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May 24, 2007

VIA MEMEORANDUM, I see that lefty bloggers are raining scorn on Joe Klein's report on Anbar, which I linked yesterday. Apparently, Klein's a victim of anonymous sources in shiny uniforms leaking Administration propaganda.

Well, possibly. Here at InstaPundit, however, I have a report from a non-anonymous source, who (I suspect) isn't shinily clothed. Here's the latest email from Michael Yon, who is actually in Anbar, and has been for a while:

Am in the city of Hit, out in Anbar Province, with Task Force 2-7 Infantry. 2-7 took over this section of Iraq on 08 February. The area of operations comprises approximately 4,000 square km with an estimated 100,000 people. On 30 Jan, as the last of the previous unit departed, 3 mortar rounds landed about 50 yards from where I sit, wounding about 8 of the departing soldiers. Since that time, there have been no mortar attacks on base – and only one possible small mortar attack in the entire 4,000 sq km. The last battalion took nearly 150 wounded and 15 killed in action in 14 months. They fought very hard while building the ISF, and I hope those soldiers, Marines and others would be happy and proud to know that their efforts set the conditions for the current success here. Following a major clearing operation that 2-7 IN executed with Iraqi Police when they initially took over, the guns are mostly quiet now. IEDs are still a threat but are few. Over the first one-hundred days, 2-7 has taken one wounded Soldier, and unfortunately a Marine was killed by an IED.

Otherwise, 2-7 hardly have fired their weapons. Today, I accompanied LTC Doug Crissman, the commander, to three meetings with Iraqi police and civilian leadership. The meetings were important but thankfully more administrative than combat oriented. Subjects included police recruitment and local politics, and actually seemed more difficult to navigate than "simple combat." And to think that only in January of this year, this city was a daily battle. Today, there are clear signs of development and the civilian population was out shopping. In addition to basic services being restored, the city of Hit has rebuilt its library. Citizens had stored away the books during the war here. They are preparing to re-stock the library. Glenn, you know that I do not hesitate to deliver bad news. I have no bad news to deliver today. The town of Hit clearly is doing much, much better. "Anbar the impossible" might be possible after all.

You know, if I didn't know better I'd think that some of the lefty bloggers would actually be happier if things were going badly. Meanwhile, to me the big news about the Time story was that Time was finally catching up with what warbloggers on the scene -- Michael Yon, J.d. Johannes, Bing West, etc. -- have been reporting for quite a while. Instead of criticizing Time for straying (if only a bit) off the current Democratic message, people should, if anything, be criticizing it for taking so long to get to the story.

Some related thoughts -- including, actually, a better criticism of what's going on in Anbar than you'll get from Klein's critics on the left -- here.

UPDATE: Okay, this is cool -- another email from Anbar:

I'm actually sitting about 30 feet from Michael Yon as he types his dispatches, here in the town of Hit, Al Anbar province. As one of the soldiers in Task Force 2-7, I have to say it's really heartening to have a journalist of his caliber out here reporting with us. Hit, along with Anbar generally, has settled down tremendously in the 4 months I've been in country this tour. It's surreal to compare my first two months in downtown Ramadi - incessant gunfire, explosions, and unending violence - to the peacekeeping and institution-building we finally have underway here in Hit. You wouldn't get that reading the papers, with their constant focus on the (obviously tragic) sectarian violence in Baghdad, but frankly what has happened in Anbar is near-miraculous - it's a story that deserves to be reported far more heavily than it has so to date.

I just want to emphasize how much it means to the guys on the ground out here to have our story told by people like Michael Yon. I'm sure sitting through tedious city council meetings and governance/rule of law/economic strategy sessions with the battalion's staff officers is a bit boring for Mr. Yon, but isn't that a tremendous thing that we're in that situation?

I've been a big fan of fan of Instapundit since my first tour in Iraq, in 2004.

