Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Hello, all, this is not Kurtis P. Wheeler but rather LtCol P from Op-For, a.k.a. vmijpp from Rule 308, a.k.a. The Evil Clown. KPW is having some more connectivity problems from the sandbox-- CommO, heal thyself!-- so I said I'd be happy to post this for him...

I had the opportunity to visit Baghdad this past week in order to deliver my history collections from Al Anbar province to the command historian at Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I). My time there was a complete change of pace from my usual, tactical collections orientation. The first culture shock was transitioning from dirt to polished marble, in that the Corps headquarters is located in one of Saddam’s old palaces. Despite the decadent lavishness of the place, I am told that he only stayed there a few times and had similar palaces across the country. The contrast between the gilded luxury of his palace and the utter poverty of Iraqis in many other areas was striking.

During my visit, I was pleased to discover a nearly universal appreciation for Gen Petraeus’ approach as the new commanding general of all coalition forces in Iraq. Everyone I interacted with during my visit to Camp Victory and the International Zone (IZ aka Green Zone) described him as highly engaged and focused on getting the most out of his staff and Iraqi leaders in Baghdad. Despite concerns about his orientation being very Baghdad-centric, his approach may be good news for Al Anbar as help from the capital is essential to the way ahead in the west.

Equally good news for the troops working so hard out in the field are perceptions that the Department of State and other non-DOD agencies may be soon ramping up their efforts. Some in the IZ assess recent comments and actions by Secretary of State Rice to mean that the bar will be raised for our non-DOD counterparts. This may lead to more of them getting out of the IZ and making things happen on the ground; great news for all the Marines and Soldiers who have been double-timing as warrior and diplomats for the past four years.

It was a great opportunity to see Baghdad with my own eyes, but I have to admit, I was actually a little relieved to get back to Al Anbar province… I’m not sure if it is my agricultural heritage or my years in the Marine Corps, but somehow I feel more at home with dirt than polished marble.

KPW's extremely productive tour is drawing down, and he should be oscar mike in the not too distant future. Good citizens of Cazenovia, sturdy yeomen farmers in your fields and tradesmen in your shops, will you give him the welcome home he deserves?? Allow me to close with a stanza that his Ivy League self will appreciate, and Macaulay would certainly abhor...

Shame on the false New Yorker that wallows in the loam,
When Wheeler of Cazenovia is on the march for home!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Signs of normalcy in Al Anbar... a market near Hit filled with people and produce.

TURNING A CORNER IN AL ANBAR… I spent last week in two of the toughest areas of Al Anbar province; Hit and Ramadi. It was my first trip to Hit, which has been reported as one of the most difficult areas remaining in Western Iraq and my second trip to Ramadi, the provincial capital and epicenter of the insurgency less than a year ago. What I saw and experienced in both places was a source of encouragement and optimism about the future of Al Anbar. I recognize that the following will be a controversial statement, but based my observations across the province, it is my conviction that we are absolutely winning the war against Al Qaeda and its allies in Western Iraq.

City by city and neighborhood by neighborhood, the citizens of Al Anbar are deciding to take their province back from the radicals who have murdered and intimidated them for the past few years. Local leaders are steadily recognizing that they have more to gain by working with the United States than with AQI. Area by area, this part of Iraq is “flipping” to become an environment that will no longer harbor insurgents. Robbed of their veil of anonymity, terrorists must either flee or be killed or captured by US or Iraqi Security Forces. As Iraqis assume control of more and more battle space, US forces are being freed up to go into areas where we have previously had little or no presence, thereby denying insurgents many of the remote areas they have previously used to rest and refit.

In addition to the Marines and Soldiers out risking their lives each day to improve the safety and security of Iraq, the heroes in each city are the Iraqi police (IP) who are standing up in record numbers to protect their neighborhoods. I was surprised and pleased to discover that there are hundreds of police on duty in Hit. These “shirta” are assuming a growing role in the fight against insurgents in their city, which is situated northwest of Fallujah and Ramadi, further up the Euphrates River Valley. They have stabilized many of the communities around Hit and are steadily penetrating the city itself.

