). The authors of each chapter, however, are anonymous. At the end are several appendixes. Perhaps the most important, or at any rate the most influential, is one by Lt Col (Dr) David Kilcullen (the first, or "A" appendix), who would go on to become Gen Petraus's senior counterinsurgency adviser in 2007.

In the February 11, 2008, print edition of National Review, Wesley Morgan identified four interconnected efforts that led to the successes of 2007 (numbers added):

..1) The adoption of classic counterinsurgency tactics, with U.S. battalions spreading out among the population and earning their trust; 2) the grassroots reconciliation of many Sunni and some Shiite communities; and 3) a series of meticulously planned corps-level offensives across Baghdad and its surrounding areas. All of these efforts have hinged on one major change: 4) During 2007, every echelon of the U.S. command -- from the four-star headquarters down through the critical corps and division levels to the brigades and battalions in the field -- was closely integrated into a cohesive whole. Without this integration, none of the four efforts that have brought Iraq forward would have made much difference.

The adoption of #1, classic counterinsurgency tactics, was the direct result of FM 3-24.

Following are some of the excerpts from FM 3-24 which I believe are most relevant for understanding what we are trying to do in Iraq. I have omitted areas which are esoteric or get into minutia, such as the details of logistics and intelligence gathering.

As you will see, the book is laid out like a giant outline, with each paragraph is assigned a number.

In addition to the narrative, throughout the book are short stories about counterinsurgency warfare. They range from Napoleon's ill-fated occupation of Spain to the current war in Iraq. While most describe how counterinsurgents overcame obstacles to defeat insurgents, the one on the Chinese Civil War obviously ends with the communists winning. There are several stories about the Vietnam War, with some telling of our successes but of course some of our failures.

Chapter 1: Insurgency and Counterinsurgency

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.

1-85. Access to external resources and sanctuaries has always influenced the effectiveness of insurgencies. External support can provide political, psychological, and material resources that might otherwise be limited or unavailable. Such assistance does not need to come just from neighboring states; countries from outside the region seeking political or economic influence can also support insurgencies. Insurgencies may turn to transnational criminal elements for funding or use the Internet to create a support network among NGOs. Ethnic or religious communities in other states may also provide a form of external support and sanctuary, particularly for transnational insurgencies.

1-102. Counterinsurgents remain alert for signs of divisions within an insurgent movement. A series of successes by counterinsurgents or errors by insurgent leaders can cause some insurgents to question their cause or challenge their leaders. In addition, relations within an insurgency do not remain harmonious when factions form to vie for power. Rifts between insurgent leaders, if identified, can be exploited. Offering amnesty or a seemingly generous compromise can also cause divisions within an insurgency and present opportunities to split or weaken it.

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.

Under the self described "Zen-like" "Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency" are the much quoted and commented upon paragraphs 1-149 through 1-153.

1-149 SOMETIMES, THE MORE YOU PROTECT YOUR FORCE, THE LESS SECURE YOU MAY BE. Ultimate success in COIN (counterinsurgency) is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained...These practices endure access to the intelligence needed to drive operations. Following them reinforces the connections with the populace that help establish real legitimacy.

1-150 SOMETIMES, THE MORE FORCE IS USED, THE LESS EFFECTIVE IT IS Any use produces many effects, not all of which can be foreseen. The more force applied, the greater the chance of collateral damage and mistakes. Using substantial force also increases the opportunity for insurgent propaganda and to portray lethal military activities as brutal. In contrast, using force precisely and discriminately strengthens the rule of law the needs to be established. As note above, the key for counterinsurgents is knowing when more forces is needed - and when it might be counterproductive....

1-151 THE MORE SUCCESSFUL THE COUNTERINSURGENCY IS, THE LESS FORCE CAN BE USED AND THE MORE RISK MUST BE ACCEPTED This paradox is really a corollary to the previous one. As the level of insurgent violence drops, the requirements of international law and the expectations of the populace lead to a reduction in direct military actions by counterinsurgents.

1-152 SOMETIMES DOING NOTHING IS THE BEST REACTION Sometimes insurgents carry out a terrorist act or guerrilla raid with the primary purpose of enticing counterinsurgents to overreact, or at least to react in a way the the insurgents can exploit - for example, opening fire ion a crowd....

1-153 SOME OF THE BEST WEAPONS FOR COUNTERINSURGENTS DO NOT SHOOT. ...While security is essential to setting the stage for overall progress, lasting victory comes from a vibrant economy, political participation,and restored hope. Particularly after security has been achieved, dollars and ballots will have more important effects than bombs and bullets. There is a time when "money is ammunition." Depending on the state of the insurgency, therefore, Soldiers and Marines should prepart to execute many nonmilitary missions to support COIN efforts. Everyone has a role iin nation building, not just Department of State and civil affairs personnel.

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....

Chapter 2: Unity of Effort: Integrating Civilian and Military Activities

"Essential though it is, the military action is secondary to the political one, its primary purpose bieng to afford the political power enough freedom to work safely with the population" David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare, 1964

Chapter 3: Intelligence in Counterinsurgency

3-5 Insurgencies are local. They vary greatly in time and space. The insurgency one battalion faces will often be different from that faced by an adjacent battalion....

3-67 PHYSICAL SECURITY. During any period of instability, people's primary interest is physical security for them and their families. When HN (host nation) forces fail to provide security or threaten the security of civilians, the population is likely to seek security guarantees from insurgents, militias, or other armed groups. This situation can feed support for an insurgency.

3-79 ...Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of insurgencies; national insurgencies and resistance movements....

3-80 In a national insurgency, the conflict is between the government and one or more segments of the population. In this type of insurgency, insurgents seek to change the political system, take control of the government, or secede from the country.

3-81 In contracts, a resistance movement (sometimes called a liberation insurgency) occurs when insurgents seek to expel or overthrow what they consider a foreign or occupation government.

3-103 Terrorist tactics employ violence primarily against noncombatants....

3-104 Guerrilla tactics, in contrast, feature hit-and-run attacks by lightly armed groups. The primary targets are HN government activities, security forces, and other COIN elements.

3-108 An insurgency's structure often determines whether it is more effective to target enemy forces or enemy leaders. For instance, if an insurgent organization is hierarchical with few leaders, removing the leaders may greatly degrade the organization's capabilities. However, if the insurgent organization is non-hierarchical, targeting the leadership may not have much effect.

3-133 Counterinsurgents should not expect people to willingly provide information if insurgents have the ability to violently intimidate sources.

Chapter 5: Executing Counterinsurgency Operations

"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

5-1 ...Successful counterinsurgents support or develop local institutions with legitimacy and the ability to provide basic services, economic opportunity, public order, and security.

INITIAL STAGE: "STOP THE BLEEDING"
5-4. Initially, COIN operations are similar to emergency first aid for the patient. The goal is to protect the population, break the insurgents' initiative and momentum, and set the conditions for further engagement. Limited offensive operations may be undertaken, but are complemented by stability operations focused on civil security. During this stage, friendly and enemy information needed to complete the common operational picture is collected and initial running estimates are developed. Counterinsurgents also begin shaping the information environment, including the expectations of the local populace.

MIDDLE STAGE: "INPATIENT CARE--RECOVERY"
5-5. The middle stage is characterized by efforts aimed at assisting the patient through long-term recovery or restoration of health--which in this case means achieving stability. Counterinsurgents are most active here, working aggressively along all logical lines of operations (LLOs). The desire in this stage is to develop and build resident capability and capacity in the HN government and security forces. As civil security is assured, focus expands to include governance, provision of essential services, and stimulation of economic development. Relationships with HN counterparts in the government and security forces and with the local populace are developed and strengthened. These relationships increase the flow of human and other types of intelligence. This intelligence facilitates measured offensive operations in conjunction with the HN security forces. The host nation increases its legitimacy through providing security, expanding effective governance, providing essential services, and achieving incremental success in meeting public expectations.

LATE STAGE: "OUTPATIENT CARE--MOVEMENT TO SELF-SUFFICIENCY"
5-6. Stage three is characterized by the expansion of stability operations across contested regions, ideally using HN forces. The main goal for this stage is to transition responsibility for COIN operations to HN leadership. In this stage, the multinational force works with the host nation in an increasingly supporting role, turning over responsibility wherever and whenever appropriate. Quick reaction forces and fire support mcapabilities may still be needed in some areas, but more functions along all LLOs are performed by HN forces with the low-key assistance of multinational advisors. As the security, governing, and economic capacity of the host nation increases, the need for foreign assistance is reduced. At this stage, the host nation has established or reestablished the systems needed to provide effective and stable government that sustains the rule of law. The government secures its citizens continuously, sustains and builds legitimacy through effective governance, has effectively isolated the insurgency, and can manage and meet the expectations of the nation's entire population.

5-52 (known as the "oil spot theory") COIN efforts should begin by controlling key areas. Security and influence then spread out from secured areas. The pattern of this approach is to clear, hold, and build one village, area, or city - and then reinforce success by expanding to other areas.

5-69 To protect the populace, HN security forces continuously conduct patrols and use measured force against insurgent targets of opportunity. Contact with the people is critical to the local COIN effort's success.

Chapter 6: Developing Host Nation Security Forces

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.

6-6 U.S. and multinational forces may need to help the host nation improve security; however, insurgents can use the presence of foreign forces as a reason to question the HN government's legitimacy. A government reliant on foreign forces for internal security risks not being recognized as legitimate. While combat operations with significant U.S. and multinational participation may be necessary, U.S. combat operations are secondary to enabling the host nation's ability to provide for it's own security.

6-29 Training HN (host nation) security forces is a slow and painstaking process. It does not lend itself to a "quick fix".

Chapter 7: Leadership and Ethics for Counterinsurgency

7-7 ...Effective commanders know the people, topography, economy, history, and culture of their area of operations (AO). They know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader, and ancient grievance within it...

7-8 Another part of analyzing a COIN (counterinsurgency) mission involves assuming responsibility for everyone in the AO. This means that leaders feel the pulse of the local populace, understand their motivations and care about what they want and need. Genuine compassion and empathy for the population provide an effective weapon against insurgents.

7-9 ...Therefore, military actions and words must be beyond reproach. The greatest challenge for leaders may be in setting an example for the local populace....It involves more than just killing insurgents; it includes the responsibility to serve as a moral compass....

7-11 ...Leaders do not allow subordinates to fall victim to the enormous pressures associated with protracted combat against elusive, unethical, and indiscriminate foes....

7-24 ...Counterinsurgents that use excessive force to limit short-term risk alienate the local populace. They deprive themselves of the support or tolerance of the people. This situation is what insurgents want....

Appendix A: A guide for Action

A-24 The first rule of COIN operations is to establish the force's presence in the AO (area of operations).... This requires living in the AO close to the populace. Raiding from remote, secure bases does not work.

A-26 Once the unit settles into the AO (Area of Operations), its next task is to build trusted networks. This is the true meaning of the phrase "hearts and minds," which comprises two separate components. "Hearts" means persuading people that their best interests are served by COIN success. "Minds" means convincing them that the force can protect them and that resisting it is pointless. Note that neither concerns whether people like Soldiers and Marines. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts. Over time, successful trusted networks grow like roots into the populace. They displace enemy networks, which forces enemies into the open, letting military forces seize the initiative and destroy the insurgents.
(more on this phrase here)

A-60 ...Whatever else is done, the focus must remain on gaining and maintaining the support of the population. With their support, victory is assured; without it, COIN efforts cannot succeed.

Update

Small Wars Journal has a must-read post on the the evolution and importance of FM 3-24

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March 6, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 04 March 2008 - State of the Iraqi Army

Today's briefing is by Lt Gen James Dubik, who is the commander of Multinational Security Transition Command - Iraq. He reports to Gen David Petraeus, commander of MNF-Iraq. MNSTC-I is responsible for "organizing, training, equipping and mentoring Iraqi security forces throughout the country." Gen Dubik has commanded MNSTC-I since June of 2007. Then Lt Gen Petraus held a similar position before he was brought back to the United States in October 2005 to lead the team that would write the new army's counterinsurgency field manual (FM 3-24)

This and other videos can be seen at DODvLINKS. The transcript is here.

Everyone knows that ultimately the Iraqi security forces are going to have to assume complete responsibility for their country. Today's briefing provides us insight into how ready they are.

Following are parts of the briefing and press Q & A that I found the most interesting, but be sure and view the video and the transcript in their entirety.

From the his opening statement:

I hope through most of your questions and answers to convince you that on some areas we're progressing very, very well, in other areas still have work to do. So the bottom line is a mixed picture.

Numbers count in this kind of war, as all of you know. Physical presence counts and the Iraqi security forces know that. They have grown in 2007 well over 100,000 in the army, air force, the navy, the police -- the national police, and most of that growth was in the period June of 2007 through December of 2007. For example, the army in 2007 grew by 60,000-plus, 42,000-plus in the last half of the year. The national police grew 8,000 in 2007, all of it in the last half of 2007. And the Iraqi police grew by about 45,000 -- a little bit less than 45,000 in 2007, 29,000 in the last half of 2007.

So the story of numbers is a pretty good picture. But numbers are necessary, but insufficient. It's quality also that we count, and there's several indicators here that are pretty significant. First, the percentage of boots on the ground in the second half of 2007 went from mid-60s to low 80s. This is a big shift in the number of people who are actually in the army, actually on the ground in their battalions in their battle space. Numbers of officers now in the aggregate is 73 percent of officer requirements are filled; 69 percent of NCOs are filled.

This is in the aggregate.

We do still have problems with distribution. In general, officers are -- too many in the lower ranks and too many in the higher ranks and not enough in between, and NCOs too many in the -- quite a few in the lower ranks but not enough in the higher ranks. But eight, nine months ago, the problem was insufficient leaders and now we're into a different problem.
...

There are two areas that I watch in terms of polls. We started polling Iraqis in their attitude toward their security forces last November, and in two important areas: the question "Do you disagree with the fact that the Iraqi security forces are corrupt?" There are many more people now, over 10 percent, who are disagreeing that that's correct. So they're having more confidence in their security forces, by their own measure.

...There is, as I said, huge progress in many areas, quality and quantity. But we're not free of difficulties.

We still have to finish the growth of the counterinsurgency force. We're going to focus in 2008 on developing a self-sustaining enabler without any loss of momentum in the aviation -- excuse me -- aviation field. The national police professionalization will continue through 2008 and 2009. The Iraqi police have to integrate the Sons of Iraq or concerned local citizens, as they were called, and the minister of Interior and government of Iraq are making plans to do that.

And we have difficulty overall with leaders. While we're at 70 -- 73 percent officers, 69 percent NCOs, we still want to grow beyond that, and police officers are also something that we're lagging behind. We grew the police force, as I said, by 40,000 last year, and we're lagging behind in police officers. We're working on a plan to do that, and I'll be happy to answer your questions about that.

The issue with the Sons of Iraq is that many or most of them are Sunni, and the government is Shia dominated. Because Saddam was a Sunni and they took the opportunity to lord it over the Shiites, there is much residual animosity. So the government mistrusts the Sunnis. As a result, and several government officials (maybe Maliki, I'm not sure) have expresssed concerns about the Sons of Iraq turning into a militia force and becoming a threat to the government. The Sunnis, on the other hand, believe that they are trying to secure their own country ("isn't that what you wanted?" they ask) and will be upset if the government does not recognize them.

i think the Sunnis have the better of the argument and leading US generals, such as Lt Gen Odierno, have said likewise.

The "difficulty with leaders" bit is likewise interesting. We have faced much difficulty with cultural issues in forming the new Iraqi security forces. On the one hand a cardinal rule (stated many times in Petraeus' Counterinsurgency Field Manual: FM 3-24) is that you don't build the host nation security forces in your image. On the other hand, the Iraqis are used to getting leadership posts on personal connections alone. They're not used to being fired just because you don't do your job. This is part of Clausewitz' "friction of war".

Q Sir, it's Kristin Roberts with Reuters. I'm hoping you can speak in a little bit more detail about the logistics and maintenance problems. I know that the focus has been for a long time on developing the combat forces or the maneuver forces. But has there been any progress in the Iraqis' ability to do their own logistics and maintenance, and what is the timeline, the time frame, for getting them up to speed?

GEN. DUBIK: Sure. Thanks Christine (sic/Kristin). Yeah, logistics, actually, is making some good progress. It will be until the end of this year until we're in a different logistics position, but you can already see here some of the changes. For example, in December the minister of defense had declared that his forces would go to self- sufficiency in life support -- food, primarily, and fuel. He's doing a very good job across the board in terms of feeding themselves, had a little bit of rocky start in December and January, but now that's pretty much smoothed out, and now he's working on the fueling issue. That will take a couple of months to get that ironed out, but that part of logistics is on track, and they're progressing. ...

I've watched many briefings and all of the commanders say the same thing; that the Iraqi security forces are making tremendous progress in combat capability but their logistics capabilities are lagging. Much of this, from what I can tell, is that the Iraqis are bad at bureaucracy and everything gets bogged down. You also have corruption and sectarian favoritism.

Q Sir, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. Talking about the increase in numbers in the police and the army, what's the current size in terms of number of the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army? And what are your goals that you are looking to reach, you and the Iraqi government?

GEN. DUBIK: The Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior have set for themselves somewhere around 600,000 aggregate military and police as the force that would be large enough to maintain security in the country. And so that's where they're aiming, and they think that they should get to that point sometime around 2010. Right now, or as of the end of the year, the total number of people was about 531,000 -- 180(,000)-some in the military, 200(,000) and -- or, correction, 340,(000)-some in the police forces, and about 3,000 in the special operations forces. And they are on a growth path where they can sustain this size of force, both with money and with equipment.

You will know that in 2006, the government of Iraq has began paying more for their security forces than the Iraqi Security Force Fund contains. That trend continued in 2007 and again in 2008. So they're very cognizant of the size of force they believe they need, and they're very cognizant of the fact that they've got to spend -- put money in their budget to maintain this size of force.

Overall the general paints a pretty positive picture. No doubt he left out many of the problems and this time I'm disappointed that the questions weren't tougher. But then maybe there just wasn't much to criticize. All in all what he said was in line with much else that I've been reading. We're all disappointed that the whole thing is taking so much longer than was anticipated (all wars seem to) but I think this report shows that we are making progress and if current trends continue we can defeat the insurgency.

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March 5, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 04 March 2008 - Back from Iraq

Yesterday's briefing was at the Pentagon and was conducted by Lt Gen Ray Odierno.

This video and others can be viewed at DODvCLIPS. The transcript is here.

Lt Gen Odierno was until recently commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq. The divisional commanders (major generals) reported to him. While in this position he reported to Gen Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq. Petraeus in turn reports to Admiral William Fallon, commander of CENTCOM, who then reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Odierno took command of MNC-Iraq on Dec 14, 1007, and on Feb 14 2008 was succeeded by Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III as part of normal rotation. Odierno has been nominated to become the Army's next vice chief of staff, a four star position. On a sadder note, his son, Army Capt. Anthony K. Odierno, lost his left arm in an August 2004 RPG attack in Iraq.

This was a relatively long briefing, and I encourage readers to view it in it's entirety. There were many more reporters than usual present, and most of the briefing consisted of Q & A. The questions were smart and tough, which is how it should be. Here are some of the parts that I found most interesting.

note that the quotes below are not in chronological order but are arranged topically.

GEN. ODIERNO: ...the situation in Iraq is now largely a communal struggle for power and resources. Both intra-Shi'a, intra-Sunni competition as well as external influences are at the center of issues facing the government of Iraq. Iraq is a complex country; there is no blanket solutions for the country.

The improved security conditions, in part from the surge of 2007, has given the Iraqis an opportunity to choose a better way. We can likely make some more progress in security, but the focus must shift to jobs and economic opportunity, making strides in governance both nationally and, just as important, locally, and a continued bettering of the Iraqi security forces, bolstering both their capacity and their ability to conduct independent operations.

There is a certain type of anti-war leftist who is convinced that all we do is "bomb villages", and that our generals are "Jack D. Ripper" types who only understand solving problems in terms of guns and bullets. Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth.

2007 has been a year of success. Toward the end of the briefing Odierno explained what went right - and what might still go wrong.

Q General, could you talk a bit about the progress you achieved while you were there, specifically on the surge strategy...?

GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, I would just say that there's several things that occurred. The surge enabled us to do some things. It enabled us to eliminate some safe havens and sanctuaries that had been established over time, specifically by al Qaeda and some other extremist elements.

So that's what the surge -- but just as important as the surge was the change in our tactics, techniques and procedures that got us back out in the neighborhoods and was -- and our mantra was protect the population, protect the citizens of Iraq. We were back in large bases. We would drive; we'd come out; we'd go in, come out. We moved back into the neighborhoods. We walked the ground; they knew who we were. You know, when I'd go out four, five times a week on patrol, what always amazed me, by the time I left, after we'd been out there six to eight months on the ground, is, they knew the names of the sergeants in the neighborhoods. They knew the captains. They knew who they were. There were relationships that were built.

The other thing that happened, that we probably didn't think through when we first did this, was, that gave us more brigades to partner with Iraqi units, which in my mind sped up their improvement, because there's no better way than to partner with them and do day-to- day operations with the Iraqi forces. And that is the best way for us to improve their capacity. And I think that's something we might not have thought through when we first said we were going to do the surge, but happened because of the plans that we put in place, specifically in Baghdad.

On insurgents coming back, I really believe that the Iraqis have hope now. And those that were involved in the insurgency have really decided that they want to be part of the legitimate government of Iraq and they are tired of the insurgency and they really want to move forward.

The only thing that could change that -- if there's some dramatic event that changed -- where they lose confidence in the government of Iraq and they believe that the government of Iraq is not there for them, and then you might see the reappearance of insurgency. If that does not happen, I believe they will not come back. There will be some groups of al Qaeda that try to do that. There will be some Iranian-supported extremists that try to do that. But we understand that, and I think that we'll go after that element -- piece of it.

Did you catch the part where he said he went out on patrols 4 or 5 times a week?

Many of the questions touched on the campaign

Q (Bob Burns with AP) General, you probably noticed since you got back we're having a campaign here in this country. (soft laughter) And there's been a lot of discussion of the future course in Iraq. And one of the major proposals put forth by one side is to withdraw the remaining brigades out of Iraq at a rate of about one or two brigades a month, getting to the point where you have no more combat brigades in Iraq within 16 months. I'm just wondering, when you hear proposals like that talked about in the campaign, how realistic is that? Is there a danger in going that far, do you think, what would happen?

GEN. ODIERNO: I think the answer -- you know, what I would say to whoever gets elected as the next president is, what we really need is assessments. We got to constantly do assessments. You know, 12 months ago nobody would have thought we're where we are now in Iraq. And so you have to do constant updates, assessments. You got to do evaluations. And then based on that, you got to make a decision on where we're going to move forward. And that's both from a military perspective, which will be given by General Petraeus and the leaders of Iraq and the chairman and the secretary of Defense, as well as policy decisions that they have to consider.

So that's all I think is appropriate, is that in fact they conduct these assessments and then make a decision on where we want to go in Iraq; and what are their goals in Iraq, what do they -- as their policy, what do they want to achieve. And we got to look at how we do that from a military and policy standpoint.

And later we had this exchange

Q Nonetheless, let's be clear. The Democrats are talking about mandated -- different ones, but mandated timelines for withdrawal from Iraq. The generals, the senior commanders are right now with the mission of assessments and conditions-based withdrawal. What is your feeling if it comes to the point of mandated withdrawals, whatever they may be, rather than conditions-based? Do you think that the senior commanders can adjust to that? Will they salute smartly and just say yes?

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, it depends on where we are, Barbara. I mean, it depends on where we are 10 months from now. I mean, that's what we're talking about, January of 2009. So it depends on where we are in Iraq in 10 months. At that time, if that's decided, we'll have to make an assessment to decide whether that's the right thing to do. And if it's not, it's our job to say, with the mission you've given me, can we accomplish this or not? And that's what they're going to have to do.

But to say anything about that now is premature, because 10 months from now, you know, I don't know what Iraq's going to be like.

Apparently, though, Senators Clinton and Obama can see into the future and know what the situation will be there in January of 2009. Either that or they're just playing to their far-left anti-war supporters who don't care about the situation but just want out.

Regarding the "assessments" that Odierno spoke about

Q Kimberly Dozier, CBS News. What are some of the markers you're looking for? You keep saying this wonderful word, "assessment." What does that mean? What do you need to see to bring troops down?

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I mean, I think first it's the level of violence. It's the capacity of Iraqi security forces. It's the status of local, provincial, central governance and the relationship they have between each other. It's job development and economic development.

It's all of those things. And we have many factors that we have decided underneath each one of those that goes into those assessments.

Several times reporters wanted him to commit to a number of brigades that we should have in Iraq at a time in the future and each time he refused. I think this is the responsible route. It would be foolish to commit to a timetable. You have to look at the situation and take decisions based on what you see.

If you're not aware, we had about 15 brigades in Iraq before the "surge". During the first 6 months of 2007 we added (surged) 5 additional brigades into the country. The surge brigades are now coming home, and as Odierno said during the interview he "felt very comfortable going to 15 brigades" again when he left. However, "now I want to see what happens when we go to 15 brigades."

