Peacekeeping: Give Like An American


July 20, 2009:  As American troops continue to withdraw from direct combat operations in Iraq, they're trying to emphasize participation by the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in the non-combat aspects of counter-insurgency. Iraqi Security Forces are already planning, leading, and winning major combat actions on their own, with only coalition advisory assistance. But US advisors are reminding them that this is only half the battle. As a result, the Iraqis are ramping up efforts to stabilize and support their own communities through school repairs and humanitarian projects.  

The idea of eliminating support for terrorists through community support and building an infrastructure is nothing new, but in the American experience, its effectiveness has sometimes been limited because once the Americans leave, the foreign governments frequently either don't care or are so corrupt that aid supplies and skilled workers are often usurped for the ruling elite. Vietnam was an excellent example of this. U.S. Special Forces used medical sergeants and engineering experts on a major scale to help win indigenous allies during the Vietnam War, often conducting medical check-ups, providing clean water to remote villages, and building schools. 

All of this was effective, but once the Americans left, the South Vietnamese government made little effort to continue the programs that encouraged pacification so much. The same thing happened in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope. Once the Americans left, the country continued to collapse. The US is eager to prevent a repeat of this mistake. While US forces were participating in major combat operations in force in Iraq, the Corps of Engineers and Civil Affairs units, and Army Medical units undertook massive building projects, constructing schools, repairing buildings and homes damaged by combat actions, and providing medical care to win over the local populace.

Now, US troops are all but gone from Iraq' cities except in advisory positions. In their wake, the Iraqis have taken up the slack significantly and are continuing to provide the aid so necessary to eliminating frustration and anger that aids terrorist recruitment. Much of these efforts are being concentrated in the Al Anbar region, and with good reason, since this was the most terrorist-infested province for much of the war. It's largely pacified now, and the Iraqis (and the Americans) want it to stay that way and are sparing no expense in keeping potential reasons for violence (like poor health care and perceived government neglect) at a minimum. 

Iraqi Security Forces have been intensively repairing schools and medical clinics in the province recently. Coordination between the Iraqi Police, local businesses, the Iraqi Army, and advisory elements of the US Regimental Combat Team advisors was reported as excellent, with all elements working together to get the schools and clinics back up and running, marking major improvements in Iraqi competence and cooperation. U.S. and Iraqi forces left the locals with supplies of food, blankets, school supplies, and soccer balls. 

The idea is that, once U.S. troops are gone for good, the Iraqi government will continue doing stuff like this until the country is completely rebuilt. That's the primary reason the Americans are supervising the aid operations, instead of just doing it for the Iraqis. Whether that happens or not is anyone's guess, but so far the Iraqis are off to a good start. 





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