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(Update/bump from 2005-11-04 22:31:54)
The Washington Post describes conditions along Baghdad's airport road. Dubbed "Route Irish" by the US military, the highway connecting Baghdad Airport to the city proper - and the rest of Iraq - is a crucial artery for the nation. It's importance can't be overstated - and the terrorists know it.
For 2 1/2 years, the road was, in many ways, a symbol of the U.S. failure to secure Iraq. Military convoys roared past in a frantic attempt to escape the looming dangers of suicide bombers, grenades, rockets and booby-trapped litter. But insurgents' relentless attacks claimed a steady toll.That was then - this is now:
Between April and June, 14 car bombs went off along the airport road, called Route Irish by the military. There were 48 roadside bombs, officially known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, and 80 small-arms attacks. Sixteen people were killed.
Then, two months ago, the killings stopped. In October, one person was wounded on the road and no one was killed, according to the U.S. Army, which also calculated the April deaths. The turnaround was owed to simple, boots-on-the-ground military tactics, Army officials said.And this is how. Many factors contributed to that success - but the one that can't be overemphasized is the presence of trained Iraqi troops on the street.
The men said they had been afraid of this route before they arrived in Iraq. They had heard the news reports about the dangers. But in 10 months, the only enemy fire they have seen on the airport road came after one of the civilian trucks they were escorting broke down, leaving them exposed for three hours. Someone in a passing vehicle fired at the troops, but no one was injured.
"It's pretty much one of the safest roads in Baghdad now. It didn't used to be," Carter said.
Beckett said he felt safe, "as safe as you can feel in Baghdad."
"They used to label this the one most dangerous road in Iraq," Zotter said, waving a white-paper report with all the significant activity from the last 24 hours. "It doesn't say that anymore."
The Iraqi soldiers, with a handful of U.S. troops by their side, walked the dusty dirt roads of the neighborhood. Weapons drawn, they searched alleys and courtyards. But mostly, they just walked, calling out greetings to Iraqis gathered outside their homes before the breaking of the fast during the holy month of Ramadan. The sweet scent of spice-infused meat and vegetables filled the night air, as women in black cloaks scurried home with stacks of piping-hot flat bread.Pay attention to that "strangers" quote - it's not the locals who are the enemy.
Ali said the Iraqi soldiers had been influential in helping control the neighborhood, keeping the potential attackers from using side streets to reach the airport road. "We are Iraqis, and we know strangers from their faces," Ali said. "We can stop them, and we know if they lie to us. The Americans don't know."
From my own time in Iraq I can attest to this, the battle for Route Irish was significant, and securing it is a victory on two fronts. On one level it's battle won and ground gained in a very different kind of war. But it's not just the ground gained that matters. It's the successful deployment of Iraqi forces that makes this a victory on a second front for the good guys. The key to a successful return from Iraq for coalition forces is the assumption of responsibility for security by the Iraqis - and real progress is being made.
And efforts are ongoing to make sure those gains aren't lost. Back in the States, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force is readying to return to Iraq in February. The training they are getting isn't how to fight - it's how to train the Iraqi forces:
When the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force resumes responsibility for volatile Anbar province in Iraq in February, the Marines will be bolstered by 18 battalions from the new Iraqi army, plus a large number of Iraqi police and border security forces, Lt. Gen. John Sattler said.The road to victory is clear.
A key part of the Camp Pendleton Marines' preparation for their third tour in Iraq since March 2003, Sattler said, was training the teams that would be embedded with the emerging Iraqi units. They are preparing 45 teams, each with 10 Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman, which will be responsible for an Iraqi army battalion or a similar-size unit of the border security forces that will try to stem the flow of insurgents, money and weapons from Syria and Jordan.
The "ultimate goal," he said, is to turn over areas of Anbar to the Iraqis as their forces become more capable.
8 Nov Update: This post from 4 November was originally intended as nothing more than a quick look at progress in Iraq. But on 7 November 60 Minutes aired a report describing their view of conditions along Route Irish, and their conclusion:
"Despite making the road somewhat safer, attacks continue and there is no clear victory in sight."challenges the validity of the Washington Post report. But the 60 Minutes story appears to have been compiled last summer - the unit profiled returned to the US in September. That "no clear victory in sight" claim illustrates the perils of defeatist reporting, and of approaching the story of the Iraq war from a pre-conceived failure narrative. (Or perhaps the foolishness of betting against the US Army.) I'll refrain from further speculation as to why the CBS report wasn't updated with more recent information, or questioning the validity of the term "news".
Besides, USA Today had a much more up to date quote from Lt. Col. Geoffrey Slack, the battalion commander profiled on the 60 Minutes' broadcast. This one's from only two months ago - September 19, 2005:
"Route Irish is definitely not the most dangerous road in Iraq any longer, and everyone who uses it knows it," says Lt. Col. Geoffrey Slack, commander of the New York National Guard's 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment.USA Today also noted
There hasn't been a suicide car bombing on the road since April, according to U.S. military statistics through August.Lt. General David Petraeus also detailed the improved conditions along Route Irish and the progress made in training Iraqi troops on his recent return to the US after his second tour in Iraq.