The police have been growing rapidly in Ramadi for several months and are now restoring a degree of normalcy to many parts of the provincial capital. A key ingredient in their growing capability and influence has been their effective partnership with coalition forces. I was particularly impressed with the efforts of 1st Battalion, 6th Marines in this regard during my stay with them last week. They are making a huge investment in the success of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in their area of operations, giving up some of their best Marines to work directly with their Iraqi Army (IA) and Police counterparts. They have partnered with the IA and IP down to the lowest levels and are conducting combined patrols and operations on a daily basis. The synergy of American technology and firepower with the cultural/linguistic knowledge and local savvy of Iraqis is powerful. Insurgents are being steadily squeezed into a smaller and smaller sphere of influence in the city, and this sphere is moving away from the Provincial Government Center. This core of terrorists, which one senior leader in Ramadi called “the heart of darkness of the insurgency in Ramadi,” is being pressed from all sides. Not surprisingly, they are lashing back at this pressure, but if the police and people of Ramadi remain resolved, the outcome may be inevitable.

The Marines and their brothers in arms in Al Anbar are making huge strides… they have turned a corner from a recent past of violence and hopelessness to a future where stability and prosperity can be envisioned. To reach that end-state, which Americans and Iraqis desire with equal fervor, Al Anbar will need help from its dysfunctional national capital… Baghdad. More on that soon.

Monday, February 12, 2007

HIGHS AND LOWS… I just returned from a week with the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines in the city of Fallujah. The dramatic, enduring impression I am left with is the mental toughness required (and exhibited) by all of our troops to deal with the emotional highs and lows that occur on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. These Marines work so hard, regularly 18 to 20 hours a day, day after day to make a difference in their area of operations (AO). These differences are sometimes small; a stretch of road that hasn’t been laced with IEDs for several days or a family that returns home because they feel safer due to the Marines’ presence. Sometimes they are large; the capture or elimination of some of the terrorists who are causing all the suffering in this city of 350,000 or the furthering of effective relations with the local police who ARE the long-term solution to peace and stability in this area. Marines allow themselves a small mental celebration when these positives occur… because you have to. Psychologically one has to believe that all this effort is having an effect, or you would go crazy.

Marines planning a route on top of a humvee hood during night ops in Fallujah.

The trouble with the mental highs, however brief or humble, is that they set you up for the lows. The greatest low is when you lose a fellow Marine. By historic standards, the losses in this conflict have been small. By human standards, every one is huge – and devastating. Each Marine, and particularly each leader, can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t something they could have done to prevent the loss. Of course the answer is no. Given the ruthlessness of the enemy and the determination of the Marines to be out making a difference, only supreme effort and Divine intervention have kept our losses as low as they have been.

What is most remarkable is the ability of Marines at all levels to “shake it off” and keep going. They mourn quietly, inside… and drive on. I can’t fathom how they do it… but they do. Supreme credit should be given to these young warriors for the way they carry on with their mission each day with an incredible sense of professionalism. Their restraint, their discretion and their courage each day are amazing. What they are being asked to do is harder than the “kinetic” types of combat operations they have been trained to do for most of their careers, but they are carrying out these more subtle and delicate missions with incredible effectiveness. When they get back home, make sure you tell them how much you appreciate what they have done.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

REBIRTH OF A CITY... My time in Barwanah this week was another clear indicator how effective strength and mercy are in a counterinsurgeny war. Like many of the the other growing success stories in Al Anbar Province (Al Qaim, Fallujah, Ramadi), the first and most important step in Barwanah was the presence of overwhelming combat power. A major portion of BLT 2/4 from the 15th MEU was brought in late last fall to assist in an area previously managed by just one company. In the face of this superior force, many of the senior insurgents fled the area. As in several other cities in Al Anbar, the Marines put a berm around the town, set up entry control points to monitor access to the city and began to conduct foot patrols and census operations throughout the area. They combined this strength with an active campaign to reach out to local leaders and citizens and have initiated projects such as school renovations. As security improved, so did intelligence from local nationals, making it harder and harder for insurgents to hide within the city or implant IEDs. As I patrolled the streets with 2d Bn, 4th Marines this week, students were walking home from school, children played along the streets, shops were open and residents smiled and waved at the Marines. A dramatic transformation which mirrors the similar progress made by 2d Bn, 3rd Marines across the river in Haditha and Haqliniyah. Just a few months ago, the "Triad" was one of the most violent places in Iraq. The Marines aren't resting on their laurels and are still working each day to make the area safer and more prosperous, but what they have achieved to date is nothing short of miraculous.