Saturday, August 23, 2008

One Hundred Yards To Go

Our role in Iraq is declining as far as military action is concerned but is still necessary to fully win the war:

"Our ticket out of here was to develop Iraqi security forces. That has been accomplished," declared Maj. Gen. John Kelly, who commands 25,000 Marines and sailors in Iraq's western Anbar province."

On a day-to-day basis, very seldom do they actually need us," he said of the Iraqi army and police units operating across his huge sector.

Speaking broadly of the nearly 5 1/2 -year U.S. war in Iraq, Kelly said in a recent telephone interview that "we're in the last 10 yards of this thing" but that only "economic development and jobs" can finish it, echoing the view of counterinsurgency warfare expressed by Gen. David Petraeus and others.

Kelly boasted of the prowess of the U.S.-trained and equipped Iraq army and police in Anbar. "I believe I could walk out of here tomorrow and these guys would do okay," he said.

And we can see the Iraqis taking on more of a dominant battlefield role, from the Mosul operation starting last December to the spring battles in Basra and Baghdad and points in between, and now in Diyala:

But as Diyala province shows, the war isn't over. Although violence overall in Iraq has declined dramatically over the past year, this ethnically and religiously mixed province north of the capital has remained stubbornly violent.

U.S. and Iraqi commanders say they are determined to tame it, while employing new tactics that require the increasingly confident Iraqis to rely less than before on the firepower of their American allies.

We've done our job on the battlefield by reducing and atomizing the enemy so that Iraqi forces rather than US forces can handle the disordered and reduced gangs, insurgents, and terrorists. And we provided the training and the time to make Iraqi security forces capable of handling the role with less US help.

Kelly has it right, the final 10 yards are the toughest, as I wrote here and here (Although I spoke of the last 100 yards as the old infantry saying has it. Perhaps Kelly was thinking football):

If we can't maintain a long-term presence, we risk losing as we did in Vietnam when our home front refused to go the last few steps for victory after a long journey at high cost in blood and treasure. The surge cannot provide quick victory for a counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism campaign.

War supporters do not wish to repeat Vietnam's tragic legacy of betrayal to our troops and our ally. The Left may, with equal parts historical ignorance and defensive outrage, protest this characterization of their opposition to the Vietnam War; but they have also claimed, with some justification, that we blew Afghanistan by ignoring it after the Soviets were defeated. And while I have never doubted that most of the anti-war side genuinely (if wrongly) believed that we could not win in Iraq and therefore we should accept defeat there sooner rather than later, now that victory is in sight, would it kill them to support American victory rather than ensure defeat by failing in the last part of the war?

The last hundred yards of advance for the infantry is supposed to be the toughest because of enemy and not friendly fire. Let's not blow Iraq by failing to make the relatively small--but crucial--final effort to cement what so much effort and sacrifice has achieved thus far in Iraq.