Winning: Lessons Of Iraq

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October 30,2008: Nearly 4,200 U.S. troops have died in Iraq during over 5.5 years of fighting. It's no longer news because Iraq is at peace, at least by regional standards. Since the Surge Offensive officially ended three months ago, only 62 Americans have died in Iraq, and most of them to non-combat causes. So far this month, twelve have died. Accidents are more of a danger to U.S. troops in Iraq than terrorists these days. The troops also know that Afghanistan is a more dangerous place to be, and most of the young combat troops, who have not yet earned their Combat Infantry Badge (a big deal, requiring 30 days in combat), look forward to a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The war has moved from the sandbox to the mountains.

The 17 month Surge Offensive left over a thousand (1040) Americans dead, most of them from combat. That was about two dead per day. Since then, the rate has declined over 70 percent. Iraqi losses (uniformed and civilian) have also plummeted, from a high of 3,000 in February 2007, to about 300 a month now. The Iraqis are handling security in over two-thirds of the country. U.S. troops are on call, but are not brought in nearly as much as a year ago. The Iraqis are determined to do it all themselves.

While the U.S. has lost nearly 4,200 troops in Iraq, their opponents (al Qaeda and local Sunni Arab terrorists) lost ten times as many people. Compared to Vietnam, the death rate (losses per 100,000 troops per year) of troops in Iraq was two-thirds less. Around the world, military professionals are studying the American campaign in Iraq for useful tips on how to win against such a massive terrorist effort, with such low losses.

What the U.S. did was put in well trained, led, armed and motivated troops and then supported them lavishly. Civilians were hired to do a lot of the menial jobs. Much effort was put into getting to know the local culture, and avoiding civilian casualties. That eventually won over enough Iraqis to undercut support for Islamic radicals (mostly Sunni Arabs angry at no longer being in charge, and minority Shia groups keen on setting up a Shia religious dictatorship). Elections were held, new security forces were created, and now the country has peace and freedom for the first time in half a century. Corruption and factionalism still cause much discontent, but suddenly Iraq is so much closer to solving these endemic problems that have held back the region for so long.

 


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