(A letter home from a Marine currently serving in Iraq)
Dear Dad -
I know that you have been asking for an update as to what we are up to over here. Hopefully this gets to you on Thanksgiving.
As you know, we are aligned along the Euphrates River south of Lake Qadasiyah. The area of operations we are responsible for is known as the TRIAD. It is a series of townships that include Haditha, Barwanah, Haqlaniyah and a number of smaller towns. All told, the task force is close to 2000 men (and a few women). Even with this many men, we are stretched pretty well.
Like all of Anbar, the violence dropped of significantly in 2007. Since we have been here, we have not had a single IED detonate on us.
We have found a number but compared to 2006 numbers, even the IED's have dropped off tremendously. Believe it or not, we have had no direct firefights since our arrival and only one indirect fire attack that was ineffective. Suffice to say, it is a different world than the one I left in April 2005.
Honestly, the progress has been paid for in the blood of the units that were here before us. However, there was no great battle fought here that decimated the enemy. Instead, there was a massive change in our former opposition's strategy. The guys we (here in the Anbar) have been fighting for the past four years have been a combination of Sunni insurgents who were largely tribesmen that were fighting to ensure that the early vision of Iraq post Sadam (Shia dominated/Sunni subservient) was avoided. They partnered up with Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups that flocked to Iraq following the invasion in 2003.
Initially Al Qaeda was largely foreign fighters but over time, they were able to substantially recruit here. Because Al Qaeda was so brutal on the local people, and because of other political options that have become more appealing to the local Sunnis, they broke with Al Qaeda and somewhat partnered with us. Over time, this partnership has grown.
The local tribes breaking with Al Qaeda left Al Qaeda without the sanctuary they needed to continue operations on the same pace they had been. In turn, we have been grinding them down and are still hunting
them. There local recruiting has been critically damaged as well. In
short, we are attriting the remaining enemy while improving the standard of life for the population. The tribal insurgents have been ordered into a temporary cease fire buy the same guys that we are now partnered with.
Therefore, there is little danger of Al Qaeda making a big come back here. They have blown it with their wacked out version of Islamic purity. However, the tribal insurgents could turn back on if the local leaders decide that it is in their interest to do so. Every day we continue to make progress on a variety of fronts, this scenario becomes less and less likely.
That said, not everyone is "coming on board for the big win." There are many former fighters who are abiding by tribal orders to stand down only begrudgingly. It seems like everyday, we are dealing with releases from our major prison down in Bucca that pumps very dangerous guys back onto the streets. Unfortunately, like many US prisons, these guys only got more dangerous and committed to their cause when they were locked up.
Even the local Iraqi leadership knows that they cannot control them. We are still finding weapons caches on a regular basis that include thousands of pounds of home made explosives, intact sniper rifles with armor piercing rounds, suicide vests, mortar rounds, etc. Clearly, this is still a very dangerous place.
My take is that the only reason that we have not been attacked successfully is that we are beating the enemy to the punch as a result of our pre-deployment training and more importantly, our partnership with local security forces (key to any successful counter-insurgency).
The enemy is having a hard time breathing inside of our secure zone right now and is relegated to operating out in the desert where he has relatively free range. Because of the progress made inside the secure areas, we are about to start taking more risk and projecting out into the desert to hunt down the remaining active cells. It is a delicate dance full of assumed risk and balanced operations. Much more complex than my last tours.
Instead of organizing purely for traditional offensive operations, we are now organized for true counter insurgency operations. Think of the big blue arrow on a map that you see when reading about historical military attacks. That arrow indicates the axis of attack. Instead of a single big arrow, we are now organized on five separate but parallel axis' of attack that actually make up our "big blue arrow". The current
jargon denotes these axis' as Lines of Operation ("LOOs"). The LOOs
consist of Security, Economy, Governance, Transition, and Communication.
To make it simple, we are trying to improve along all of the lines of
operation simultaneously in order to further isolate the remaining
enemy. The concept is that if the economy improves (happening) while
the government and security forces gain legitimacy (happening) it is
much harder for the enemy to recruit fighters and gain funding needed to
continue the fight.
I have been blessed with very talented officers who we recruited hard
over the past couple of years. It is paying off in the approach laid
out above. These guys are professionally agile enough to move between
raids and traditional offensive operations to complex planning and
negotiations regarding the economy and government.
The squads are constantly conducting robust patrolling. They have
partnered with Iraqi police and army and are having great success
thwarting the enemy's continued attempts to infiltrate back into the
areas that we consider secure. The squad leaders are truly handling the
security end of this fight. At the same time, they are raising the
competency, professionalism and confidence of the Iraqi forces. I
travel around the area of operations daily and have the pleasure of
checking on the squads and platoons. It is a true inspiration to see
the way they are working.
Living conditions vary. Some guys live at the dam and have all the
amenities any Marine could ever dream of. Other guys live in bunkers
out in the desert like something out of WWII. None of them complain
with any gusto. However, I know that the squad leaders would love to
get a chance to get out in the desert and find the remaining Al Qaeda
cells. Currently, they are doing a great job of rolling up the sleepers
No doubt the enemy will get a say in this before too long as he has an
uncanny ability to adjust. The art is to adjust faster. However, this
is still a war and there will be days ahead that are not as good as what
we enjoy today. As always, I have the utmost confidence that the
Marines will respond as they always have. Unlike years past, I now
believe that the Iraqis also can withstand the most severe blow and are
coming out of the "fragile success" stage.
Hope all is well at home,D