Friday, November 30, 2007
how we are winning in baghdad
WINNING BAGHDAD http://www.nypost.com/seven/11302007/postopinion/opedcolumnists/winning_baghdad_37556.htm?page=0 By RALPH PETERS November 30, 2007 -- 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. 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. Now the Iraqi Government has to build on the security in the area by actively recruiting and training police who reflect the neighborhoods they're supposed to protect. The government also has to create real jobs - careers. Right now, we employ people in temporary jobs for which many are over-qualified. It can't last. The Sunnis must get a seat at the political table, as well. Hope for the future, money in their pockets, security . . . nothing unusual. 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. Q: As you and your men face your final months in Iraq, what remains undone? What still worries you? A: Building a trained and credible Iraqi police force is in the works, but undone. This will undoubtedly be a primary mission over our remaining time in Iraq. Worry? We've achieved a remarkable accomplishment in Iraq. The people there want it to work. Now the Iraqi government must grab the reins. Q: Any single incident that sticks in your mind from this tour of duty? A: I put it in a dispatch to our families last April. We often hand out soccer balls and backpacks filled with paper, crayons and so forth. A child came up to one of our B Troop NCOs and slipped him a handwritten note in English: Dear Sir, We ask your help and support us. We want to tell you there is no electricity in this neighborhood about six months ago and we suffer a lot. People here scare to go to al Dura station and ask there and there is no direction just you. Will you make us a favor it to help the citizens of this neighborhood. With appreciation . . . The boy slipped back into the crowd of other kids. In my own personal interaction with the people here, I do find that they really believe we can do anything." Lt. Col. Crider and his Cav troopers return to Ft. Riley, Kan., in May 2008.