More than 200 members of Congress are slated to gather at the Pentagon this morning, for a secure video teleconference (TVC) with General David Petraeus, our senior commander in Iraq, and the senior U.S. diplomatic official, Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
In preparation for that VTC, those Congressmen and Senators would be well-advised to read yesterday’s interview between General Petraeus and Hugh Hewitt. As you might expect, Hugh was well-prepared for the discussion, and his questions elicited long and detailed responses from General Petraeus. A transcript and full audio of the interview can be found at Hugh’s blog; a few highlights are provided below:
HH: Welcome, General. You took over command of the multinational forces in February of this year, February 10. In the past five months, how have conditions in Iraq changed?
DP: Well, obviously, we have been surging our forces during that time. We have added five Army brigade combat teams, two Marine battalions, and a Marine expeditionary unit, and some enablers, as they’re called. And over the last month, that surge of forces has turned into a surge of offensive operations. And we have achieved what we believe is a reasonable degree of tactical momentum on the ground, gains against the principal near-term threat, al Qaeda-Iraq, and also gains against what is another near-term threat, and also potentially the long term threat, Shia militia extremists as well. As you may have heard, that today, we announced the capture of the senior Iraqi leader of al Qaeda-Iraq, and that follows in recent weeks the detention of some four different emirs, as they’re called, the different area leaders of al Qaeda, six different foreign fighter facilitators, and a couple dozen other leaders, in addition to killing or capturing hundreds of other al Qaeda-Iraq operatives.
HH: Now you’re due to make a report back in September, I don’t know if it’s early, mid or late September, General Petraeus, is that enough time to really get a fix on how the surge is progressing?
DP: Well, I have always said that we will have a sense by that time of basically, of how things are going, have we been able to achieve progress on the ground, where have their been shortfalls, and so forth. And I think that is a reasonable amount of time to have had all the forces on the ground, again, for about three months, to have that kind of sense. But that’s all it is going to be. But we do intend, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the ambassador here, and I, do very much intend to provide as comprehensive and as forthright an assessment as we can at that time of the progress that has been achieved, and where we’ve fallen short.
HH: General, what about the losses on the enemy? You mentioned that hundreds of al Qaeda fighters have been killed in the last couple of months, but are they suffering losses in the thousands every month? Or is it hundred, two hundred? What kind of force reduction’s going on there?
DP: Yeah, as you know, we try to avoid body counting, but inevitably, obviously, it is something we keep track of, because we’re trying to have some sense of the damage that we are doing to al Qaeda-Iraq, its affiliates, other Sunni insurgent groups, and also certainly to the Shia militia extremist elements. And the answer to that in a general sense is that they are losing many, many hundreds of their, of these different elements each month, certainly since the onset of the surge.
HH: Some of the arguments about Iraq in the United States argue that it’s possible for American troops to withdraw to their bases and just strike at al Qaeda, sort of an Anbar only option, I guess. Does that make any sense to you at all, General Petraeus?
DP: Well, first of all, al Qaeda-Iraq is throughout pretty substantial parts of Iraq, and it is a significant enough network in capability that it is not going to be dealt with just by certainly, if you will, classical counterterrorist operations. Indeed, we are doing those. Our best operators in America and in the world are here in the largest number of anywhere in the world by several multiples, and conducting a very, very high operational tempo, and doing extraordinary operations. When I think back to the operations that we did, for example, going after war criminals in Bosnia, or something like that, you know, and one of those would be a big deal, and you’d dine off that for the next several months. On a nightly basis here, you know, ten or twelve serious operations are going down by those forces.
DP: And any one of those is far more significant than we conducted for decades. They are very sophisticated, very complex, very lethal sometimes, and very effective. Having said that, although they may be the most important operations, because they can take down, as they did the senior Iraqi leader in al Qaeda-Iraq, or kill the three al Turkey brothers, or what have you, it is also the weight of the operations conducted by the, if you will, the regular special forces, the Green Berets and the others that make up the special operations task force, and operate throughout the country as a very high operational tempo, and of our conventional forces. I mean, it is conventional forces who cleared Western Baquba. Certainly, augmented by, again, our special forces and our special mission unit elements, but they’re the ones that, you know, killed the 80 or 90 confirmed kill, and perhaps another 80 or so more, and captured a couple of hundred in addition to that as well. And they’re the ones who will hold that area against attempts that have already taken place by al Qaeda and their affiliates to try to get back into those neighborhoods.
A very timely–and important read (or listen). General Petraeus doesn’t attempt to sugar-coat the situation, but his comments indicate that the troop surge is producing its desired results.
Equally telling are his observations on SOF operations. The exceptionally high tempo of special forces activities suggests that they have been “unleashed” in Iraq, and are engaging the enemy with deadly efficiency. While most media reports focus on conventional units, engaged in large-scale operations (such as the recent clearing of Baquba, there is another, equally important conflict being waged in the shadows. And that’s where Al Qaida is taking a major beating.