I know that there are those who say that this would somehow "force" the Iraqis to "step up to the plate." I think this is hopelessly simplistic thinking that fails to understand the complexity of the situation.

The visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came up

Q Joe Tabet with Al Hurra, sir. Yesterday the Iranian president, Ahmadinejad, was in Baghdad. From your experience, how do you see the Iranian role in Iraq, and do you think the Iranians are still helping and aiding the extremist militias in -- like al-Sadr militia in Iraq?

GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, I would just say, first, Iran is a neighboring country of Iraq, so they've got to have relationships and they've got to continue to work those relationships. The issue I have is to make sure that that relationship is a helpful relationship. A lot was made yesterday of the fact that he was able to walk around and nothing happened. My comment is, I'm not surprised, because over the last 12 months, whenever a visitor would come from the United States, we'd either foil a rocket attack or the rocket attack happened.

Guess what? That's because there -- it was being done by Iranian surrogates. And when the government of Iraq holds a meeting, there tends to be rocket attacks. Why is that? Because it's done by Iranian surrogates.

As vice chief of staff (if confirmed) Odierno will move into a position where instead of being in command of combat units he will be responsible for what Clausewitz called "preparation for war"; training, equipping, manpower issues, and such. Essentially, it means getting the army ready for war. As such, there were several questions along those lines. Here's one of many

Q Sir, I want to go back to Peter's question. What is the metric -- what are the defining elements of trying to determine how much strain is being placed on the force, in trying to decide to move back from 15 months to 12 months? I mean, we keep hearing about this delicate balance; you know, we're trying to balance things between the needs on the ground and the needs of the force and the strain on the families. But is that a measurable sort of thing?

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I think -- you know, ultimately what we're trying to do is get more time back between deployments. I mean, I think that's the thing we're looking at, is, you know, more time between deployments, ultimately. So I think that's what you're after.

You know, right now we're getting one-for-one basically, what we call if you're deployed for 12 or 15 months, you're home for 12 to 15 months. That's what we're trying to achieve. We'd like to make that larger, and we think if we can make that -- so if you're deployed for a year, you're back for two years; we're not there yet. We're not close to being there yet. But that's kind of the metric I think we want to look at. So we understand and try to at least put -- reduce some of the strain on the families, and that's what we're trying to do by raising the size of the Army, increasing the size of the Army, increase the size of brigades and also reducing the requirement as we have success.

I didn't watch as many of these press briefings back in 2003 - 2006 as I do now, but one thing you can't help but notice is that commanders do not make predictions as to the future. Rather, they talk about trends and risks. They tell the story of the successes of 2007, but caution that things could still go wrong.

Q General, you talked about things that have to happen in order to reach an irreducible level of violence. So what are the risks that you see that could turn this thing around and move it in the other direction?

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I know there's probably something that I'm not thinking about. There always tends to be that one thing you're not thinking about that can happen.

But I worry about intra-Shi'a violence a bit. That could, you know, could spiral out of control. I feel comfortable with where we're at on that. I think we have a good plan to do that.

But that's something we have to -- external influences, Iran, you know, I worry about that a little bit. I think that is the long-term issue, and I think we have to be -- understand that.

So I think those are the kind of things and just what we call accelerants to violence. If there's some event that happens that would accelerate this sectarian tension that is there -- sectarian violence has really been significantly reduced. There's still some sectarian tension.

So what we don't want is that sectarian tension to turn back to violence. The more time we go without sectarian violence, the tension begins to reduce. And the change of that reduces. However there's still a risk in that sectarian tension.

So what we look for is, what are the events that could cause a rise in sectarian tension? You know, when they had the second Samarra mosque bombing, one of the things I learned is, because the Iraqi government came out very quickly and really went out to the population, it had very little effect at all on sectarian violence. That's the kind of thing that helps us mitigate the risk.

So as further away we get from it, the better chance we have of mitigating that. But those are the things I worry about.

Indeed there is much to worry about. But there is also much to be optimistic about. If current trends hold, we will defeat the insurgency. But we can't let up and we certainly shouldn't pull out troops before the situation on the ground allows for it.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 3, 2008

"The Patton of Counterinsurgency"

Over the past year I've followed events in Iraq closer than ever. I watched numerous press briefings at The PentagonChannel and DODvCLIPS. I read article after article. And one man who stood out to me as exceptional was Lt Gen Ray Odierno.

OdiernoRaymond_ACU-2006-12_OfficialPhoto.jpg

Lt Gen Odierno was until recently commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq. The divisional commanders (major generals) reported to him. While in this position he reported to Gen Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq. Petraeus in turn reports to Admiral William Fallon, commander of CENTCOM, who then reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Odierno took command of MNC-Iraq on Dec 14, 1007, and on Feb 14 2008 was succeeded by Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III as part of normal rotation. Odierno has been nominated to become the Army's next vice chief of staff, a four star position. On a sadder note, his son, Army Capt. Anthony K. Odierno, lost his left arm in an August 2004 RPG attack in Iraq.

General Odierno doesn't get nearly the press that Gen Petraeus does, which given the situation is perfectly understandable. But it is unfortunate, because he has been as instrumental in developing the change in strategy that has led to the successes of 2007.

But I am not the one best qualified to write about Odierno and his contributions. Last week rederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan (yes they're married) wrote an article that appeared in The Weekly Standard that you need to read in its entirety. Following are some excerpts from their piece, "The Patton of Counterinsurgency: With a sequence of brilliant offensives, Raymond Odierno adapted the Petraeus doctrine into a successful operational art"

Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno took command of Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) on December 14, 2006. Iraq was in flames. Insurgents and death squads were killing 3,000 civilians a month. Coalition forces were sustaining more than 1,200 attacks per week. Operation Together Forward II, the 2006 campaign to clear Baghdad's most violent neighborhoods and hold them with Iraqi Security Forces, had been suspended because violence elsewhere in the capital was rising steeply. Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) owned safe havens within and around Baghdad, throughout Anbar, and in Diyala, Salah-ad-Din, and Ninewa provinces. The Iraqi government was completely paralyzed.

When General Odierno relinquished command of MNC-I on February 14, 2008, the civil war was over. Civilian casualties were down 60 percent, as were weekly attacks. AQI had been driven from its safe havens in and around Baghdad and throughout Anbar and Diyala and was attempting to reconstitute for a "last stand" in Mosul--with Coalition and Iraqi forces in pursuit. The Council of Representatives passed laws addressing de-Baathification, amnesty, provincial powers, and setting a date for provincial elections. The situation in Iraq had been utterly transformed.

As is well known, General Petraeus oversaw the writing of a new counterinsurgency doctrine before being sent to Iraq. But the doctrine did not provide a great deal of detail about how to plan and conduct such operations across a theater as large as Iraq. It was Odierno who creatively adapted sophisticated concepts from conventional fighting to the problems in Iraq, filling gaps in the counterinsurgency doctrine and making the overall effort successful.

The Kagans then discuss our unsuccessful strategies of the past. We kept our forces on 5 large bases, and sent them out on raids. Our hope was that by targeting insurgent leaders and their safe houses we could disrupt their networks. We also tried to build up the Iraqi armed forces, hoping that they would be the ones to ultimately secure neighborhoods.

According to this approach, the killing of AQI leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi in June 2006 should have disrupted the al Qaeda network severely. But AQI rapidly regrouped after Zarqawi's death under a successor, Abu Ayyub al Masri. The American counterterrorism approach disrupted the network but did not eliminate it. AQI's ability to generate violence in Baghdad through its signature vehicle bombs actually increased in the months after Zarqawi's death, as did civilian casualties and Shia retaliatory attacks. The entire cycle of violence that attacks on the terrorist network were supposed to bring under control actually ramped up.

This is exactly why I don't think that killing Osama bin Laden would make that much difference either. I've got a lot more to say about this in a post I hope to have up tomorrow or Wednesday, so stay tuned.

Just as Odierno took command, Coalition forces captured an AQI map depicting Baghdad as the center of the fight. AQI's main focus in 2006 was establishing safe havens in West Baghdad. The rise in power and ferocity of the Shia militias, however, forced them to establish bases outside of the capital from which to attack both Coalition forces and their Shia opponents. The map showed how AQI had divided the areas around the capital into regions, how it used these suburban safe havens (in Baghdad's "belts") as part of a complex system for moving weapons into the city, and how it carried the fight south of Baghdad.

AQI's approach--and Odierno's new understanding of it--made traditional military concepts like lines-of-communication, support areas, and key terrain relevant to the counterinsurgency strategy. Insurgents moving from the belts to the capital required access to particular roads. Maintaining that access required holding neighborhoods bordering the roads. Car-bombers needed factories in which to make their weapons. IED-users needed ammunition stores and ways of moving their IEDs from depots to frontline fighters. Leaders needed safehouses to allow their free movement in the city and headquarters outside the capital from which they could direct operations. Thinking of the enemy as a network, as U.S. forces had previously been doing, underemphasized the importance of geography and of controlling key terrain to the enemy's operations. Odierno prepared to take that terrain away.

Then came the part that surprised me

Given the enemy's situation in Iraq, Odierno knew he would need more troops to make the counterinsurgency doctrine operational. He asked for them in December 2006, and President Bush announced the "surge" in January 2007.

I'd never known exactly who it was who initiated the request for additional troops. Now I do.

There is a lot more to the article and it's more than i can or should quote here. The Kagans get detailed on the various operations Odierno designed and implemented, and all I really say is that you need to go and read the whole thing. The Kagans conclude that

Ray Odierno did not win the Iraq war--indeed, the war is still very much ongoing and victory is by no means assured. (And both he and Petraeus would insist on giving any recognition to their staffs and to the men and women of the American armed forces.) The narrative of Iraq's transformation on Odierno's watch lends itself easily to a triumphal presentation that would be utterly inappropriate. ...

Odierno's tenure as commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq was an astonishing period in American military history, and his contribution deserves note as he and his staff return home to new postings. Their efforts showed that there is a need even in sophisticated counterinsurgency theory for skillful combat operations, that traditional ways of thinking about war can be appropriately adapted to novel circumstances, and that it is possible to be a warrior, nation-builder, mediator, diplomat, economist, and role-model all at once. At least, it is possible for heroes like Ray Odierno and the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and civilians he commanded for 15 months at one of the most critical junctures in recent American history.

DItto that.

Frederick W. Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of The End of the Old Order: Napoleon and Europe, 1801-1805. Kimberly Kagan, the president of the Institute for the Study of War, is the author of The Eye of Command. Her reports and analysis of the Iraq war are available at www.understandingwar.org.

Previous

Most recent at top

LtGen Odierno Interview - Explanation of the Surge and What is to Come
Iraq Briefing - 17 January 2008 - LTG Ray Odierno
Lt. Gen. Odierno's Nov 1 News Briefing
Lt Gen Odierno discuses Operation Phantom Strike
A Tale of Two Generals

Update

I just realized that I left out the part of the article in which the Kagans explained why they thought Lt Gen Ray Odierno was equivalent to General George S Patton. I suppose most readers know, but if you're not then Odierno is to Petraeus what Patton was to Eisenhower; the guy who put the top general's vison into action.

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March 1, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 22 Feb 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"

In this briefing, Col Tom James gave one of the most powerful presentations I have heard about our strategy in Iraq and why it is working.

Col James is the Commander of the 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, and spoke via satellite Friday Feb 22 to reporters at the Pentagon. Col James provided an update on the situation in his AOR (area of responsibility). His unit took over the AOR from 4-25 Infantry on December 1, 2007. In his words, "encompasses North Babil province and stretches from the Euphrates River Valley in the West to the Tigris River Valley in the East. Our area spans just over 40,000 square kilometers, an area roughly the size of Switzerland, and contains approximately 625,000 Iraqis."

The 3rd Infantry Division is commanded by Maj Gen Rick Lynch. Lynch reports to the new commander of MNC-Iraq, Lt Gen Lloyd Austin, who in turn reports to the commander of MNF-Iraq, Gen David Petraeus.

(note that while the video expires from the PentagonChannel website after a month or so, it can still be viewed at DODvCLIPS)

The transcript for this briefing is here.

What makes this briefing particularly interesting is that Col James provides a clear and concise explanation of several important aspects of our counterinsurgency strategy. This strategy was first published in December of 2006 in the US Army Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. Then Lt Gen David Petraeus led the team which publicized FM 3-24. What I will do is tie what Col James says to instructions in the field manual. Note that I have organized what follows topically; the quotes do not necessarily follow each other chronologically as they occurred during the briefing.

COL. JAMES: Our mission is to secure the population, interdict accelerants moving towards Baghdad, defeat extremists and neutralize resistance groups, primarily focused on defeating sectarian violence, and build capacity of the Iraqi security forces, government institutions and economic programs. And our last task is focused on transitioning security and local development tasks to the Iraqi security forces and local governments.

The current security situation is stable, and I am optimistic about the future. Sunni extremists are severely disrupted. They no longer find sanctuary and support from the population. We attribute the current security situation to three major reasons; reason number one, our COIN(counterinsurgency) strategy adjustment and the surge deployment; reason number two, Iraqi security force capabilities have incredibly increased, or extremely increased; and the third is the Sons of Iraq program and the population standing up to defend their neighborhoods.

I'll expand on each of these three reasons for a second. First, we are living with the population. The five-brigade surge gave coalition forces the resources required to concentrate combat power in extremist-dominated areas. They allowed us to occupy key terrain in these areas to avoid enemy reoccupation.

Here are the relevant sections from U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24. In 2006-7 then Lt Gen David Petraeus led the team that produced this manual. It is basically the instruction book for our troops in Iraq

A-24 The first rule of COIN operations is to establish the force's presence in the AO (area of operations).... This requires living in the AO close tot he populace. Raiding from remote, secure bases does not work.

FM 3-24 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.

1-149 Ultimate success in COIN is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations much be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained.... Following (these practices) reinforces the connection with the populace that help establish real legitimacy.

3-67 PHYSICAL SECURITY. During any period of instability, people's primary interest is physical security for them and their families. When HN (host nation) forces fail to provide security or threaten the security of civilians, the population is likely to seek security guarantees from insurgents, militias, or other armed groups. This situation can feed support for an insurgency.

Me: A bit of history is needed here. Our strategy from the beginning of the insurgency to the end of 2006 was three fold: One, keep most of our troops in 5 large bases, and send them out on targeted raids. Two, concentrate on building up the Iraqi government and economy. Three, build Iraqi security forces in the hope that we could build them up faster than the insurgents could take over areas of the country. While the second goal was correct, one and three were misguided and ultimately failed. We forgot that classic counterinsurgency doctrine was to secure the population first, and the only way you could do that was to live among them. As Wesley Morgan wrote in the Feb 11 2008 print edition of National Review, "Classic counterinsurgency doctrine, long forgotten by U.S. military institutions, makes clear that while raids have their place, they cannot be the major focus if any kind of sustained progress is to be expected. The center of gravity in counterinsurgency operations is the population, not the enemy, and the objective is the population's security, not the destruction of the insurgents - an impossible goal."

Why didn't we do this earlier? Morgan says that prior to the surge "force levels available in Iraq dictated the strategy, rather than the strategy dictating the force levels." I'm not totally sure of this means that previous commanders of MNF-Iraq, LtGen Sanchez and Gen Casey, simply didn't ask for more troops, if they asked and were denied, or didn't ask because they knew they wouldn't get them. Ultimately, responsibility for failure resides with them, past CENTCOM commander Gen John Abizaid, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and ultimately President Bush.

But by the same token, simply having sent more troops without a new doctrine to guide them would have been fruitless also. It was a combination of more troops, the proper application of counterinsurgency doctrine, corps-level operations, and the various "awakenings", or reconciliations, that have turned the situation around.

COL. JAMES: Secondly, the Iraqi security force has proven -- is improved significantly. The difference between their capacity during my last deployment and now is truly amazing. We partner with four Iraqi army brigades, two Iraqi army battalions and, as well, 15 police headquarters. Most of these organizations are capable of processing intelligence and executing precise independent operations. We still have some equipment issues, but we continue to work this hard, and I see positive momentum in this area....

Q Sir, it's Mike Mount with CNN, and I suppose I'll ask this kind of obvious question that always gets asked of you folks. You had mentioned that the surge troops were part of one of the elements that is kind of keeping security in the area. What would happen, do you think, if surge troops in your area are pulled out? Do you think the security forces there are strong enough, and the Sons of Iraq are strong enough to hold? Or are the surge troops a really strong, key element in your area?

COL. JAMES: Good question, Mike, and that is a question that we often receive, and it's a good one.

As you think about the security forces, as they've developed over time, we have focused on the surge force coming in and buying time.

It's a bridging strategy to allow the Iraqi security forces and government to develop over time, while concurrent with that, we reduce the capability of the enemy force. And I've seen just in my short period of time here that that has been extremely successful.

6-29 Training HN (host nation) security forces is a slow and painstaking process. It does not lend itself to a "quick fix".

FM 3-24 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.

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.

COL. JAMES: Thirdly, the Iraqi population is tired of their families being terrorized by extremists and have stepped up to secure their neighborhoods.

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.

COL. JAMES: ...With the security window opened, we continue the exploitation phase, focused on governance and economics. We have an embedded reconstruction team resourced with governance and economics experts. Mr. Van Franken (sp), our EPRT leader, has a team, and as his team is an essential part of our brigade combat team, we include them in all operational planning and execution.

Under economics, they focus on developing small businesses, agricultural associations, poultry and fish farms and reconstruction projects. Under governance, they focus on local governance training, governance linkages and beladiya assistance, which are the public works and the essential services for the people.

FM 3-24 7-7 ...Effective commanders know the people, topography, economy, history, and culture of their area of operations (AO). They know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader, and ancient grievance within it...

7-8 Another part of analyzing a COIN (counterinsurgency) mission involves assuming responsibility for everyone in the AO. This means that leaders feel the pulse of the local populace, understand their motivations and care about what they want and need. Genuine compassion and empathy for the population provide an effective weapon against insurgents.

COL. JAMES: But the three things that I see as very important is, the opportunity exists because of very competent Iraqi security forces, both Iraqi army and Iraqi police. We have a population in our AO that is hungry for freedom, and you can see that in their eyes as they stand point as part of the Son of Iraq. Or you see a family member, be it a mother or a daughter, walking to market. You can see all the activity.

Right now we're in the middle of the Arba'een festival time period, and you can see their women and children walking down these highways to that celebration.

FM 3-24 quote from Sir Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam, 1966 "Much can be learnt merely from the faces of the population in villages that are subject to clear-and-hold operations, if these are visited at regular intervals. Faces which at first are resigned and apathetic, or even sullen, six months or a year later are full of cheerful welcoming smiles. The people know who is winning."

Me: We're getting there, but we're not there yet. This is going to take time, but we're on the right track. Lt Gen Odierno laid it out well in an interview on Feb 14 in which he said that the key now was that political progress at the top and bottom need to meet in the middle. Progress, I think, is being made. It's in fits, in starts and stops, but it's moving. Like Bismark said, democracy is like making sausage; while the result might be good the process is ugly viewed up close. Lt Col T.E Lawrence ("of Arabia" also had it right when he said that "War upon rebellion is messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife." It can be done, but it's not easy and takes time. Iraq won't be won dramatically World War II style, it'll be won one step at a time, and when it's over you will barely notice it.

Posted by Tom at 2:40 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 19, 2008

LtGen Odierno Interview - Explanation of the Surge and What is to Come

Please watch this in its entirety, as I promise you will not be disappointed.

If you're not aware, LtGen Ray Odierno was commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq from December 14, 2006 until February 14, 2008. He was responsible for day-to-day operations in Iraq, and implementing the "surge" strategy. He reported directly to General Petraeus. Replacing Odierno as part of the normal rotation is Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III. Odierno is scheduled to be the U.S. Army's next vice chief of staff. This video can be seen as a sort of "exit interview".

This video can also be viewed at DODvCLIPS

I think that Odierno gave a very good explanation of what the "surge" was all about, and was honest in his assessment of the situation. "Cautious optimism", I think, best describes his outlook. I do not think you can say that he's looking at the situation through rose colored glasses, but neither is he unduly pessimistic.

Following are the major points that I took from the interview, followed by how each is related to the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (also available on The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual">Amazon). FM-3-24, edited by Gen Petraeus and released in December of 2006, is the basis for our 2007 strategy in Iraq. (I cannot find a transcript on-line, so any errors are my own.)

Odierno: "(The "surge") was all about protecting the population. It started because of a significant rise in sectarian violence at the end of 06...and what happened was they (the Iraqi people) gave up their passive support of al Qaeda, and now they are rejecting al Qaeda throughout the country....the difference this time was because of the increased amount of coalition forces as well as Iraqi forces we stayed in the Mahallas once we cleared it with enough combat force that would not allow them to take back those areas,.that's what's made the difference."

FM 3-24 / 1-131 SECURITY UNDER THE RULE OF LAW IS ESSENTIAL The cornerstone of any COIN (counterinsurgency) effort is establishing security for the civilian populace. Without a secure environment, no permanent reforms can be implemented and disorder spreads.

3-67 PHYSICAL SECURITY. During any period of instability, people's primary interest is physical security for them and their families. When HN (host nation) forces fail to provide security or threaten the security of civilians, the population is likely to seek security guarantees from insurgents, militias, or other armed groups. This situation can feed support for an insurgency.

Odierno: "What I worry about is, there's a window. And we need is some political progress in order to maintain this window. And if we don't maintain the window, the populate will feel that they have no where to turn and I don't know what will happen then, and so this is what makes this somewhat of a tentative security gain right now. Because unless you have the populace behind you you will not maintain security."

FM 3-24 / 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.

Odierno: "Here is the bottom line ,is what happened was is they for the first time felt that they were secured enough to where to fight al Qaeda and they chose, they chose they'd rather work with the coalition forces than work with al Qaeda, they want to be part of the future of Iraq...to be recognized by the government of Iraq, and that means a lot to them, so that's why the reconciliation effort as we move forward is so important."

Here is LtCol (Dr) David Kilculen (former senior counterinsurgency advisor to Gen Petraeus) on the importance of getting the population on your side

"...what is essential here is making the population choose. The gratitude theory - "be nice to the people, meet their needs and they will feel grateful and stop supporting the insurgents" - does not work. The enemy simply intimidates the population when COIN forces / government are not present resulting in lip-service as the population sees COIN forces / government as weak and easily manipulated. In time, this leads to hatred of COIN forces / government by the population. On the other hand, the choice theory - "enable (persuade, coerce, co-opt) the population to make an irrevocable choice to support COIN forces / government usually works better. The population typically desires to "sit on the fence" and not commit to supporting any side in an insurgency / COIN environment. COIN forces / government need to get the population off that fence and keep them there. This requires persuading the population, then protecting them, where they live."

Odierno: (Discussion of the importance of the "three R's": reconciliation, returning of displace persons, and reconstruction) "We have moved from a majority of lethal operations at the beginning of 07 to a majority of non-lethal operations in the beginning of 08."

FM 3-24 / 1-153 SOME OF THE BEST WEAPONS FOR COUNTERINSURGENTS DO NOT SHOOT. ...While security is essential to setting the stage for overall progress, lasting victory comes from a vibrant economy, political participation,and restored hope. Particularly after security has been achieved, dollars and ballots will have more important effects than bombs and bullets. There is a time when "money is ammunition." Depending on the state of the insurgency, therefore, Soldiers and Marines should prepart to execute many nonmilitary missions to support COIN efforts. Everyone has a role iin nation building, not just Department of State and civlil affairs personnel.

Odierno: "There is no doubt they (the Iraqi Army) are fighting. They are staying they are fighting, they are fighting bravely...About 80% of the battalions that are available in the Iraqi army are capable of doing planning and executing operations. That's a significant improvement. Where they still need help is in logistics, they still are having problems sustaining themselves over the long term."

FM 3-24 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.

Odierno: "(at the beginning of the surge) First, we decided to push everyone (American troops) out into the population, and that was done before we brought forces on....We got more and more people out into the neighborhoods as the surge went on and we had less and less people at the large forward operating bases....and we learned that was a very successful tactic.... We're finding that with the interaction with the population you gain their trust and confidence and they give you information..more accurate information."

FM 3-24 / 1-149 SOMETIMES, THE MORE YOU PROTECT YOUR FORCE, THE LESS SECURE YOU MAY BE. Ultimate success in COIN (counterinsurgency) is gained by protecting the populate, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents. Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the populace, and contact maintained...These practices endure access to the intelligence needed to drive operations. Following them reinforces the connections with the populace that help establish real legitimacy.

1-159 Unsuccessful Practices: ...Concentrate military forces in large bases for protection.

Odierno: "As long as they (the Iraqi people) feel safe... they will continue to support us... if they feel rejected by their government.. that will be a turning point on what decision they make."

Odierno: (Q: "What is the most valuable lesson you'd like to pass along to your successor?")
Number one is you have to secure the population, that is everything. And that doesn't mean we have to do it, you can do it with Iraqi security forces....

Odierno: "It is a very complex environment..."

