Interview with winner in Baghdad
THE US Army's has had a remarkably successful year in Baghdad, turning around its slice of the long troubled Dura neighborhood. In an e-interview earlier this week, the unit's commander, Lt. Col. Jim Crider, explained how his troops did it.This is the essence of counterinsurgency warfare that worked and it is very different from what critics to the strategy proposed. Start with his first point of being on the ground 24/7. Critics wanted to keep the troops in the forward operating bases and use them to play whack a mole with al Qaeda. Instead by being with the people we were able to get real time intelligence on enemy activities and deny them access to the people and their ability to hide among the people.
Question: Congratulations on the superb work "Quarter Cav" has done for us all - Iraqis and Americans. When you arrived in Iraq this time around, did you think you'd be able to make such progress?
Lt. Col. Crider: Our initial experiences upon arrival in March '07 were very discouraging. The enemy controlled the ground - the people - in southwest Baghdad. I saw more combat in the first six weeks than in the entire year of Operation Iraqi Freedom I.
We realized that we'd never kill or capture every enemy, so our goal was to change the conditions on the ground that allowed the insurgency to flourish. Three key factors contributed to our success:
A sufficient number of troops to deny the enemy a sanctuary.
A focus on security where the people live.
The restoration of essential services - it was a revelation that the people viewed us as the government, so when there was no electricity, garbage pick-up, etc., it was our fault in their eyes.
Q: Which achievements do you see as solid? What has to happen next?
A: Our personal relationships with the Iraqi people are solid. They love American soldiers. This is a significant achievement - it's important that we don't let them down.
Q: What are the keys to working with Iraqis?
A: The key is to focus on building a relationship. Our squadron didn't hold every Iraqi responsible if a roadside bomb went off. We didn't wait for good behavior before helping with essential services - we just did it and positive behavior followed.
Second, we kept our promises. If we said it was going to happen, it did. Third, our actions were always justified and proportional. If we detained someone, he was bad - and the people knew it.
Q: You've gotten to know our enemies pretty well - what are their strengths and weaknesses?
A: Initially, the enemy's greatest strength was the ability to hide in plain sight - by co-opting or intimidating the people. We turned the tables. People in our area are now pointing out insurgents who did their deeds one or two years ago. They can hide from us, but not from their neighbors.
The enemy's greatest remaining strength is the central government's slow pace, measured against the impending US troop draw-down. If the people get discouraged, they'll turn elsewhere.
Q: This has been a learn-as-you-go fight. Can you identify three key counterinsurgency decisions you and your subordinates made this past year?
A: We've been on the ground 24/7 in the neighborhoods, not just holed up in an outpost. We also have an ongoing operation, Close Encounters, in which platoon leaders and NCOs literally go into living rooms and kitchens to sit down with people and get to know them, house by house. We learned about their concerns and broke down misconceptions about American soldiers. We not only found people who were willing to talk about the insurgents in their neighborhood, we also found doctors, businessmen and others with the skills essential to rebuild the area.
We aggressively emplaced walls to restrict the insurgents' ability to move, while providing physical protection to vulnerable people on the outskirts of dangerous areas.
If you'll allow me a fourth - we handed out small business grants. This was huge. It quickly produced tangible results. People here believe what they see. If they see businesses open, full streets and US soldiers on patrol, then it must be normal and safe.
Sorry - there's a fifth, as well: We embraced the Sunni turn against the insurgents.
This is the big lesson of fighting an enemy using an insurgency strategy and by showing we can defeat this kind of enemy it makes it less likely that we will have to fight others who want to use this kind of strategy. The problem with the Democrat strategy of not fighting insurgencies, means that we and our allies will continue to be challenged by insurgencies. Defeating the one in Iraq not only benefits us and the Iraqis now, but will benefit us in future potential confrontations.