(RWN) – McCain wants to start the surge too early, Wesley Clark gets his facts wrong and also claims the Saudis had a hand in calming the violence – the surge has become a bit of a political football in this not yet official presidential contest.
So let’s discuss this as rationally as possible. Yes, the Anbar Awakening had some effect on calming the violence – in Anbar. That’s 1 of 18 provinces and it was something which was growing within Anbar as we began surging our troops. But it hadn’t grown anywhere else at that time. Read Michael Yon about that awakening. I remember talking with him during an interview on WRKO’s Pundit Review Radio and while he thought, at the time, that it was a great thing, it still was quite small and the violence in Iraq still very high.
I remember talking to MG Rick Lynch (Commanding General of the 3rd ID) not long after the surge’s second phase had begun. The most memorable thing he said was that when he and his troops pushed into an area or neighborhood and contacted the local authorities, the first thing they asked, without exception, is “are you going to stay?”
Once answered in the affirmative, he said the local intelligence and cooperation multiplied exponentially. That is how the “awakening” spread.
A good example of that is Baquba, the provincial capital of Diyala province (NE of Baghdad). It was a place almost untouched by US forces and a mixed area of sunni, shia and kurds. The entire town was wired to explode. Yet, and this again comes from Yon, our forces carefully took the town, drove out AQ and convinced the insurgents (the 1920 Brigade) that it was in their best interest to join the side of the US and Iraqi Government.
I remember an incident talked about by Michael Yon where one of the leaders of the 1920s Brigades told the US leader there that all they wanted was the US to leave. The US leader told the insurgent leader that he and his soldiers wanted nothing more than to do exactly that. Yon says it then dawned on the insurgent leader that cooperation was the best way to accomplish that. Also understood by this insurgent leader is we weren’t going to go away and try as he might, he wasn’t going to be able to drive us off.
You don’t know how key that is to the success we’ve begun to enjoy in Iraq.
Al Sadr, somewhere in this time frame, also agreed to a stand down of his Mahdi army. Some would like to attribute that to graciousness on the part of al Sadr. But as we’ve seen subsequently, when he did let them loose, it was a tactical decision driven by the fact that he wasn’t ready and didn’t have the assets he needed to directly confront the US. And he also figured that we might instead withdraw.
He was no more ready for the surge of troops than was AQI. Consequently he played the “patriot” by withholding his militia officially while the militia’s “special groups” continued to attack us. Would his militia’s presence have complicated the surge? Of course. But as we’ve seen since, it was a very ragtag lot which were pretty easily defeated in both Basra and Baghdad.
All of this to say the intent of the Democrats is to play down the significance of the surge. They want you to believe that the Anbar awakening was well established and spreading like wildfire and that once al Sadr stood down his militia, that surge, in essence, was unnecessary.
Clark even goes so far as to claim no troops were surged into Anbar. That’s flat wrong. 2 additional Marine battalions were surged into that place because it was still hot.
Had the surge not taken place it is entirely possible that the Anbar Awakening would never have spread outside that province. That’s because Baquba was the new “capital” of AQI and would have remained as such. Given the tactics of AQI, there is little doubt a concerted effort would have been made by them to decapitate the awakening leadership in Anbar as a lesson. Had the surge not taken place, the outlying rings of Baghdad would have continued to see car and truck bombs built at will and used in the capital to continue to fan the flames of sectarian violence. AQI forces would have remained positioned to continue to attack, kill, destroy and encourage more violence. Had the surge not taken place, al Sadr would have had no reason to stand down or restrain his militia.
And this talk, as I’ve heard from Obama, that the surge was about “tactics” is a load of dung as well. The surge was an integral part of a change in strategy. To ignore the fact that we switched our strategy to counterinsurgency warfare is to demonstrate a complete lack of knowledge about the operation.
When all is said and done, yes, the awakening was an important development and the stand down of the Mahdi army helped delay an inevitable confrontation (since resolved, btw) and made the surge less complicated, but the fact remains that the major reason that Iraq is in the shape it is today is the surge.
The surge insured and helped spread the Anbar Awakening. The fact that we promised to stay made it easy for tribal leaders in other provinces to cooperate with us. The fact that we surged 30,000 troops into Iraq made it pretty much a no-brainer, in a tactical sense, for al Sadr to stand his motley crew down. And while we’re at it, it also allowed the time necessary to continue the training of the ISF to the point that they were recently able to mount successful major operations in Basra and more recently, Baghdad’s Sadr City.
So don’t let the Democrats rewrite history on this one. They were wrong about opposing it and that is what they’re trying so hard to duck. When all is said and done, it was the decision to change strategy and surge troops into Iraq to implement that strategy which played the major role in defeating AQI, turning the rest of the insurgents into allies and driving the Mahdi army off the battlefield, at least temporarily (and later permanently).