Saturday, September 29, 2007

Why We Are Winning

With even the overly negative MSM admitting there's been a change on the ground in Iraq, it may be a good time to take stock on why there's been success in the war, for future reference. Fred Kagan, who along with Generals Keene, and Petraeus, (not to mention a consistently stubborn George Bush) plus a few others, may be considered the architects of the turnaround, compares good counter-insurgency versus bad.

First, why we were losing:

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the consensus of American strategists has been that the best way to fight a cellular terrorist organization like al Qaeda is through a combination of targeted strikes against key leaders and efforts to discredit al Qaeda's takfiri ideology in the Muslim community. Precision-guided munitions and special forces have been touted as the ideal weapons against this sort of group, because they require a minimal presence on the ground and therefore do not create the image of American invasion or occupation of a Muslim country.

This was the nice, neat and popular way, but it wasn't successful, says Kagan. The low visibility which many on the Left want to return to created the problems we now have:

This strategy failed in Iraq for four years--skilled U.S. special-forces teams killed a succession of al Qaeda in Iraq leaders, but the organization was able to replace them faster than we could kill them. A counterterrorism strategy that did not secure the population from terrorist attacks led to consistent increases in terrorist violence and exposed Sunni leaders disenchanted with the terrorists to brutal death whenever they tried to resist. It emerged that "winning the hearts and minds" of the local population is not enough when the terrorists are able to torture and kill anyone who tries to stand up against them.

And this they did with a vengeance. Sure, it woke ordinary Iraqi's to the truth about Al Qaeda's brutality, but at too great a price:

The Sunni Arabs in Iraq lost their enthusiasm for al Qaeda very quickly after their initial embrace of the movement. By 2005, currents of resistance had begun to flow in Anbar, expanding in 2006. Al Qaeda responded to this rising resistance with unspeakable brutality--beheading young children, executing Sunni leaders and preventing their bodies from being buried within the time required by Muslim law, torturing resisters by gouging out their eyes, electrocuting them, crushing their heads in vices, and so on. This brutality naturally inflamed the desire to resist in the Sunni Arab community--but actual resistance in 2006 remained fitful and ineffective.

This is where the Surge came in, with real change:

When American forces entered al Qaeda strongholds like Arab Jabour, the first question the locals asked is: Are you going to stay this time? They wanted to know if the U.S. would commit to protecting them against al Qaeda retribution. U.S. soldiers have done so, in Anbar, Baghdad, Baqubah, Arab Jabour and elsewhere. They have established joint security stations with Iraqi soldiers and police throughout urban areas and in villages. They have worked with former insurgents and local people to form "concerned citizens" groups to protect their own neighborhoods. Their presence among the people has generated confidence that al Qaeda will be defeated, resulting in increased information about the movements of al Qaeda operatives and local support for capturing or killing them.

This is the age-old solution to an effective counter-insurgency. I heard so many in the MSM declare after we entered Iraq that "It is impossible to defeat a guerrilla campaign". Nonsense! America has done so many times, most notably in the Philippines, and the British did a text-book example with the Malaya Insurgency in the 50's, a lesson we should have studied in Vietnam. Before that lost cause, the Army pleaded with President Kennedy to let them handle the initial conflict, declaring "any well trained army troops can defeat an insurgency", but Jack was too enamored with his new Special Forces, and this mistake lingers in US military and political thinking to this day.

Bottom Line, says Kagan:

It is not enough to persuade a Muslim population to reject al Qaeda's ideology and practice. Someone must also be willing and able to protect that population against the terrorists they had been harboring, something that special forces and long-range missiles alone can't do.

But the boots on the ground can! Special Forces and Precision Strikes certainly have their place, but in the end that can't give consistent presence to make the people fell safe, and the need to change sides against their oppressors.