It’s a dilemma familiar to counterinsurgency strategists: much of the fighting in Ramadi and other places continues because of the American presence, not in spite of it. U.S. commanders tasked with clearing Ramadi, the latest insurgent hub in Anbar Province, aren’t looking to assault the city with U.S. troops. They want local security forces instead to retake the city gradually. And in recent months a group of tribal leaders in Anbar Province has been working with U.S. forces in that effort, forming a coalition of sheiks who have sent hundreds of their followers to join the Ramadi police force as well as the Iraqi army.
The Ramadi strategy, which in essence replaces U.S. troops with Iraqis even as the fight unfolds, shows some early signs of success. Despite bursts of fighting in Ramadi almost daily, schools are opening, and Iraqi police are circulating on their own in neighborhoods that were previously no-go areas. The end game is far from certain in Ramadi and other violent towns in Anbar Province like Hit and Haditha. But the plan already in motion there now means any additional combat troops President Bush may order to Iraq would be better put to use in Baghdad, which everyone agrees must be stabilized for anything else to work in Iraq.
When U.S. strategy in Iraq called for pulling American forces back to large, heavily protected bases last year,Army Col. Sean MacFarlandwas moving in the opposite direction. He built small, more vulnerable combat outposts in Ramadi’s most dangerous neighborhoods — places where al-Qaeda had taken root.
“I was going the wrong way down a one-way street,” MacFarland says.
Soon after, MacFarland started negotiating with a group of Sunni sheiks, some of whom have had mixed loyalties in the war. His superiors initially were wary, fearful the plan could backfire, he says. He forged ahead anyway.
This month’s breakthrough came when Lt. Col. Patrick Frank, responsible for west Baghdad’s dangerous Bayaa, Jihad and Amal neighborhoods, met Sept. 3 with tribal leaders belonging to the Mahdi Army at Camp Falcon, a sprawling U.S. base.To preserve the movement’s posture of not negotiating with Americans, the tribal leaders did not discuss their affiliation, but their identity was well known. “The organization we are extending our hand to is the Jaish al Mahdi,” Frank said, using the group’s Arabic name. A Sadr follower in west Baghdad confirmed that Shiite and Sunni tribal leaders were in negotiations with the Americans for a truce in the area.
MacFarland was bucking Odierno I believe, which would not have been pretty. Too bad MacFarland was not testifying about his plan instead of Patraeus representing him.
These are examples of the backbone of the army at the Captain, Lt. Col., and Col. level, where retention is severely declining. Smart people given an impossible task.