At the end
of 2006, Iraq seemed on the verge of a civil war. Al-Qaida
was inciting divisions between Sunni and Shiia Iraqis. The
newly elected government seemed ineffectual. Militia
groups roamed neighborhoods and intimidated
those who did not agree with them.
100 U.S. servicemembers per month were being killed in fighting
in the country. Today, that number has dropped dramatically,
thanks largely to the troop surge and a new strategy that senior
military officials credit with laying the groundwork for success
understood the challenges in Iraq and studied ways to stabilize
and improve the situation. Even after his party lost the November
2006 congressional elections, President Bush said there would
be “no retreat” from American goals for Iraq.
and military officials debated, posited, proposed, tested and
eventually adopted a new way forward for the effort in Iraq
that came to be known as “the surge.” Bush announced
the surge on Jan. 10, 2007. The bare bones of the plan committed
more than 20,000 Army and Marine combat troops to the fight.
The plan was to concentrate the troops in Baghdad and Anbar
province – the two most restive areas in Iraq at the
time. Baghdad, with a population of around 7.5 million people,
is the center of gravity for the country. Progress there, it
was thought, would influence the level of violence around the
the surge, plus a new strategy, would give the Iraqi government
the time to develop and grow. “If we increase our support
at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current
cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming
home,” he said in a speech to the nation.
am of conviction that this military plan – properly part
of the new political emphasis and new economic plus-up – can
provide the success we are looking for,” Marine Gen.
Peter Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
told the House Armed Services Committee the day after Bush
announcd the plan. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates – in
office for less than a month at the time – agreed with
senior military officers in Iraq and in Washington believe
in the efficacy of the strategy outlined by the president last
night,” Gates said to the House committee. “Our
senior military officers have worked closely with the Iraqis
to develop this plan. The impetus to add U.S. forces came initially
from our commanders there.”
2006, 106 Americans were killed due to all causes in Iraq.
In December 2006, the number rose to 112. In July 2008, the
number of Americans killed was 13. Last month, 23 were killed.
was just one reason for success in Iraq, said Brig Gen. John
F. Campbell, the deputy director for regional operations at
the J-3 on the Joint Staff. The surge was important, but so
were the increased capabilities of Iraqi security forces and
the Iraqi Awakening, though “you could argue the other
two couldn’t happen without the first,” he said.
was the assistant division commander for the 1st Cavalry Division,
which formed the core of Multinational Division Baghdad. He
was in Baghdad from the start of the surge and left earlier
of the surge brigades arrived in Baghdad from Kuwait in January
2007 – the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade
Combat Team. The soldiers went almost immediately into combat
operations. Between then and June, four more brigades, a Marine
expeditionary unit and two Marine battalions deployed to Iraq.
Thousands of “enablers” – combat service
and combat service support servicemembers – also deployed.
At the same
time, the Iraqis were engaged in their own surge, which often
is overlooked, Campbell said. The Iraqi surge was equally crucial
to the turnaround in the country, the general noted, and the
Iraqi military committed to sending nine battalions into Baghdad.
This was a precarious commitment.
October , the Iraqis had sent two battalions to Baghdad,
and the experience was not good,” Campbell said. Many
Iraqi soldiers deserted upon hearing of the deployment; others
ran at the first sign of trouble.
force focused on training the Iraqi forces prior to the surge. “They
became more confident, better able to withstand pressure,” Campbell
said. “They could stand up in a fight. When these forces
came into Baghdad as part of the Iraqi surge, they were much
better trained, they had good [coalition] transition folks
with them and were more confident.”
planned to deploy the battalions to Baghdad for 90-day tours.