U.S. officers attribute the decline to an influx of Iraqi troops who have been stationed at key points along Airport Road, which goes by the military designation Route Irish.
Let's salute Lt. Col. Geoffrey Slack and the 69th Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard, a unit with a proud history. Their efforts in the face of a determined foe have brought about real results. It's easy to declare failure, quite another thing to achieve success amidst such declarations - especially coming from sources ostensibly "on your side."
Update 17 Nov 05: CBS producer expresses outrage here.
Related recent posts on progress in Iraq:
On media coverage of Iraq:
This is great news, and doesn't seem to be an isolated outcome!
Michael Yon reported that Mosul experienced a similar situation at the Kirkuk traffic circle. (Not sure I remembered the location correctly.) It used to be violent and dangerous, now a single Iraqi policeman is standing there directing traffic.
I hope there will be many more safe and secure locations soon.
Thanks as always for an insightful commentary. My fondest wish is for the 'media' to one day disappear from our lives.
Just the facts, and nothing but the facts is what I want.
ps--Oh yeah ----- All the facts. Not just what suits the 'media's' interests.
pps-- Oh and not on page A15 either.Posted by dougf at November 7, 2005 06:23 PM
This description of Route Irish certainly contrasts with the one I saw on 60 Minutes last night. There it was portrayed as emblematic of our "failing involvement in Iraq".Posted by Roger at November 7, 2005 06:50 PM
This is quite a contrast to the "60 Minutes" piece on the same road last night. It made no mention of any improvements in security on the road.Posted by E Leon at November 7, 2005 06:51 PM
The media isn't exactly going to turn around and say everything is getting better after they forecasted the end of the world.Posted by The False God at November 7, 2005 07:00 PM
Thanks for the timely post. Just yesterday I was wondering if the route from Baghdad's airport was safer that the route from Paris' airports.Posted by John Davies at November 7, 2005 07:08 PM
WTF? Last night '60 Minutes' portrayed Route Irish as a literal free-fire zone. What is the true story?
Posted by michael at November 7, 2005 07:09 PM
I join your commenters in welcoming this good news. In addition, regarding the mission of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force: Even when I think I know a subject, I really learn it when I try to teach it to someone else. Maybe this applies to this situation, and teaching Iraqi troops will help our troops as much as theirs.Posted by DRJ at November 7, 2005 07:11 PM
Hi-fives to all concerned.
Maybe next they'll be deployed to Paris, to give the same training to the Parisian cops!Posted by The Sanity Inspector at November 7, 2005 07:28 PM
60 Minutes? The outfit that gave us the Bush TANG documents? And we're wondering if they're telling us the truth about Route Irish?
When in doubt, remember:
1. Hurricane Katrina killed 10,000 poor black baby-raping throat-cutting cannibals packed into de facto extermination camps in New Orleans.
2. The Baghdad National Museum was looted of 170,000 pieces.
3. Former USMC staff sergeant Jimmy Massey has heroically blown the whistle on the atrocities committed by our marines in Iraq.
The MSM is the propaganda wing of al Qaeda.Posted by Tom W. at November 7, 2005 07:34 PM
In "Why the Allies Won" Richard Overy lists several reasons for ultimate Allied victory in WWII. One of them is winning the battle of the Atlantic. The crescendo was in 1943. A combination of factors, better Ultra intel, increased air cover etc, led to a crash in the number of sinkings. Not a set piece engagement but a long, slow, deadly grind that rather abruptly turned a corner. My prayer is that the Army is seeing a similar corner turning on the road to the airport and all across Iraq as the long, slow deadly work of rebuilding a fractured society takes root.Posted by Matt at November 7, 2005 07:51 PM
Do you think CBS will retrac or update us from the 60 minutes story from yesterday? They did mean like the problem with the road was proof we were losing. Must mean we are winning.Posted by plainslow at November 7, 2005 08:12 PM
I saw the 60 Minutes segment too and they can owe my watching to the fact that I found nothing better to watch after once around the world and I didn't feel like getting out of the chair I had gotten comfortable in.
A couple of thoughts on the difference from the above report:
- 60 Minutes mostly carries an accusatory tone and therefore looks for stories to ply that tone with, so the Baghdad Road fit the pattern needed
- Intended tone + production capabilities = selective quotation, but I wouldn't want to cast a suspicion on CBS for possibly mischaracterizing what any of the troops told them without any proof that that had occurred so, please ignore this bullet until such time as an innovative blogger with the right contacts is able to "verify" the reporting with those interviewed.
- It takes those folks practically forever to prepare a program so I wouldn't be surprised if the story is representative of summer and not more recently.
Personally, I think this particular case fits the last bullet best and is one that shows that, with the advent of the blogosphere and related media sites, the structural defect of programs like 60 Minutes have in presenting current events. Sure it is good in uncovering unknown stories via their covert reporter missions and the like, good in providing what can be considered slices of ongoing and partly intractable issues, and good at providing an accounting of another example of what happens in life about once a month or once a year, but other than that, the Internet is relegating 60 Minutes and the like to history programs.