Odierno: "I go out on patrols 4 or 5 times a week... And it is very interesting now that we've moved into the neighborhoods....When the soldiers go downtown they (the people) know them by name....That's really what's changed, those relationships, those confidence levels... And also doing it side by side with the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police, where the population is gaining confidence in them as a security force."

Odierno: "If Iraq becomes a real contributor in the Middle East, with a democratic government, that is an ally with the United States, that helps to being peace and stability to the Middle East, I think you'll see 2007 as the turning point. But there's still a lot of work to be done."

Odierno: "The work has to be done mainly by Iraqis....And we have to have patience with them to move forward, and I think if we do that we'll be successful."

FM 3-24 1-159 ...Successful Practices: ...Place host-nation police in the lead with military support as soon as the security situation permits.

Odierno: "It's also important for us to remember those who have given their lives, and those who's lives have been changed forever because of injury...so that their sacrifice was not in vain.

Odierno: "I think this is the right thing to do on many different levels, I think it is the right thing for our own country, because I think overall it will provide stability in the Middle East, it will also protect against future terrorism. Secondly, I think it is right for the Iraqi people. 99% of the Iraqi people want to move forward and have good lives for their children, and they have sacrificed and been resilient, and we owe it to them as well."

Odierno: "I also want to thank the American people...."

Odierno: "We need to push the (Iraqi) government to move forward, we need to push the government to be unified with all Iraqis. Those are the kinds of things that if they don't happen could derail the sacrifice and progress that's been made so far this year."

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 condition requires the government to eliminate as many causes of the insurgency as feasible.

1-108 In almost every case, counterinsurgents face a populace containing an active minority supporting the government and an equally small militant faction opposing it. Success requires the government to be accepted as legitimate by most of that uncommitted middle, which also includes passive supporters of both sides. Because of the east of sowing disorder, it is usually not enough for counterinsurgents to get 51 percent of populat support; a solid majority is often essential.

Me: The effort in 2006 to write FM-3-24 was led by then LtGen David Petraeus. Petraeus stared out OIF as a major general commanding the 101st Airborne during the initial invasion. In June of 2004 he was promoted to lieutenant general and was placed in command of e Multi-National Security Transition Command Iraq, which had the responsibility of training the new Iraqi security forces. In October of 2005 he returned to the United States and assumed command of the Combined Operations Center in Ft Leavenworth, KS, where he led the project to write FM-3-24. It was released on Dec 15, 2006. Petraeus was promoted to full General and placed in command of Multi-National Forces Iraq in January of 2007.

2007 has certainly been a learning experience. It seems clear that we got things backward the first several years of OIF(Operation Iraqi Freedom); we focused on political and economic progress hoping that they would quell the insurgency, when exactly the opposite is the truth.

So the fact is that sending more troops to Iraq was right and essential because it allowed commanders such as Odierno to redeploy troops from large operating bases into the population. We could do this with 20 brigades, but not with the pre-surge level of 15. Critics who said we were only "sending more troops to do the same thing" would have had a point if what they were saying was true. However, with the additional troops we employed an entirely different strategy, and this is what made the difference.

On the other hand, we on the right should not be so quick to dismiss the importance of the "benchmarks" that were established by congress last year. They are in fact important, and just because one suspects that some Democrats put them in place hoping the Iraqis would fail and thus provide an excuse for immediate withdrawal does not diminsh their importance. On the one hand we need to push the Iraqis to make solid gains, but on the other we can't be so quick to cut-and-run of they don't do everything on our timetable.

Odierno and all other generals I have seen interviewed stress that our gains are fragile and could be reversed if we pull out too soon or if the Iraqis themselves do not uphold their end of the bargain. Establishing hard-and-fast timelines is not the answer, but putting pressure on the Iraqis is. Reasonable people can disagree on at what point we might need to cut our losses and withdraw, but from where I sit were are nowhere near that point now. Much progress is in fact being made and if current trends hold I believe we will win.

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February 13, 2008

AQI On The Run Part II

Two days ago MG Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North ( also known as Task Force Iron) and the 1st Armored Division, told reporters that al-Qaeda in Iraq was "leaving the country because of what they perceive as an increasing amount of pressure." Pressure, that is, from the U.S. and Iraqi Armies. If you don't want to believe MG Hertling that AQI is in trouble you can read all about it in a story published last Friday in The Washington Post.

The bottom line to the story is that AQI knows it has suffered serious setbacks in 2007, and is attempting to change tactics.

Here are some key excerpts

From internal documents and interviews with members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, a picture emerges of an organization in disarray but increasingly aware that its harsh policies -- such as punishing women who don't cover their heads -- have eroded its popular support. Over the past year, the group has been driven out of many of its strongholds. The group's leadership is now jettisoning some of its past tactics to refocus attacks on American troops, Sunnis cooperating closely with U.S. forces, and Iraq's infrastructure.

The Post reporter even spoke with a member of AQI. It's interesting stuff, but 65 years ago would they have met with an SS trooper? Not if they wanted to avoid FDR's wrath they wouldn't have.

"We made many mistakes over the past year," including the imposition of a strict interpretation of Islamic law, he told a Washington Post special correspondent. Al-Qaeda in Iraq followers broke the fingers of men who smoked, whipped those who imbibed alcohol and banned shops from selling shampoo bottles that displayed images of women -- actions that turned Sunnis against the group.

Ogaidi(the AQI terrorist) said the total number of al-Qaeda in Iraq members across the country has plummeted from about 12,000 in June 2007 to about 3,500 today.

But remember Clausewitz' dictum that the enemy is "an animate object that reacts."

The insurgent group is now reaching out to disaffected Sunni tribal leaders in a bid to win back their support, even as it attacks Sunnis working closely with the Americans, according to Abdullah Hussein Lehebi, an emir from the Amiriyah section of Anbar south of Fallujah. "In exchange, we would not target them again and would respect the authority of the tribal leaders," he said in an interview with a Post special correspondent at a date orchard near the Euphrates River in Amiriyah.

Lehebi, 47, whose nom de guerre is Abu Khalid al-Dulaimi, said the group's main focus now was to attack bridges, oil pipelines and telephone towers, as well as U.S. troops and their Sunni allies.

Further, we shouldn't be under any illusions that AQI has ceased to be able to intimidate people into submission. An AP story in today's Washington Times makes it clear that such tactics are alive and will in the dangerous Diyala Province up north (MG Hertling's AOR):

Fear is more than a four-letter concept in Iraq's Diyala pro-vince. It's real. It's constant. It's all-pervasive, and for years, while the area was under the thumb of al Qaeda, it was a matter of life and death.

It still is all of the above.

The number of active al Qaeda terrorists in the province north of Baghdad is thought to be less than a hundred following Operation Raider Harvest.

Yet the fear remains palpable.

The center of gravity in an insurgency is the population, not the enemy. In order to succeed we must secure the population, the objective of which is to get them off of the fence and into our camp.

And many Iraqis are helping us out. Rich Lowry, just back from Iraq, tells the story of a very brave little girl:

Gen. Mark Hertling, who commands American forces in the north, recalls being introduced in the village of Himbus to a 12-year-old girl who had pointed out where the al-Qaeda thugs were hiding. "I asked her why she had done that," Gen. Hertling says, "and she said, 'They killed my two brothers, my father couldn't farm, and I couldn't go to school.' "

It would still be that way without U.S. forces. Iraq is a mind-bogglingly complex country that defies generalizations, except this one -- where U.S. troops have a substantial presence, there is more security, more grass-roots political ferment, and more economic activity.

And on the Political Front

We're all aware the the national Iraqi government is not at all performing like we want it to. Progress is being made, however. The Belmont Club links to this AP story

BAGHDAD - Iraq's Parliament cleared the way Wednesday for provincial elections that could give Sunnis a stronger voice and institute vast changes in Iraq's power structure after the Oct. 1 vote.

The new law is one of the most sweeping reforms pushed by the Bush administration and signals that Iraq's politicians finally, if grudgingly, may be ready for small steps toward reconciliation.

Make sure you follow the link to The Belmont Club for Richard Fernandez' excellent analysis of what it means.

Previous

Iraq Briefing - 11 Feb 2008 - AQI Is On the Run

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February 11, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 11 Feb 2008 - AQI Is On the Run

Not only is al Qaeda in Iraq on the run, many are fleeing the country. The 1st Armored Division, in concert with the Iraqi Army and aided by the people of Iraq, have made much of Diyala unsafe - for al Qaeda.

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. MG Hertling provided an update on Operation Iron Harvest, which is his part of Operation Phantom Phoenix. Phantom Phoenix is the Corps level operation which is takign place across the entire country. MG Hertling reports to Lt.Gen Ray Odierno, who in turn reports to Gen Petraeus.

(note that while the video expires from the PentagonChannel website after a month or so, it can still be viewed at DODvCLIPS)

The transcript for this briefing is here.

Here are the parts of this briefing that I found the most interesting

From MG Hertling's opening remarks

A major part of the ongoing -- excuse me -- a major part of the reasons for the ongoing success is Diyala's -- is the -- Diyala and the Iraqi security forces' capacity to work with us in these very complex operations. And then it's been our combined ability to establish with the Iraqi security forces enduring bases in the province, and finally the improving ability of the government at the national and the local level to serve their citizens. And I can answer some questions on that, if you'd like, later on.

As we all know, it will be key for the Iraqi Army to be able to operate on it's own.

Q Sir, it's Kristin Roberts with Reuters, hoping you can give us your assessment of the strength of al Qaeda right now in your area. The last time we spoke, we spoke about al Qaeda being driven into your area from the west and from the south. So can you give us an idea about their strength today versus maybe two weeks -- two months ago, rather, and the numbers of fighters you're seeing right now?

GEN. HERTLING: Well, Kris, I wouldn't want to give exact numbers, because I'd be wrong. What I will tell you is that there are less now today than there were six weeks ago. We know that for certain. We also know that they've moved to different places. They were in many of the major cities, like Baqubah, like Muqdadiyah, some in Mosul, some in Hawija. And we've seen them move outside of the cities into the desert areas in smaller groups. So we're doing exactly what we're trying to do, and that is, make the cities safer for the Iraqi citizens while continuing to target al Qaeda and the other extremist groups.

In terms of numbers, to be honest, Kris, I wouldn't want to hazard a guess. All we know is that they are still capable of inflicting harm on the Iraqi people. And until we substantially reduce that, we won't be happy.

Q Sir, are you driving any of them out of the country?

GEN. HERTLING: We have had indications that many of them are leaving the country because of what they perceive as an increasing amount of pressure. We have also had indications that several of their leaders are leaving the country with cash, the cash that they were sent to pay fighters with. We are seeing some indications in various forms that there is an attempt at reconsolidating outside of the country and coming back in, so we're watching the borders very closely and, in fact, have captured several fighters at some of the border posts. So not large groups are we driving out, but there are some that are definitely leaving because they perceive, rightfully so, that it's not safe to be here because of our pursuit operations.

Q You also mentioned some that were going to the desert, that were fleeing the cities in your area. Do you have any sense of -- are these members of al Qaeda -- are they going to ground? Do you have the sense that maybe they're going to try to wait out the U.S. presence there? Or are they going to build up new terror groups? Or do you have any idea what they're moving up there to do?

GEN. HERTLING: Well, I think their motives to get out of the city is to gain safety. They know that we are trying to secure -- that we are trying to secure the city and gain the support of the population, which we are doing in droves. The people are beginning to see a better life. So I think the terrorists who have been inside the cities realize that they not only have to deal with Iraqi security forces and coalition forces, but they also have to deal with the citizens of the specific towns and cities, who are beginning to see increased security, so they're turning people in.

That's their biggest fear. So many of them are going to the desert regions to just get away from being ratted out by the citizens by being pointed out and captured.

They're not getting the support. In fact, we've seen indicators that they are -- and you know the terrain over here; you know what it's like. They're staying overnight in abandoned mud huts or next to canals or in caves. So literally they are going in small -- much smaller groups than they have been in the past to just get out of the city so they can avoid capture. But even now we've seen reflections lately, and this is what -- going back to the early questions about driving people out of the country, we are now even beginning to see -- gather intel that some of them are saying it's not even safe in the desert because the night raids are coming to get them. That's some of the reflections that we're beginning to see, and that's a good thing. We want them to keep thinking that they can't sleep well at night because we're coming after them, because, quite, frankly, we are.

Attacks have dropped and leveled off. From what I can tell, most of the trouble these days is in Diyala. Note also MG Hertling's comment about reconciliation; some people are coming forward but the "hardcore guys are still out there". This is classic counterinsurgency; you can't kill all of them, so what you do is find those with whom you can reason and get them to lay down their arms. Counterinsurgency is not all guns and bullets.

Q General, it's Mike Mount with CNN. I just want to go back to my colleague's original question about numbers, and I know you can't really identify a true amount. But are we talking dozens, hundreds or thousands of al Qaeda? And also, if you could just give us some context on the number of attacks now in your AOR compared to what we were talking about six weeks ago and where they're kind of concentrated and how that's coming along?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, what I'll tell you -- I'll answer the second question first, Mike, because it's the easier one to answer. We have a great deal of statistics on that.

The attacks against both Iraqi security forces and coalition forces, which we track on a daily basis, have about leveled off from December. We saw a significant drop. It was double last June to what it was in December. We saw a huge decline through the months of June through December, and now it's kind of leveled off. And we think that's because of two things. Number one, it's an increased op tempo -- operational tempo on our part. We're conducting more operations than ever before in the north. Plus, as been stated before, many more of them are attempting to come to our area and go to the last groupings of locations where they think they can find safe havens, which they're quickly finding they can't.

But again, going back to your question about numbers, I don't mean to be evasive, but we just don't know. I mean, we have -- if you ask me about any specific town or city, I might give you a guess and it might be more accurate, but over all in the north, which is the size of the state of Pennsylvania, what we're seeing is some people moving between groups. We're actually -- in fact, I talked with an individual yesterday, as part of reconciliation, who wants to lay down their arms and is promising to lay down arms and the arms of his group in order -- because he's just had enough. He's had enough fighting. And we're seeing increasing indicators that more and more groups -- not just al Qaeda, but others are coming forward. The hardcore guys are still out there.

One more thing that Hertling said bears quoting:

...I've got to tell you, the difference now from my last tour over here is the unbelievable capability of the Iraqi army and, in many cases, the Iraqi police. That Iraqi security forces: They're doing operations; they're getting after it.

Be sure to watch the video and read the transcript.

Update

Al-Qaeda leaders admit: 'We are in crisis. There is panic and fear'

Here is the story on the MNF-Iraq site.

Previous briefings by MG Hertling
19 November 2007
09 January 2008 - Operations Phantom Phoenix and Iron Harvest
22 Jan 2008 - Operation Iron Harvest

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February 5, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 04 Feb 2008 - "We do not drive or commute to work"

Col Wayne Grigsby, Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon earlier today. Col Grigsby is in FOB Hammer.

Since he gave one of the best summaries I've heard regarding who he is and what his unit does, I'll let the Colonel introduce himself:

I am the commander of the Sledgehammer Brigade and we are part of Multinational Division-Center, or Task Force Marne, under the command of Major General Rick Lynch. We deployed to Iraq in the middle of March '07 as the third of five surge brigades, to interdict the flow of accelerants into Baghdad. We assumed responsibility of an area called the Madain qadha, a portion of the Baghdad province. Our operational environment is approximately the size of Washington, D.C., beltway region adjacent to Baghdad on its eastern boundary. We are part of the Baghdad belts. Our battlespace is populated by a mix of Shi'a, 70 percent; and Sunni, 30 percent. Approximately 1.2 people live in the Madain qadha.

This video and others can be seen at DODvClips.

The transcript can be found here.

Many important points were discussed during this briefing, and there were some very good and tough questions from the journalists. First, however, let's explore what he meant when he said that "We do not drive or commute to work"

Here's the quote in context:

From my vantage point here east of Baghdad, the surge was the right decision at the right time, and the Sledgehammer Brigade was put in the right spot and we're kicking the extremists' butt. We are at the front door of Baghdad, checking ID cards and positively affecting the lives of the good people in the Madain qadha as well as Baghdad.

However, our success cannot be attributed solely to security operations or the application of greater amounts of combat power. We attacked the problems in the Madain qadha by applying pressure on insurgents along all six lines of operation -- being security, governance, economics, transition, information, and rule of law. It requires projecting army units and American soldiers out of large forward-operating bases and into the population centers. We do not drive or commute to work. We live in the towns with the people that we are here to help. We walk to work.

By doing this immediately upon our arrival, we were able to develop strong relationships with governmental, Iraqi security forces, and perhaps most importantly out here, the tribal leaders, and catch insurgents off balance. Our efforts to assist the government and spark the economy, along with our constant presence, have demonstrated to the population and its key leaders that we are trustworthy and committed to the cause of stabilizing the communities we work in and that we will help them, always.

This is important because we did not always operate like this in Iraq. Before Gen Petraeus, our troops largely operated out of five large bases, and did "commute to work". Wesley Morgan explains in "Iraq Reborn" (Feb 11 2008 print edition of National Review, digital subscription required to view on-line)

Soon after the president's address, Petraeus and his civilian counterpart, Amb. Ryan Crocker, gathered a team of well-regarded officers, including Cols. H. R. McMaster, Peter Mansoor, and Bill Rapp. This team drew up a campaign plan that incorporated creative counterinsurgency solutions at all levels, with an emphasis on getting fighters out into hostile areas, keeping them there, and following up on their successes. One key innovation was the formation of a "strategic engagement cell" to lead reconciliation efforts with former insurgents. Another was the relentless emphasis on pushing combat units off the large bases from which they had "commuted to combat" in 2006, and onto outposts from which they could secure the population....

Most important, it was at the tactical level, overseen by battalion commanders, that the strategic emphasis on combat outposts was implemented. Across central Iraq, colonels and lieutenant colonels shouldered the risk of stationing their troops in exposed outposts from which they could more effectively secure the population....

The center of gravity in counterinsurgency operations is the population, not the enemy, and the objective is the population's security, not the destruction of all insurgents -- an impossible goal....

We could not have implimented this new strategy without the "surge brigades", but by the same token we are not succeeding in Iraq simply because we sent more troops.

"Sons of Iraq"

The formation of Concerned Local Citizens groups has been an integral part of our "Hearts and Minds" strategy. They've apparently been renamed to "Sons of Iraq".

Q Colonel, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News. I've just picked up lately that the new term, I guess, is Sons of Iraq. Can you tell us, is this a term for concerned local citizens that they have themselves come up or the Iraqis have come up with, or this is the American forces that have come up with this name? And if so, can you tell us why?

COL. GRIGSBY: This term, Sons of Iraq, I think, came from the government of Iraq. And it just shows -- from my perspective, it just shows that these individuals that are providing security, that are standing up for their country, are exactly what the government of Iraq wants for their country. They want the sons of Iraq to stand up and take care of their country and focus on improving the life of the good people of Iraq.

Q So can I infer, then, that you will no longer be calling the local Iraqis who assist U.S. forces concerned local citizens?

COL. GRIGSBY: That's correct. In the Madain qadha we will call them sons of Iraq, and I think that's throughout Iraq as well.

In response to an earlier question by Courtney Kube from NBC News Col Grigsby said that there were 6,093 Sons of Iraq in the Madain quadha, and that they were a mix of Sunni and Shia. 507 have applied to be national police.

Al Pessin asks the tough questions

Q: Colonel, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. In your opening remarks you made a very strong case for the importance of numbers in your area. You explained it was 72 soldiers, then went up to 3,500. There was the unit that I guess went away for a while then came back, and you talked about their impact. I understand as you said another brigade's coming in behind you in your specific AOR, but thinking a bit more broadly, given the importance of the numbers, how can U.S. forces keep the lid on, keep the progress going in Iraq after they lose one quarter of the combat power they have now?

COL. GRIGSBY: That's a great question, and I appreciate that. All's I can do is talk about the Madain qadha, and this is what I can tell you.

...by us communicating more with the Sons of Iraq, which causes us to communicate out in the Madain qadha, more with the sheikhs and more with the people and more with the government, then we're starting to -- they're starting to trust us more. They start to realize that we are here to support and assist, and if and when we do reduce some forces in the Madain qadha, the people of Iraq will have a strong stable security element because you have a stood up Iraqi police, you have the Sons of Iraq that are protecting infrastructure and are protecting their neighborhoods.

But most importantly, you now have a functioning government, a government that can now help the people of -- help the people of the Madain qadha....

Q So, Colonel, do you think that -- in the near term that we're talking about, later this year, that the combination of the Iraqi army, the Iraqi police and these irregular Sons of Iraq forces will be able to take the place of one quarter of the U.S. combat power in terms -- in terms of maintaining security?

COL. GRIGSBY: What I'm saying is this is conditions based, and I -- all's I can focus on is the -- in the Madain qadha, and what I see happening in Madain qadha is pretty incredible. I see the individual person standing up and saying, "I do not want this type of violence in the Madain qadha anymore."...

...So as you can see, as these individuals stand up, the extremists can no longer hide where they used to hide in the populace because the populace no longer wants them in the Madain qadha...

Here's the critical part
Q But sir, if I may, even with all that, accepting all that, you've told us that your brigade's going to be replaced with another brigade, a one-for-one swap, but it won't be possible to do that nationwide. So if the local citizens and the Iraqi security could accomplish as much in security terms as you're saying, then it seems it wouldn't be necessary to replace your brigade with another full brigade.

COL. GRIGSBY: All's -- again, all's I can state is what's happening in the Madain qadha.

Again, this brigade was one of the first coalition force brigades that came out here. We came out here with 3,500 soldiers just about 10 or 11 months ago. We've made some great gains, but conditions-based, and we have a lot more to do still out here. I gave a couple examples of that as well, sir, where in certain areas we still need to go out and take care of some extremists. And also, we would need to work very hard with the qadha government so they have that linkage back into Baghdad with the Baghdad governorate. So we have some positive momentum but there's still a lot of work that still needs to be accomplished out here in the Madain qadha.

Q Thank you.

In his first question, Pessin tried to ask about the whole of Iraq, when we reduct our brigades from 20 to 15 ("...after they lose one quarter of the combat power they have now? ) Experienced reporter as he is, I am surprised he didn't know that the Colonel wasn't going to take the bait. Having watched many of these briefings and read many interviews, I can tell you that they are very disciplined about not discussing things either above their rank or outside of their physical area of responsibility.

It would seem to me that the situation in the Madain qadha is such that at this point we don't have enough confidence that our gains will hold if we don't do a one-to-one swap. Pessin makes the accurate observation that there are places in Iraq that we can't do a one-to-one swap, with the implication that those areas might regress. The strategy is to keep our troops in areas that we fear most might go to al Qaeda and other anti-Iraqi elements, and withdraw them from areas we are most confident about. Only time will tell whether this works.

So as far as the Madain qadha is concerned, it seems that this is an area were we are not completely confident that Iraqis can take control by themselves. This doesn't mean that Col Grigsby was blowing smoke in his introdction That Iraqis aren't ready to assume responsibility isn't necessarily "proof" that we aren't succeeding. As Max Boot pointed out in a recent article; "We Are Winning. We Haven't Won."

Yes we want the Iraqis to take over total responsibility as soon as possible. We also have to recognize that this is going to be a very long process. Lt Col (Dr) David Kilcullen pointed out to Charlie Rose a few months ago that there has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years to win. This does not mean that the same number of troops is needed throughout the entire war, because this is not World War II but rather what they call a low-intensity conflict.

Another good interview which contributes to our understanding of the situation in Iraq.

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February 1, 2008

Max Boot: Perspective on Iraq

The title of Max Boot's latest piece in The Weekly Standard says it all

We Are Winning. We Haven't Won. America has a chance at a historic victory in Iraq, but only if we don't pull out too many forces too soon.

Boot is just back from an 11 day tour across central and northern Iraq. I think his report is pretty honest, as he tells the good, the bad, and the ugly. First, though I think it useful to provide a map so that you can somewhat trace where he went

map_of_iraq_basic.gif

Multi-National Force Iraq (MNF-Iraq) has divided it's commands into Areas of Responsibility (AORs). I cannot find a map that shows the various AORs, but if you reference the organization page of the MNF-Iraq website you can figure things out.

Much of what I've posted recently are press briefings by the various generals who command the units you see on that organization site. Contrast them with Boot's assessment and tell me what you think (see links at bottom of post)

Here are what I think are the most important excerpts from Boot's article, but be sure and read it in it's entirety:

I saw many achievements and an equal number of obstacles during 11 days touring the American brigades spread across central and northern Iraq. (I was traveling in the company of my friend and fellow author Bing West at the invitation of General David Petraeus.) In broad strokes, the picture that emerged was of an Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) organization that is on the run but not yet fully eliminated. AQI has been largely chased out of the capital and its southern and northern belts, but the terrorists have taken refuge in the rural areas of Diyala, Salahaddin, and Ninewa provinces, where, as part of a new operation called Phantom Phoenix, American and Iraqi troops are starting to root them out. ...

As we drove the streets of west Mosul in a Humvee, I saw IED-scarred roads flooded from broken water mains--something I had last seen in Ramadi in April 2007. In many areas, shops were closed and no people were visible on the streets.
...

