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Thursday, September 27, 2007

"A Soldier in Iraq"

I will let this speak for itself. It's from "Gian P. Gentile, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, [and] a professor of history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point":

A soldier in Iraq, by Gian P. Gentile, Commentary, International Herald Tribune: After spending 2006 in command of an armor reconnaissance squadron in some of West Baghdad's toughest neighborhoods, I learned to be very humble when linking causes to the effects I thought my unit produced. ... Many times the results had nothing to do with the military force that I applied.

During the second half of 2006, as civil war in Iraq grew and sectarian violence soared, my squadron was given the mission of pacifying the Sunni district in West Baghdad known as Ameriyah.

In early August, I took part in an operation ordered by the Iraqi government called "Operation Together Forward II." In Ameriyah, I essentially surged my squadron with the purpose of protecting the people and breaking the cycle of violence so that the Iraqi government could get some breathing space to function on its own.

My first task was to clear Ameriyah. ... Although my squadron, along with other American combat units and Iraqi Army units, spent weeks clearing the area, the effect ... did not equate to the Army definition of "clear." Some fighters left temporarily but then returned; many simply stayed and hid among the people of the area; some we did capture or kill.

After "clearing" Ameriyah, and as we worked at holding it, a key indicator of success was a reduction in sectarian killings, manifested by the number of dead bodies showing up daily on the streets. I increased the number of patrols in the area, gained the confidence of the local sheiks and imams, ... and conducted more raids to capture insurgents... Early perceived results of my unit's efforts appeared encouraging: the number of dead bodies on the streets declined significantly.

Initially I thought my squadron's military actions had produced the decline. However, as I learned more about the area, I came to realize that the reduction of bodies on the streets was due not so much to my unit's military actions but to the simple fact that most of the minority Shia who had lived in Ameriyah had either been killed or had fled the area. Fewer Shia bodies were showing up on the streets because there were fewer Shia for the local Sunnis to kill. ...

Another important goal for me was to reduce enemy attacks on my own unit. I carried out raids to capture insurgents who were attacking us. The simple cause-and-effect logic was that the more insurgents I captured, the fewer would attack me.

I was able to reduce the number of attacks against my soldiers. But I concluded that the result was more due to my squadron changing its tactical movement techniques and patterns than to the number of enemy I captured or killed.

When I did take casualties, I wanted to inject ... the sense that they had the initiative and to maintain their morale. But the longer we stayed in Iraq and the more casualties we took, my efforts to instill initiative in my squadron became less and less effective. Every casualty chipped away at morale, and I could not regain those morale chips no matter how many offensive operations I conducted or how many pep talks I gave my squadron.

The American Army's new counterinsurgency doctrine told me to attack the root problems that allowed the insurgency to exist in my area. But some roots were impossible to get at.

There were thousands of unemployed young men in Ameriyah. I had much commander's emergency reconstruction money to spend on endeavors like trash removal and street repair to employ these young men. But they were the Sunni children of the former Baathist elite. Rather than picking up the garbage, they wanted to go to college and become computer engineers, college teachers, doctors or lawyers.

They could not do this, however, out of fear of leaving Ameriyah and being kidnapped or killed at the checkpoints run by the Shiite militia and Iraqi security forces that surrounded their district. I would have needed the wisdom of Solomon and the power of Franklin D. Roosevelt to solve the economic and employment problems of Ameriyah.

By the end of 2006 I had became wary of some cocksure commanders who exuded the sense that they had mastered their area of responsibility. It seemed to me that these commanders had in their own minds become smarter than the war that they were fighting.

I was always humbled by it and chose to operate and act within it with trepidation, humility and an appreciation for the limits that my military force could achieve. I learned that there was only so much that I could do in the middle of a civil war. I often wonder if Iraq has changed much since I left.

    Posted by on Thursday, September 27, 2007 at 05:04 PM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (16)

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