Iraq offensive: Clear out militants – and stay.
US, Iraqi operation in Diyala Province draws on a new counterinsurgency model.
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But in Diyala, long-term change will depend on the success of principles laid out in the Army's 2006 counterinsurgency manual, written by Gen. David Petraeus, the top US officer in Iraq. "The basic idea is that you surge the military forces, and then surge Iraqi government and services into the area after them," says a State Department representative working with the local Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT).Skip to next paragraph
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The sequence begins with the military taking the ground, then having Awakening and similar militias provide security. After that, effort is put into reconnecting levels of government so local officials know that their problems are being solved.
A similar pattern has had some success in the provincial capital of Baqubah, which a year ago was one of the most violent places in Iraq. Operation Arrowhead Ripper last summer began to take ground; Sunnis have since lined up in some areas to establish local militias.
The State Department official says that in November he heard complaints about schools – few books, bad desks. To him it spoke of real progress from a year before, when security issues were far more acute. In fact, Baqubah has achieved some normalcy.
"I'm fairly optimistic this [Diyala] plan will expand government reach," the officials says. "Does this mean all people will say, 'Hey, we want to join the government'? No…. All this is reversible if the coalition disappears and security collapses."
Results have been mixed in the Diyala River Valley. US officers have not hidden their disappointment that many of the some 200 Al Qaeda in Iraq and other militants left before the offensive began Jan. 8, leaving behind six booby-trapped houses and 30 vehicle or roadside bombs.
In the first days of the operation, the US military says, four insurgents were killed, four wounded, and 26 people detained. Of 18 weapons caches found, one underground facility included sleeping quarters, ordnance and bombmaking material, and detailed diagrams of a nearby US base. Six Americans died when a house rigged with explosives collapsed on them Jan. 9.
"You can kill AQI and insurgents all day – they'll always make more. In fact, you may be fueling the fire that creates them," says Lt. Col. Brown, from Russellville, Ark.
The broader aim is to remove the reasons people fight. But US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq have been struggling to achieve such results for 18 months, using the same template, with results largely depending on local authority reestablishing itself.
"It all goes back to one guy sitting in his shack, deciding what he's going to do today. 'Do I get up and work at the date processing plant today, and make $10, or do I go find a 155mm artillery shell, put a blasting cap on it, wait for coalition forces to drive by, and get paid $10," says Colonel Brown. "If he doesn't put the IED [in] ... contractors and NGOs are willing to ... dredge the canals and build the factories and put up the power line and build the school. You can see the cascading effect."
US officers estimate that 75 militants remain in the "breadbasket" area. Iraqi Army numbers there will double from 250 to 500, and police from zero to 75. "They are waiting to see if we do what we've done before, which is kick over some haystacks, find nothing, and then leave," says Brown. When they come out, he expects "they are going to realize this is different. They'll see construction, stores opening, and ask: 'Why are there police driving on the streets?'"