June 27, 2007

Quietly Making Noise

It is with such mundane, rarely reported stories such as these, that counterinsurgencies take hold.

Thanks for stepping up, guys:

For a second time this week, a large cache consisting of improvised explosive device-making material and mortar rounds was turned over to Coalition Forces by the "Neighborhood Watch" in Taji, Iraq.

The Taji neighborhood watch contacted Coalition Forces June 25, after the driver of a truck fled the scene when the volunteers stopped a suspicious vehicle moving through the rural village of Abd Allah al Jasim. The vehicle contained 24 mortar rounds, two rockets, spare machine gun barrels, small arms ammunition and other IED-making material.

"This grassroots movement of reconciliation by the volunteers is taking off all around us. The tribes that had once actively or passively supported al-Qaeda in Iraq now want them out," said Lt. Col. Peter Andrysiak, the deputy commander of the 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

The neighborhood watch is made up of a group of 500 volunteers, from a number of tribes in the area, who want reconciliation with the Coalition Forces and the Iraqi government. The volunteers are currently being vetted for possible future selection for training as Iraqi Police or some other organization within the Iraqi Security Forces.

Taji, 20 miles north of Baghdad, is perhaps most infamously known as the town where ABC News co-anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt were seriously injured in a 2006 IED explosion, and under the Hussein regime, the site of Iraq's long-range missile program. On Saturday, four U.S. soldiers based at Fort Hood died in an IED attack there.

While our soldiers are still battling Sunni insurgent IED cells in Taji, it is worth noting the seeds to a successful counterinsurgency are being sown in Taji and elsewhere, as noted yesterday in Small Wars Journal (h/t Instapundit):

On June 15th we kicked off a major series of division-sized operations in Baghdad and the surrounding provinces. As General Odierno said, we have finished the build-up phase and are now beginning the actual "surge of operations". I have often said that we need to give this time. That is still true. But this is the end of the beginning: we are now starting to put things onto a viable long-term footing.

These operations are qualitatively different from what we have done before. Our concept is to knock over several insurgent safe havens simultaneously, in order to prevent terrorists relocating their infrastructure from one to another, and to create an operational synergy between what we're doing in Baghdad and what's happening outside. Unlike on previous occasions, we don't plan to leave these areas once they're secured. These ops will run over months, and the key activity is to stand up viable local security forces in partnership with Iraqi Army and Police, as well as political and economic programs, to permanently secure them. The really decisive activity will be police work, registration of the population and counterintelligence in these areas, to comb out the insurgent sleeper cells and political cells that have "gone quiet" as we moved in, but which will try to survive through the op and emerge later. This will take operational patience, and it will be intelligence-led, and Iraqi government-led. It will probably not make the news (the really important stuff rarely does) but it will be the truly decisive action.

When we speak of "clearing" an enemy safe haven, we are not talking about destroying the enemy in it; we are talking about rescuing the population in it from enemy intimidation. If we don't get every enemy cell in the initial operation, that's OK. The point of the operations is to lift the pall of fear from population groups that have been intimidated and exploited by terrorists to date, then win them over and work with them in partnership to clean out the cells that remain Ė as has happened in Al Anbar Province and can happen elsewhere in Iraq as well.

The "terrain" we are clearing is human terrain, not physical terrain. It is about marginalizing al Qa'ida, Shi'a extremist militias, and the other terrorist groups from the population they prey on. This is why claims that "80% of AQ leadership have fled" donít overly disturb us: the aim is not to kill every last AQ leader, but rather to drive them off the population and keep them off, so that we can work with the community to prevent their return.

It is this kind of working within the community that makes this one small story in a large war worth noting.

The "neighborhood watch" that captured this cache is composed of 500 men from various tribes in the Taji area that once supported al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency. As Dave Kilcullen notes above, it is the human terrain that matters, and the fact that these men are now actively working against al Qaeda and the insurgency, are attempting to join the political process and the Iraqi security forces, that is far more important than an increasing body count.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at June 27, 2007 01:30 PM

"the fact that these men are now actively working against al Qaeda and the insurgency, are attempting to join the political process and the Iraqi security forces, that is far more important than an increasing body count."

If there was some reason to think that they wouldn't switch sides again as soon as it was in their interest, perhaps this would count as good news.

Posted by: Ted at June 27, 2007 04:03 PM

All the more reason to make sure their interests align with ours then, isn't it?

OMG you mean people actually act in SELF INTEREST? STOP THE PRESSES!

Posted by: bkw at June 27, 2007 04:11 PM

Ted - The US has awful press but decent men and women on the ground fighting heroically. Al Queda has great press all over the world but on the ground are butchers of innocents, bullies, and tyrants. You can go in believing the hype but eventually actions speak louder than words and people flip. So what realistic set of circumstances is going to lead people to flip back? The only one that I can think of is that we abandon the Iraqis and leave before they are fully ready to take over the running of their own nation.

Posted by: TMLutas at June 27, 2007 04:11 PM

This is consistent with why victory will be achieved in Iraq by 2008, as predicted in May 2006.

This is a key necessary step of that.

Posted by: Tom at June 27, 2007 04:12 PM

Ted: Everyone does what is in his interest. The idea is to reform Iraqi society so that it is not in the interest of young men to work for Al Qaeda or a militia. Nobody will find it in his interest to cast his lot with dead-enders and losers, once those are clearly revealed and known to be what they are. It's up to us and the Iraqis allied with us to make that demonstration, and it appears that we are making progress in doing that.

Posted by: Byron at June 27, 2007 04:14 PM

Ted: ""perhaps this would count as good news""

Is that a variation of the 'there can only be bad news from Iraq' meme that you lefties like so much?

Posted by: Red at June 27, 2007 04:33 PM

I'm happy for optimistic news.