My bleak impressions of northern Iraq were reinforced the next day while visiting Bayji, site of an important oil refinery in Salahaddin province. There are too few American and Iraqi troops stationed here to control a city with a population of 140,000, and it shows.
...

A  good deal of work obviously remains to be done before northern Iraq is pacified--the region now accounts for 61 percent of all attacks in Iraq (Baghdad Province is second with 17 percent). But even here you find pockets of normality. We were told that Tal Afar, which had been occupied by the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in 2005-06, remains relatively stable. We saw for ourselves the resounding success in Kirkuk, a city made up of Kurds and Sunni Arabs. While Bayji has been hit with nine major VBIEDs (vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices) in the past two months, Kirkuk has gone four months without any successful such attacks. The Kirkuk marketplace is bustling and full of Iraqi police. The vibe here was as friendly as it had been hostile in Bayji. No one shot at us. The highlight of my visit was buying a small mountain of delicious baklava for less than $5 from a friendly storekeeper.

The security situation is just as good in western Iraq. Anbar Province, the scene of the heaviest fighting from 2003 to 2007, has become so quiet that Marines are complaining of boredom and their inability to earn combat action ribbons. The transformation in the southern Baghdad belt is less complete but in many cases just as dramatic....

Similar sentiments were expressed in the Dora district of western Baghdad. A predominantly Sunni neighborhood, Dora had been the scene of heavy fighting in 2006, which turned it into a ghost town. The American-led offensive of 2007 produced a dramatic turnaround. Concrete walls were erected to limit access to the neighborhood while American and Iraqi security forces, working out of small bases, confronted the militants. The cumulative impact of such steps has been dramatic: Multi-National Division-Baghdad calculates that 75 percent of the capital is now under control, up from just 8 percent a year ago.
...

Many factors account for the dramatic turnaround. First was the willingness of President Bush to commit more American forces to what was widely deemed a lost cause. Just as important was General David Petraeus's decision to switch the U.S. mission from handing off authority willy-nilly to the Iraqis in favor of trying to secure the safety of the Iraqi population--a basic tenet of counterinsurgency strategy that had never been implemented on a large-scale in Iraq. This meant moving many U.S. soldiers off giant forward operating bases into smaller joint security stations and combat outposts where they could work closely with Iraqi security forces to gain the confidence of the population. Iraqis in turn responded by ratting out the terrorists hiding in plain sight.

But while this growing success would not have been possible absent the American role, it also could not have occurred were it not for the willingness of tens of thousands of Iraqis to come forward and take up arms against extremists, both Sunni and Shia. The Iraqi Security Forces, particularly the army, have grown in size and effectiveness over the past year. In much of southern Iraq, they are the ones maintaining order: imperfectly to be sure, but with only minimal help from coalition forces.

But even more important than the Iraqi Security Forces has been the role played by what American commanders call Concerned Local Citizens (CLCs)--mainly though not exclusively Sunnis who have banded together to chase insurgents out of their neighborhoods. This process, known as the Awakening (sahwa in Arabic), started in Anbar Province in September 2006 and has since spread across all the Sunni areas of Iraq and even into parts of the largely Shiite south. There are more than 80,000 CLCs--with 70,000 of them on the American payroll earning an average of $300 a month: a good wage in Iraq. They enhance not only security but also economic activity.
...

Many of the CLC members are former insurgents themselves who made a conscious decision to switch sides, and coalition forces have received few reports of any going back to fighting the government. The success of the CLCs may be judged from the fact that they have themselves become a top target for AQI....

American commanders who work closely with them rave about the effectiveness of the CLCs. Their main concern is the opposite of the one so often heard in Washington: Instead of worrying about what the CLCs will do if they remain in business, they worry about what they will do if they go out of business.
...

American commanders also worry about the performance, or the lack thereof, of the Iraqi government. The theory behind the surge is that a reduction in violence would make possible political reconciliation. There is some evidence of this occurring, especially at the local level. But at the national level the record is spotty.
...

American diplomatic and military officials have an increasingly low opinion of Maliki. They argue, as do many Iraqis, that he has not been able to overcome the paranoid, conspiratorial habits he developed as an exile plotting against Saddam Hussein.
...

An even more profound cause for hope is that the Americans are finding so many effective partners--Iraqis who are willing to risk their necks to fight with the coalition against extremists, both Shiite and Sunni. Some of these men are members of the CLCs. Others are part of the Iraqi army, which in many areas is undertaking the same kind of civil-affairs work as the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps.
...

... the United States has a real chance to secure a historic victory in Iraq--one that would deal a heavy blow to Sunni and Shiite extremists alike. But only if we don't pull out too many forces too soon, whether motivated by the illusion that we have already won or the delusion that we can never win. The reality is that we are winning but that the war is far from over. We need to make a long-term commitment to prevent Iraq from sliding back into the kind of civil war that began to erupt in 2006. As Abbas put it, "It's very important for your forces to stay here and kick the bad people out." His views were echoed by Abu Abed, a leader of the CLCs in the Ameriya neighborhood of Baghdad. "If coalition forces left it would be a disaster. All of us would get killed," he told us.

There is much of importance here. First, Boot makes clear that we are succeeding not just because we sent more troops, but because of a change in strategy. Second, despite so much of what you read, Iraqis are in fact stepping up to the plate, at least at the local level. Yes the national government remains disfunctional. Too many here are home are using this as an excuse to pull out. Third, the Concerned Citizens Councils seem to me a true Hearts and Minds strategy in action. Fourth, we are winning but haven't won. All could be lost if we withdraw prematurely (this is also made clear by MG Fil, see link below). It seems to me that we've come this far and are indeed now making progress, so we need to see it through.

Military Briefings

Iraq Briefing - 22 Jan 2008 - Operation Iron Harvest: Maj.Gen. Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North. AOR includes the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra.

Iraq Briefing - 17 January 2008 - LTG Ray Odierno: Lt.Gen Odierno commands Multi-National Corps - Iraq, and the divisional commanders (major generals) report to him. Odierno is responsible for day-to-day operations in Iraq, and he reports to Gen Petraeus. As part of normal rotations, LTG Odierno will be replaced sometime this month by Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin.

Iraq Briefing - 09 January 2008 - Operation Phantom Phoenix Major General Kevin Bergner, Multi-National Force-Iraq spokesman, and Major General Mark Hertling, commander of Multi-National Division-North. MG Hertling's AOR includes the cities of Balad, Kirkuk, Tikrit, Mosul, and Samarra.

The December General Barry McCaffrey Report on Iraq. McCaffrey is retired, so it's not an official Pentagon briefing.

Iraq Briefing 17 December 2007: Major General Joseph Fil, Commanding General of Multi-National Division-Baghdad and First Cavalry Division. Their AOR is the city of Baghdad. (MG Fil and the 1st Cav has since been rotated back home, and taking their place is the 4th Infantry Division, commanded by MG Jeff Hammond.)

Iraq Briefing 10 December 2007: Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin, Commanding General, U.S. Marine Corps, of Multinational Force West, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). MG Gaskins AOR includes the cities of Ar Ramadi and Fallujah.

Posted by Tom at 12:03 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 24, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 22 Jan 2008 - Operation Iron Harvest

(Tomorrow or Saturday I'll resume my series of updates on Afghanistan)

Maj.Gen. Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North ( also known as Task Force Iron) and the 1st Armored Division, spoke via satellite on Tuesday to reporters at the Pentagon. MG Hertling provided an update on Operation Iron Harvest, which is his part of Operation Phantom Phoenix. Phantom Phoenix is the Corps level operation which is takign place across the entire country. MG Hertling reports to Lt.Gen Ray Odierno, who in turn reports to Gen Petraeus.

The transcript can be found here.

Following are what I found to be the most important parts of the briefing. MG Hertling explains why we are succeeding this time where the failed in the past:

GEN. HERTLING:...Some who aren't familiar with this fighting might ask, "Is all this making a difference?" I'll answer that by giving you a few vignettes. I walked through the town of Himbis (ph), which is in the center of the Breadbasket area, with several coalition force soldiers on the second day of our operations, the day after many were reporting that AQI had fled. Townspeople were hesitant in leaving their homes, and when they did, they were asking us if it was safe to come out. When we assured them it was, they began relating stories of all the murders and intimidation from the terrorists that had been in their area. I walked through that same town last Saturday, and shops were again open, people were walking freely through the town, and many people who I saw on the first day again stopped to talk to me. A few days ago, in another town in this area, a town called Shirin (ph), a young cavalry leader introduced me to a 12-year-old Iraqi girl who was brave enough to provide a list and a sketch map to Iraqi soldiers, and that list and sketch map showed the names and hiding places of terrorists who were still in the area and who had harassed her and killed two of her brothers. ...

Q: General, it's Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press. How would you assess the strength of al Qaeda in your area now after those 40 operations that you mentioned as opposed to before? In other words, how much damage do you think you've done over all to them?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, that's a great question, and what I'll you is I think that the terrorists that have been in that area unimpeded for the last several months and in some cases years have done significant damage not only to the infrastructure of the town, but also to the psyche of the various people that lived in the area. They had developed safe havens and caches. Some of them were very well formed. They weren't hasty positions or hasty cache sites. These were ones that have been in place for a very long time.

So what I'll tell you is just the increase in expanding security has caused significant damage to them -- the capture and kill. We're seeing reflections in human intelligence as well as from other intelligence that we're getting that's saying they are still looking for a place to hide, and that's what we're attempting to do.

You know, what's interesting, Pauline, I think a year ago we were often reacting to al Qaeda and what they were going to do next. Now I think the tables have turned a little bit, and they are attempting to react where we're going to go next and that's a critical difference. So I think in, specifically the bread basket area, I've seen it with my own eyes, and things are safer; the people are coming out. I talked to a group of town's people this afternoon, and they were very hopeful of things getting going again. In some of the other provinces that we've also been conducting operations -- in Salahuddin here, south of Samarra and north of Baiji, in the deserts where al Qaeda has attempted to gain footholds, we've continued to pursue them. In Mosul, we still have a very -- Mosul and the rest of Nineveh's province we still have a very tough fight to go. In Kirkuk, things are improving significantly.

Q: General, it's Mike Mount with CNN. Can you expand a little bit about what you just said about terrorists seeming to anticipate where you are heading next as opposed to where -- you chasing them to where you think they're going next? What does that mean in terms of a change?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, I hope I didn't -- I hope I didn't say that. If I did, that's not what I meant. What I said was we are continuing to pursue terrorists. They are going to some places. We know where they're going oftentimes. We're continuing to collect intelligence to find out their trails and where they're leading us. So they're not anticipating at all where we're pursuing them. And in fact, I guess what I would say to you is they are trying to get away or find new safe havens, and every time they think they have them, we attack there.
...

Q: From these various operations over the years, we've seen that the terrorists have kind of squeezed out, moved up north. Now they seem, you know, obviously to be in your area. With these operations, do you see them kind of collecting in another area, or do you think this is maybe the final stand for al Qaeda?

GEN. HERTLING: I would never use the term "final stands." I think we're going to have to continue to pursue these individuals wherever they go. Whenever you think -- or whenever you feel comfortable that you've eliminated them in one area, they tend to reemerge. So this is a continuous pursuit operation, and we'll never say that we've completed pursuing them, because they may always come back.

What I would suggest to you, though, is in the past there has been that squeezing, or I've heard it call the whack-a-mole, where you hit them one place and they show up somewhere else. But that was during the time when I don't think the security forces were large enough to actually contain them and continue to pursue them in areas where they thought we couldn't go.

The difference today is, I think, especially in the northern area, where we are, we have a very capable and continually expanding Iraqi security forces. I have working next to all of our soldiers four different Iraqi divisions, and they're growing in size and capacity every day. So I think that's what's making a difference.

In the past, the northern areas have been somewhat of an economy- of-force zone, to use the military term. We've had just enough forces to do a very little bit of the operation. Well, now we also have four Iraqi army divisions alongside of us, and where we can't be, they can be. And in many cases we're conducting operations with them. So it's continuing to improve the situation on the ground in all the communities.
...

Q: General, this is Jim Mannion from Agence France-Presse. Can you tell me what it is you're doing to hold this territory that you've retaken from al Qaeda?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, I sure can. Again, the difference this time as opposed to in the past, where coalition forces would go in, clear an area and then move on to the next area and leave the last area for al Qaeda or any other extremist to come in and retake, the difference this time is we are doing it in conjunction with Iraqi security forces, specifically the Iraqi army initially.

The reasons that Iron Harvest is working, then, is that 1) there are more U.S. forces, and 2) there are more Iraqi forces. As a result of this 3) we are receiving more intelligence from the population, as was evidenced ih MG Hertling's opening remarks.

As a result we are not playing "whack a mole" anymore. AQI can run but they can't hide.

I suppose that hard-core leftists who are determined to think that the surge isn't working can retreat into "Hertling is a liar" and "the media are his lapdogs", but such criticism isn't serious.

More serious is what will happen when we leave. The "surge" is just that; a temporary increase in troops. Hertling points out that not only are there more Iraqis in uniform, but they're doing a better job, too. Good enough, but we recall MG Fil's Dec 17 briefing in which he stressed that "The progress that we've made thus far is fragile and not guaranteed."

This is where the Concerned Local Citizens come in. Anyone who's been following Iraq knows that this is a key part of our strategy. Securing Iraq is going to take more than uniformed army and police forces. Here are a few exchanges on the CLCs, and then I'll explain why they're so important:

Q: Gordon Lubold with the Christian Science Monitor. To go back to concerned local citizens, can you give me an idea of, in your area, how many you have again, and how many you think could be transitioned over to the ISF? GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, I can. That's -- and that's a good question. We have just under 15,000 by my last count. It's about 1,400 or -- excuse me -- 14,900 and something. ...

Q: Hi, General, this is Courtney Kube from NBC News. Just one follow-up on Gordon's question. Last week General Odierno mentioned that there were several somewhat isolated incidents where the CLCs were infiltrated.... Have you seen any instances of that in your area? ...

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, Courtney, it's good to hear you. There are certainly infiltrators within all of the Iraqi security forces, and there are some within the concerned local citizens. As I've stated before, though, in each case of someone joining a CLC group, they are vetted through the biometric system; you know where they live as they sign up for this. You have their fingerprints and all the things that are associated with biometrics. So if there is, in fact, an infiltrator, we can follow up on that if they do some type of criminal act.

Receiving good intelligence ("tips") from the population is important, but we must secure their participlation in the war as well. In a battle between insurgents and a counterinsurgency (COIN) force, the population wants to sit on the fence. The COIN force must get them off of that fence. "Getting the people to like is" will NOT work, because when COIN force is not around the insurgents will return and intimidate the people into submission.

The way you defeat insurgents is to win the "hearts and minds" of the people. However, this term is usually misunderstood and does not mean what most people think it does:

Counterinsurgency: FM 3024 / MCWP 3.33.5 defines the true meaning of the phrase hearts and minds as the two components in building trusted networks in the conduct of COIN operations:
"Hearts" means persuading people that their best interests are served by COIN success. "Minds" means convincing them that the force can protect them and that resisting it is pointless. Note that neither concerns whether people like Soldiers and Marines. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts. Over time, successful trusted networks grow like roots into the populace. They displace enemy networks, which forces enemies into the open, letting military forces seize the initiative and destroy the insurgents.

You can see the relevance. The CLCs represent "getting the population off the fence" I mentioned earlier. A larger Iraqi Army means more citizens are committed to the cause. To be sure, infiltrators can be a problem and some will join the army only for a AOR are "coming around". The key is to make it stick.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 19, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 17 January 2008 - LTG Ray Odierno

Lt.Gen Ray Odierno, Commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, spoke with reporters Thursday at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq. Odierno is in Baghdad, and is linked via teleconference. Odierno is in charge of day-to-day operations in Iraq, and the divisional commanders report to him. He in turn reports to Gen Petraeus, commander of MNF-Iraq (III Corps). My understanding is that his main duty is to impliment the "surge", or true counterinsurgency strategy, drafted by Gen Petraeus and others.

LTG Odierno will be replaced in February by Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin. Three divisional commanders are being replaced too. From what I can tell is simply part of normal rotations. Odierno took command of III Corps in December of 2006, at about the same time Petraeus was promoted.

This video can also be viewed at DODvCLIPS

The transcript can be found here.

How effective was Odierno? Retired General Barry McCaffrey described him as "a national treasure." General Austin will certainly have his work cut out for him.

The most important part of Odierno's briefing, I think, is where he summarized the deteriorating situation at the end of 2006, and the success of the "surge" strategy:

Slide, please.

AQI-in-Iraq-Dec-06.jpg

Shown on this chart is our assessment of al Qaeda in Iraq when we assumed the mission in early December of 2006, with dark red showing where they operated and light red showing their transit routes. At that time, Iraq was caught in a cycle of bloodshed under the dark cloud of al Qaeda. Entrenched in numerous urban safe havens across Iraq to include the entire western Euphrates River Valley, from Baghdad to the Syrian border, al Qaeda's venomous influence was spiraling sectarian violence out of control. They claim Ramadi as the AQI capital and even had a parade down its main street.

In a December 2006 raid, we captured the map shown in the lower right portion of the slide. It clearly depicted al Qaeda's strategy for the total and unyielding dominance of Baghdad, assuming that control of Iraq's capital and its millions of citizens would give them free rein to export their twisted ideology and terror. Indeed al Qaeda did operate with impunity in several areas surrounding the capital that we call the Baghdad belts, and using these sanctuaries to introduce accelerants of violence. This strategy was similar to the way in which Saddam Hussein employed Republican Guard forces to control the city.

With large segments of the population under the vicious grip of al Qaeda and with escalating violence threatening to tear apart Iraq, a shift in strategy was necessary.

Next slide, please.

Operations-in-Iraq-2007.jpg

Last year at this time the first brigade of the surge had begun operations in Baghdad. The surge would ultimately include four additional brigades, a Marine Expeditionary Unit, a division headquarters, a combat aviation brigade and two Marine infantry battalions all in place by mid-June of 2007. These additional forces would allow us to go into areas we had not been for a long time, eliminate safe havens, and retain the gains of our clearing operations.

Not waiting for the surge to be completed, we established the Baghdad Operational Command, under Iraqi General Abboud, and initiated Operation Fard al-Qanun, a joint Iraqi/coalition effort to secure Baghdad that also included a surge of Iraqi forces into the capital. Harnessing the synergy of the Iraqi army, national police and local police with coalition combat forces and joint security stations and combat outposts, we maintained 24-hour presence in the same neighborhoods where Iraqis live, work and sleep.

By reversing and reducing the cycle of terror through tough fighting and immeasurable sacrifice, coalition and Iraqi security force were able to earn the trust and cooperation of Baghdad citizens. While acknowledging the risks, coalition force in Anbar seized upon Iraqi discontent with al Qaeda's brutality, and planted the seeds for what is now a burgeoning bottom-up reconciliation effort that is rejecting extremism. In June, with the full surge in place, we initiated Operation Phantom Thunder, a corps-level offensive operation focused on the Baghdad Belts to defeat al Qaeda and extremists, deny enemy sanctuary, and interdict their command and control and logistics capabilities. With Phantom Thunder's success at disrupting the enemy, we launched Operation Phantom Strike in August to intensify pursuit of al Qaeda and extremists.
...

Slide, please.

AQI-December-2007.jpg

Shown on this chart is our assessment of al Qaeda in Iraq as of December 2007. Although the group remains a dangerous threat, its capabilities have been diminished. Al Qaeda has been pushed out of urban centers like Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah and Baqubah, and forced into isolated rural areas. Many of their top leaders have been eliminated, and finding qualified replacements is increasingly difficult for them. Al Qaeda's external funding and logistics are also suffering, and their foreign leadership has done nothing to endear themselves with the proud Iraqi people. The population's growing rejection of extremism denies them the passive support they need to maintain safe havens. Concerned local citizens under the control of Iraq and coalition forces are assisting efforts to maintain security in their neighborhoods, while simultaneously pointing out IEDs, caches and other nefarious behavior. ...

Next slide, please.

OP-Phantom-Phoenix.jpg


Ten days ago, Multinational Corps-Iraq initiated Operation Phantom Phoenix to continue our relentless pursuit of extremists and to exploit the progress achieved over the past seven months. Phantom Phoenix is an open-ended offensive operation employing coalition and Iraqi conventional forces as well as our Special Operation Forces. As shown on the chart, it is focused at the division and brigade level to further degrade al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremists in those areas where they are trying to re-establish support zones and command nodes. Over the coming weeks, you will hear my commanders talk to you about operations like Iron Harvest, Marne Thunderbolt and what they are doing in their operating environments in support of Phantom Phoenix.
...

It is also important to note that Phantom Phoenix has a significant non-lethal component. Increased security will not in and of itself turn an area. It also requires the delivery of essential services, economic development and improved governance. It is what the Iraqi people want and what they deserve.

Next slide, please.

OP-Phantom-Phoenix-Highlights.jpg

Shown on this chart are operational results from the first 17 days of Operation Phantom Phoenix, including the first week of shaping operations that began on New Year's Day prior to our first major ground assault. Many of these results were facilitated by tips from local nationals. As soon as they have confidence that friendly forces are there to stay, the locals are quick to cooperate. This is done by the establishment of joint security stations, which is an important part of Phantom Phoenix, and it sends a clear message to local population and any remaining enemy fighters.
...

With that, I'd like to briefly summarize security trends from 2007.

Next slide.

Overall-Attack-Trends-2007.jpg

This first chart shows the monthly attack tolls for 2007. It consists of coalition force, Iraqi security force, civilians and infrastructure attacks and also includes found and cleared IEDs.

June 2007, with over 6,000 attacks, represents the highest monthly total of the war. That is the same month that the surge was fully operational, when we started Operation Phantom Thunder. Since then, attacks have been reduced by 60 percent. The attack levels we are experiencing now are about the same as early 2005 and in some points of 2004.

Next slide.

IED-Explosions-2007.jpg

This chart represents IED explosions across all of Iraq. IEDs continue to be the extremist weapon of choice and come in various forms -- vehicle-borne, roadside, house-borne and deep buried, to name a few. In June, there were almost 1,700 IED explosions, but that was reduced to well under 700 by December.

There were several reasons for this reduction, among them: getting to the left of the boom and attacking the entire IED network; better integration of sensor-to-shooter techniques by our manned and unmanned assets; improved quality of tips and intelligence from local citizens; easier detection of IEDs due to hasty emplacement resulting from pressure put on the enemy; and overwatch of key areas by concerned local citizens.

Next slide, please.

Coalition-KIA-2007.jpg

We will never forget those that gave their lives fighting for the ideals of freedom, not the loved ones they left behind. Their sacrifices are not in vain, and it's because of them that we enjoy justice and liberty. Although we closed the year with increasing casualty trends, we are determined to drive it to zero. The months of April through June saw some of our toughest and heaviest fighting of the war as we went into strongholds to rout out -- to root out the enemy.

With al Qaeda and other extremists significantly degraded and with criminals apprehended, our casualty rates dropped. December 2007 was the second-lowest combat death toll of the war, going back to May of 2003.

Our wounded-in-action rates follow a similar trend, but are not shown on this chart.

Inevitably, there will be some tough days and challenges ahead, but we remain totally committed to lowering our casualty trends. Nothing is more important than our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and our prayers remain with those that have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Slide, please.

Iraqi-Civilian-Deaths-2007.jpg

This chart tracks all Iraqi civilian deaths nationwide attributed to violence and incorporates both coalition and host nation reporting. While the significant drop in monthly deaths is encouraging, our aim is to continue driving it down further. Nevertheless, it is indicative of the improving security situation and our focus on predicting -- on protecting the population. It also speaks to reduced levels of ethnosectarian violence that gripped Iraq at the beginning of 2007.

Next slide.

Ethno-Sectarian-Violence-2007.jpg

This chart depicts the density of deaths in the 10 Baghdad security districts attributed to ethnosectarian violence, to include car bombs.

From January to December of 2007, ethnosectarian attacks and deaths decreased over 90 percent in the Baghdad security districts.

As I travel Baghdad and meet with local citizens, it's apparent to me at the grass-roots level that sectarianism is in fact waning. Their concerns nowadays stem from a lack of essential services, slow economic growth and uneven local governance. Although these are important issues that must be addressed, it is a heartening trend to see a population that increasingly identifies itself as "Iraqi" ahead of ethnic and sectarian stratification.

Next slide.

Caches-Found-And-Cleared-2007.jpg


This is my final chart and shows another positive trend of the overall security situation. It represents arms, ammunition, explosives removed from the battlefield before terrorists and extremists could use it against innocent women and children, or against coalition and Iraqi security forces. The box at the bottom of the chart shows the comparison between 2006 and 2007.

I attribute the significant increase over the previous year to several factors: gaining the trust of the local population, who then provided accurate and timely information; going into enemy safe havens with our surge forces; an improved Iraqi security force that are out doing their job on a daily basis. This all tracks itself back to us being among the population 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Next came the Q & A with reporters. Be sure and watch the video and read the transcript for the whole thing.

