Thursday, April 12, 2007


Clear, Seize, and HOLD. HOLD for God's sake. HOLD. How will we ever win, and bring them home, if we can't HOLD.

Much has been made recently of learning how to defeat an insurgency: from David Kilcullen's checklist to the newest manual written by the Army and Marine Corps brain trust specifically on this issue.

Long before FM 3-24 and Kilcullen's "Twenty-Eight Articles", counterinsurgency theorists knew that it would always be essential to clear a population base of insurgents, seize key areas in order to allow governance to gain a foothold, and hold the area in order to prevent insurgents from reoccupying, thereby destroying efforts underway to establish security and basic services.

We have already witnessed a failure to do this on several occasions in Iraq. Why is it that one month we hear of a "successful operation" in a city like Fallujah, Ramadi, or Tal Afar, but yet within six months, that same location is again in the news, for the wrong reasons?

Let me examine one of the more isolated of these: Tal Afar. This was an area publicly claimed by Zarqawi himself as so essential to the insurgency that it would be fought for until the last man. In 2004, insurgents controlled the city. The city's population dwindled from more than 200 thousand to less than 25 thousand. The most basic need of all was lost…security. Brutal masked men armed with AK-47s and RPGs had replaced any semblance of law enforcement, and the US force in place was insufficient to change the course of events. Tal Afar was a feeder for Zarqawi's insurgency, moving terrorists with ease from Syria into Mosul and Baghdad. Tal Afar was the perfect place for Zarqawi's support base. The mixed population of Shia, Sunni, Kurd, Turkmen, and Yezidi made it easy for an out-of-towner to fit in, especially when the innocent voices were being oppressed by Zarqawi's "Lions of Tal Afar".

In September and October of 2005, the US Army conducted an extremely effective operation in Tal Afar, Iraq. The insurgency was crushed in an operation that lasted less than two weeks and spared civilian losses. Less than one month after the operation successful elections were help for the Constitutional Referendum. Two months later, the city again held peaceful elections, with a voter turnout above 80%. In March 2006, President Bush said, “The example of Tal Afar gives me confidence in our strategy." Signs of success, right?

In March 2006, the lead element in that successful operation, and the subsequent security of the area, conducted a Transfer of Authority to a smaller force (3d ACR to a BCT of the 1st AD). This made sense, as the Iraqi Security Forces had proven themselves in the joint operation in September, and had been securing the city for nearly five months. Unfortunately, the situation in Tal Afar deteriorated drastically over the next year. In March of 2007, Tal Afar again headlined in the news, as bombs and reprisal killings claimed more than 120 lives in two days. Why did this success return to the side of failure. Did we place to much faith in the Iraqi Security Forces? Did we underestimate the roots of the insurgency? Did we misplace our forces in order to reach these same successes elsewhere? I personally lean towards this last point.

It seems as if we could only HOLD for so long. With Baghdad filling the news everyday, and the idea of increasing the number of troops abroad seeming ridiculous to most Americans and their democratically elected leaders, a shift of current forces in theater was the only available option to react to the flood of violence in Baghdad. We were forced to adopt a "lets cross our fingers and hope other areas don't go to hell in a hand basket" philosophy.
We cannot afford to allow digressions like Tal Afar to happen often, or really at all. We will never reach Secretary Rice's vision of Clear, Hold, and Build, if we can't HOLD. In order to successfully do this, we must increase troop strengths in Iraq for the unforeseeable future. President Bush has seen fit to do this. He has done so not because he is a maverick, but instead because he has been advised to do so by the likes of Kilcullen, General Petraeus, and Colonel H.R. McMaster (commander of the 3d ACR who was responsible for the success in Tal Afar 2005.) The recommendation comes from the right spot…it should be supported and sustained for as long as it is required.

--Found these as I was wrapping up--

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