Turning the Tide in Iraq and What it Means for Afghanistan

by David French

The departure of the last “combat brigade” from Iraq (don’t be misled; thousands of combat troops remain) is a critical symbolic moment in the War on Terror. It’s a symbol not just of a battle won but also of the battles that remain.

When I flew into Forward Operating Base Caldwell with the 2d Squadron, 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment in November 2007, the surge was at its height, and the outcome in Iraq was very much in doubt. In fact, the outcome was in doubt in my own mind. Our Humvees were torn apart by powerful IEDs, the countryside was in al-Qaeda hands, and good men were dying.

Slowly but surely, however, the tide turned. In February of 2008, I could never have imagined a drawdown. The Iraqi Army in our area was passive, al-Qaeda was aggressive, and the citizens were intimidated. By August, villages were free of al-Qaeda, roads were patrolled by the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police, and the terrorists were demoralized, homeless, and exhausted.

Why the difference? To quote Oliver Hazard Perry: “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” Our Fox Troop, Grim Troop, Rattler Troop, and Lion Battery went into the enemy strongholds and set up camp. They didn’t raid and leave. They didn’t strike and move. They struck and stayed. Our soldiers won.

To me, that’s the lesson of Operation Iraqi Freedom. When you give them the tools and the right strategy, soldiers win.

This week’s news from Iraq gives me hope for Afghanistan. Once again, we’re facing a situation that to outside observers seems to be spiraling out of control. Once again, politicians and pundits who know nothing about war are proclaiming gloom and doom. Once again, we send our best out into dusty outposts and tiny villages and tell them to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

Nothing is certain in war, and the enemy always has a say in the outcome, but if I were the Taliban, I would look at this week’s news, examine the ruins of a once-mighty insurgency in Iraq, and worry that I was looking at my own future.

– David French is a captain in the United States Army Reserve and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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