Odierno's objective at this briefing was to show that our forces made tremendous progress during 2007. Interestingly, the reporters didn't take issue with this assessment. Anti-war types will claim, I suppose, that this "proves" that the media is really right-wing and in the pocket of the neocons. I rather think that it shows that the more responsible members of the press have been convinced themselves that our "surge" strategy has been successful.

At the end of his briefing LtGen Odierno told the story of one of our heroes in Iraq, and while I realize this post is getting rather long, this part is worth quoting in it's entirety.

In 2007, Staff Sergeant Kenneth Thomas, Jr., of the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, was participating in a boat patrol on the Tigris River near Falahat, Iraq. The four boats in the patrol began to take fire from more than 70 fighters massed on both sides of the river. Sergeant Thomas returned fire with the machine gun mounted on his boat, disabling an enemy machine gun nest and killing one insurgent. The hail of enemy bullets was relentless and eventually forced Thomas's boat ashore.

Staff-SGT-Kenneth-Thomas.jpg

The position on the river bank left Sergeant Thomas and his team of five soldiers exposed to hostile fire, so he ran up the steep bank and used his wire cutters to make a hole in a fence that was separating him and his group from a safer position. However the fence carried 220-volt electric current, and each cut Sergeant Thomas made provided him with an excruciating shock. By the time Sergeant Thomas finished cutting the hole in the fence, his wire cutters were starting to melt and his gloves were burning.

Because of his uncommon valor, Sergeant Thomas's team was able to crawl through the hole in the fence and reach the cover of a nearby house. There, they established a fighting position on the roof and killed three insurgents before the enemy broke contact. For his actions Staff Sergeant Kenneth Thomas was awarded the Silver Star, our military's third-highest honor for heroism.

The courage of our fighting men and women in this conflict is nothing short of phenomenal. To serve in their ranks is an experience that both is humbling and inspirational.

Our warriors are absolutely selfless, and their hard work, courage and determination has brought about improvements across Iraq that many thought impossible just a year ago.

But what defines our soldiers and Marines is not just valor, but their unwavering compassion for the Iraqi people. This picture of Sergeant Thomas says it all. These are the future leaders of our country and the heroes of their generation.

The next time you think about events in Iraq, I ask that you remember heroes like Staff Sergeant Kenneth Thomas, Jr., and the thousands of others who are on the ground every day contributing to this important endeavor.

Thank you so much again for allowing me to talk to you today. I enjoyed it very much.

Posted by Tom at 2:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 12, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 09 January 2008 - Operation Phantom Phoenix

Major General Kevin Bergner, Multi-National Force-Iraq spokesman, and Major General Mark Hertling, Multi-National Division-North Commander, spoke with reporters Wednesday in Baghdad. The purpose was to provide an update on Operation Iron Harvest, which is a suboperation to Phantom Phoenix, which was launched the day before.

Phantom Phoenix is a nationwide operation, and Iron Harvest is MG Hertling's part. The purpose of Iron Harvest is to clear Diyala Province or insurgents. According to Bill Roggio, AQI had "established a new "haven" in the region", thus the need for the operations.

This and over videos can be seen at DODvClips.

MG Bergner is, I believe, spokesman for MNF-Iraq.

MG Hertling commands Multi-National Division - North, Task Force Iron. MND-North is is headquartered by the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division.

If I have it right, both MG Bergner and MG Hertling report to Lt Gen Ray Odierno, commander of MNC-Iraq, the day-to-day operational commander in Iraq. Odierno reports to Gen Petraeus, overall commander of MNF-Iraq. Petraeus, in turn, reports to Adm Fallon, commander of CENTCOM.

Here are what I found to be some of the more important parts of the briefing, but be sure and watch the whole thing.

(note that what follows is topical, and is not necessarily arranged in chronological order)

Why Operations Phantom Phoenix and Iron Harvest?

Q Hi. Mark [unintelligible], Time Magazine. Just following up, could you maybe offer your own assessment as to why things are so persistently violent in Diyala Province given the steady build up of U.S. forces? And secondly, could you share your thinking on why you needed to launch this operation now?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah. Diyala Province specifically, as Governor Ra'ad reminds me every time I see him, is a little Iraq. It has all the problems and challenges in this province that all of Iraq has in terms of culture, tribal affiliations, religions, and just overall dynamics. It also was a province that didn't see a lot of forces ensuring stability over the long haul. There would be forces that would go in and
then come out just because it was an econ -- all of Northern Iraq has been an economy of force region over the last several years. So I think that may be part of it; that there wasn't the stable security that we're trying to establish now with the Iraqi Army. As well as the fact that the Iraqi Army division that's standing up in this particular province is one of the newer ones. So as General Salem gets his feet on the ground and continues to build his organization-which he's doing by the way, he's building another brigade in the next several months-I think that will provide security as well as some increases in police forces in that particular province as well.

Q And the second question: why now?

GEN. HERTLING: Why now? Because we can. Baghdad is more secure. Anbar is more secure. And we can focus a little bit on -- we're pursuing. That's
what we're doing. Why now? Because the other places are more secure and the enemy has moved into these provinces more.

Concerned Local Citizens

GEN. HERTLING: You have all reported on instances of intimidation of the population...and a variety of brutal and barbaric acts against civilians who are attempting to secure stability. You all and we are calling them the CLCs, the concerned local citizens....

Q May I just ask you -- I wanted to get some figures; how many CLCs do you figure there are in Kirkuk? How many in Diyala altogether at this
point?

GEN. HERTLING: In my four provinces, we have a total of 15,000.
Actually it's 14,094. And I could break it down a little bit more. I can talk to you later on because we've got a list by province and what it is.
...

Last night, we were able to get six IEDs off the road only because of tips from concerned local citizens in Kirkuk. That's because the police force is very good and the Army is very active.

The Shia-dominated national government is worried that these CLCs will become an alternative power structure. But from what I can tell the CLCs are vital to the "awakening" and our counterinsurgency strategy. As such, we're going to have to find a way to integrate them into the new gov't so that both sides are satisfied.

I think that the CLCs are evidence of the "bottom up" rebuilding of Iraq. Anti-war types in Washington are concerned with national benchmarks. While the national benchmarks are not completely unfounded, I think that if we can build local communities and civil societies from the ground up we'll achieve success.

Muqtada al-Sadr

GEN. BERGNER:

We also welcome the recent commitment by al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr calling for the continued compliance with his pledge of honor to halt attacks and outreach from him with other Iraqi leaders to expand the peace. The Sadr Trends compliance with this pledge of honor is improving the conditions for national reconciliation and security for all Iraqis. It also continues to allow coalition and Iraqi security forces to increase the pressure on al-Qaeda terrorists. Though bands of criminals are seeking to tarnish Sadr's pledge of honor, the coalition forces will continue to show restraint against the faithful followers who fulfill his commitment. The criminals who do not honor his pledge and who terrorize Iraqi citizens, assassinate Iraqi officials, and turn further towards Iranian support for extremists will not be shown the same restraint as they dishonor the pledge made by al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr.

Some say that we should have killed al-Sadr early on. Maybe so, and I believe we had cause to do so. But our opportunity for that has passed, so unless we have direct evidence of criminal actions, perhaps it is best if we deal with him politically.

Preparing the Battlefield

GEN. HERTLING: As I was talking to you here last month, we were in the early stages of gathering intelligence and setting forces, both U.S. and Iraqi, for operation Iron Harvest which Kevin just mentioned. We began collection efforts in key areas to find out how al-Qaeda in Iraq is operating in the northern region, specifically in Diyala Province although we're conducting operations in all four of the provinces where we have soldiers. Coalition forces and Iraqi security forces conducted several intelligence-driven operations over the last several weeks which resulted in [a] significant amount of information we are now using to continue to attack AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq).

Here is Gen Hertling's press briefing on Nov 19. I cannot find any for December, but I think this is the one he's referring to.

"Spectacular Events"

GEN HERTLING:As many of you reported recently, while we have seen a reduction in the number of attacks in most of the areas of Iraq and to a lesser degree in Northern Iraq, there has been a marked increase in AQI activity in Diyala Province in the form of high profile, spectacular events. This does not mean an increase of attacks, but it does mean an increase in these kinds of high-profile events....So, while the number of attacks are actually down throughout Iraq and in our area as well, these spectacular events and individual acts of intimidations are designed to incite fear in the population. ...

Q I'm Debbie Block, Voice of America Radio and TV. Would you please explain what you mean by spectacular events? That could mean a lot of
things. ...

GEN. HERTLING: A spectacular event is when a woman with a suicide vest, an individual, goes up to a group of people and blows themself up. And it immediately becomes newsworthy because of the uniqueness and by-I hate to use the word to describe it-but by the spectacular event that it is. A large truck filled with explosives blowing up a bridge when nothing else has happened in the area for months. When the people who are trying to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq will go after a specific target with all their might to not only affect that target, but also get a splash on the news or in media outlets so it appears that things are still reeling from violence which in many cases they are not. But because of one event, it appears this is happening everywhere. So that's what I would categorize as a spectacular event. Something that happens once or twice and it leaves a mark on an entire area or an entire province that things are out of control.
...

I think these spectacular attacks of suicide bombers and suicide vests are, in fact, going to be AQI's Achilles' heel. They're going to continue to kill innocent people. And that, in fact, is what's generated the concerned local citizens in the first place and it's sort of a reverse counterintuitive logic. They're trying to intimidate people to join them by killing them and it's causing more people to go against them.

Whether we on the right like it or not the media is going to make a big deal of out these high-profile attacks. We have to live with the world as it is, so reducing these types of attacks has to be a priority. AQI is all too aware of the role the media plays in this war for us to do otherwise. As for whether these types of attacks help or hurt AQI, I think it works both directions. On the one hand, they make us look impotent. This in turn drives the anti-war crowd here at home to demand an immediate pullout. On the other hand, Gen Hertling is probably right in that it also drives ordinary Iraqis to take action to defend themselves. Our objective is to channel that action into legal operations, such as Concerned Local Citizens groups, police, and Iraqi Army functions.

Determining Success

GEN HERTLING:While we will continue to pursue extremists, we know we won't measure the success of this operation by the kinetic affects over the next few weeks. Instead, success will be found in the weeks and months after this operation is complete as citizens see improved security and economic advancements. I just came from the town of Sherween where I talked to several of the local citizens who are already beginning to see the affects of al-Qaeda leaving their area and it was a significant emotional event for me.

Q Could you give us a little bit of detail on the civilian projects
that go along with these operations?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, that's a great question. Thanks for asking that. As we complete kinetic operations, one of the things that we try to do is follow up immediately with joint security stations which are the stations in the middle of key areas where there has been violence in the past. It will have both coalition -- will have all coalition forces, Iraqi security forces, Iraqi police, and the concerned local citizens in the center parts of town to ensure security stays -- remains. What we're doing in Diyala as a follow on to that is rapidly pushing money back into the area to improve the destruction of living quarters, of houses, of mosques. ...If I could add one more thing to that though. I mean one of the things that is critical to our operations is the linkages with the PRTs, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
...

Q ...How can you measure your success? ...

GEN. HERTLING: My belief is that as long as we're pursuing them and they haven't set up stakes, we're in great shape. We're continuing to pursue al-Qaeda throughout the width and depth of the battle space. What's very different now though is with what's occurred over the last couple of years, as you well know, is the stand up of the Iraqi security forces.

Q Is that how you're going to measure your success?

GEN. HERTLING: I think we're going to measure our success in a couple of -- and if I were to show you the ways we measure our success in terms of decreased attacks, reduction in IEDs, less small arms fire, all the normal kinetic things are one area. But the other thing is the improvement, and this is where the PRTs help, the improvement in the economy. The improvement in the local government. Some things that you see now that you wouldn't have expected a year ago in terms of how governors are talking to the central government, how businesses are beginning to stand up. The momentum is there. We just have to continue to help it and help the Iraqi people maintain security.


GEN. BERGNER: And that's really the point that I'd just echo for General Hertling is it's about population security. You have to go into these areas, you have to go re-establish local security so that the population feels that. And it gives rise to things like concerned local citizens, the courage to help protect their own community. It enables the further expansion of the Iraqi security forces into those areas. And all of those are the precursors, obviously, to the kinds of economic development, return of the rule of law, reconstruction activities that the Iraqi people need very much. And so in the process of pursuing al-Qaeda, you are expanding population security into these communities.

Contrary to what we constantly hear from the left, those of us who want to pursue victory in Iraq know that it cannot be achieved by kinetic effects only. But in order for political reconciliation to take place there must be security. Phantom Phoenix is designed to provide that security.

Problems Within AQI

GEN HERTLING:We've got some very interesting reflections about AQI leadership in ISI and Mosul in terms of them running out of money and doing things like kidnapping and intimidations and murders for hire that's trying to get them money. And we've also seen some reflections that the lower level fighters are very upset with their leaders for two reasons. Number one that they are taking some of the money they're supposed to use to pay them, those fighters, and leaving the country with it. And number two, the number of people that have been captured in Ninawa Province, specifically in and around Mosul, have been telling about the disorganization and naming other names within AQI which has allowed us to continue to target others.

I think we tend to concentrate on our own problems and failures and forget that the enemy is beset with them too. AQI has simply not succeeded in its goal of chasing us out of Iraq and establishing a base for their caliphate. On the contrary, we have ramped up our forces to deny them sanctuary. Whether in the long run it will be successful only time will tell.

Posted by Tom at 1:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 10, 2008

No Betrayals, Please

As with Richard Fernandez, author of Belmont Club, this paragraph from Michael Yon's latest also struck me as particulary

We now have a large number of American and British officers who can pick up a phone from Washington or London and call an Iraqi officer that he knows well—an Iraqi he has fought along side of—and talk. Same with untold numbers of Sheiks and government officials, most of whom do not deserve the caricatural disdain they get most often from pundits who have never set foot in Iraq. British and American forces have a personal relationship with Iraqi leaders of many stripes. The long-term intangible implications of the betrayal of that trust through the precipitous withdrawal of our troops could be enormous, because they would be the certain first casualties of renewed violence, and selling out the Iraqis who are making an honest-go would make the Bay of Pigs sell-out seem inconsequential. The United States and Great Britain would hang their heads in shame for a century.

If we leave Iraq precipitiously the Iraqis will never foreive us. Read Yon's entire piece. Fernandez has this to say about it

Why is fighting a counter-insurgency hard? Because it requires creating a human infrastructure, which in turn requires time and most importantly, exposure. There is probably no idea more destructive to conducting a good counterinsurgency than the idea of a military campaign based on a prescheduled "exit strategy" following a battles in which no casualties will be allowed. Any realistic effort which fits those constraints must realistically resemble one of the cruise missile bombardments so popular with Washington in the 1990s, which is why they were preferred to start with.

A truly sanitized, rubber gloved, politically correct war can never have produced the cameraderie in arms which Yon describes as having risen between American officers and former al-Qaeda. In one sense, the kinds of wars the Left will allow a national military to engage in (if there are any) are of the sort where everything is fundamentally as phoney and plastic as a United Nations conference. A nonwar, both bloodless and useless at the same time. An event in which there are no years; nor sweat, nor tears. Diplomacy conducted by military theater. Just a programmed experience and a private plane ticket home.

But the history of war through the ages has never resembled that; and ultimately there's no way to fight a counterinsurgency without becoming involved in the fate of a country. This is the real cost of all wars that "free men" rather than enslave them. Becoming involved is fraught with danger. But victory has its price.

We're deeply involved with Iraq's people, whether the anti-war crowd likes it or not. Contrary to what they say, to pick up and leave would entail tremendous consequences, all of them bad ones.

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January 8, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 07 January 2008 - Col Charles Flynn

Col Charles Flynn, Commander of the 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, speaks via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq. I am not quite sure where they fit into the MNF-Iraq force structure.

Col Flynn is in Iraq, and is linked via teleconference to the briefing room at the Pentagon.

(The URL for this video is at http://www.dodvclips.mil/?fr_story=FRdamp237911&rf=bm)

Given the confrontation between Iranian gunboats and three U.S. Navy ships yesterday in the Straight of Hormuz, I thought the best place to start was with the exchange about Iranian interference in Iraq.

Q (Courtney Kube from NBC News) Beyond the U.S. efforts and the Iraqi security force efforts to reduce the EFPs, do you see any indications, any early indications, that one of the reasons the EFPs have been reduced in the area is because of Iran's stopping the supply of these weapons, any kind of Iran involvement in this in a positive way?

COL. FLYNN: Yeah, I think that since the talks in September, there has been what would appear to be a reduction in lethal flow of the EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator) and other ordnance or munitions that have been used in attacks. At the same time, as I mentioned, there are influences and elements, particularly in Southern Iraq, where they're going to continue to try to foment unrest and use some of their malign influences to try to disrupt our operations, and those really of the Iraqi security forces, namely the police and the army.

It seems speculation on Col Flynns part to link a reduction of EFPs with the talks, but if true then they were worthwhile. And those of us on the right who wondered at their usefulness may have been wrong.

The other important exchange was about the Concerned Local Citizens groups, which have been the topic of much discussion recently. Gen McCaffrey stressed their importance them in his report last month. Major General Joseph Fil, Commanding General of Multi-National Division-Baghdad and First Cavalry Division, discussed them in his Dec 17 press briefing. Major General Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North and the 1st Armored Division, discussed them in his Nov 19 press briefing.

Q Sir, Gordon Lubold with the Christian Science Monitor. I wonder if you could talk a little bit, if you haven't already, about the concerned local citizens in your area. What kind of numbers do you have? What's the breakdown, Shi'a-Sunni? I missed, maybe, before, the composition. And what kind of activity do you see them conducting, any operations against them that you've seen so far?

COL. FLYNN: The program that I mentioned in my remarks was a Community Transportation Initiative Teams; it's really not part of the concerned local citizen program, although it is like that. It's more a civil-military outreach program and really an employment program. It does engage the tribes through the tribal sheikhs. We have over 12 tribes involved in that. It essentially goes from the area on Tampa northeast of Diwaniyah and goes all the way south to the Kuwait border and then down to Camp Bucca just east of Basra.

And it's really been a fantastic program. It has employed over 250 employees, and they get paid to do essentially roadwork. And they're out there every day. They're working hard. Their members are engaged in reporting information. In fact, just yesterday we had one of the teams identified an IED that was in fact later discovered to be an EFP. They saw it on the side of the road. They called the local police. The local police called and went over to our Joint Security Station. They went out together, cordoned the area off, and they were able to recover the EFP so we could get the -- you know, exploit the information that we get from those attack sites.

So to me -- and there's been a number of those that have occurred. So to me that's really the most positive part of this, is that it's an employment opportunity, the tribes are involved, and they are working with us to reduce attacks on the highways. And that's not just attacks against Iraqi security -- or coalition forces, but also against Iraqi highway police, oil pipeline security forces and, of course, Iraqi army elements that move on those roads.

Q Do you have also more traditional concerned local citizens manning checkpoints and that kind of thing, and how many of those do you have in your --

COL. FLYNN: No, I don't have those in our area. I know they're in the Qadisiyah province when we're on MSR-Tampa, but I believe those are being executed and implemented by the Georgian brigade that operate up there. We do most of our work here with the Australian battle group and the Romanian battalion, as I mentioned in my statement.



We're making progress, slowly burt surely.

Posted by Tom at 7:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 21, 2007

The December 2007 General Barry McCaffrey Report on Iraq

General Barry R McCaffrey (ret) is back from Iraq and has presented another thorough and honest report on the situation. You can read it in it's entirety on Michael Yon's website. As with his previous reports, there is good news and bad news. However, I think an honest reading is that his take on the situation is mostly positive.

Following is the complete report minus some of the introduction, in which he simply lists his sources (who he met with; Adm Fallon, Gen Petraeus, other generals, colonels, Iraqis, etc). You can also download it as a pdf here.

SUBJECT: After Action Report--General Barry R McCaffrey USA (Ret)

VISIT IRAQ AND KUWAIT 5-11 DECEMBER 2007

1. PURPOSE:

This memo provides feedback on my strategic and operational assessment of current security operations in Iraq. Look forward to providing lectures to faculty and cadet national security seminars.

Will provide follow-on comprehensive report with attachments of current unclassified data and graphs documenting the current counter-insurgency situation in Iraq.

1. THE BOTTOM LINE--AN OPERATIONAL ASSESSMENT:

a. VIOLENCE DOWN DRAMATICALLY:

The struggle for stability in the Iraqi Civil War has entered a new phase with dramatically reduced levels of civilian sectarian violence, political assassinations, abductions, and small arms/ indirect fire and IED attacks on US and Iraqi Police and Army Forces.

This is the unmistakable new reality --and must be taken into account as the US debates its options going forward. The national security debate must move on to an analysis of why this new political and security situation exists--not whether it exists.

General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker have provided brilliant collective leadership to US Forces and have ably engaged the Iraqi political and military leadership.

b. AL QAEDA TACTICALLY DEFEATED AND TRYING TO REGENERATE:

Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has been defeated at a tactical and operational level in Baghdad and Anbar Province and is trying to re-constitute in the north and along the Syrian frontier.

The Iraqi people have turned on AQI because it overreached trying to impose an alien and harsh practice of Islam inconsistent with the more moderate practices of the Sunni minority. (16% of the population.) The foreign jihadist elements in AQI (with their enormous hatred of what they view as the apostate Shia) have alienated the nationalism of the broader Iraqi population. Foreign intervention across the Syrian frontier has dropped substantially. Most border-crossers are suicide bombers who are dead within four days while carrying out largely ineffective attacks on the civilian population and the Iraqi Police.

The senior leaders of AQI have become walking dead men because of the enormous number of civilian intelligence tips coming directly to US Forces. US and Brit Special Operations Forces are deadly against AQI leadership. Essentially AQI has been driven out of Baghdad and is now trying to reconstitute their capabilities.

c. IRAQI SECURITY FORCES KEY FACTOR IN SUCCESSFUL INTERNAL SECURITY:

The Iraqi Security Forces are now beginning to take a major and independent successful role in the war. Under the determined leadership of LTG Jim Dubik --both the equipment and force levels of the Iraqi Security Forces are now for the first time in the war at a realistic level of resource planning.

The previously grossly ineffective and corrupt Iraqi Police have been forcefully re-trained and re-equipped. The majority of their formerly sectarian police leadership has been replaced. The police are now a mixed bag-- but many local units are now effectively providing security and intelligence penetration of their neighborhoods.

The Iraqi Army has made huge progress in leadership, training, and equipment capability. The embedded US training teams have simply incredible levels of trust and mutual cooperation with their Iraqi counterparts. Corruption remains endemic. However, much remains to be done. This is the center-of-gravity of the war.

The ISF still lacks credibility as a coherent counter-insurgency and deterrent force. It has no national logistics and maintenance system. It lacks any semblance of an Air Force with a robust lift and attack helicopter force and fixed wing C-130 lift to support counter-insurgency. It lacks any semblance of a functioning military medical system to provide country-wide trauma care, evacuation, and rehabilitation. It lacks any artillery with precision munitions to provide stand-off attack of hard targets--or to assist in counter-battery fire to protect the population and military installations. It lacks any serious armor capability to act as a deterrent force to protect national sovereignty. (In my judgment the Army needs 9000+ wheel and track armored vehicles for their 13 combat divisions.)

d. CENTRAL GOVERNMENT DOES NOT WORK:

There is no functional central Iraqi Government. Incompetence, corruption, factional paranoia, and political gridlock have paralyzed the state. The constitution promotes bureaucratic stagnation and factional strife. The budgetary process cannot provide responsive financial support to the military and the police--nor local government for health, education, governance, reconstruction, and transportation.

Mr. Maliki has no political power base and commands no violent militias who have direct allegiance to him personally--making him a non-player in the Iraqi political struggle for dominance in the post-US withdrawal period which looms in front of the Iraqi people.

However, there is growing evidence of the successful re-constitution of local and provincial government. Elections for provincial government are vitally important to creating any possible form of functioning Iraqi state.

e. POPULATION AND REFUGEES IN MISERY:

There are 4 million plus dislocated Iraqis--possibly one in six citizens. Many of the intelligentsia and professional class have fled to Syria, Jordan, or abroad. 60,000 + have been murdered or died in the post-invasion violence. Medical care is primitive. Security and justice for the individual is weak. Many lack clean water or adequate food and a roof over their family. Anger and hatred for the cruelties of the ongoing Civil War overwhelm the desire for reconciliation.

There is widespread disbelief that the Iraqi government can bring the country together. The people (and in particular the women) are sick of the chaotic violence and want an end to the unpredictable violence and the dislocation of the population.

f. ECONOMY SHOWING SIGNS OF COMING BACK:

The economy is slowly reviving-- although there is massive 50% or more unemployment or under-employment.

The electrical system is slowly coming back-- but it is being overwhelmed by huge increases in demand as air conditioners, TV's, and light industry load the system.

The production and distribution of gasoline is increasing but is incapable of keeping up with a gigantic increase in private vehicle and truck ownership.

The Iraqi currency to everyone's astonishment is very stable and more valued than the weak US dollar.

