Yesterday the House committees — with nearly one hundred members in attendance — failed to notice what may be the most compelling proof that the counterinsurgency strategy General David Petraeus is implementing is succeeding.
Along with several other military correspondents, I spoke to Gen. Petraeus this morning, as he was driving up to testify in the Senate. The question I raised was about the trend in terrorist attacks that may have been broken by the counterinsurgency.
In the months and weeks preceding every other major American political event since the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the eruption of the insurgency, there has been a significant increase in the violence against both Coalition Forces and Iraqi civilians. Leading up to each of our elections, to each Iraqi election and to the beginning of the Muslim Ramadan holiday (which begins Thursday) there has been a significant increase in terrorist attacks in Iraq.
For example, in the weeks before our 2006 election, IED attacks and smuggling of the deadliest IEDs (the so-called “explosively formed penetrators”) from Iran had increased markedly.
If yesterday’s hearings (and today’s) are anything, they are political events. And because the law compels the reports to be delivered now, the insurgents have had plenty of time to plan attacks and smuggle in or manufacture whatever means they would use to mount them.
But — according to one of the charts (#9) Gen. Petraeus used yesterday, there has been a major and steady decrease in high profile attacks since they last peaked in March of this year. And (as chart #2 showed) the overall rate of attacks reached a peak on 16 June, and have been declining since.
This morning Gen. Petraeus told me that he and his staff did expect AQI (al-Queda in Iraq) and affiliated groups to try to do something in the runup to the September report and to Ramadan. Petraeus said he and his people were, "…still looking hard…" at the terrorists and have "seen signs" that the terrorists were trying to stage attacks in this period. But, he said, “…our soldiers and Iraqi soldiers have managed to pre-empt them a bit.” How?
Petraeus said that by location of our forces in some neighborhoods we are, “…denying them sanctuaries there,” and “…made it much tougher for them to plan and make some of these attacks.” Add it up, and it looks like a break in the trend, and evidence that the counterinsurgency strategy is beginning to work.
One of the reasons it’s working, Petraeus said, is that net-centric warfare — the American technology-intensive, computer network-based way of war — is proving itself every day.
Petraeus said he’d been skeptical about net-centric warfare, but now, “…it’s playing at a theater near you in Iraq.” Not a day goes by, Petraeus said, but that an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) identifies someone — or some group — planting roadside bombs. When that happens, he said, the UAV either opens fire itself (many are armed) or directs other fire in on the insurgents.
Yesterday’s emphasis on Iran, in both Gen. Petraeus’ and Amb. Crocker’s testimony was a sharp contrast to the wobbling on Iran that has come from the White House and the State Department for the past three years. Yesterday, Gen. Petraeus said, “It is increasingly apparent to both coalition and Iraqi leaders that Iran, through the use of the Quds force, seeks to turn the Iraqi special groups into a Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq."
This morning, Gen. Petraeus elaborated on that. He said that Iraqis don’t want to become the “51st state” of Iran, and that the Iranians have to guard against overplaying their hand. Which, he said, they may already have done.
Today, Petraeus faces another long day of questioning in the Senate. Harry Reid continues to refer to Petraeus by every synonym for “liar” in the dictionary. So does the New York Times, which writes Reid’s scripts. The Democrats, like the Iranians, have to guard against overplaying their hand. And, like the Iranians, they may already have.