Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lessons Learned from the Anbar Awakening

A friend and I are reading Al-Anbar Awakening: U.S. Marines and Counterinsurgency in Iraq 2004-2009 together, intending to talk over the lessons learned by the Marines in their part of the United States struggle to learn “to eat soup with a knife.” I just opened the book this evening and began reading the forward, which is written by Gen. John F. Kelly—who I had the opportunity to speak with almost a year ago. Immediately I was struck by what he had to say. Here are a few passages I found note worthy:

In Iraq to a very large degree, we—the U.S. military and civilians—were the source of the insurgency. Honest men and women can argue the whys, what-ifs, and what might-have-beens, but ultimately, it was mostly about unfulfilled promises and the heavy-handed military approach taken by some over the summer of 2003 that caused events to spiral out of control.
And, as far as why the Anbaris turned against the insurgency:

To [the Anbaris], their alliance with [al-Qaeda] was a marriage of convenience to fight the U.S. occupation. Al-Qaeda brought dedication, organization, funding, and a willingness to die. Over time, however, it overplayed its hand and wore out its welcome by forcing an extreme Islamic agenda on a generally secular and very tribal culture. Al-Qaeda’s campaign evolved from assistance, to persuasion, to intimidation, to murder in the most horrific ways, all designed to intimidate Anbari society—tribes and sheikhs alike—to adopt the most extreme form of Islam . . . . It was increasingly directed at the sheikhs themselves, and just as importantly, it began to have an impact on the business of tribal leaders.
More to come. Obviously, the value of lessons learned is the portability (or not) of the lesson to other contexts. From Iraq to Afghanistan, say.

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