The agricultural system is under-resourced and poorly managed--it potentially could feed the population and again become a source of export currency earnings.

g. US COMBAT FORCES NOW DOMINATING THE CIVIL WAR:

The morale and tactical effectiveness of engaged US military forces are striking. The "surge" of five additional US Brigade Combat Teams helped. (Although we are now forced to begin an immediate drawdown because of the inadequate resources of the worldwide US Army.)

These combat forces have become the most effective counter-insurgency (and forensic police investigative service) in history. LTG Ray Odierno, the MNC-I Commander, and his senior commanders have gotten out of their fixed bases and operate at platoon level in concert with small elements of the Iraqi Army and Police. Their aggressive tactics combined with simply brilliant use of the newly energized Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT's -- Superb State Department leadership and participation) for economic development have dramatically changed the tone of the war.

US Forces have now unilaterally constituted some 60,000+ armed "Iraqi Concerned Local Citizen Groups" to the consternation of the Maliki Government. These CLC Groups have added immeasurably to the security of the local populations -- as well as giving a paycheck to unemployed males to support their families. Although the majority of these CLC Groups are Sunnis - increasingly the concept is being extended to Shia Groups south of Baghdad.

The US battalion and brigade commanders have grown up in combat with near continuous operations in the past 20 years in the Balkans, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Many of the Army combat forces are now beginning their 4th round of year+ combat tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of the Marine units are now on their 5th tour of seven month combat deployments. The troops and their leaders are simply fearless--despite 34,000 US killed and wounded.

The US company and battalion commanders now operate as the de facto low-level government of the Iraqi state...schools, health, roads, police, education, governance. The Iraqis tend to defer to US company and battalion commanders based on their respect for their counterparts' energy, integrity, and the assurance of some level of security. These US combat units have enormous discretion to use CRP Funds to jump start local urban and rural economic and social reconstruction. They are rapidly mentoring and empowering local Iraqi civilian and police leadership.

Direct intelligence cooperation has sky-rocketed. The civilian population provides by-name identification of criminal leadership. They point out IED's. They directly interact with US forces at low level in much of the country. (There are still 3000+ attacks on US Forces each month...this is still a Civil War.)

h. SUNNI ARABS WANT BACK IN-- BEFORE US FORCES DEPART:

The Sunnis Arabs have stopped seeing the US as the enemy and are now cooperating to eliminate AQI -- and to position themselves for the next phase of the Civil War when the US Forces withdraw.

There is no leadership that can speak for all the Sunnis. The former regime elements have now stepped forward --along with tribal leadership --to assert some emerging control.

i. SHIA ARABS HOLDING IN CEASEFIRE--STRUGGLE FOR INTERNAL POWER:

The Shia JAM militia under the control of Mr. Sadr have maintained their cease-fire, are giving up rogue elements to be harvested by US Special Operations teams, and are consolidating control over their ethnic cleansing success in Baghdad--as well as maneuvering to dominate the Iranian affiliated Badr brigade forces in the south.

However, Mr. Sadr lost great credibility when his forces violently intervened in the Holy City of Najaf --and were videoed on national TV and throughout the Arab world carrying out criminal acts against the pilgrims and protectors of the Shia population.

Sadr himself is an enigma. He may well want back into the political process. He is not a puppet of the Iranians and may lack their real support. His command and control of his own forces appears weak. He personally lacks the theological gravitas of a true Shia Islamic scholar like the venerable Sistani. He may be personally fearful of being killed or captured by ISF special operations forces if he is visibly leading inside Iraq...hence his frequent absences to Iran at the sufferance of that government.

j. DOMINANCE OF CRIMINAL ELEMENTS:

There is no clear emerging nation-wide Shia leadership for their 60% of the Iraqi population. It is difficult to separate either Shia or Sunni political factions from Mafia criminal elements- with a primary focus on looting the government financial system and oil wealth of the nation.

In many cases neighborhoods are dominated by gangs of armed thugs who loosely legitimize their arbitrary violence by implying allegiance to a higher level militia.

The Iraqi justice system...courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police investigators, jails for pre-trial confinement, prisons for sentences, integrity of public institutions--does not yet exist. Vengeance is the only operative law of the land. The situation is starting to change. The Iraqi Police will be in charge of most neighborhoods by the end of next year.

k. THE KURDS--AN AUTOMOMOUS SUCCESSFUL REGION:

The Kurds are a successful separate autonomous state--with a functioning and rapidly growing economy, a strong military (Both existing Pesh Merga Forces and nominally Iraqi-Kurdish Army divisions), a free press, relative security, significant foreign investment, and a growing tourist industry which serves as a neutral and safe meeting place for separated and terrified Sunni and Shia Arab families from the south.

There are Five Star hotels, airline connections to Europe, a functioning telephone system, strong trade relations with Syria, enormous mutually beneficial trade relations with Turkey, religious tolerance, a functional justice system, and an apparently enduring cease-fire between the traditional Kurdish warring factions.

Kurdish adventurism and appetite to confront both their external neighbors and the Iraqi central state may have been tempered in a healthy way by the prospect of invasion from the powerful Turkish Armed Forces to avenge the continued cross-border KKP terrorism.

The war-after-next will be the war of the Iraqi Arabs against the Kurds --when Mosul as well as Kirkuk and its giant oil basin (and an even greater Kurdish claimed buffer zone to the south) is finally and inevitably absorbed (IAW the existing Constitution) by the nascent Kurdish state. The only real solution to this dread inevitability is patient US diplomacy to continually defer the fateful Kurdish decision ad infinitum.

2. THE WAY AHEAD:

a. THE CENTRAL US MILITARY PURPOSE MUST BE TO CREATE ADEQUATE IRAQI SECURITY FORCES:

The Iraqis are the key variable. The center of our military effort must be the creation of well-equipped, trained, and adequately supported Iraqi Police and Army Forces with an operational Air Force and Navy.

We have rapidly decreasing political leverage on the Iraqi factional leadership. It is evident that the American people have no continued political commitment to solving the Iraqi Civil War. The US Armed Forces cannot for much longer impose an internal skeleton of governance and security on 27 million warring people.

The US must achieve our real political objectives to withdraw most US combat forces in the coming 36 months leaving in place:

1st: A stable Iraqi government.

2nd: A strong and responsive Iraqi security force.

3rd: A functioning economy.

4th: Some form of accountable, law-based government.

5th: A government with active diplomatic and security ties to its six neighboring states.

b. THE US ARMY IS TOO SMALL AND POORLY RESOURCED TO CONTINUE SUCCESSFUL COUNTER-INSURGENCY OPERATIONS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN AT THE CURRENT LEVEL:

An active counter-insurgency campaign in Iraq could probably succeed in the coming decade with twenty-five US Brigade Combat Teams. (Afghanistan probably needs two more US combat brigades for a total of four in the coming 15 year campaign to create an operational state-- given more robust NATO Forces and ROE). We can probably sustain a force in Iraq indefinitely (given adequate funding) of some 10+ brigades. However, the US Army is starting to unravel.

Our recruiting campaign is bringing into the Army thousands of new soldiers (perhaps 10% of the annual input) who should not be in uniform. (Criminal records, drug use, moral waivers, non-high school graduates, pregnant from Basic Training and therefore non-deployable, lowest mental category, etc.)

We are losing our combat experienced mid-career NCOs' and Captains at an excessive rate. (ROTC DMG's, West Pointers, Officers with engineering and business degrees, etc.) Their morale is high, they are proud of their service, they have enormous personal courage--however, they see a nation of 300 million people with only an under resourced Armed Forces at war. The US Army at 400,000 troops is too small to carry out the current military strategy. The active duty US Army needs to be 800,000 strong to guarantee US national security.

The National Guard and Reserves are too small, are inadequately resourced, their equipment is broken or deployed, they are beginning their second involuntary combat deployments, and they did not sign up to be a regular war-fighting force. They have done a superb job in combat but are now in peril of not being ready for serious homeland security missions or deployment to a major shooting war such as Korea.

The modernization of our high technology US Air Force and Navy is imperiled by inadequate Congressional support. Support has focused primarily on the ground war and homeland security with $400 Billion+. We are digging a strategic hole for the US as we mono-focus on counter-insurgency capabilities --while China inevitably emerges in the coming 15 years as a global military power.

c. HEALING THE MORAL FISSURES IN THE ARMED FORCES:

The leadership of Secretary Bob Gates in DOD has produced a dramatic transformation of our national security effort which under the Rumsfeld leadership was characterized by: a failing under-resourced counter-insurgency strategy; illegal DOD orders on the abuse of human rights; disrespect for the media and the Congress and the other departments of government; massive self-denial on wartime intelligence; and an internal civilian-imposed integrity problem in the Armed Forces--that punished candor, de-centralized operations, and commanders initiative.

Admiral Mullen as CJCS and Admiral Fallon as CENTCOM Commander bring hard-nosed realism and integrity of decision-making to an open and collaborative process which re-emerged as Mr. Rumsfeld left office. (Mr. Rumsfeld was an American patriot, of great personal talent, energy, experience, bureaucratic cleverness, and charisma--who operated with personal arrogance, intimidation and disrespect for the military, lack of forthright candor, avoidance of personal responsibility, and fundamental bad judgment.)

Secretary Gates has turned the situation around with little drama in a remarkable display of wisdom, integrity, and effective senior leadership of a very complex and powerful organization. General Petraeus now has the complete latitude and trust in his own Departmental senior civilian leadership to have successfully changed the command climate in the combat force in Iraq. His commanders now are empowered to act in concert with strategic guidance. They can frankly level with the media and external visitors. I heard this from many senior leaders -- from three star General to Captain Company commanders.

3. THE END GAME:

It is too late to decide on the Iraqi exit strategy with the current Administration. However, the Secretary of Defense and CENTCOM can set the next Administration up for success by getting down to 12 + Brigade Combat teams before January of 2009 --and by massively resourcing the creation of an adequate Iraqi Security Force.

We also need to make the case to Congress that significant US financial resources are needed to get the Iraqi economy going. ($3 billion per year for five years.) The nation-building process is the key to a successful US Military withdrawal--and will save enormous money and grief in the long run to avoid a failed Iraqi state.

Clearly we must continue the current sensible approach by Secretary of State Rice to open dialog with Syria, Turkey, and the Iranians--and to focus Arab attention with Saudi leadership on a US diplomatic offensive to mitigate the confrontation between Israel and the Arab states. We must also build a coalition to mitigate the dangers of a nuclear armed Iran.

The dysfunctional central government of Iraq, the warring Shia/Sunni/Kurdish factions, and the unworkable Iraqi constitution will only be put right by the Iraqis in their own time--and in their own way. It is entirely credible that a functioning Iraqi state will slowly emerge from the bottom up...with a small US military and diplomatic presence holding together in loose fashion the central government. The US must also hold at bay Iraq's neighbors from the desperate mischief they might cause that could lead to all out Civil War with regional involvement.

A successful withdrawal from Iraq with the emergence of a responsible unified Iraqi nation is vitally important to the security of the American people and the Mid-East. We are clearly no longer on a downward spiral. However, the ultimate outcome is still quite seriously in doubt.

Barry R McCaffrey
General USA (Ret)
Adjunct Professor of International Affairs
Department of Social Sciences, USMA
West Point, NY.

In short:

The good news is that violence is down dramatically, AQI, the greatest military threat, has been largely defeated, we have the right leadership and strategy in place, ordinary Iraqi citizens are stepping up to the plate through CLCs (Concerned Local Citizens), the Kurdish region is a success, the economy is growing and currency is stable,

The bad news is that the central Iraqi government is virtually non-existent, the refugee situation is unacceptable, and U.S. military forces as a whole are too small.

Making progress but still not there are the Iraqi Security Forces (both army and police), Mr. Sadr and his Shia JAM militia have been sidelined but are still a threat, local government is being reconstituted, and the criminial justice system "does not yet exist" but should be in place "by the end of next year" (way late).

As McCaffrey says, the "center-of-gravity" is the Iraqi Security Forces. We are going to have to leave sooner or later, and unless we can generate indiginous forces that can defeat terrorists and control criminals, the country will disintigrate again.

A pretty thorough post on the Iraqi Security forces can be found in a post by DJ Elliot over at The Long War Journal.

The Latest Casualty and Violence Figures

The latest statistics on casualties and violence can be found over at The Long War Journal. Bill Roggio has posted several graphs, which he got from the "Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq" quarterly report was publicly released on December 18, 2007. Two are reprinted here:


weekly-attack-trends-12072007-thumb.gif


IED-incidence-12072007-thumb.gif


I take two things from these figures: one, that we were losing Iraq in 2006, two, that the "surge" has greatly reduced violence, and three, that we're not out of the woods yet. Reducing violence to the levels of 2004 is a big accomplishment, but we've got aways to go. This, I think comports with Gen McCaffrey's report.

Previous

Barry McCaffrey on Iraq II
Barry McCaffrey on Afghanistan
Barry McCaffrey on Iraq I

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December 18, 2007

Iraq Briefing 17 December 2007 - Maj Gen Joseph Fil

Major General Joseph Fil, Commanding General of Multi-National Division-Baghdad and First Cavalry Division, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq. MG Fil is at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, and is linked via teleconference to the briefing room at the Pentagon. Fil reports to LtGen Ray Odierno, who in turn reports to Gen David Petraeus.

This video can also be viewed at DODvCLIPS

MG Fil's last briefing was on Sept 21, although the video seems to have disappeared from The Pentagon Channel's website. It looks like they're only keeping them posted for about two or three months.

1st Cav is ending it's tour of duty, and its four brigades are in the process of packing and leaving Iraq and redeploying to Fort Hood and Fort Bliss. Taking their place is the 4th Infantry Division, commanded by MG Jeff Hammond.

The main point that I took from this briefing is that we have made tremendous progress, but that if we draw down too quickly we risk losing all that we have gained. Fil made this point a number of times. Here are the relevant excerpts:

The number of attacks against citizens in Baghdad has dropped by almost 80 percent since November of 2006. Murders in the province have decreased by 90 percent during that same time frame. The number of vehicle-borne IED incidents has also declined by about 70 percent, and the number of innocent people that are killed with these weapons -- (audio break) -- more. And we're finding more of them before they detonate. The number of roadside bombs has also decreased significantly, and we're finding more and more of them before they detonate.

I also attribute a great deal of the security progress to the willingness of the population to step forward and band together against terrorist and criminal militia. Without sanctuary, the insurgency cannot operate. They cannot plan and they cannot indiscriminately kill at the levels they did previously. Concerned local citizens are being trained to become part of the Iraqi security forces themselves. Iraqi citizens are providing tips to the Iraqi security and to the coalition forces, helping us to flush out criminal militias and insurgents.
...

Now, I want to be absolutely clear that while we have seen significant progress during our tour here, we are very mindful that it is fragile and that there is very tough work ahead. Al Qaeda is down, but it is by no means out. It remains a very dangerous enemy that maintains the ability to conduct attacks against the innocent, and we must continue to pursue them, to attack their networks even as they're trying to regenerate. Likewise, militia and criminal networks are still very potent threats who are continuously seeking to regain power and authority -- (audio break).
...

Q(Kristin Roberts with Reuters) General, is there a danger, looking ahead, of withdrawing U.S., coalition forces too quickly over the next year or so? And what would happen if, or what happens as we begin to withdraw forces out of Baghdad? And what is the risk of going too quickly?

GEN. FIL: I think there's absolutely a risk of going too quickly. There's no question that although the incidents of violence are down significantly here, they're down because we have a force presence that is almost throughout the city. And there are now Iraqi security forces working in conjunction with coalition forces nearly everywhere in the city, and they're supplemented by concerned local citizens.

I think it's clear that pulling out too quickly, before the Iraqis are truly able to take over these areas independently, would be very risky. And there are some areas in the city where, at this point, it would fail. They're simply not ready to stand entirely on their own.
...

MR. WHITMAN: (Pentagon moderator) ...But before I bring it to a close, let me throw it back to you in case you have any final words you'd like to say to us.

GEN. FIL: Well, thanks very much. Always a pleasure. And I thank you all for your attention on what I understand is a pretty early morning there in Washington, D.C. on a Monday, and I thank you for that. I would say that -- you know, in closing, that we recognize this is a very tough fight, and it is -- (audio break) -- it is by no means complete. The progress that we've made thus far is fragile and not guaranteed.
...

We also know that many of our troops gave all and that a grateful nation does mourn these fallen heroes with their families and their loved ones. And we will never forget them, their sacrifices -- (audio break) -- that the situation here is fledgling and very fragile, not guaranteed, and there is much work ahead.
...

I close by saying we're the finest fighting force in the world. Our soldiers are proven warriors who have faced the fires of enemy hatred and beaten it back with a purposeful professionalism, and they've achieved great success in many of their endeavors here in the Iraqi capital. These young men and women are from all walks of life. They're from all across our country and they've truly been my inspiration during this tour, and they are truly the standard bearers of freedom and they understand fully the meaning of the words "sacrifice," "honor" and "commitment."

You don't have to be a political genius to know that there is a very strong incentive for the president to bring a lot of troops home from Iraq. To do so would help whoever wins the GOP nomination, and given the political climate, it's going to be a tough battle no matter who wins.

On the Democrat side, Obama would bring troops home a lot faster than Hillary. Fil may have also intended his message for them as well.

Either way, the 1st Cav has fought long and hard in Iraq. The last thing Fil wants to see is it all go for naught because the policitians didn't have the gumption to stick it out. Whatever number we should keep in Iraq, I hope that the Bush Administration, as well as the Democrats, are listening to MG Fil.

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December 15, 2007

Iraq Briefing 10 December 2007 - Maj Gen Walter Gaskin

This briefing was by Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin, Commanding General, U.S. Marine Corps, of Multinational Force West, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). MG Gaskin is in Baghdad, linked by teleconference to the briefing room at the Pentagon. Gaskin reports to LtGen Ray Odierno, who in turn reports to Gen David Petraeus.


This video can also be viewed at DODvCLIPS


Much has been made of whether the "Anbar Awakening" occured because of or despite the "surge" strategy. Those who support the war say the former, opponents the latter. MG Gaskin was asked about this directly, and here is the exchange (23:15 into the video):

Q General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. I wanted to ask you about the Awakening, and you talked a little bit about how there's this blood feud, and how the Anbaris have rejected the brutality of al Qaeda. Would you say that the progress that we've seen this year in Anbar had to do with something that MNF-I did? Or was it entirely indigenous to the inner workings of the people who live in the province?

GEN. GASKIN: I think it's a combination. You know, you can't separate the fact that this multinational corps and force out here was designed to eliminate al Qaeda.

And al Qaeda is a part of why the Awakening came about, is to awake and see that you can have self-reliance. We can join with the coalition forces and rid ourselves of the brutality and the caliphate and the just plain disregard for how the Anbaris live.

Now, it kind of manifests itself out here in Anbar because these were Sunnis -- (audio break) -- and therefore, they resisted the Taliban-like life -- the life and ideology that al Qaeda was bringing to this area. But it did not come without a cost. Al Qaeda was very brutal to the sheikhs, and this is a very tribal society. As a matter of fact, the sheikhs often say that we were tribal before we were Muslim, and therefore, this is
a(n) anchor point within our society. And so when al Qaeda attacked that, they did some very brutal things to the sheikhs, did not follow customs allowing the sheikhs to die in the desert and not burying them within 24 hours. That's what I mean by the blood feud
and that they have created a schism that I don't think will ever be repaired.

And because they really want to return to a life where they can have control of their own
destiny, I see this as an opportunity since -- (audio break) -- have joined with al Qaeda -- with the sheikhs and the people against al Qaeda. This is going to work, and I think it's enduring.

Q But General, might that not have happened anyway without MNF-I, without the surge, without the new counterinsurgency strategy?

GEN. GASKIN: I doubt it. I think if you -- if you look at the history of the fighting here, you will see that several times the sheikhs have attempted to rid themselves of al Qaeda.

They started in about 2005 out in al Qaim, where the sheikhs raised up, calling themselves the Desert Protectors, put down brutally by al Qaeda. It started again in and around Ramadi, where 11 sheikhs raised up to try to rid themselves of al Qaeda and its caliphate and shura law. And 11 of -- of those 11 -- (audio break) -- were put down brutally.

And so again, in Ramadi with Sheikhs Sattar Abu Risi (ph) who started the Sahwa Allah Iraq, which is the Awakening movement. He had lost two brothers and a father in that fight. So he realized, too, that the joining of the coalition who had there to aid them in getting rid of al Qaeda, that we were better equipped, better trained and had a better
principle (sic) of what was happening to them and all of that. This joining of us with them would not have happened -- it definitely would not have happened in the time frame for which we are experiencing now because al Qaeda was better organized, better financed and a lot more brutal than the Anbaris ever expected in dealing with them.

And so I think this was a -- (audio break) -- and it's proved to be ridding them of al
Qaeda and allow them to get on with their economic development and governance of this province.

Two good questions, and I think MG Gaskin dispelled any notions that the Awakening would have happened without the surge.

Posted by Tom at 9:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 13, 2007

Winning "Hearts and Minds" in Action

A story in today's Washington Times, I think makes it clear that we are winning hearts and minds in Iraq's Anbar province.

First, though, a rehash of what exactly "hearts and minds" means, because it is usually taken to mean what is is not; "getting them to like us". This was my impression until I found otherwise.

From the Small Wars Journal blog (authored by some pretty heavy hitters)

Counterinsurgency: FM 3024 / MCWP 3.33.5 defines the true meaning of the phrase hearts and minds as the two components in building trusted networks in the conduct of COIN operations:
Hearts” means persuading people that their best interests are served by COIN success. “Minds” means convincing them that the force can protect them and that resisting it is pointless. Note that neither concerns whether people like Soldiers and Marines. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, is what counts. Over time, successful trusted networks grow like roots into the populace. They displace enemy networks, which forces enemies into the open, letting military forces seize the initiative and destroy the insurgents.

I think Dr. David Kilcullen defined hearts and minds as two components of COIN operations quite nicely during a COIN seminar at Quantico, Virginia, several weeks ago.

In addressing the reality of hearts and minds Kilcullen explained how the following 1952 statement by General Sir Gerald Templer, Director of Operations and High Commissioner for Malaya, has been misinterpreted:

"The answer lies not in pouring more troops into the jungle, but in the hearts and minds of the Malayan People"

General Templer did not mean (or say) that we must "be nice to the population" or make them like us. What he meant, and his subsequent actions played out, was that success in COIN rests on the popular perception and this perception has an emotive ("hearts") component and a cognitive ("minds") component.

Read the whole thing.

Here are a few excerpts from the story in the Times, and I think you'll see how it's relevant

Terrorist attacks have dropped from an average of 75 a week in January to about 24 a week now as tribal sheiks cooperate with one another, Iraqi provincial authorities and U.S. forces.

"You can only trust people to do what is in their best interests," Col. Clardy said. "The Iraqis are doing what is in their best interest.

"They see their success and future will be built on the relationship they have, we hope, with their own government and with us being here as well, and with the Iraqi security forces to which they contribute their sons.

"At some point, they realized that was not going to happen" with al Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI as the terror group is known to the Marines.

"These are a practical people," Col. Clardy said of Anbar's residents. "But it takes trust. And we've built that trust, and so are the Iraqi security forces. People are now going to them to provide tips" about arms caches and the presence of terrorists.
...

Attempts to improve cooperation among the tribes still are slowed by the long distances and poor communications. The Marines are responding by providing regular helicopter rides to carry tribal and municipal officials to meetings with their provincial counterparts.

"When you get them in a room together, they solve problems," he said. "When you don't, they don't. And they don't always like being in a room together, but when they do, they work it out. They are a very compromising people. ... They don't like personal confrontation too much."

This sure sounds like "hearts and minds" to me. It's not about "making them like us", it's about making them choose. And so far, they seem to have chosen us and the Iraqi government.

Posted by Tom at 9:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 19, 2007

Iraq Briefings 15/19 November 2007

Continuing with my persusal of different reliable sources to understand the situation in Iraq, today we have to briefings to consider. One is by a Colonel, and the other a Major General. Both officers are in Iraq and have combat commands. They are linked via teleconference to the press briefing room at the Pentagon. Although I provide links to the transcripts, I encourage you to watch both briefings in their entirety.

One briefing is by a Colonel, the other a Major General. Both command combat units in Baghdad, and are linked via teleconference to the press room at the Pentagon.

First up is Col Jeffrey Bannister, Commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division. His division is stationed at Camp Liberty in Baghdad

This video can also be viewed at DODvCLIPS

Here is what I thought was most interesting about this briefing:

The strategy when we arrived was to transition to overwatch of Iraqi security forces. Given the levels of sectarian violence, Iraq was just not ready for this transition, and we instead, as you know, changed to a counterinsurgency strategy or COIN. It has led to the surge of coalition forces, beginning in January, putting more boots on the ground, and gave the Strike Brigade nearly twice as many combat soldiers, covering an area only one-third of the size.... The greatest threat to coalition forces and our Iraqi partners has been the Shi'a extremists with explosive formed penetrators...

Overall, I believe our greatest challenge upon arrival was reducing the level of sectarian violence and its corrosive influence on all aspects of life for Iraqis....

