By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
June 29, 2007 – A new Iraq strategy that targets multiple terrorist outposts and capitalizes on Iraqis' growing dislike of al Qaeda are combining to degrade insurgent operations in the country, a counter-insurgency expert said today in Baghdad. "The intention behind the counter-operations that we're doing is to try to knock over several insurgent safe havens simultaneously," David Kilcullen, the senior counter-insurgency advisor to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said during a conference call with military analysts.
Operations Phantom Thunder, Arrowhead Ripper and other ongoing, surge-affiliated actions in Iraq are being conducted simultaneously across a wide area, Kilcullen pointed out, noting one of his prime duties in Iraq is helping U.S. and Iraqi forces adapt different strategies and tactics to better confront insurgent challenges.
Arrowhead Ripper is one of several operations that are part of an overall offensive against insurgents in Iraq called Operation Phantom Thunder, which began June 15, once all of the surge troops were in place. President Bush directed a deployment of about 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq earlier this year as a surge of forces to assist the Iraqi government in confronting the insurgency.
Previous single-focus military operations conducted in Iraq, such as the 2004 campaign against insurgents in Fallujah, were successful, but many of the enemy moved elsewhere to fight another day, Kilcullen said.
The Fallujah battle "focused a lot of effort onto a very small part of Iraq," Kilcullen noted, and "had an effect a little bit like stamping on a puddle," as the enemy moved their infrastructure to other parts of the country.
Ongoing operations in Iraq seek "to move on several of these (enemy-held) areas at once," Kilcullen explained, while making it more difficult for the terrorists to relocate and regroup.
A movement from large U.S. military base camps to smaller U.S.-Iraqi manned joint security stations set amid the Iraqi populace is part of the new security strategy that works in conjunction with Iraqi police to hold areas recently cleared of insurgents, Kilcullen said.
This change has also contributed to a decrease in successful enemy improvised explosive device attacks, Kilcullen said. U.S. troops are now already deployed in the areas they patrol, he noted, and therefore aren't as vulnerable to roadside-bombs attacks as they were before, when they'd convoy from large base camps to mission areas.
Additionally, Iraq's people are fed up with al Qaeda, Kilcullen said. Al Qaeda was once aligned with a number of Sunni tribes in western Iraq's Anbar province, but many sheikhs there are now rejecting the terrorist group, Kilcullen said.
Kilcullen said Anbar's tribal leaders came to dislike al Qaeda's zealous, Taliban-like oppression, as well as the terrorist group's negative impact on local trucking and construction businesses that are traditional money-makers for the tribes.
"I think that al Qaeda have really worn out their welcome," Kilcullen said, noting a key U.S. objective in Iraq is to prevent it from becoming a safe haven for terrorists.
Additionally, many Anbar tribal leaders are now aligning with the Iraqi government through the registration of their local militias.
Such cooperation with the central government has spread from Anbar province, Kilcullen said, to north Babil, which is located south of Baghdad, to Diyala province. And, this rapprochement is now moving into parts of southern Iraq, where many Shiites reside, Kilcullen noted.
The Shiite tribes "are now starting to see what the Sunni tribes are getting" by cooperating with the central government and are saying, 'Wait a minute, we want some of that, as well,'" Kilcullen pointed out. Many of these Shiite leaders, he noted, are also starting to reject the Shiite extremists.
The common link between these Sunni and Shiite leaders is that they believe al Qaeda terrorists and other extremists are leading them to destruction, Kilcullen said.
"What we're seeing here is the population of Iraq starting to reject terrorist groups," Kilcullen said. "I think that's a good sign, in that it's not us enforcing absence of al Qaeda, which would mean that we'd have to essentially occupy Iraq for a very long term period to make that stick."
Instead, the Iraqis are "driving out al Qaeda from their midst," he said.
Kilcullen acknowledged peace isn't breaking out in Iraq, just yet. But recent developments there, like Sunnis' rejection of al Qaeda, provide cause for optimism, he said.
"There's a long way to run, but I think it's a positive indicator at this stage," he said.