September 14, 2003
Free Lance Star
NEWPORT, R.I.–Last March, I accompanied the 1st Marine Division on its march from Kuwait to Baghdad. Two weeks ago, I went back to Iraq to see how the Marines were doing. I traveled for 500 miles in southern Iraq, where the ratio was about 1 million Shiite Iraqis per U.S. battalion.
The Marines had no tanks or armor, operating instead in small patrols. No Marine had been killed since April. The Shiite clergy and political leaders wanted the Marines to stay. But their job was done and they were turning the area over to the Poles and other members of the coalition. The division commander, Major General James Mattis, told me he saw no reason for more American troops to be sent to Iraq.
I then flew to the northern city of Mosul and traveled through the 101st Air Assault Division’s area. Like the Marines, the soldiers were patrolling in small units and working closely with the Iraqis, training police, re-establishing services, and advising local leaders. The division commander, Maj. Gen. David Petreus, said he was winning the race for the hearts and minds of the people.
Those who are ambushing U.S. soldiers are the disaffected supporters of Saddam who have lost power. Most ambushers belong to local networks and are known by the local tribes. These “dead enders” are not organizing the people into political networks and do not fight to the death. They can be eliminated by using local intelligence. This requires spending time and project money with the local sheiks. While there needs to be enough presence to convince the people to turn against the remnants of the Saddam regime, more U.S. troops are not needed. Local intelligence, not troop density, will root out the local enemy.