Has eastern Baghdad achieved irreversible security momentum? Not yet. Have we experienced consecutive months of sustained security? Yes. Is this security momentum fragile? Yes. So while we still have much work to do, the mission is not over. I believe we have taken great steps and have accomplished many things the American and Iraqi people can be proud of.

Several points from this. One, we knew that rebuilding the Iraqi Army would be hard, but did it have to be this hard? On the one hand it's disconcerting that when Col Bannister arrived the Iraqi Army was not up to the job, on the other encouraging that he changed strategies instead of living with a bad situation. Some say we should have kept the old Iraqi Army or recalled it (if this was even possible), but as I wrote last year this might have made the situation even worse.

It's also interesting that in his AOR (Area Of Responsibility) sectarian violence is the main problem, not al Qaeda. More on this below. Lastly, Col Bannister is gunshy about being overconfident about the future.

The first quesiton was perhaps the most intersting as it touched on the sectarian violence

Q Yeah, Jonathan Karl with ABC News. What are you seeing in terms of support for Sadr, for Muqtada al-Sadr? Do you have a sense that you still have strong support in your area? Is he much of a factor? What are you seeing in terms of the Mahdi Army?

COL. BANNISTER: Right now we're very encouraged by what we see. It's been late August when he issued his pledge of honor, and you know, back then we're like okay, well, let's see some action to support those words. And since August, we have actually seen some positive steps taken that is -- so we're seeing good action from it. I would group this effort into three because it's going to dovetail into -- he's got some breakaways, as you know, that are not supporting his order, and right now the preponderance of his followers are following his pledge of honor.

So you know, as a follow-on question to this, I would tell you -- the threes I would put it into, I would put it into his loyal followers, his loyalists, and then there's some criminal portions that are kind of in the middle. And then, of course, we have the special groups that may have some external influences that we believe that are not following his orders. So he's got a couple of groups, and we think the ones in the middle are reconcilable, but I will tell you the preponderance of his followers are listening to his order.

In his Nov 1 press briefing Lt Gen Odierno also spoke of al-Sadr's cease-fire.

Next is Major General Mark Hertling, Commander of Multi-National Division-North and the 1st Armored Division. MG Hertling reports to Lt Gen Raymond Odierno, as to all of the divisonal commanders. Odierno, in turn, reports to Gen Petraeus. Hertling has been on the job all of one month, having replaced MG Benjamin Mixon. This is, however, his third tour in Iraq.

I'm not sure if Hertling's replacing Mixon was naturual replacement or if Odierno was dissatisfied with Mixon. As it is I do not have time to do much searching, so if readers have any reliable informatin it would be appreciated.

This video can also be viewed at DODvCLIPS

Here's the transcript.

MG Hertling dispensed with a long introductory statement and went straight to the questions. Here are some of the ones I found most informative

Q Sir, it's Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press. If I could follow up on the reduction in violence, it seems that a reduction is being, you know, reported overall in Iraq, but that many of the attacks that we hear the most about appear to be in the northern areas. Is that correct? Do you -- what do you see happening, for instance, in Mosul? Are attacks going up there or just not going down as much as elsewhere, and Kirkuk as well?

GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, thank you for reminding me of that. I was reminded of that by General Odierno just the other day. And in fact it is occurring. And if you simply look at a map of Iraq, you understand why it's occurring. Great success by the Awakening movement in Anbar has pushed some of the al Qaeda fighters to the east, into our area. Some of the great success in the Baghdad area has pushed some of the al Qaeda fighters to the north in our area. And as you saw just a few months ago, when Tropic Lightning was still here, they had a pretty tough fight, code-named Arrowhead Ripper, in the Diyala province.

So what you're seeing is the enemy shifting, and in fact whereas attacks -- all types of attacks, but specifically IEDs -- have decreased throughout Iraq, and they have in fact decreased in our area, in MND-North areas, our -- (audio break) -- highest of all of the provinces in Iraq. That's why it's so critical -- my number-one mission remains continue to pursue al Qaeda in our area. And we're getting help from the locals and the Iraqi army and police to do that....

And if I could, I'll add one more thing. You are still going to read about spectacular attacks.

A short while later there was another question about "spectacular attacks"

Q General, Julian Barnes with the Los Angeles Times. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more detail about your assessment of the strength of al Qaeda in your area, relative to the other parts of the country. And also tell us a little bit more. You talked about the spectacular attacks that are going to continue -- maybe if you could put a little -- tell us a little bit more about how your strategy for deterring or preventing those attacks in the major cities that are in your area of operations. GEN. HERTLING: Yeah, I can. I certainly won't give you any numbers on what we think the al Qaeda figures are for MND-North. Because first of all, I'd probably be wrong. Secondly every time we say, hey, they're decreasing in actions or capability, suddenly they commit a spectacular attack, or one VBIED goes off, and it's front page headline saying, hey, Hertling just said they're reduced in this area, but they just blew up a bomb.

Lastly, two questions about the Concerned Local Citizens that have been much discussed in the news and around the Internet

Q General, it's Luis Martinez of ABC News. You mentioned concerned local citizens earlier.... And what does this also raise about the concerns about whether there's too much decentralization in bringing in all these concerned local citizens in, so that different units aren't aware of who is actually on their side?

GEN. HERTLING: I counted about 18 questions in there. I'll try and address them as they come up.

First of all, there's a little bit of a difference between the concerned local citizens and the awakening movements. First, I think it would be important to define what I believe -- (audio break) -- Petraeus believe defines the concerned local citizens. And it has to do with the three words that make up the title. They're concerned; they're local. And they're citizens abiding by the rule of law.

Some of the other key issues associated with CLCs, as we call them, are the fact that they have small arms weapons. And that's defined as a rifle of a pistol. They don't go around with RPGs or machine guns or truck-mounted machine guns or things like that. They don't -- (audio break) -- they are very closely watched by both the Iraqi security forces and the coalition forces in those areas, to ensure there's not fratricide on the battlefield.
...

Q (Kristin Roberts with Reuters) Sir, you touched on this a little bit, but I'd like to draw you out on what you see as the difference between the CLCs and militias.

GEN. HERTLING: Well, quite frankly, militias are outside the rule of law, and that's the important thing about Iraq right now is it's developing its rule of law. What I don't think the Iraqi government wants to happen is to go back to the chaos that existed when there was militia toting guns all over the various areas that sometimes occurred in the past. The Iraqi police, the Iraqi security forces, army and police are the contributor to the rule of law.

The concerned local citizens -- (audio break). I think the best way you can define them is as an armed neighborhood watch. They're not to go attacking other things, because it's such a confusing battlespace over here anyway with people not wearing uniforms and combatting the government that this only causes them to be more at risk.

So that's how I would define it. A concerned local citizen is someone who is in a closely stationary position, if that makes sense, who basically stays in his neighborhood, who is linked with the police or the Iraqi army, who doesn't carry large-caliber weapons, and who is contributing to the rule of law. A militia travels around wherever they want to go and has basically sometimes gang wars. It's not a Bloods & Crips situation; it's not a Sharks and Jets situation. That's what we're trying to avoid.

A lot of honesty from the commanders, I thought. Neither sought to sugar-coat the situation and both were gunshy about making any sort of predictions for the future. Perhaps this is simply because they were burned in the past. I didn't follow these press briefings in detail until somewhat recently, so I don't have any historical perspective. Whatever the history, I find these briefings posted at The Pentagon Channel to be a valuable source of information. And while we're at it, I'll say again that I am impressed with the journalists as well. They ask insightful, tough, but fair questions. They've obviously learned a lot as well.

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November 17, 2007

Moving Forward in Iraq

Here is a survey of some recent articles on the situation in Iraq that I think are useful to understanding the situation over there

First up is one by Kimberly Kagan, appropriately titled "How They Did It". It's a long article, but here's the money quote

"As we assess the security gains made over the past four months, I attribute the progress to three prominent dynamics," General Odierno explained. "First, the surge allowed us to eliminate extremist safe havens and sanctuaries, [and] just as importantly to maintain our gains. Second, the ongoing quantitative and qualitative improvement of the Iraqi security forces are translating to ever-increasing tactical successes. Lastly, there's a clear rejection of al Qaeda and other xtremists by large segments of the population, this coupled with the bottom-up awakening movement by both Sunni and Shia who want a chance to reconcile with the government of Iraq." These dynamics worked together to improve security.

Kagan also helpfully provides a map and chart of current and past operations that are part of the "surge"

Kagan_Map01.jpg

The additional forces, General Odierno explained, permitted "a surge in simultaneous and sustained offensive operations, in partnership with the Iraqi security forces. Furthermore, it allowed us to operate in areas that had not yet seen a sustained coalition presence and to retain our hard-fought gains. Our ability to put pressure on al Qaeda and other extremists and deny them safe havens and sanctuaries increased significantly. This was done with the goal of protecting the population and in concert with political and economic initiatives to buy time and space for the government of Iraq."

It's critical, of course, that the Iraqi government eventually seize this opportunity. In my opinion those who say there can only be a political solution to Iraq are putting the cart before the horse. Only when the security situation is stabilized will the political factions be able to come together. We'll see if they can do it. Either way, I don't think a political solution was ever possible in a country heading towards civil war.

Next is an article in the Investors Business Daily (author unknown) titled "Progress, Progress And More Progress"

Among our recent successes

• In Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, British Major Gen. Graham Binns said that attacks against British and American forces have plunged 90% since the start of September.

• Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reported that terrorist attacks of all kinds are down almost 80% from last year's peak — thanks directly to the U.S. surge of 30,000 new troops.

• Amid growing signs that even Iraq extremists have tired of terrorism and killing, a Sunni religious group closed down the high-profile Muslim Scholars Association because of its ties to terrorists.

• U.S. Major Gen. James Simmons, speaking in Baghdad, said Iran's pledges to stop sending weapons and explosives into Iraq "appear to be holding up." Roadside bombs, the leading killer of U.S. troops, have plunged 52% since March, he added.

• Perhaps most touching, according to a report from Michael Yon, who deserves to be the first blogger to win a Pulitzer Prize, Muslims are asking Iraqi Christians to return to help build Iraq.

Iraqi Muslims recently crammed into St. John's Catholic church in Baghdad to attend a Christian service. According to Yon, "Muslims keep telling me to get it on the news. 'Tell the Christians to come home to their country Iraq.' "

• Finally, there's this from Douglas Halaspaska, a reporter on the Web site U.S. Cavalry ON Point: "I came to Ramadi expecting a war and what I found was a city that has grown from the carnage, and all its inhabitants — both Iraqi and American — healing. I was not expecting what I found in Iraq . . . it was better than all of that."

Again, all this has taken place just in recent days, weeks and months. The positive news has become simply overwhelming.

For those who think that such recent successes can only be illusory because "things can't turn around that quickly", Victor Davis Hanson offers this bit of history

The White House was burned by British forces in late August 1814; a little more than four months later, the British were routed at New Orleans. During the Civil War, the Union army was on the ropes in July 1864 yet outside Atlanta by September. The Germans were driving through France in March 1918, but fleeing toward the Rhine by August. The communists took Seoul in early January 1951, yet were pushed back across the Demilitarized Zone a little more than three months later.

Tony Blankley, editor of The Washington Times, wonders whether we're headed towards an "Old Fashioned" Victory In Iraq

It has become obligatory for both pro- and antiwar commentators to never mention the possibility of victory in Iraq. The most that antiwar people will admit is that the surge has gained a temporary military advantage in a war that cannot be won militarily. The most pro-war commentators will claim is that they see the possibility of "success" perhaps, maybe, someday, somehow.

But as of Veterans Day 2007, I think one can claim a very real expectation that next year the world may see a genuine, old-fashioned victory in the Iraq War. In five years we will have overturned Saddam's government, killed, captured or driven out of country almost all al Qaeda terrorists, suppressed the violent Shi'ite militias and induced the Sunni tribal leaders and their people to shun resistance and send their sons into the army and police and seek peaceful resolution of disputes. And we will have stood up a multisectarian, tribally inclusive army capable of maintaining the peace that our troops established.

One big question is what Iran is up to. We all know that they've been arming the insurgency and sending agents into Iraq. According to Eli Lake, staff reporter for the New York Sun, there are two schools of thought on this

On one side are the civilians in charge of the State Department and the Pentagon, Secretary of State Rice and Defense Secretary Gates, who are arguing that the change in Iraq reflects a strategic decision from Iran.

On the other side are General David Petraeus and his commanders in Iraq, who say the decline in violence reflects not the decisions of the Islamic Republic but rather the success of the military surge aimed in part at Iran's terrorist and influence network.

If Ms. Rice and Mr. Gates win the policy debate, the current American and Iraqi efforts to disrupt Iranian supply lines into Iraq, detain or kill operatives, and freeze assets for Iran will halt. In their place, the moribund Baghdad negotiations that were suspended over the summer will be revived and the American Embassy will work to extract guarantees from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to end its support for terrorism and sabotage.

If Rice and Gates lose, then presumably the interdiction efforts will continue. I don't know who is right, but hope we make the right decision.

The next big test will be to see what happens after we withdraw some of our troops and let the Iraqis take over more and more areas. The Associated Press asks whether they can hold

The first big test of security gains linked to the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq is at hand.

The military has started to reverse the 30,000-strong troop increase and commanders are hoping the drop in insurgent and sectarian violence in recent months — achieved at the cost of hundreds of lives — won't prove fleeting. ...

... But [Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil] said it was now clear that U.S. forces, with Iraqi help, have gained the upper hand in Baghdad.

"Perhaps even most significantly, the Iraqi people have just decided they've had it up to here with violence," he said, echoing the assertion of numerous other commanders that one of the most important developments since early summer has been an erosion of what some call a culture of fear in Baghdad.

Their belief is that the tide has turned in favor of the forces of moderation. But will it last?

W Thomas Smith may be right that the lede is cynical, but it asks the right question.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are still trying to lose the war. Fox News reports that

Democrats (tried but )failed to bring combat troops home from Iraq by December 2008 and place more restrictions on the administration's interrogation program through a $50 billion war-funding measure.

The predictable excuse is that the Iraqi government has failed to perform as it should

Senate Democrats also said money for the Iraq war should be tied to troop withdrawals because the Baghdad government has not taken advantage of the security provided by U.S. forces.

"We have done our part," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "The Iraqi government has not done its part."

No doubt that the central government in Baghdad leaves a lot to be desired. And they have not "done their part" as much as they need to. But these things take a lot of time, much more than the mentality of the MTV/video game US legislators will give them.

They forget that Lt Col David Kilcullen (Austrailian Army), former senior advisor on counter-insurgency matters to Gen Petraeus (and now on Sec Rice's staff) reminded Charlie Rose last month that

There has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years.

We might or might not succeed in Iraq even if we continue our current so-far-successful strategy. But we will definately fail if we withdraw troops precipitously as the Democrats want us to do. And the consequences of failure are so severe that we must pursue victory, certainly at a time when our current strategy is so clearly working.

Posted by Tom at 12:50 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 2, 2007

Lt. Gen. Odierno's Nov 1 News Briefing


Lt. Gen Ray Odierno
is commander of Multi-National Corps Iraq, and he reports directly to Gen Petraeus. The divisional commanders report to Odierno. Assuming command of MNC-Iraq on Dec 14, 2006, he is part of the "new team" that was brought in to save a deteriorating situation.

If you're not watching it already, bookmark The Pentagon Channel now. In addition to press briefings by a variety of officials, from colonels to Secretary Gates himself, they broadcast a range of news and information shows about what our military is doing around the world.

Of the press briefings, I find the ones conducted by Lt Gen Odierno to be among the most informative. Other than Petraeus, he is arguably the most impressive general officer that we have.

For some reason they haven't posted the video of his Nov 1 briefing on the PentagonChannel website, but it is mentioned in this edition of Around the Services

Odierno is in Baghdad, and is linked via teleconference to the briefing room at the Pentagon. Here is the transcript, and these are the major take-aways from the briefing and subsequent questioning by reporters

GEN. ODIERNO: ...I do want to first give you an update on where I see us at. I'll go back a little bit in history, then talk a little bit about what we will do in the future, and then I'll open it up for questions. But first I would like to present -- just give you a quick operational update. It has been nearly a year since III Corps arrived in theater and took command of Multinational Corps-Iraq. When we arrived last year, Iraq was a nation immersed in a cycle of terror and sectarian killings. As the violence continued to build, a shift in strategy was deemed necessary to protect the Iraqi people from extremist influences threatening to tear apart at the seams. ...

Due to Phantom Thunder and Phantom Strike, we have been able to eliminate key safe havens, liberate portions of the population and hamper the enemy's ability to conduct coordinated attacks. We have experienced a consistent and steady trend of increased security over the last four months, and I believe continued aggressive operations by both Iraqi and coalition forces are the most effective way to extend our gains and continue to protect the citizens of Iraq.

Slide, please. As depicted on this slide, over the past four months, attacks and security incidents have continued to decline. This trend represents the longest continuous decline in attacks on record and illustrates how our operations have improved security since the surge was emplaced. Of note, this four-month decline includes Ramadan, a time during the previous three years when enemy activity has traditionally spiked.

If I was smarter I could figure out how to post each slide here as an image, but as it is you can Download his slide show here.

If you view the slide show it becomes pretty obvious that the situation started to get out of control after the bombing of the Samarra Mosque in February of 2006, but took a definate turn for the better once the "surge" got underway earlier this year.

For several minutes Gen Odierno discusses each slide, though they pretty much speak for themselves. He then gets to the all important question of why has the situation improved?

As we assess the security gains made over the past four months, I attribute the progress to three prominent dynamics. First, the surge allowed us to eliminate extremist safe havens and sanctuaries, just as importantly to maintain our gains. Second, the ongoing quantitative and qualitative improvement of the Iraqi security forces are translating to ever-increasing tactical successes. Lastly, there's a clear rejection of al Qaeda and other extremists by large segments of the population, this coupled with the bottom-up awakening movement by both Sunni and Shi'a who want a chance to reconcile with the government of Iraq.

This matches with what I've been posting from other sources. Select "Iraq" at right under "Categories".

Then it was on to the questions. Here are few of the more interesting exchanges

Q Hi, general. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News. You mentioned among the causes of the progress that you're seeing is the surge, that it's allowed you to maintain the gains. Are you all concerned that as it starts to draw down next month, you'll lose some of those gains and perhaps cause you not to be able to move into tactical overwatch position in '08?

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, first off, as we went through the -- this, my recommendation to General Petraeus was in fact to reduce from 20 to 15 brigades over the next several months, and I did that because I believe that we will be able to continue to move forward with the progress.

Based on the progress we have made against the enemy, based on the continued improvement of the Iraqi security forces, and continued on the support of the population we are now receiving, I feel that we will be able to continue to hold on to the gains that we have. Again the drawdown will be deliberate and slow over the next several months, which allows us to continue to conduct operations as we move forward. And I feel confident that we'll be able to maintain the gains that we've sustained so far.

...

Q General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. What about the political side? Have the Iraqi politicians done enough to take advantage of the time and space that the surge provided so that again as the surge draws down, you maintain that aspect of the stability?

GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, what we've seen is, I think, they still need to do more. They still obviously have some legislation they have to pass. But frankly to me, the most important thing is to really become involved in providing the basic services to the Iraqi people which, in my mind, would make a huge difference. ...But to answer your question, I think there's still much more work they have to do. We are working with them, for them to move forward with this. Again they are planning and they are saying the right things, and that's good. We now need to see a bit of action on the ground.
...

Q General, Peter Spiegel from the Los Angeles Times... I wonder if you can just talk specifically about why you think the Shi'a violence has declined.

GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, first, I would just say that there's several reasons there has been some decline. I think it's across several different lines, and you mentioned some of them.

One is, first, in the beginning of the year, with the government of Iraq, we went after significantly the leaders of the special groups, criminals, that were really behind much of the violence, and we were able to take many of these leaders off the streets....

There's been a cease-fire announced by Sadr. We applaud that.
...

Q Could I just ask -- that last point about the ethnic cleansing, you know, that there's some argument that this has become Bosnia and -- that the violence is going down because finally the Serbs and the Muslims are different places. Do any of your data show that Sunni and Shi'a are now in their own little enclaves and, therefore, not killing each other?

GEN. ODIERNO: Yes. No, I mean there's been shifts. Listen, there's been shifts in the population in Baghdad. That happened, and I would argue that's happened over the last couple years. But I would tell you I've not seen any significant shifts that have changed it from January, when we got here, to now. There might have been some minor shifts, but very little.

What we are seeing, though, is we are starting to see some cooperation between these groups.... So those are the kind of signs we're seeing that are not quite in line with what you've suggested.
...

Q General Odierno, can I just clarify that? In the year 2008, to what extent will U.S. forces basically be in a different mission? In other words, how much simply tactical overwatch, how much just going after al Qaeda and other insurgent groups?

And can you really separate the two missions?

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, first, it's about -- I can. The first part is about local security. You know, first you've got to provide -- protect the population and provide security to the local people. So you have a local security issue, which is done by the police and in some cases now, until the police become strong enough, done by the army. And then there is a intelligence-driven targeting operation that goes against extreme elements that would be done in coordination with Iraqi security forces. So I do see that you can separate those, but they will be linked in some cases, but for the most part you can separate those.

The bottom line is I think we will -- you will see us begin to move to tactical overwatch, but we are again in some places already, as I just said, like in Mosul; we are in Basra; we are with Karbala; we are in Najaf; we are in Diwaniyah; we are -- I think you'll see us start to move to tactical overwatch in Anbar province over the next several months. I think we'll move to tactical overwatch in some neighborhoods in Baghdad over the next several months, and that will progress through 2008, but it's conditions-based, it's not time-based.
...

Q General, it's Andrew Gray from Reuters here. Can you say how much further you think you can drive down the violence through military operations or how much at this stage is it now due -- is it now going to be done through political development, the basic services, you've talked about? How much further can combat operations really play a role at this point?

GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, I think you -- that's a great point, by the way. And I agree with your statement. The issue is, I think, that there are some people here who will not reconcile. And those are the ones we'll have to continue to conduct military operations against. But if we can provide services on a consistent basis, that will bring about much more reduction in violence than military operations -- and so I agree with that -- as well as continued movement towards reconciliation. So I think those are the keys. I think those could be the tipping point if we can get those things moving.
...

Q (Peter Spiegel with the LA Times asking about Blackwater/private security firms and civilian casualties) May I follow up? Obviously, we're not -- there is one incident that is out there, but as we see it in Washington sometimes, an incident like that happens, there's a whole lot of angry Iraqis. And maybe that's just because of what we see on television. I guess if I can ask from you, how significant is an incident like that -- impact your mission? Is it a minor annoyance, or is what we're getting on television accurate and that it's a big deal and a lot of Iraqis are getting very angry?

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, yeah, we have not -- let me put it this way. I think the Iraqis are -- first off, their perception of innocent civilians being killed, they have anger with that. What I would tell you, though, is we have not seen it taken out on coalition forces. We continue to cooperate across the board in that very place where that happened. We are coordinating -- we continue to coordinate, like we were before, all through Iraq.

But, you know, it is something that we have to understand and consider when we conduct operations because it has raised the attention on civilian casualties, and so it's important. It's important to Iraqis. We just need to understand that. And we have, and we continue to work with them.

So I think the relationship, thankfully, has not been affected, and I think it's because of the strong ties that have been built over the last several months. But we can't continue to have things like that happen or it will ultimately have an impact on our relations with the Iraqi people.

After the questions Gen Odierno wrapped it up. Here are part of his final remarks

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you Iraq is in good hands. With soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines like these three young officers leading the way forward, there's no doubt that we'll (sic) do everything in their power to accomplish any mission they are handed. What they have accomplished to this point was unimaginable just a year ago. These incredible men and women are making it happen day and night, in extreme conditions, and I'm absolutely privileged to have the pleasure of serving in their ranks. Thank you for allowing me to be with you today. I appreciate the time, and may God bless all of you, and may God bless America. Thank you very much.

Odierno certainly inspires confidence. What he says is what I've been reading in other sources and often posting here. Again, to get the full context of the briefing, download and view the slides.

As I've said in the past I think it a good idea to get information from Iraq from a variety of legitimate sources. These press briefings, as with many of the shows on The Pentagon Channel, are useful primary sources. Unlike many conservatives, I visit the CNN website (I don't watch TV at all). Unlike most liberals, I also visit Fox News. I subscribe to The Washington Times, and view The Washington Post online. Often The New York Times has useful stories. Independent journalists like Michael Yon, Jeffrey Emanuel and Michael Totten are invaluable. National Review is often my starting point, and The Weekly Standard is always worth a visit.

They all move towards understanding the situation in Iraq. And my conclusion is that we are moving in the right direction.

Posted by Tom at 8:22 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 28, 2007

Understanding our Strategy in Iraq: Part II

Frederick Kagan, one of the authors of the "surge" stragegy, has a worthwhile article in The Weekly Standard. He explains (once again) why we have been successful in routing al Qaeda in 2007, whereas previous strategies failed.

How did we achieve this success? Before the surge began, American forces in Iraq had attempted to fight al Qaeda primarily with the sort of intelligence-driven, targeted raids that many advocates of immediate withdrawal claim they want to continue. Those efforts failed. Our skilled soldiers captured and killed many al Qaeda leaders, including Abu Musab al Zarqawi, but the terrorists were able to replace them faster than we could kill them. Success came with a new strategy.

