Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why the Surge is working

No "Nightmare" -- Why "Surge" Is Working by Pete Hegseth
New York Post -- October 23, 2007

The former top commander in Iraq - Army Lt.-Gen. Ricardo Sanchez (ret.) - recently called the situation in Iraq "a nightmare with no end in sight." Citing insufficient prewar planning and a strained military, he painted a dismal picture of American prospects there.

War critics painted a similar picture when violence in Iraq peaked in '05 and '06 - using terms like "civil war" and "sectarian violence" - as they pushed for a rapid draw-down or immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces. An Iraq "at war with itself" shouldn't be America's problem, they argued. In fact, the existence of a "religious civil war" remains the chief antiwar talking point to this day.

Problem is, the new U.S. strategy has changed the facts on the grounds.

A year ago, the assertions of Sanchez and the antiwar critics were an accurate description of the violence throughout Iraq: Armed death squads freely roamed the streets in Baghdad and outlying areas, responding to massive bombings committed by al Qaeda. And vice versa. Each week saw hundreds of innocent Iraqis - the victims of sectarian attacks and reprisals - kidnapped and killed. Worst of all, compromised members of the security forces (Iraqis in uniform) were complicit in many killings.

I was in Samarra on Feb. 22, 2005, the day al Qaeda-affiliated insurgents destroyed the dome of the Golden Mosque, and am very familiar with the violence that followed. That event was a catalyst for widespread violence in Iraq. Destroying a Muslim place of worship was indicative of al Qaeda's overall strategy: foment violence, maintain instability, and intimidate the local population. And it worked.

The critics had a point: American soldiers were simply caught in the middle - not permitted to take action to stop the violence, and yet still very much in harm's way. But what the critics failed to see was that it didn't have to be that way - that what the troops lacked was an adaptive strategy that recognized and addressed underlying causes of the violence.

Enter Gen. David Petraeus and a strategy that did just that. (The term "surge" is far too simplistic, as it implies simply throwing more forces at the problem, when Petraeus' changes in tactics are even more important).

The new counterinsurgency approach - namely, to take territory from al Qaeda, hold it, secure it and empower tribal sheiks to work together and rebuild their communities - finally provides an effective "counteroffensive" to the chief tactics of al Qaeda militants and Shiite death squads.

America's enemies in Iraq, radical insurgents living and fighting among the general public, understand that they can't continue their fight without capitulation from ordinary Iraqis. Finally, after almost four years, the U.S. military understands this as well.

Whereas we used to emphasize overwhelming firepower (even when I was there in 2006), we now emphasize firepower as a last resort. Whereas we used to rush to the scene after the violence occurs, we're now there to repel it or deter it altogether.

This commitment - up and down the chain of command - has made a major impact on the tit-for-tat death toll that was threatening to tear the country apart. Sectarian violence has been severely curtailed.

Since last December, sectarian deaths throughout Iraq have dropped over 50 percent; overall attacks against civilians are down 50 percent. In Baghdad - the focal point of Petraeus' strategy - sectarian deaths are down almost 80 percent in 10 months and large al Qaeda-style truck and suicide bombings have dropped over 50 percent.

Moreover, ordinary Iraqis are providing far more tips and other information. We now get some 23,000 tips a month, four to five times the level of a year before. This measure - which directly correlates to the trust and support of the population - is promising.

These are significant and consequential numbers and indicate real successes in stomping out the civil war. But 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.

That's the kind of good news that people on both sides of the aisle should appreciate.
Pete Hegseth, a first lieutenant in the Army National Guard, is executive director of Vets for Freedom. He served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division from September '05 to July '06.

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