The Washington Post. “Fighting Smarter in Iraq”
BAGHDAD — Three years on, the U.S. military is finally becoming adept at fighting a counterinsurgency war in Iraq. Sadly, these are precisely the skills that should have been mastered before America launched its invasion in March 2003. It may prove one of the costliest lessons in the history of modern warfare.
I had a chance to see the new counterinsurgency doctrine in practice here this week. U.S. troops are handing off to the Iraqi army a growing share of the security burden. As the Iraqis step up, the Americans are stepping back into a training and advisory role. This is the way it should have happened from the beginning.
Tensions eased after an Iraqi brigade commander, a Shiite, rolled his armored vehicles into the Sunni stronghold of Tarmiya and told local imams that his men would protect their mosques against Shiite attacks — and that in return, they must control Sunni militants. “He laid down the law,” remembers Col. Jim Pasquarette, who commands U.S. forces in the area. The crisis gradually eased there, with U.S. forces mostly remaining in the background.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Pasquarette says of the new rules of counterinsurgency. “In the old days, it was black and white — see a guy and shoot him. But counterinsurgency is a thinking man’s sport. Every decision you make, you have to step back and say, ‘What’s the next thing that’s going to happen?’ ” He says he drills his troops to remember the “three P’s” of the new Iraqi battlefield: “be polite, be professional, be prepared to kill.”