Al Qaeda excesses in Anbar Province and elsewhere had already begun to generate local resentment, but those local movements could not advance without our help. The takfiris--as the Iraqis call the sectarian extremists of al Qaeda--brutally murdered and tortured any local Sunni leaders who dared to speak against them, until American troops began to work to clear the terrorist strongholds in Ramadi in late 2006. But there were not enough U.S. forces in Anbar to complete even that task, let alone to protect local populations throughout the province and in the Sunni areas of Iraq. The surge of forces into Anbar and the Baghdad belts allowed American troops to complete the clearing of Ramadi and to clear Falluja and other takfiri strongholds.

The additional troops also allowed American commanders to pursue defeated al Qaeda cells and prevent them from reestablishing safe-havens. The so-called "water balloon effect," in which terrorists were simply squeezed from one area of the country to another, did not occur in 2007 because our commanders finally had the resources to go after the terrorists wherever they fled. After the clearing of the city of Baquba this year, al Qaeda fighters attempted to flee up the Diyala River valley and take refuge in the Hamrin Ridge. Spectacular bombings in small villages in that area, including the massive devastation in the Turkmen village of Amerli, roughly 100 miles north of Baghdad, that killed hundreds, were intended to provide al Qaeda with the terror wedge it needed to gain a foothold in the area. But with American troops in hot pursuit, the terrorists had to stay on the run, breaking their movement into smaller and more disaggregated cells. The addition of more forces, the change in strategy to focus on protecting the population, both Sunni and Shia, and the planning and execution of multiple simultaneous, and sequential operations across the entire theater combined with a shift in attitudes among the Sunni population to revolutionize the situation.

Some now say that, although America's soldiers were successful in this task, the next battle is hopeless. We cannot control the Shia militias, they say. The Iraqis will never "reconcile." The government will not make the decisions it must make to sustain the current progress, and all will collapse. Perhaps. But those who now proclaim the hopelessness of future efforts also ridiculed the possibility of the success we have just achieved. If one predicts failure long enough, one may turn out to be right. But the credibility of the prophets of doom--those who questioned the veracity and integrity of General David Petraeus when he dared to report progress--is at a low ebb.

There is a long struggle ahead in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere against al Qaeda and its allies in extremism. We can still lose. American forces and Afghan allies defeated al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2001 as completely as we are defeating it in Iraq. But mistakes and a lack of commitment by both the United States and the NATO forces to whom we handed off responsibility have allowed a resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan. We must not repeat that mistake in Iraq where the stakes are so much higher. America must not try to pocket the success we have achieved in Iraq and declare a premature and meaningless victory. Instead, let us be heartened by success. We have avoided for the moment a terrible danger and created a dramatic opportunity. Let's seize it.

If we choose to fail than surely we shall. If those who want us to prematurely declare victory and leave get their way, they may achieve short-term political gain for themselves, but at the cost of long-term disaster for the U.S. and world. If we stick it out we might not win, but given the cost of defeat it's worth it to try. Our current strategy is working, so let's stick with it.


Previous:
Understanding our Strategy in Iraq

The "Surge" Plan

Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 26, 2007

Good News from Iraq

Here are some articles that are enough to make a Democrat's head explode

Reuters: Violence in Iraq drops sharply: Ministry

Violence in Iraq has dropped by 70 percent since the end of June, when U.S. forces completed their build-up of 30,000 extra troops to stabilize the war-torn country, the Interior Ministry said on Monday. ... While the leaders have failed to agree on key laws aimed at reconciling the country's warring sects, the troop buildup has succeeded in quelling violence.

Under the plan, U.S. troops left their large bases and set up combat outposts in neighborhoods while launching a series of summer offensives against Sunni Islamist al Qaeda, other Sunni Arab militants and Shi'ite militias in the Baghdad beltway.

Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul-Karim Khalaf told reporters that there had been a 70 percent decrease in violence countrywide in the three months from July to September over the previous quarter.

For the millionth time, what we did NOT do is send more troops over there to do the same thing. The offensive is working

The Washington Post: Al-Qaeda In Iraq Reported Crippled

The U.S. military believes it has dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al-Qaeda in Iraq in recent months, leading some generals to advocate a declaration of victory over the group, which the Bush administration has long described as the most lethal U.S. adversary in Iraq.

But as the White House and its military commanders plan the next phase of the war, other officials have cautioned against taking what they see as a premature step that could create strategic and political difficulties for the United States. Such a declaration could fuel criticism that the Iraq conflict has become a civil war in which U.S. combat forces should not be involved. At the same time, the intelligence community, and some in the military itself, worry about underestimating an enemy that has shown great resilience in the past.

"I think it would be premature at this point," a senior intelligence official said of a victory declaration over AQI, as the group is known. Despite recent U.S. gains, he said, AQI retains "the ability for surprise and for catastrophic attacks." Earlier periods of optimism, such as immediately following the June 2006 death of AQI founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a U.S. air raid, not only proved unfounded but were followed by expanded operations by the militant organization.

There is widespread agreement that AQI has suffered major blows over the past three months. Among the indicators cited is a sharp drop in suicide bombings, the group's signature attack, from more than 60 in January to around 30 a month since July. Captures and interrogations of AQI leaders over the summer had what a senior military intelligence official called a "cascade effect," leading to other killings and captures. The flow of foreign fighters through Syria into Iraq has also diminished, although officials are unsure of the reason and are concerned that the broader al-Qaeda network may be diverting new recruits to Afghanistan and elsewhere.

AQI was and is the biggest threat to Iraq. Yes private militias are a danger and will have to be dealt with firmly. Yes there are national political issues that must be resolved. But as I've said a hundred times, you cannot have a political solution before you have a military one.

The New York Post: No 'Nightmare'

... it's not just numbers that make the case that the civil war is ending. Look, too, at what the new strategy lets commanders do in their now-daily discussions with ordinary Iraqis.

Petraeus reports that foreign (non-Iraqi) recruits conduct over 80 percent of al Qaeda's attacks; and therefore, by refocusing local tribal leaders on this fact, American commanders are making a convincing argument to the sheiks: Why launch an indiscriminate reprisal against another sect, ratcheting up the level of violence, when you can simply tell us and Iraqi security forces where the foreign insurgents are and we'll go get them? The numbers say that's exactly what's happening.

A people drowning in sectarian violence and warped by perpetual vengeance aren't going to immediately engage in political reconciliation. Security improvements must first dampen the violence, lower tensions and restore humanity. This is exactly what Petraeus has done, and we have finally begun providing the tangible security improvements necessary for lasting political solutions at the local and national levels.

Although many hope to convince America otherwise, the Iraq war has fundamentally changed in '07. It's not a civil war anymore. It's the people of Iraq vs. al Qaeda and Iranian proxies, with the U.S.-led Coalition helping the Iraqi people swing their sword of sovereignty.

Michael Yon: Achievements of the Human Heart

Yon posts a letter he received from LTC James Crider, who commands the 1-4 CAV:

While the situation is always fragile, we have the initiative and the enemy here spends much more time reacting to us than we do to him. He can hide from us but he cannot hide from his neighbor.

Once abandoned streets are now filled with families and budding entrepreneurs who continue to open new small businesses every week. We have made available grants for small businesses in our area and they have become immensely popular as you can imagine. I cannot walk the streets without children asking me for a soccer ball and “chocolate” (meaning any kind of candy) and adults asking for a micro grant application or for the status of the one they already filled out. They use these grants to open new businesses or improve their existing one and it is working well.

Our area now has a men’s fashion store, fish markets, pharmacies, bakeries, and even two new gyms. We recently helped refurbish a once neglected clinic into a first class location for health care. They have a small lab, dentists, a sonogram machine, x-ray machine, and other new equipment. Our medical platoon recently spent several hours with local doctors and nurses treating patients for every day aches and pains with donated medical supplies from a humanitarian organization. I even watched our physician’s assistant pull a watermelon seed out of a young girl’s ear (sound familiar to any one?).

We also recently completed work on a soccer field that is used nightly by the young people here. Much to our surprise, on the opening night, each team had “1-4 CAV” printed on the back of their soccer jerseys. It is not uncommon for us to see guys with these jerseys on walking down the street. A second soccer field will open shortly.

But if we leave too early....

Jeff Emanuel, writing from inside Iraq, tells us that


I have sat in on meetings – both above-board and clandestine – with sheiks and tribal leaders, who want the coalition to help them help themselves and their people to achieve better and more secure lives, despite the fact that being seen consorting with the Americans immediately puts a price on each of these leaders’ heads. In these meetings (as well as out on the street), I have heard the concern voiced – more times than I can even count – that the coalition, which currently remains the sole source of stability and security in this country, will give in to the cries from home to abandon the Iraqi people to death, and will finally do so.

I have patrolled neighborhoods with coalition and Iraqi forces, attended elite Iraqi Police training courses conducted by U.S. Special Forces, and gone on operations entirely planned and led by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). Though these organizations cannot yet hold a candle to their American counterparts in proficiency or professionalism (and will not likely be able to do so at any time in the near future), they are improving, and have scored some major (if inadvertent) successes, including the recent breaking up of an al Qaeda rape and terror ring in Samarra.

I have participated in combat operations which were driven solely by intelligence provided by Iraqi citizens who knew of terrorist plots and personnel in the area and called the Americans to let them know; likewise, I, along with the soldiers whom I have covered, have had my life saved several times by tips from the Iraqi citizenry about IEDs and ambushes put into place to kill us.
...


While the ‘Surge’ is inarguably having an effect militarily in many different areas of Iraq, the fact is that this country is still broken beyond the comprehension of most people who are sitting comfortably at home in America. To say that there is a great deal of instability, unrest, and upheaval here would be to make an understatement on a massive scale – and, were the U.S. to leave at any point in the near-term future, the vacuum that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke of in the very recent past (which his imperialistic Iran would love to fill) would most certainly become a reality.

But despite some occasional good work, Michael Yon says that the media generally misinform us


Anyone who has been in Iraq for longer than a few months, visited a handful of provinces, and spoken with a good number of Iraqis, likely would acknowledge that the reality here is complex and dynamic. But in the last six months it also has been increasingly hopeful, despite what the pessimistic dogma dome allows Americans and British to believe.
...

I came to Iraq in December 2004 specifically because friends in the military had been telling me about the disconnect between the situation on the ground and the media coverage about it.

,,,it wasn’t until I spent that week back in the States that I realized how bad things have gotten. I believe we are witnessing a conspiracy of coincidences conflating to exert an incomprehensibly destructive force on the free press system that we largely take for granted. The fact that the week in question also happened to be when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker were delivering their reports to Congress makes me wonder if things are actually worse than I’ve assessed, and I returned to Iraq sadly convinced that General Petraeus now has to deal from a deck clearly stacked against him in both America and Iraq.

Clearly, a majority of Americans believe the current set of outdated fallacies passed around mainstream media like watered down drinks at happy hour. Why wouldn’t they? The cloned copy they get comes from the same sources that list the specials at the local grocery store, and the hours and locations of polling places for town elections. These same news sources print obituaries and birth announcements, give play-by-play for local high school sports, and chronicle all the painful details of the latest celebrity to fall from grace.

So we're winning, but it's difficult, will take a long time, victory is not assured, and Iraq needs a lot of repair, both physically and spiritually. Trends are definately in our favor.

Posted by Tom at 7:54 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 13, 2007

Understanding our Strategy in Iraq

Following are two pieces that help in understanding our strategy in Iraq and what is going on over there. The first is an October 5 interview of Lt Col David Kilcullen by Charlie Rose, and the second an article in the Weekly Standard that appeared last month by Frederick Kagan.

Kilcullen is reserve lieutenant colonel in the Australian army and was until recently the senior counterinsurgency advisor (a term he thinks a misnomer) to General Petraeus. He has a doctorate in political anthropology. Kagan is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and has a doctorate in Russian and Soviet military history. In December of 2006 Kagan and retired General Jack Keane wrote Choosing Success: A Plan for Victory in Iraq. Their plan was adoped in large part by the White House and became the basis for what is popularly called "the surge". You'll want to read both in their entirety, but here are some of the most important parts.

First up is the Kilcullen interview

DAVID KILCULLEN: ...Conventional warfare is binary. Right? It has two sides. And its enemy- centric. What you're trying to do is figure out what the enemy is trying to do and defeat the enemy by, you know, outmaneuvering them or removing their war-making power, basically.

Counterinsurgency is not like that. It's not enemy-centric. It's actually population-centric. And I think we have found over the last three or four years of evolution of the conflict in Iraq that the more we focus on the population and protecting them, the easier it is to deal with the enemy. The more we focus on the enemy, the harder it is to actually get anything done with the population.
...

DAVID KILCULLEN: So I don't think I need to go over what he said in detail, but the point is, we have 28,500 extra troops in country. That is a tool. That's not the strategy. Once getting them in, the strategy was to start protecting the population and focusing on marginalizing the enemy from the population.

CHARLIE ROSE: Because the population would eject the insurgents, the Islamists?

DAVID KILCULLEN: It's actually -- yes. It's actually a function of the nature of guerrilla warfare, and it's actually rather independent of whether you are talking about Islamists or communists or, you know, it's a functional thing. And the reason is that in counterinsurgency, the enemy is fluid, but the population is fixed, right? So when you fight a conventional enemy, you have to go in there and sort of attack something that he must defend. And then you use that as a fulcrum around which to maneuver. That's how we do conventional warfare, amongst other -- it's a caricature.

But in counterinsurgency, you can't do that, because there's nothing the enemy has to defend. They can just run away if you push them too hard. And if you get there and you're doing things that are just making it too hard for them, they can just go quiet and stay in the environment.

CHARLIE ROSE: You know that's one of the arguments made against the surge.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Absolutely.

CHARLIE ROSE: That's all you were going to do, is push them somewhere else. They'll go somewhere else and they'll wait.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Right. Making that argument against the surge, this speaks a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of what the surge is trying to do. And let me sort of expand on this issue.

The enemy is fluid, but the population is fixed. OK? That's the key point. The enemy can run away. The population can't. They have houses, relatives, businesses. They live there. They can't move. And so you can't defeat an insurgency by fighting the insurgents, because they'll just run away and you chase the guy around. And it's like looking for a needle in a haystack, but you're actually destroying the haystack to find the needle. So you do this damage to the population, which alienates the population, creates a recruitment base for the insurgents, and it just creates a cycle of destruction.

The way to do it -- and you know, we've been doing this for a long time and there's a very solid body of understanding on how to do it -- is, if you like, to comb the flees out of the dog. OK? So you get in there and you work with the population. You drive the enemy off, and then you focus on the population and you try to restructure the environment so that the insurgent can't come back when you leave.

And that involves things like counterintelligence work, where you look for those little sleeper cells that stayed behind when you left. It involves most importantly partnering in a real partnership with the local community, where they feel their needs are being met. They make choices that they then are required to stick to, in terms of driving out extremism, or -- in the case of Iraq particularly -- and in terms of defending themselves. You make the population self-defending, so that the terrorists can't or the insurgents can't intimidate them.

That's the fundamental activity of counterinsurgency. Because the insurgents require the enemy. The insurgents require the population to act in a certain way -- support, sympathy, intimidation, sometimes just reaction to provocation, you know? And if you can take that reaction of the population away from them, it's extremely difficult for them to achieve anything.

That's why the surge is not only a matter of putting extra troops into the country, it's what they do when they get there. And what they're doing is going into areas and not leaving. And they sit with the population, partner with them, help them defend themselves. Keep the enemy away. Prevent them from coming back. And if you like, restructure the environment to hard-wire the insurgent out of it.
...
DAVID KILCULLEN: . there's two issues. One is a territorial issue. The other one is time. Let me talk time. There has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years.

CHARLIE ROSE: Less than 10 years?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Successful.
...
DAVID KILCULLEN: All counterinsurgency solutions are political.
...
DAVID KILCULLEN: The role of the military in counterinsurgency is to hold the ring and create space that allows the political process to take place. Again, people talk about that with regard to the surge.

Politics is alchemy. It's not an engineering project. You can't build it step by step, through benchmarks to a solution. It takes people to feel comfortable and be able to work together and to build confidence. And we all know this from domestic politics.

And so what the military tries to do is to create, if you like, enough calmness and enough population security to allow political leadership to go forward, and that takes a long time.
...
DAVID KILCULLEN: ...I think it's worth pointing out that just because it's going to take 10 years doesn't mean we're going to be there for 10 years.

DAVID KILCULLEN: I know, I am not trying to -- but let me give you an example. If we were to add 50,000 troops, just hypothetically, that would give us an extra 50,000 people to feed, people to move around, people to support. It would probably give us 10,000 extra bayonets on the ground. So, an advantage of 10,000. If we win 50,000 Iraqis from al Qaeda, it gives us an advantage not of 50,000, but of 100,000, because we get 50 and they lose 50.

... So, it is all about partnering with the population and convincing the population to swing away from the enemy and towards us.

There's a lot more, but you get the gist.

Most reports have it that this strategy is working. al Qaeda has suffered tremendous defeats in recent months, and many of the Sunni tribes that were once against is are now with us, or are at least against AQI. The "surge", then, is working.

Further, those who claimed that all we were doing is putting more troops in-country to "do the same thing" didn't know what they were talking about.

It is also clear, though, that Rumsfeld/Abizaid/Sanchez/Casey had it wrong. Their strategies failed, and had we adhered to them we would not be succeeding now. As President, Bush is untimately responsible. But it is also fair to say that if he was responsible for the failures of 2003-06, he should be given credit for recognizing that things weren't working, and for implimenting the Kagan-Keane plan.

Kilcullen makes clear that even if we are successful, it will take a long time. If you read the entire interview (as you should), you'll see that he and Rose spend some time talking about the Malayan insurgency. The British made every mistake in the book from 1948-52, but finally got things right and by 1960 it was largely over. Even so, the final insurgents did not surrender until 1989, and only then because with the fall of the Berlin Wall they realized that communism was at and end.

Kilcullen's comment that "all counterinsurgency solutions are political" should be taken to heart by both the left and right. The simple fact is that in most successful counterinsurgencies some of the insurgents are brought into the government, and a few of their political demands met.

Frederick Kagan

Next up is Frederick Kagan's article. In the first few parts he discusses the relationship of al Qaeda worldwide with al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and how the two are inexorably tied together. He also discusses their ideology of takfirism, and why it is important to understanding their strategy and why it backfired among the Sunni tribes in Iraq. As with the interview above, I encourage you to read the whole thing. Here, however, are a few key excerpts about AQI's modus operandi and how we are defeating them

AQI uses two primary methods to establish itself in Sunni populations in Iraq. When it finds Sunnis who feel existentially threatened by Shia militias or military forces, or who seek military aid in pursuing an insurgent agenda, it offers help from its zealous and highly trained leaders and fighters. In communities not eager for such help, or that resist AQI's efforts to impose its religious code, AQI uses violence to terrorize Sunnis into participation. Wherever it goes, it seduces the disenchanted young with the promise of participation in a larger movement.

In 2003, the hostility within Iraq's Sunni Arab community to the prospect of a Shia-dominated government sparked an insurgency, of which AQI quickly took advantage. The fanaticism of AQI fighters (who often warn Westerners that they love death more than we love life) recommended itself to Sunni Arabs who faced the daunting task of defeating both American military forces and Iraq's Shia majority.
...

Whereas in Afghanistan al Qaeda remained separate from Afghan society for the most part, interacting with it primarily through the Taliban, AQI directly incorporates Iraqis.
...

As for its local recruits, they undergo extensive training that is designed to brainwash them and prepare them to support and engage in vicious violence. One of the reasons some Iraqi Sunnis have turned against AQI has been this practice of making their sons into monsters. Many Iraqis have come to feel about AQI the way the parents of young gang members tend to feel about gangs.
.,..

One of the first questions Iraqis ask when American forces move into AQI strongholds to fight the takfiris is: Are you going to stay this time? In the past, coalition forces have cleared takfiri centers, often with local help, but have departed soon after, leaving the locals vulnerable to vicious AQI retaliation. This pattern created a legacy of distrust, and a concomitant hesitancy to commit to backing coalition forces.

This cycle was broken first in Anbar, for three reasons: The depth of AQI's control there led the group to commit some of its worst excesses in its attempt to hold on to power; the strength of the tribal structures in the province created the possibility of effective local resistance when the mood swung against the takfiris; and the sustained presence and determination of soldiers and Marines in the province gave the locals hope of assistance once they began to turn against the terrorists.

The movement against the takfiris began as AQI tried to solidify its position in Anbar by marrying some of its senior leaders to the daughters of Anbari tribal leaders, as al Qaeda has done in South Asia. When the sheikhs resisted, AQI began to attack them and their families, assassinating one prominent sheikh, then preventing his relatives from burying him within the 24 hours prescribed by Muslim law. In the tribal society of Anbar, this and related actions led to the rise of numerous blood-feuds between AQI and Anbari families. The viciousness of AQI's retaliation and the relative weakness of the Anbari tribes as a military or police force put the locals in a difficult position, from which they were rescued by the determined work of coalition and Iraqi security forces.
...

The change in U.S. strategy announced in January 2007 and the surge of forces over the ensuing months did not create this shift in Anbar, but accelerated its development. The surge meant that American commanders did not have to shift forces out of Anbar to protect Baghdad, as had happened in previous operations.
...

The increased U.S. presence and the more aggressive operations of American forces--working with Iraqi army units that, although heavily Shia, were able to function effectively with U.S. troops even in Sunni Anbar--allowed the tribal turn against AQI to pick up steam. By late spring 2007, all of the major Anbari tribes had sworn to oppose AQI and had begun sending their sons to volunteer for service in the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police.
...

The battle is by no means over. AQI has made clear its determination to reestablish itself in Anbar or to punish the Anbaris for their betrayal, and AQI cells in rural Anbar and surrounding provinces are still trying to -regenerate. But the takfiri movement that once nearly controlled the province by blending in with its people has lost almost all popular support and has been driven to desperate measures to maintain a precarious foothold. The combination of local disenchantment with takfiri extremism, a -remarkable lack of cultural sensitivity by the takfiris themselves, and effective counterinsurgency operations by coalition forces working to protect the population have turned the tide

Finally, here is Kagan's outlook

AQI--and therefore the larger al Qaeda movement--has suffered a stunning defeat in Iraq over the past six months. It has lost all of its urban strongholds and is engaged in a desperate attempt to reestablish a foothold even in the countryside. The movement is unlikely to accept this defeat tamely. ...

If...coalition forces complete the work they have begun by finishing off the last pockets of takfiris and continuing to build local Iraqi security forces that can sustain the fight against the terrorists after American troops pull back, then success against the terrorists in Iraq is likely.
...

It is too soon to declare victory in this struggle, still less in the larger struggle to stabilize Iraq and win the global war on terror. AQI can again become a serious threat if America chooses to let it get up off the mat.
...

...we must break free of a consensus about how to fight the terrorists that has been growing steadily since 9/11 which emphasizes "small footprints," working exclusively through local partners, and avoiding conventional operations to protect populations. In some cases, traditional counterinsurgency operations using conventional forces are the only way to defeat this 21st--century foe. Muslims can dislike al Qaeda, reject takfirism, and desire peace, yet still be unable to defend themselves alone against the terrorists. In such cases, our assistance, suitably adapted to the realities on the ground, can enable Muslims who hate what the takfiris are doing to their religion and their people--the overwhelming majority of Muslims--to succeed. Helping them is the best way to rid the world of this scourge.

In short, we have finally learned how to defeat AQI and are doing so, but if we let up the pressure we'll lose. Hear that, everyone?

Posted by Tom at 8:37 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 11, 2007

"Mission Accomplished" ?

This article in The Prospect (via NRO) will drive the left nuts

Mission Accomplished

With most Sunni factions now seeking a deal, the big questions in Iraq have been resolved positively. The country remains one, it has embraced democracy and avoided all-out civil war. What violence remains is largely local and criminal

The question of what to do in Iraq today must be separated from the decision to topple Saddam Hussein four and a half years ago. That decision is a matter for historians. By any normal ethical standard, the coalition's current project in Iraq is a just one. Britain, America and Iraq's other allies are there as the guests of an elected government given a huge mandate by Iraqi voters under a legitimate constitution. The UN approved the coalition's role in May 2003, and the mandate has been renewed annually since then, most recently this August. Meanwhile, the other side in this war are among the worst people in global politics: Baathists, the Nazis of the middle east; Sunni fundamentalists, the chief opponents of progress in Islam's struggle with modernity; and the government of Iran. Ethically, causes do not come much clearer than this one.

Some just wars, however, are not worth fighting. There are countries that do not matter very much to the rest of the world. Rwanda is one tragic example; and its case illustrates the immorality of a completely pragmatic foreign policy. But Iraq, the world's axial country since the beginning of history and all the more important in the current era for probably possessing the world's largest reserves of oil, is no Rwanda. Nor do two or three improvised explosive devices a day, for all the personal tragedy involved in each casualty, make a Vietnam.

The great question in deciding whether to keep fighting in