NO SUBSTITUTE FOR BOOTS ON THE GROUND… I was fortunate to spend last week with two units who are both extremely skilled in the art of counterinsurgency (COIN); 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines as well as the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division and its Military Transition Team (US Advisors). The bottom line for both of these units is that there is simply no substitute for putting boots on the ground… in neighborhoods, face to face with local citizens, at all hours, in a professional, disciplined manner.
Troops may (?) be able to survive this conflict by adding more and more armor to themselves and their vehicles, but they can only win it by focusing on its center of gravity; the Iraqi people. This can’t be done from the inside of armored vehicles or the safety of FOBS. Technology and firepower are great (and both have their place in winning this fight), but in a war where the enemy hides among the people, the individual Marine, soldier or Iraqi policeman interacting with citizens and winning their trust is our most powerful weapon. As trust and relations develop, tips about IED’s, weapons, and ultimately insurgents themselves follow. This information strips the terrorists of the veil of anonymity which they rely upon to hide in plain site.
Make no mistake: the work of patrolling, knocking on doors, making connections and gathering information which I’m describing is tiring, tedious and often dangerous. But it IS making a difference. Both of the units I spent time with last week are seeing dramatic effects in terms of the safety and security of their areas as well as in numbers of extremists who are being captured and locked up. As that trend continues, public confidence rises, leading to more tips and an increasingly difficult environment for the insurgents to operate in.
I couldn’t help but be impressed by the savvy and COIN proficiency of the young Marines as well as the skill and professionalism of the Iraqi soldiers I observed last week. Progress IS being made in Al Anbar Province… one street at a time – which is the only way to do it in this war.