In contrast, the coalition forces would be on the ground for
need time on the ground, you need to develop relationships,
you need to get to know the people,” Campbell said. “They
realized they needed more time to understand the ground, develop
the relationships, meet the sheiks, meet the people, understand
the Iraqi units stayed in place for six months, with others
in place for a year.
on the ground, working with U.S. forces, helped the Iraqi forces
increase their capabilities. “Just being next to a U.S.
soldier, they got better,” Campbell said. “They
wanted to look like our guys. They wanted to carry the same
weapons. They wanted all the kit like we had. [They benefitted
from] seeing how our guys handled themselves around people,
around kids and the like.”
are important, but what really made the surge effective was
the counterinsurgency strategy, Campbell said. The mission
of counterinsurgency operations is to protect the population
from attack and separate the vast majority of people from extremists.
have to get out and live with the people 24/7,” Campbell
said. “We weren’t living on a big [forward operating
base], going out and patrolling and then coming back to live.”
units set up combat outposts and joint security stations in
the neighborhoods of Baghdad – often in the places with
the most attacks. The strategy in Iraq in 2006 was to “clear,
hold, build” – clear the neighborhoods, hold them
and then build in the neighborhoods so the people would see
the benefits of peace.
were issues with the strategy, Campbell said.
could clear, no problem. We’re the best at it in the
world,” he explained. “The problem was we didn’t
have the numbers to hold and protect the citizens of a city
of 7.5 million people. We just didn’t have the numbers
of either coalition or Iraqis to do so.”
provided the numbers, and coalition and Iraqi forces went out
into the neighborhoods. “When you are able to saturate
them and stay there 24/7, and you live with the people, and
they know you’re going to be there every day, it makes
a difference,” the general said.
grew accustomed to having coalition and Iraqi troops around.
They saw them day after day, and they started believing that
the coalition and Iraqi soldiers would provide protection from
al-Qaida terrorists or militias.
day we stayed there living with them meant more people understood
we were there for the long haul,” Campbell said. “That
brought the people around.”
began phoning in tips or telling soldiers where the roadside
bombs were or where the enemy weapons caches were hidden. They
began turning in those people who murdered and intimidated
them in the name of al-Qaida.
And the government
and coalition units began pumping money and jobs into the regions.
control of the Iraqi forces also helped improve the results
of the surge. The Iraqis established the Baghdad Operations
Center under the command of Army Lt. Gen. Abud Qabar.
the Iraqi army, all the national police and all the local police
[operated] under his control,” Campbell said. Before,
Iraqi army units reported to the Iraqi Defense Ministry, and
police units reported to the Interior Ministry.
the BOC, there was one chain of command and unity of effort,” Campbell
increasingly planned and executed their own operations. Police
and army personnel began working closely together, and this
enabled the coalition to take troops from some more peaceful
areas and place them in other areas where they could help improve
security. This extended the reach of the surge, Campbell said.
The “Awakening,” in
which Iraqi sheiks began taking an active role in providing
security, began in Anbar province, and quickly moved to Baghdad
and its environs.
was rough going initially in Abu Ghraib and inside Ameriyah,” Campbell
said. Both areas are primarily Sunni, and al-Qaida wanted to
keep them. The terror group had intimidated the citizens. The
extremists tortured and killed hundreds of Iraqis in their
campaign to control the neighborhoods. But the people in those
areas were tired of violence, and they began following tribal
elders and sheiks in cooperating with coalition and government
It took time
for the improvements in security to happen, Campbell said.
didn’t have the final brigade combat team until June,” he
said. “And even then, there was heavy fighting. When
you go into areas you’ve never been before, you expect
higher casualties. And we got them.”
In June 2007,
the coalition faced tough casualties, but by August the attacks
were beginning to subside. Even the Muslim observance of Ramadan – the
month that ordinarily signals an increase in attacks – saw
surge allowed us to get control of areas, maintain control
using Iraqi troops and police, and pump money and jobs into
the economy,” the general said. “It helped us link
up with the sheiks and tribal leaders and push the Awakening
In many parts
of Baghdad today, markets are operating, doctors are practicing,
children are learning and fathers are working. That would have
been inconceivable in 2006, Campbell said.
saw the surge in the beginning, and when I left in December
2007 I had seen it turn Baghdad around,” he said. “The
surge was very successful and I could see the results. I would
have told you maybe halfway into my tour that I would not have
felt good about leaving. But later, I saw all the benefits.
I thought we really gave the Iraqi people a fighting chance.”