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June 22, 2008
Genesis (VII)By Greyhawk
"This place is not a town, it's a cemetery. It is the lowest of the low in Iraq. It needs to be cleaned out."
But this is how 2005 would end in Tal Afar: Iraqis in former rebel stronghold now cheer American soldiers.
The story might have surprised any Americans who happened to read it, but it appeared in the London Telegraph, and it's not likely that many did. After a brief mention of the "largest military operation of 2005" and acknowledgement of reconstruction efforts ("new sewers have been dug and the fronts of shops, destroyed in the US assault, were replaced within weeks. Sunni police have been hired and 2,000 goats were even distributed to farmers") the author declares "...there is no doubt that something has been achieved."
"More remarkably, the approach of an American military convoy brings people out to wave and even clap."
The 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment had arrived in northern Iraq in the Spring of 2005. They would be in the Tall Afar area throughout that long hot summer before moving into the town in force in September.
When the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment moved into northwest Iraq last May, it faced a mess. Just as Fallujah had become a major staging point for attacks into Baghdad, Tall Afar was being used as a base to send suicide bombers and other attackers 40 miles east into Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq.We've already seen the American media coverage of that preparation as it was ongoing - little beyond the death toll, and reports of atrocities inflicted on the citizens of the town by "foreign allies" of certain local insurgents. But...
In late summer, McMaster started receiving greater cooperation from Sunni leaders who had been sympathetic to the insurgency. One reason, according to U.S. military intelligence analysts, was that some insurgents were unhappy with foreign allies who seemed determined to start a civil war.There were reasons for that "unhappiness". As the Telegraph story had noted, "The insurgents who used to control this city of 170,000 were amongst the most barbaric in Iraq. They beheaded, executed and shot locals who questioned their brand of fundamentalist Islam."
"With the insurgency's support infrastructure weakened in outlying areas" the Washington Post would report after the battle, "McMaster moved on the city."
But even then he didn't attack it. First, following the suggestion of his Iraqi allies, he ringed the city with dirt berm nine feet high and 12 miles long, leaving checkpoints from which all movement could be observed. This was a nod to the counterinsurgency principle of being able to control and follow the movement of the population.The Post's Jonathan Finer accompanied the unit into combat. His outstanding coverage could be found buried in the back pages of the newspaper throughout the battle.
5,000 U.S. And Iraqi Troops Sweep Into City Of Tall Afar
After spending the night in abandoned homes, the more than 5,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops who had swept into the northern city of Tall Afar awoke Saturday morning to broadcasts from mosques calling residents to fight the invasion.As with most newspapers without enough reporters in Iraq to cover the story, the Los Angeles Times had to rely on military spokesmen and "special correspondents" for news of the battle:
Meanwhile, in the northern city of Tall Afar, Iraqi and U.S. forces remained locked in an intense battle with insurgents.More from Jonathan Finer, in the Washington Post:
U.S. Troops Cordon Part Of Iraqi Town To Trap InsurgentsSeptember 5, 2005
In Tall Afar, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers entered the fourth day of an offensive against insurgents who have controlled large sections of the city for nearly a year. On Monday night, soldiers dropped leaflets from helicopters in the eastern neighborhood of Sarai, where commanders believe insurgents are entrenched, warning noncombatants to evacuate the area.September 6, 2005:
With Death At Their Door, Few Leave Iraqi CitySeptember 8, 2005:
The U.S. soldiers sensed something wasn't quite right when an ambulance carrying two dead bodies arrived Thursday morning at a checkpoint for people evacuating this city under siege.September 10, 2005
U.S. Troops Sweep Into Empty Insurgent Haven In IraqSeptember 11, 2005
As Offensive In Iraq Continues, Troops Find Unexpected Quiet
They didn't. And if the "insurgents" thought they could move back in right away they can be forgiven for that miscalculation. To this point the story of Tall Afar, 2005 sounded exactly like that of Tall Afar 2004 - right down to the "weaker than expected" resistance. But as with so many other places in Iraq, once the shooting stopped, the battle began.
Here's how it was lost in 2004:
The U.S. military launched a major pre-dawn assault Sunday to wrest the northern city of Tall Afar from insurgents but encountered almost no resistance, leaving uncertain the whereabouts of fighters who have battled U.S.-led forces for months.But there's where the similarities between the two campaigns end. The 2004 strategy was to turn over control to Iraqis within days of the conclusion of the operation (a microcosm of the broader situation in Iraq since April, 2003) and American commanders were under intense political and media pressure to execute that pre-planned strategy.
In 2005 the goal was the same - but the timelines were more realistic:
McMaster had a clear plan in hand for his next step. He also knew how he wanted to measure his success: Would Iraqis -- especially Sunni Arabs -- be willing to join the local police force? Would they "participate in their own security," as he put it?
By December, 2005: Iraqis in former rebel stronghold now cheer American soldiers
As noted previously, the 3d ACR was a vanguard for a "new" strategy whereby "units' readiness for war should be judged not only by traditional standards, such as how well they fire their tanks, but by the number of foreign speakers in their ranks, their awareness of the local culture where they will fight, and their ability to train and equip local security forces."
It worked. But:
The biggest problem U.S. troops in Iraq face is Baghdad, a city about 30 times the size of Tall Afar. With the current number of American troops in Iraq, it would be impossible to copy the approach used here, with outposts every few blocks.A solid opinion that echoed one already expressed - and explained - in the British press at the close of 2005:
But the success in Tal Afar only highlights the problems of replicating it elsewhere.A dew days later (on Western calendars) 2006 began.
Posted by Greyhawk / June 22, 2008 6:35 AM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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