I know that shocks you righties, but it's true.

Posted by: David Terrenoire at June 27, 2007 04:37 PM

The terrain we clear has always been, at root, human terrain. No sane person can doubt our capacity to win a physical confrontation. But, many have lost heart. This combined with a clouded mental perspective, transforms a once smooth path to victory into a rocky road.

Posted by: Tasker at June 27, 2007 04:52 PM

Relatively powerless people will generally side with the group they think is going to win. It's a survival mechanism.

This group has decided we are more likely to win. It is vitally important that we don't abandon them, no matter what domestic political pressures are brought to bear.

Posted by: tim maguire at June 27, 2007 05:00 PM

Lefties hate good news. I know that shocks everyone, but it's true. The worse things are the happier your average leftie is going to be.

Posted by: Bostan Haverley at June 27, 2007 05:02 PM

It IS good news, especially about the cooperation involved in securing that bomb-making cache.

But let's be brutally frank: Our legacy of abiding tactical, strategic and operational screw-ups in Iraq should make every one a skeptic. Let's drop the automatic left-wing, right-wing crap and pray or hope like hell this IS it.The September Petraeus report is lights out for us in Iraq if the man in the street cant see clear progress.

Because when GOP senators start making a lot of noise about "exit plans" and the like, and have nothing to fear from their own party, POTUS is in the bottom on the 9th.

For my part, for the first time since the "Mission Accomplished" photo-op, I'm convinced we're on to the right thing. I hope Im right.

Posted by: rod at June 27, 2007 05:13 PM

i agree with rod that we're in the bottom of the 9th as far as the public communcations battle goes. its bottom 9 and our side is down by several runs because our manager cant seem to get his shit together.

sadly, even tho there are more and more encouraging signs out of iraq every day as reported by the Yon's and Roggio's, etc of the world, what the vast majority of citizens see is only the msm view, which is "disaster-bomb-disaster-bomb" every night on tv and every day in newspapers.

we are too far behind that curve now to make any significant difference in public opinion, because Team Bush cannot or will not effectively communicate the stakes involved.

so once again, America is in grave danger of losing strategically on the homefront what could be a victory tactically on the battlefield.

thank you Bush admin commmuncations team and MSM honchos.

maybe the next preis

Posted by: mike d at June 27, 2007 05:58 PM

If there was some reason to think that they wouldn't switch sides again...

AQ don't put in sewers and power plants when they move into an area. We do.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at June 27, 2007 07:12 PM

OK, al Qa'ida is making themselves an enemy of the Iraqi people, so various tribes are helping the U.S. now. The stakes are high and we can't run, but things are looking up.

But...what reasons are there for those tribes to not just slip back into a fifteen hundred year habit and stay with tribalism after the U.S. is gone? There doesn't appear to be any broad-based core of "founding fathers" like in the late 1700's in North America.

I'm getting the feeling the Iraqi tribes are helping the U.S. now and will tell the U.S. to not let the door hit us in the rear as we leave, so those tribal leaders can get back to business as usual.

Posted by: Gary K. at June 27, 2007 07:46 PM

There doesn't appear to be any broad-based core of "founding fathers" like in the late 1700's in North America.

In reality that broad base never existed. Only about 10% of the American populace of the time actively supported the revolution. Most were ambivalent Tories or didn't care one way or the other.

It worked out because all you really need for a successful revolution is about 10% with the rest being ambivalent and/or disinterested.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at June 27, 2007 09:14 PM

Well, Gary, I guess we'll just have to make sure our troops stay in Iraq as long as they have stayed in Germany and Japan and Korea. If that's what it takes, so be it.

Posted by: Pat at June 27, 2007 09:18 PM

Who says we have to get Iraqis to abandon tribal traditions? That was a key mistake of the early days of the occupation. A democracy can still leave some room for tribal autonomy to some degree, and tribes can have a voice in a republic. The one and only thing we can't leave behind in Iraq is an environment that would allow Al Qaeda to estabish a base of operations.

So this is indeed good news.

Posted by: Korla Pundit at June 27, 2007 09:25 PM

Mike d, I hear you but....MSM has been adverserial over past year or so, and team bush has had a communication strategy that will be studied for its profound ineptness, yet this pudding is our own recipe.

if you dont like how the war's gone, 100% of the blame rests with the prime movers at 1600 penn ave. army size, troop allocation, political generals, 19th century tactics, political f-ups on ground, bremer, corruption....all on them, full stop.

Yon was calling a civil war for about a year before desperate white house aides leaked stuff on background that they were at least studying the proposal.

the msm didnt do that, for all their sins.

Posted by: rod at June 27, 2007 09:29 PM

all on them, full stop

Rod, FYI the size of the Army is dictated by congress. Most of the higher ranking general officer postings are also approved by congress.

In criticizing "political generals", you're indicting the Clinton era military, since that is when those guys were all rising up through the ranks. Are you sure this is what you intend to do?

Posted by: Purple Avenger at June 27, 2007 10:46 PM

That's great news--this is what "winning hearts and minds" means. Of course, the Iraqis must be convinced that a future free of anarchy and terrorism is attainable, which is why the surge is absolutely crucial and any draw-down in the near future would be disastrous.

Posted by: Nathan Tabor at June 27, 2007 11:55 PM

you're indicting the Clinton era military

YES!!! a great number of our problems today are direcly cause by CLINTON

finally we start digging out and now they want to elect HILLARY???

Posted by: Karl at June 28, 2007 01:12 AM

Nice to hear the citizens are stepping up to help achieve peace, whatever their motives (though I would like to believe it's indicative that they now see the clear choice between eventual peace and prosperity vs decades more of violence and oppresion).

Posted by: DoorHold at June 28, 2007 09:43 AM