We are winning!! More good news that things are getting better.. only 24 troops killed in the first 7 days in November http://icasualties.orgPosted by Drew Edmondson at November 7, 2005 09:25 PM
The 60 Minutes segment dealt with soldiers who were back in the US in Sept. The reporter indicated that many of the soldiers were immediately deployed to LA to help with Katrina. Their reporting was several months behind. They should have said something about the improvement since Sept.Posted by jennetic at November 7, 2005 09:25 PM
Re the 60 minutes piece of last night (11/06/05). At the end of the piece the reporter said that the Colonel she had been interviewing and his outfit returned to the US in SEPTEMBER! That means the piece was done before then. It was an old piece brought out to "make trouble" by CBS. I thought at the time "How disgusting!"Posted by Le Messurier at November 7, 2005 09:26 PM
So now it's no more dangerous than the train ride between Paris and De Gaulle Airport?Posted by Jim C. at November 7, 2005 09:31 PM
More cover-up ... at least FOX could have or should have video showing reporters in their car dodging rush hour traffic to the airport on the now secure road. Remember is was CBS who lied about our President receiving special treatment during our war in Viet Nam. Remember it was CBS who lied when they reported that Saddam had WMD's ...no wonder they can't get anybody to host their nightly news lies..Posted by Drew Edmondson at November 7, 2005 09:49 PM
"..My fondest wish is for the 'media' to one day disappear from our lives.."
Why don't we see if the nay-saying MSM would like a gig as embedded correspondents with the "insurgents"?
Note: "insurgents" == Mooze-lim terrorists.
I watched only the first few minutes of the "60 Minutes" story last night before changing the channel. I simply do not trust their reporting on the war, or many other matters, anymore. Reading your account only strengthens that view. Generals used to be accused of "fighting the last war." Much of the media seems obsessed with covering the last one.
The profiles of Neil Armstrong and Tom Brady were okay, though.Posted by J W Pueschner at November 7, 2005 10:53 PM
So, at present, it's safer to drive from downtown Baghdad to Baghdad Internation(formerly Bush International) than it is drive from downtown Paris to Charles De Gaulle Airport?Posted by Ray at November 7, 2005 10:53 PM
The Fighting 69 got back to the states in September-I myself am going back to work this week and I have Irish memorized from countless drives back and forth-it was insane when we got there, but fairly tame when we left. Thanks to alot of 11 Bs.Posted by max at November 8, 2005 12:44 AM
I watched the 60 minutes piece with much interest because I had just read the Washington Post story that day or the day before, thus I was expecting reporting on a US success story. I knew immediately that the story must be dated because the Washington Post reporting was solid and talked about a significant Iraqi presence there.
I take particular issue with the reporter and editor that only showed the opinion of one ungrateful Iraqi, when they most certainly could have arranged and reported on a scientifically done poll of the neighborhoods around Route Irish.
I also found the insinuation that the US was only securing the route now for there own benefit and political face saving to be disingenuous because Iraqi's are getting injured and killed far more than coalition troops in every "hot zone" in that country.Posted by What? at November 8, 2005 03:18 AM
I must have missed while checking other channels the CBS explanantion of the troops interviewed being back from Iraq in September. So it was a history segment.
I don't blame them too much for not noting the situation had changed in the last month or so. That observation would have taken another month of carefully parsed preparation.Posted by Dusty at November 8, 2005 01:24 PM
Little by little some of the more positive aspects of the events in Iraq are coming out in the media (though not necessarily from the reporters). A recent morning show here in the states interviewed CSI actor, Gary Sinese. He started a program to provide school supplies for the children in Iraq. He made the same comments regarding how the media only reports the bad events, the car bombs, etc. So, he provided coverage of the many smiling faces of the children receiving the supplies. He showed young girls talking about how they were so happy for the chance to be educated. Every one needs to pound on the media that we want to see these positive effects.Posted by nanahawk at November 9, 2005 01:00 PM
Here's the deal with the 60 Min piece. Before TF 1-69 IN put Iraqi's on the entrance ramps it was dangerous and there were car bombs. With Iraqi presence on the on ramps and US resources emplacing bunkers, wire, cammoflouge nets to protect the Iraqi forces and control the terrain, the US/Iraqi coalition started reducing attacks during TF 1-69 IN stay there. 60 Minutes stayed in Iraq 2 weeks with the "Fighting 69th" to try to get an "attack" segment. They didn't get any. They had to use a segment from April that they had to hunt for. The IED they showed in the piece wasn't on airport road either. It was in Ameriyah north of the Airport road by 5 blocks. Attacks didn't start to dissipate when 6-8 CAV took over. They started after TF 1-69 "shaped the battlefield" and Iraqi MOI forces stepped up to take charge of their country. The piece stated one thing, "We are buying time......" and the Iraqi's have proven on IRISH that they can do the job.
From someone who was there with the '69th.......... GARRYOWEN!