Thanks,
Captain Michael Mulvania
Task Force 2-7 Infantry

I wish there were more people like Michael Yon reporting. But it's kind of nice to know that he's not the only InstaPundit reader in Anbar. And I don't know Captain Mulvania, but I'm guessing that his uniform isn't all that shiny either.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Klein-critics apparently missed this report, too, from Neil Munro of National Journal:

Evidence of a deep break between Qaeda-affiliated forces in Iraq and the various other Sunni insurgent groups is mounting. . . . The divisions are changing the battlefield. In Anbar, which has been the heartland of the Sunni insurgency since 2004, many Sunni tribes recently united into the Anbar Salvation Front, which claims to have deployed 20,000 militiamen against Al Qaeda. U.S. military officials, trying to deepen the splits through economic aid and deals with Sunni tribes, say they have recruited more than 4,500 locals -- including former insurgents -- in recent months to serve in the Anbar police force. Together, the U.S. military and the Iraqi security forces, according to numerous recent media reports, have largely pacified Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, which one Army intelligence report last year wrote off as lost.

I'm starting to think that they don't follow the news all that closely. It's true -- as Michael Yon noted in an earlier email -- that Anbar isn't perfectly peaceful. But it's also true that it's changed quite drastically since it was being written off last year. That's news -- if you care about reality, rather than just rooting for America Bush to lose.

MORE: An email from a reader:


I just read your latest post on Ramadi. I'm typing this while sitting on the tarmac in Memphis, waiting for a flight to Camp Lejeune. Every NCO in my platoon is a veteran and most are here voluntarily. And we're reservists.

Below, I've pasted an email I sent to Richard Fernandez yesterday. Since you have read John Robb's "Brave New War," (I read your review of it in CityJournal) I think you may find it of interest. See below. Feel free to excerpt, quote, or use, just please leave my name out.

By the way, here's a local news blurb about our company. Incredibly enough, they even got lots of the facts wrong in this simple story, but oh well: Link

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As you can imagine, the events in Anbar are of great importance to me. All recent reports indicate that violence is down dramatically, and not just in Ramadi as I first thought, and has been publicized. We have turned the tribes to our side. Everyone from Time magazine to Michael Yon is sending signals that we've turned a corner there.

If this is truly the case, and not just a confluence of factors that have led to a lull, then we may have found part of the answer to your query as to how to handle 3rd Gen gangs/irregular warfare/the problem with no name (as in your post: "Total Blurring of Crime and War"): the answer is not to eradicate an insurgency, it is to create or find one's own group that offers a reasonable alternative. This is really what has happened in Anbar: the tribes were colluding with Al Qaeda and other criminal and terror groups, but now we have turned them and empowered them. This is not nation-building; it may even be the opposite. Some time ago, Robert Kaplan wrote this in the LA Times:

"Those who proclaim today that the only real solution to the Arab dilemma is political freedom are correct. The problem is that they are describing a process that could encompass several bloody decades. After all, it took centuries for stable democracy as we know it to evolve in Europe. In this Darwinian shaking-out process, the new forms of political legitimacy may more closely resemble militarized social welfare organizations such as Hezbollah and the Al Mahdi army than the ramshackle contrivances of the European model that we saw in the post-colonial era."

Isn't this what we are seeing in Anbar? A tribe that is allied with the US is much more similar to Hezbollah than it is to a nation-state.

Here's the real takeaway though: this never would have happened without some sort of American presence in Iraq. It was not diplomats that turned the tribes, it was military officers. That is the secret that will be hard to swallow: we are in an age wherein the opposite of the 'exit strategy' will have to be the lynchpin of strategy: presence, not early exit, is what is required in these broad swaths of the world that where instability threatens US interests. The key will be not to figure out whether to be there or not, which is the current debate. The key will be to figure out how much to be there and in what form: soldier, diplomat, spy, or some other category that has yet to be determined: perhaps a combo of all three, or perhaps some privatized version of any one of them.

Let's hope that this is right, and that we'll stick it out long enough to make it work.