Hugh Hewitt interviews Gen. Petraeus.


On Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the COIN strategy implemented last month:

HH: Welcome, General. You took over command of the multinational forces in February of this year, February 10. In the past five months, how have conditions in Iraq changed?

DP: Well, obviously, we have been surging our forces during that time. We have added five Army brigade combat teams, two Marine battalions, and a Marine expeditionary unit, and some enablers, as they’re called. And over the last month, that surge of forces has turned into a surge of offensive operations. And we have achieved what we believe is a reasonable degree of tactical momentum on the ground, gains against the principal near-term threat, al Qaeda-Iraq, and also gains against what is another near-term threat, and also potentially the long term threat, Shia militia extremists as well. As you may have heard, that today, we announced the capture of the senior Iraqi leader of al Qaeda-Iraq, and that follows in recent weeks the detention of some four different emirs, as they’re called, the different area leaders of al Qaeda, six different foreign fighter facilitators, and a couple dozen other leaders, in addition to killing or capturing hundreds of other al Qaeda-Iraq operatives.

HH: Do you think al Qaeda in Iraq is buckling, General Petraeus?

DP: Well, it’s probably too soon to say that, but we think that we have them off plan. Now having said that, they clearly retain and have demonstrated, tragically in recent, the past week or so, the ability to continue to carry out sensational attacks. They continue to demonstrate the ability to counterattack against our forces, and those of our coalition partners. But the detention, or the capture or killing of the number of leaders that we have taken out in recent months, and weeks, actually, and the progress in terms of just clearing areas of them…as you know, Anbar Province has really become quite relatively clear of al Qaeda. Eastern Anbar still has some, and we are working in that area. We have recently cleared Western Baquba, which was almost al Qaeda central, the capitol of the new caliphate that they have tried to establish here in Iraq. So there has been considerable progress against them, but they do continue to receive foreign fighters through Syria, who become suicide bombers in many cases, and they do certainly have an ability to regenerate, to regroup, and to come back at us.

Status of the Iraqi Army:

HH: How are the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces? You spent a lot of time training them in the first part of the occupation, General Petraeus. What are their, what’s their effectiveness now?

DP: Well, frankly, it is uneven. There are some exceedingly good units. The Iraqi special operations force brigade, a commando battalion, a counterterrorist unit, some other elements, national emergency response unit, the intelligence special tactics unit, SWAT teams in just about each of the provinces, and a variety of other sort of high end units that we have helped develop, each of these is really quite impressive, and almost at the level, certainly in regional terms, of the special operations forces of our own country, again, in relative terms, speaking in regional comparisons. On the other hand, at the other end of the spectrum, there are still some units that have a degree of sectarian influence exercised within them, and some that are still being cleaned up after having suffered from sectarian pressures, and given into sectarian pressures during the height of the sectarian violence in 2006, and into 2007. There’s also, there’s a vast number of units, frankly, out there just doing what I would call a solid job, manning checkpoints, going on patrols, in some cases in the lead, in some cases alongside our forces, in some cases, following. But I can assure you that the Iraqi forces are out there very much fighting and dying for their country, They, in fact, their losses typically are some three or more times the losses that we suffer.

On Foreign Terrorism:

DP: … But we think the number of these foreign fighters, foreign terrorists who come through Syria, by and large, has remained roughly the same, and that is a big concern, because of those 60, 80, 90 or so who do come in per month, many of those end up being suicide bombers. And even though their numbers are relatively small in the grand scheme of affairs here, they can cause horrific casualties, indiscriminate death to Iraqi civilians, and really substantial damage, physically as well as psychologically.

The correct strategies to use:

HH: Some of the arguments about Iraq in the United States argue that it’s possible for American troops to withdraw to their bases and just strike at al Qaeda, sort of an Anbar only option, I guess. Does that make any sense to you at all, General Petraeus?

DP: Well, first of all, al Qaeda-Iraq is throughout pretty substantial parts of Iraq, and it is a significant enough network in capability that it is not going to be dealt with just by certainly, if you will, classical counterterrorist operations. Indeed, we are doing those. Our best operators in America and in the world are here in the largest number of anywhere in the world by several multiples, and conducting a very, very high operational tempo, and doing extraordinary operations. When I think back to the operations that we did, for example, going after war criminals in Bosnia, or something like that, you know, and one of those would be a big deal, and you’d dine off that for the next several months. On a nightly basis here, you know, ten or twelve serious operations are going down by those forces.

And any one of those is far more significant than we conducted for decades. They are very sophisticated, very complex, very lethal sometimes, and very effective.

Using only enemy centric tactics, that is strict counterterrorism against AQI alone, is absurd. I do not know a single military officer who endorses the Democrats “Strategy.”

Richard Fernandez offers a excellent commentary on the state of US forces.

…it is less easy to quantify such factors as combat experience have had not only upon line units; but on intelligence, combat support and all-arms coordination. It is harder still to estimate the effect on doctrine. In the way the Armed Forces does business with the enemy. Gen Petraeus remarks suggest that the US Armed Forces are far more lethal and much more practiced than they have ever been before.

Of course these “software” multipliers have all been recognized by the media. But all on the enemy side. We are told that the enemy is becoming more experienced, sophisticated, tough and wily. That blowback from Iraq in the form of super-Jihadis unleashed on the West is imminent. But for some strange reason the same advantages are never believed to accrue to the US Armed Forces. The subject is hardly mentioned at all, except when parenthetically referenced in interviews which will hardly see the light of day in the mainstream media. Yet common sense argues that the US Armed Forces must be up on the learning curve to some degree. Learning occurs within all organizations when efficiency means life or death. To assume otherwise would be too fantastic.

He concludes with this:

At tonight’s blogger round table I sensed a real confidence in the way military operations against insurgent cells are trending, but less so with respect to the political reconstitution process. The military effects can be gauged from the increasing sluggishness in the rebuilding of broken cells inside Iraq. While once an insurgent organization could replace its leaders, etc in X amount of time, it now requires longer periods. The enemy is clearly hurting. There is palpable blood on the floor, as it were. But there is less certainty about how to convert these military successes into reaching the psychological “culminating point” — a Clauswitzian phrase which indicates a moment where the population throws in with one side or the other — which the sense in which BG Robert Holmes, USAF, Deputy Director of Operations for CentCom seemed to use it. How close the MNF-I’s effort was to reaching the “culminating point” was harder to reckon.

The inability to quickly regenerate leadership in a network insurgency is a major sign. The enemy is losing control of the population and has suffered severe attrition. Perhaps too many are joining the coalition forces, others are walking away from the fight, and many are simply dead.

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