More Than Half Full
Reading the media from Diyala.


David French

Last week, the New York Times heralded the beginning of a major offensive against al-Qaeda in the Diyala River Valley by declaring that Coalition efforts at secrecy had failed, and that many insurgents had escaped days before the operation began.

I’m here in the Diyala River Valley participating in the very operation the Times describes, and I have a very different perspective.

As a bit of background, I’m a mobilized reservist (in my civilian life, I’m a senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund and regularly contribute to NRO’s “Phi Beta Cons blog) supporting 2nd (Sabre) Squadron, 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, one of the Army’s most storied units. I serve as the squadron’s judge advocate (lawyer), and I’ve been pushed forward as part of “Operation Raider Harvest.”

In my new job, I’m beginning to understand a reality of reporting from Iraq. The media is not generally getting its facts wrong (although no one is infallible); its emphasis, however, is different from ours. Reporters here often exhibit amazing courage (I recently met a Los Angeles Times reporter that has been in Iraq almost continually since the initial invasion, and has been embedded with combat units more times than she can count) and typically have a real commitment to the truth. It is simply not inaccurate to report a glass as half-empty if the glass is half-empty. But it is just as accurate to report the glass as half full. In this case, the glass is more than half full.

It may be true that some insurgents were alerted to our presence before the operation began. Even if no one “leaked,” it is difficult to conceal the movement of large numbers of helicopters and armored vehicles. It may be true that some (or “many”) insurgents fled before we arrived. Yet these facts do not render a counter-insurgency operation unsuccessful.

We are long past the point of believing that any set piece battle will be decisive in this war. Instead, we are in the middle of a long process known as “clear and hold.” Success is not defined by the number of insurgents killed (though it is always nice to hurt the enemy) but by the number of cities, towns, and villages rendered steadily more secure, more “normal.”

The surge has succeeded not simply because we’ve put more boots on the ground; it has succeeded in large part because it has coincided with more capable Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the explosive growth of local “Awakening Councils” — citizen groups who provide their own security after al-Qaeda has been driven out.

Before the surge, before the improvement in the Iraqi Army and Police, and before the growth of Awakening Councils, it constituted far more of a setback if significant numbers of insurgents escaped the “net.” Once we cleared, we didn’t have enough forces to hold, and insurgents were able to filter right back into the communities they just left. Now, even if they escape, they have much more difficulty coming back — the vacuum is being filled by Iraqis and their local elected leaders protected by the ISF — solving Iraqi problems with Iraqis.