The second half of 2007 saw violence drop dramatically in Iraq, but the progress came at a high price: The year was the deadliest for the U.S. military since the 2003 invasion, with 899 troops killed.
Actually, that's misleading. The death toll was the highest prior to the major operation which has seen "violence drop dramatically". It was the result of the failed strategy which was being followed during those first months of the year. The last report I heard for this month was 19 US deaths, one of the lowest casualty figures for any month in years. It doesn't, however, surprise me that the Times and AP choose to characterize the situation in Iraq as they have.
Thinking back about the surge and the decision to change the strategy from counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency (COIN), I remember not being sure it was such a good idea. That's because I knew COIN would be much more "labor" intensive than counter-terrorism and would depend on an untried and not particularly reliable (at the time) ISF.
But I read the doctrine and did the math as laid out in the doctrine and figured out that if the Iraqis committed the forces they promised and we didn't try to do everything at once, it might just work.
I'd also add, as the surge began, it became obvious that the new leadership, i.e. GEN David Petraeus and LTG Ray Odierno, were also a much needed change.
Two other events coincided with the decision to change the military strategy that have helped the surge succeed as well. As most who study military history will tell you, luck is as much a part of the fight as anything. However, while it may present itself, it is up to the warrior as to whether he capitalizes on his luck or misses an opportunity.
As we were changing our mission, rumblings were coming out of Iraq, by independent reporters such as Michael Yon, that a movement, known as the "awakening" was taking place. It began in Anbar province, probably one of the most violent places in Iraq and was driven by a Sunni sheik. Essentially, the Iraqis there had grown tired of al Qaeda and the violence they had brought to the area. They had a choice to make - side with the Americans or continue to suffer under al Qaeda's vicious rule. They chose the Americans, and thus, former enemies allied with US forces to drive al Qaeda off. And while it was a shaky alliance at the time, it held long enough for progress - dramatic progress - to be made.
That decision was part of what I would characterize as "luck". However, the commanders there didn't turn their noses up at the locals who proposed the alliance. Instead they met with them, showed them the proper respect and helped them implement a program - Concerned Local Citizens - which gave them a hand in their own security and had them work hand-in-hand with both the US military and the ISF.
The CLC program has grown tremendously in the last 6 months to where there are about 70,000 CLCs in most of Iraq's provinces. They're local people manning check points with a knowledge of who does or doesn't belong there. Actionable intelligence has grown exponentially, and al Qaeda has found it has few if any safe-havens anymore. All the result of American commanders welcoming local help instead of turning it away. I remember Michael Yon saying that when the Iraqis figured out that we wanted to go home as badly as they wanted us to go home, suddenly the light went on and the alliance was made. Obviously they understand that helping stop the violence and drive al Qaeda out is the quickest way to have the Americans leave.
That brings me to another point that is rarely mentioned. Insurgencies attempt to dishearten and eventually drive conventional forces out of an area or a nation. They want to make the inconclusive battle too painful for a conventional force and its supporters to sustain. While it can't ever defeat the conventional force on the battlefield, it can, if persistent enough, defeat its will to continue the fight. And, early this year, that's exactly where we were as a nation - deciding if it was worth it to continue on in a fight that seemed to be getting worse, more violent and more deadly with every passing month.
But the other side of the Anbar Awakening, which few recognize, was the fact that it signaled the tipping point for the Iraqi people. While it began first in Anbar, it quickly spread in various forms, to most of the rest of Iraq. There's a very good reason for that - the Iraqis had grown very tired of the violence, but more importantly, they'd figured out we weren't going to quit. So they had to make a choice. And the choice, once they weighed the pros and cons, ended up to be fairly obvious to them. The fact that we wouldn't and didn't quit was critical to forcing that decision.
Last, but certainly not least, and another part of "luck" was the al Sadr pledge to stand down his militias and work for a political solution. Of course what is commonly known as the "Special Groups", has continued its attacks on US and ISF forces (these are the rogue and criminal elements which ignored al Sadr's order and have been disavowed by his organization). Sadr's order is another part of the success of the surge.
But there is no denying now that the time and space is being provided for the central government, which has been mostly AWOL from the process of reconciliation, to address those problems of reconciliation on a national level.
GEN Petreaus, ever the realist, has said that all of this is "reversable". And that's obviously true. However, the more days of peace the average Iraqi enjoys (along with increased electricity and a return to normalcy) the less likely they are to return to the violence that was so rampant earlier this year. The bottom-up reconciliation and the surge are the principle vehicles of this new (and relative) peace. The longer it holds together and progress is seen, the less likely violence will return. My guess is the Iraqis will be loath to allow the violence of the past again gain a foothold in their nation and will do what is necessary to prevent that.
I look for 2008 to provide dramatic positive change in Iraq as I think, finally, the central government will begin to do what it must to make Iraq a peaceful and thriving nation again. Unfortunately we're going to lose more soldiers as that process continues, because while we have the enemy on the run, he isn't toothless and will at times demonstrate that violently. However, if the trend we see now continues, I'll make a bold prediction that at the end of 2008, we'll have begun a withdrawal of our troops which will, when complete, bring us down to about 10 combat brigades (which is very easily sustainable indefinitely) and 75,000 troops.
Well icasualties.org lists 21 US dead for December, although I’ve noticed that the total for a month is often increased by a few in the first couple of months afterwards. Eight by IED, seven by accident, or whatever "non-hostile" means in a given case, four by small arms fire, one by suicide bomber, and one by unspecified hostile fire. As it stands, it’s the second lowest total (20 in Feb ’04) for the whole war.
You left out one piece of info that, to me, signifies more than anything else why the surge has worked.
Al Qaeda f*cked up real bad.
Because they are radical Islamic lunatics, they decided to terrorize and murder the people they needed the most to win the war - not what anyone would call a winning strategy. It would be equivalent to going into France in 1944 and then butchering the French people and expect them to help us defeat the Nazis. Things just don’t work that way. But al Qaeda, being the delusional nutbags that they are, thought bullying people will make them side with you. Perhaps for a time, but eventually they will turn on you. And turn they did: this is why the Sunnis decided to side with the US and take their country back. And this is why al Qaeda has no where to hide, and is on the run across all of Iraq.
Petraeus’ brilliant strategy (the surge) mixed with the stupidity and terror of al Qaeda are winning this war. And the American media is barely paying attention.
It would be equivalent to going into France in 1944 and then butchering the French people and expect them to help us defeat the Nazis.
Actually, it’s exactly the same mistake the Nazis made when they invaded Russia. The Ukrainians were so sick of Stalin that they welcomed the Nazis with open arms. All the Nazis saw were Untermenschen Slavs, which they treated so badly that even Stalin wasn’t any worse. Fascists always seem to make that mistake.
I’ll make a bold prediction that at the end of 2008, we’ll have begun a withdrawal of our troops which will, when complete, bring us down to about 10 combat brigades (which is very easily sustainable indefinitely) and 75,000 troops
Care to make any predictions as to how that event will be spun- as a win or a loss?