By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 5, 2007 - Field commanders deployed throughout Iraq gathered here today to tell Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates firsthand that the U.S. strategy in Iraq is working and to urge vigilance in seeing it through. Gates called the commanders to Camp Victory, home of the Multinational Force Iraq headquarters, during his visit here to hear about their operations. "I think he wanted to hear from us what we are experiencing out here, and I think each one of us told him we're having success in our individual areas," said Marine Col. Richard Simcock, commander of Regimental Combat Team 6.
Simcock said Gates asked about a full range of issues, from troop morale to what each commander's unit is accomplishing in its area.
The commanders reported on the value of provincial reconstruction teams and the impact the "concerned local citizens" program is having in getting Iraqis to help secure their own neighborhoods.
But asked if there was one central message the commanders delivered, Simock said they're confident the strategy in Iraq is showing results and don't want to give up too soon.
"We're winning; there is no doubt," Simcock said. "I wanted to make sure we are winning here on the ground."
He said he's seen a 180-degree turnaround in his own area of operations around Fallujah during the last six months. "When we first got there in January, it was a gunfight every day," he said. "And around the July timeframe, we experienced a turnaround."
Simcock attributed much of that success to the fact that Iraqis themselves are playing a greater role in their own security. He pointed to increased tribal participation in fighting insurgents, actions by the Iraqi National Army and Iraqi National Police, and work by provincial security forces and neighborhood watches.
"Iraqis (are) taking more responsibility to improve their cities, their areas, (to) improve the situation," he said.
Once that's accomplished, Simcock said, other positive progress can take place. "Once you have security, you then build on other things like governance, economics (and) rule of law," he said.
Army Col. Jon Lehr, commander of 2nd Infantry Divison's 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Camp Taji, shared Simcock's assessment, but said the commanders shared another important message with Gates. "The tactical purpose of the surge is working," he said. "Now we need to stay and finish the job. It ain't done yet."
Lehr acknowledged there's "a lot of hard work and heavy lifting yet" and that resistance by some at home could stand in the way of a successful outcome. "However, I think even the politicians in Washington see successes," he said. "And I believe they are convinced this thing is starting to work."
Army Col. Ricky Gibbs, commander of 1st Infantry Division's 4th Brigade, agreed it's critical for the United States to see the mission through. Even as violence goes down, "there's still bad people out there," he said. "You can't just say 'We're winning, and it's time to go home," he said. "Then you're going to lose it. But we are at the point right now that you're winning; now you have to sustain it, and you have to let the concrete dry hard."
Gibbs urged letting all the lines of operation continue to work together to succeed. "You have to keep letting them work, and we can't be too impatient," he said. "And soldiers feel that."