Saturday, November 10, 2007

Executing the Winning Strategy in Iraq

Kimberly Kagan's cover story at this week's Weekly Standard details the operational changes that have brought military victory in Iraq. Here's the introduction:

The surge of operations that American and Iraqi forces began on June 15 has dramatically improved security in Baghdad and throughout Iraq. U.S. commanders and soldiers have reversed the negative trends of 2006, some of which date back to 2005. The total number of enemy attacks has fallen for four consecutive months, and has now reached levels last seen before the February 2006 Samarra mosque bombing. IED explosions have plummeted to late 2004 levels. Iraqi civilian casualties, which peaked at 3,000 in the month of December 2006, are now below 1,000 for the second straight month. The number of coalition soldiers killed in action has fallen for five straight months and is now at the lowest level since February 2004. These trends persisted through Ramadan, when violence had typically spiked. "I believe we have achieved some momentum," General Raymond T. Odierno, commander of coalition combat forces in Iraq, said modestly in his November 1 press briefing. Since security was deteriorating dramatically in Iraq a year ago, how U.S. commanders and soldiers and their Iraqi partners achieved this positive momentum deserves explanation, even though hard fighting continues and the war is not yet won.

"As we assess the security gains made over the past four months, I attribute the progress to three prominent dynamics," General Odierno explained. "First, the surge allowed us to eliminate extremist safe havens and sanctuaries, [and] just as importantly to maintain our gains. Second, the ongoing quantitative and qualitative improvement of the Iraqi security forces are translating to ever-increasing
tactical successes. Lastly, there's a clear rejection of al Qaeda and other extremists by large segments of the population, this coupled with the bottom-up awakening movement by both Sunni and Shia who want a chance to reconcile with the government of Iraq." These dynamics worked together to improve security.

After President Bush decided to change strategy and increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, the goal became to secure Iraq's population from violence in order to allow civic and political progress. Generals David Petraeus and Odierno implemented the new strategy and determined how to use the additional troops.

Generals Petraeus and Odierno conducted three successive, large-scale military operations in 2007. The first was Fardh al-Qanoon, or the Baghdad Security Plan, which dispersed U.S. and Iraqi troops throughout the capital in order to secure its inhabitants. The second was Phantom Thunder, an Iraq-wide offensive to clear al Qaeda sanctuaries. The third was Phantom Strike, an Iraq-wide offensive to pursue al Qaeda operatives and other enemies as they fled those sanctuaries and attempted to regroup in smaller areas throughout Iraq. These military operations have improved security throughout central Iraq.

The additional forces, General Odierno explained, permitted "a surge in simultaneous and sustained offensive operations, in partnership with the Iraqi security forces. Furthermore, it allowed us to operate in areas that had not yet seen a sustained coalition presence and to retain our hard-fought gains. Our ability to put pressure on al Qaeda and other extremists and deny them safe havens and sanctuaries increased significantly. This was done with the goal of protecting the population and in concert with political and economic initiatives to buy time and space for the government of Iraq."
Read the whole thing.

Kagan also outlines the military's success in rooting out and destroying Iranian-backed terrorist cells and in neutralizing extremist elements of Moktada al-Sadr's militia.

With the consolidation of success in Iraq, many analysts are raising their sights to victory in the larger, worldwide anti-terror struggle.

Carolyn Glick, in her essay over at Real Clear Politics, notes that as in Iraq, defeating our enemies elsewhere entails actually fighting them, rather than pursuing policies of deterrence and appeasement.

See also Robert Satloff's piece over at the Washington Post. Satloff argues that with the departure of Karen Hughes from the White House (Hughes is undersecretary of state for public diplomacy), the Bush administration has an historic opportunity in its last year to prioritize ideological warfare over public relations in combating the scourge of nihilist Islamist radicalism.