It’s been a long time since I have relied exclusively on the news media’s biased reporting concerning our progress in the GWOT (or anything else for that matter). I prefer the unfilitered perspectives of those who are on the scene, Iraqis and soldiers. Yesterday I got an email from Ranger Bill, the COL I reported through when I first arrived in Korea. He is retiring later this year but volunteered to spend his last year in uniform serving in Iraq. He’s no bullshitter. Here’s the scoop from the front lines:
Sorry it has been five months since my last update, but then, we have been busy. Let me give you the bottomline up front (BLUF), and then catch you up on things. Feel free to forward this to whomever, since we still can’t seem to get the press to tell folks what is going on. This is how the fight is going from my foxhole, and it is much more than the bombings, US casualties, and rumors of civil war the press seems to be focused on.
BLUF: We are not, and have not been, on the verge of civil war. We have had an increase in killings by militia groups in the past five weeks, and that is not helping get the new government seated, but we (the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Coalition Forces) are far from losing control.
As you probably noted, Al Qaida and the other insurgent groups were not able to mount a Tet like offensive this past fall. Iraqi and US operations prevented them from organizing major attacks, and the ISF did a superb job of securing the polling sites. Iraq ratified a constitution and conducted a credible election. Although the Iraqis face some significant challenges forming the new government, the basics of democracy are present and taking root.
Saddam’s trial is making progress, albeit painfully slowly. The new judge is ensuring the defendants receive due process and a fair trial, while eliminating their ability to turn the trial into a political circus. Saddam’s and the others’ security continue to be one of my personal headaches, so I am a big fan of keeping the trial moving.
2006 is the Year of the Police, which means our focus is to get the Iraqi police forces trained and operational. We continue to work to rebuild the Iraqi Army, which assumes responsibility for more battle space each week. It is the ability of the Iraqi Army to take the fight to the enemy that allowed us to turn off two US replacement brigades at the end of 2005. The Iraqi Army is having successes and failures, but is steadily improving. Recently they have conducted a number of truly outstanding operations, both in conjunction with us and on their own. The police are not as far along, hence our focus on them in 2006. What you don’t see in the media is the tremendous courage of most of the Soldiers, Policemen, and Judges who take significant risk each day to bring stability to their country. I lost an Iraqi friend last week who was the leader of the security of the prison where we send our convicted terrorists to serve their sentences. Another equally brave corrections officer stepped up immediately to take his place.
The fight against Al Qaida is going well. They have chosen to make Iraq the battleground against the US, and this has enabled us to kill or capture significant numbers of their senior leadership, and put a dent in their funding. They believe they can prevail by killing US Soldiers, and waiting for the US public to tire of the war and casualties, and bring us home. As I talk to Soldiers around Iraq, they overwhelmingly believe in what they are doing and why they are doing it. They know they are winning, and are frustrated by what they see and hear in the news about America questioning why we are here. In my opinion, it is much better to fight these terrorists in Iraq vice in the US.
Our counterinsurgency strategy continues to focus on: offensive operations to kill or capture insurgents; train and reinforce the Iraqi Army and police forces to conduct the counterinsurgency; establish a strong democratic Iraqi government; and rebuild the infrastructure and economy. The interagency process is working fairly well in Baghdad (Washington could take a lesson), with most of my contacts being with the Departments of State and Justice. One of our two largest challenges is to get the Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds to work together. No one party/sect has a majority in the newly elected Council of Representatives, so learning to compromise and put together alliances in the government will be key to success. Who is selected to head the Ministries of Defense and Interior (police) is also key; we really need individuals who are secular, and are clearly not tied to any of the various militia groups. The militias are the other major challenge to success here. We will have to disarm them, weed them out of the government, and neutralize their ability to terrorize the citizens of Iraq. This will be at least as challenging as getting the major sects to work together, but not impossible. On top of these two challenges, we have the Iranian influence to combat. Our neighbors to the east are intent on destroying this attempt at democracy, and infiltrate and support terrorists at every opportunity. The Judiciary continues to be a success story, and it remains strongly independent and resistant to executive branch influence. As a side note, we got our first death sentence in a Coalition case this week; one of the Al Qaida terrorists who participated in the beheading of Nick Berg.
I could not have been prouder than to spend my final Thanksgiving and Christmas in uniform with the outstanding young Americans who are serving here as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines. Thanksgiving morning dawned clear and crisp at 45 degrees with a 20 knot wind. Although it was warm by Minnesota and Korea standards, it was chilly for the desert as we donned our body armor and loaded our HMMWVs for the convoy to Abu Ghraib. Had a great dinner in the mess hall there with the Soldiers, and spent the afternoon checking fighting positions and guard towers. That evening I spent some talking with the joint service members of our intelligence unit, a section of which is dedicated to finding our one MIA, SGT Keith Maupin. They are out on missions each week, intent on bringing him home.
Troop morale continues to remain high. The Soldiers can see the difference they are making, whether killing bad guys, training the Iraqi forces, or improving the living conditions for Iraqis. They can no longer give beanie babies to the kids, because Al Aqaida has taken to placing explosives in them, giving them to kids, blowing their arms off or killing them, and blaming the Americans. This is a tough fight, and we are once again up against an enemy who has no moral compass. Our kids continue to excel at every mission, and are undaunted in their task. If anyone has any doubts about this generation, they can erase them. 2006 will be a decisive year. We have the opportunity to do a battle handoff to the Iraqis for the lead in the counterinsurgency fight, and begin to reduce our combat presence. Concurrently, we must continue to coach and mentor the Iraqi Government as it continues its journey toward democracy. We will need to be here for awhile, but my assessment is that this is the make or break year. I’m betting on our Soldiers and the Iraqi people.
Take heart, we are winning.