Lynch: US 'Surge' Tipped Scales in Iraq
Associated Press Writer
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch has spent years thinking about the war in Iraq, both as a senior strategist in 2005 and now as a division commander. He has seen strategies, missions and buzzwords come and go, but he now believes U.S. commanders finally have a feel for the battlefield.
Two years ago, U.S. forces thought the best way to help Iraq was to hand over the country as soon as possible, he said in an Associated Press interview. From 2005-2006 Lynch was in charge of communications and convincing Sunni leaders to support the new government.
"When we were doing all of our planning back then, we were convinced we could have a gradual withdrawal of coalition forces and the Iraqi security forces would stand up," the general said at the headquarters of the 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad on Friday.
Then came the February 2006 destruction of the Golden Mosque, a site revered by Shiites, which set off weeks of horrific sectarian violence. Two suicide bombers killed 99 people in Baghdad on Friday, but there was no indication the attacks were connected to the anniversary of the mosque attack, observed on Friday.
"Everything changed," Lynch said. "The mission changed from transition to securing the population."
When Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, decided he needed more troops, Lynch's 3rd Infantry Division was the first to send soldiers in early 2007.
"The surge gave us the combat power to take the fight to the enemy," Lynch said. He cited a Jan. 10 battle in Arab Jabour where U.S. bombers dropped 40,000 pounds of bombs in 10 minutes to clear an insurgent stronghold.
U.S. troops have built 50 new bases south of Baghdad where they live full time instead of commuting from massive bases in western Baghdad as they had in the past, Lynch said.
"Once you're there, the local citizens come forward and ask two questions: `Are you gonna stay?' If the answer is yes, they say: `How can we help?'"
That is how U.S. forces began recruiting local men to help provide security and rebuild towns, Lynch said. Variously known as Awakening Councils, Concerned Local Citizens or the Sons of Iraq, Lynch said he now has 32,000 Iraqi civilians on his payroll manning 1,500 new checkpoints, in addition to the more than 20,000 Iraqi soldiers and police under his control.
He rejected criticism that these groups reinforce sectarian division or tribal loyalties. He said the groups are based on where they live _ not on their religion or clan _ and payments are made directly to individuals, not tribal leaders.
The military has also adopted a large, aggressive information campaign.
"You can secure the population, but if they do not perceive they are secure, you have not accomplished your mission. That's where information operations become so important," Lynch said.
The division produces a glossy, hard-backed coffee table book full of color photos showing smiling children, helpful U.S. soldiers and professional Iraqi forces. Lynch said he is also setting up radio stations and newspapers to complement a national campaign that includes television commercials showing brave Iraqi civilians overwhelming brutal insurgents through sheer numbers.
Lynch said while there are still Iraqi political problems at the national level, at the grass roots there is a growing movement to end the fighting and get on with life. His division has recorded a 74 percent drop in monthly attacks, an 81 percent drop in civilian casualties and an 85 percent drop in coalition casualties since May 2007.
He said that the recent progress could still be lost, but that U.S. commanders finally had a good feel for the battlefield and how to defeat the insurgency.
"We've always said that the only way we are going to win this counterinsurgency fight in Iraq is through the people of Iraq," he said. "If they perceive security, they are going to continue to move in the right direction."
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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