I had the honor of working with a Colonel during my first couple of months in Korea. He volunteered for Iraq and recently sent the following email:
A little slow today (not necessarily a bad thing), so I’ll try to bring you up to date on what we are doing over here. Apologize for the length.
Was up in Kurdistan in northeastern Iraq two weeks ago on a recon for future operations. It is quite different from the desert part of Iraq. It is rolling, grass covered hills that turn into mountains as you approach the border with Iran. The Kurdish people also have a different approach than the general Arab population. They are much more direct in their dealings, and have more drive to get the task done. Because of this, and the fact that we did not do much fighting in that region, their infrastructure is well ahead of what we find in most of the rest of Iraq. It is also one of the issues the Iraqi Constitutional Committee will have to resolve as they struggle with the concept of federalism. We had a little down time before our meeting with the Kurdistan Minister of the Interior, so our interpreter took us to the site of the former Ba’athist police HQs and prison, which is being turned into the Kurdish version of a holocaust museum. There are over 182,000 Kurds who just “disappeared” when Sadam purged the border areas, and that does not include the 5000 killed in the chemical attack on Halabja or the other atrocities committed over the past three decades. It was good for the young Soldiers (and some of us old Soldiers) to see first hand why we are here, and why we are helping the Iraqis to fight the insurgents.
I also had a chance to tour the prison part of Abu Ghraib while I was there working some of the issues with our detention facility. Sadam executed 4000 there in AUG 04 to reduce the overpopulation, and estimates run as high as over 300,000 executions at Abu during his regime. The hooks they used to hang prisoners from during questioning are still in the ceilings.
Although adaptive, the enemy is not particularly good. He is capable of killing us on a daily basis, but not of mounting any sustained type of operation. We have the advantage strategically, operationally, and tactically in theater (I’m not sure how we are doing in the States). The insurgents have figured out that killing us won’t get us to leave (Somalia syndrome), and it often results in many of them being killed or captured. Therefore they have shifted many of their attacks to the Iraqi Security Forces and the population. Attacking innocent civilians generally is not a good way to gain support for an insurgency, and consequently, the insurgents do not enjoy widespread popular support. They do have support in pockets of Iraq, and are capable of coercing support on a case by case basis, but by and large, they are not representing an oppressed people and enjoying a lot of popular support. Their most recent tactic of attacking foreign diplomats is not likely to garner much support on the world or local stage either. The key to American success here is not defeating the insurgency. It is keeping the insurgents off balance and defeating them tactically and operationally while we train the Iraqi Security Forces, both Army and police, to conduct an effective counterinsurgency without a large US or Coalition presence, while concurrently establishing a governmental infrastructure. Each day and night, Iraqi units are conducting combined operations with our forces and independent operations, and are being quite successful. The LAST thing we want to do is set a timetable for a withdrawal.
Concurrent with finding and killing the enemy, US and Coalition forces are putting a lot of effort and resources into restoring and improving basic infrastructure: electricity, water, schools, sewage. We are making significant strides in these areas each week. The US interagency effort, headed by State, is also making great strides in helping the current government establish an Iraqi version of democracy. DoS, DoD, and the Dept of Justice are the major players with whom I have been working to bring about a governmental infrastructure that will support the requirements of the country. This will be a busy summer and fall with the Constitution scheduled to be written by mid-August, the Constitutional referendum in October, and then National elections under the new Constitution in December. Truly another opportunity to watch a democracy be born, as I have had the privilege to observe in Korea over the past 20+ years. I suspect that the bad guys will pick up the pace to block these momentous events, but that just gives us the opportunity to send that many more of them off to their meeting with Allah.
As always, our Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and Sailors are doing an outstanding job. The Soldiers and Marines who are kicking in doors, patrolling every day and night, and conducting the raids show remarkable restraint. The bad guys know they will be treated humanely by US forces, and they are quick to drop their weapons and surrender when we close in for the kill. I’m amazed how many times we have Soldiers and Marines killed and grievously injured by IEDs, and our guys show restraint and capture the insurgents who detonated the IED instead of doing what they want to do which is kill the bastards (hence my particular problem of an ever increasing detainee population). I don’t think there is another Army or Marine Corps in the history of the world that has trained its young men so well that they consistently make snap decisions in the middle of firefights to kill or not kill based on the ever changing situation. Our kids are truly the best of the best; more aggressive, violent, fierce and formidable than any others, but able to instantly adjust to keep their fight within the constraints of the law of war and the Geneva Conventions. Absolutely remarkable.
The vast majority of individual replacements volunteered to come over. From the Navy JAG LTs to the Air Force admin specialists, all could have avoided Iraq, but volunteered to serve here. The security detachment I move with most of the time is a reinforced squad of about 15 guys, led by an active component Army SSG. The members of the detachment are from all four services, and about 1/3 active and 2/3 reserve. The Air Force sent its guys over on four month tours. All three of these guys have put in 8 month extensions because they did not want to leave their Army counterparts, who are on one year tours. I overheard one of them explaining to his Mom on the phone that he had to stay because his Army buddies couldn’t leave; they would all go home together. I really enjoy getting out with these kids. They know their business, and are eager to do it. Yesterday’s missions required us to run up and down the road to Baghdad a few times. One of the Marine NCOs stated that some folks spend their Saturday mornings watching cartoons; we spend ours running the gauntlet four times with COL XXXX. [since this was a private email, I'm deleting his name]
Normally when I go some place, I am in the process of looking up all of my old buddies. This time I came over with a list of my friends’ kids to look up. Guess I’m getting old. So far I have tracked down two of these great Americans, who are following in their Dads’ footsteps. Both are doing well, and are fired up about being here and doing the work they are doing.
Guess it’s time to get back to the business at hand. Been fairly quiet lately here in the base camp.
Compare and contrast this account to the daily offerings of our news organizations.