Saturday, January 10, 2009

Iraq is Much more Than a Fight

Written 7 October 2008

The other day someone asked me about Iraq, about my experiences, so I shared a little. I received a surprised look in return.

They then asked if I had kept track of friends I served with. I replied that I had and told them what a couple friends had done on return tours.

Again came the surprised look, and then a very matter of fact, “I had no idea we were doing all of that over there.”

Their lack of knowledge about what’s been taking place did not surprise me. Not many are fully aware of the road we’ve travelled toward success in Iraq.

Our success has not come via the stereotypical high intensity combat many people think of when it comes to war. We haven’t succeeded because we’ve had an endless string of Marines and soldiers shooting it up day in and day out, or planes and tanks turning every house into a pile of rubble.

That’s what some would like you to believe. That’s the only picture they’ve painted for you. It makes it easier for them to cry “foul” and scream for the dogs of war to be chained if they make you believe the dogs are on an endless killing spree.

Actually, that picture is exactly the opposite of what it takes to win a counter-insurgency like in Iraq, exactly the opposite of what most of our actions have been.

Sure, we’ve removed a good number of terrorists from the face of the earth, but we are succeeding not because we’re the best at killing people, but because with The Surge we became the best at providing the first key to counter-insurgency: protecting the people.

Many believed The Surge was simply adding more troops to the mix. Senator Hagel and so many others came up with dry holes on their predictions of The Surge because we didn’t “escalate” as they lamented we were. We truly did change tactics and strategy, moved troops into neighborhoods to live and provided security for the people.

Additionally, we established over time, even before The Surge, that we were willing to help people rebuild their lives.

Although progress was slow through ’06 because we weren’t getting the “security for the people” right, we were still building relationships and demonstrating we offered much more for the average Iraqi than the alternatives Al Qaeda or the Mahdi Army were offering.

Those relationship building activities are the ones that really surprise people when they learn of them.

We have had agricultural experts in the military and other government organizations working with Iraqi farmers. Yield improvements, fertilizers, crop breeding, soil sampling and laboratory facilities, irrigation management, and crop protection are all areas we have labored in.

Engineers of various backgrounds, both in and outside of the military, have been working endlessly with them on their infrastructure. The electrical grid, water and sewer systems, roads, and garbage collection have all been areas of focus and transformed entire neighborhoods from terrorist strongholds to coalition partners. It’s amazing how clean streets can change the attitudes of people.

We have had major efforts for at least three years training the Iraqi army and police forces. The army came around first, and the police have slowly followed after much of the country calmed. Team after team of American soldiers, Marines, and government contractors have been working with Iraqi recruits, army, and police units to improve their capabilities.

For a while, defeatists were trying to paint a picture that we weren’t doing this; just another of their tactics. In reality we had many boots on the ground working to train the Iraqi forces. It takes time to make good troops, and our perseverance, not our impatience and partisanship, has paid off.

We’ve had folks helping them learn how to run a government of the people, the art of compromise in a democracy (as shown in the latest election bill), start and run small businesses, communications and oil industries, and so many other areas. At local levels our troops have been awesome facilitators of neighborhood watch programs and councils which helped Iraqi’s of all backgrounds reconcile differences and find ways to move forward together, often long before it was occurring at higher levels, forcing those above them to act with the same maturity.

We’re protecting, teaching, helping, training, building relationships and rebuilding lives with success being built upon the wonderful Iraqi people’s desire for a better life. Yes, much more than shooting and fighting is taking place in Iraq, and that’s why we’re succeeding.

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