• War Stories Iraq, Part 1
• War Stories Iraq, Part 2
Editor's Note: In this War Stories Web exclusive, Oliver North answers questions submitted by viewers on the Iraq war.
This weekend, join us as Oliver North and the 'War Stories' team bring you an in-depth look at 'Five Years in the Fight for Freedom' in Iraq. It's an ALL-NEW EPISODE — Watch on Sunday, March 23 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
1. How have things changed in Iraq over the five years that you've been covering the war there?
The nature of the campaign has changed significantly. During the initial invasion we toppled a brutal dictator, liberated a country and most Iraqis were elated. Then we faced disaffected Baathists, then foreign Al Qaeda terrorists and Shiite militias intent on establishing a radical Islamic state. The terrorists began a campaign of suicide bombings of civilians and attacking U.S. forces with IEDs. Now with the surge, the terrorists are being routed throughout the country and the Iraqi people are beginning to secure their own future.
The greatest change is the role of the U.S. military. They are still fighting the terrorists in Iraq, but more and more they are training, advising, and fighting alongside the Iraqi army, police and Iraqi Special Forces units.
2. You have made nine prolonged trips to Iraq — where have you been?
Our “War Stories” team has been embedded with more than 30 U.S. combat units in virtually every part of Iraq. Five years ago this week we crossed the Kuwait Iraqi border during the invasion. Three weeks later we were there for the liberation of Baghdad. We then continued north to Tikrit — Saddam's hometown. On our eight subsequent trips we have been to the Syrian border in the west to the Iranian border in the east. We spent most of our time in Al Anbar — once the bloodiest place on the planet.
3. Did you ever feel in danger while you were there?
Sure — just like the soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and marines we cover. They know that war is a very dangerous endeavor, but if we're going to accurately document what they do and how they do it, we have to go where these warriors do the fighting. Anyone who tells you that their adrenaline isn't flowing in a gunfight is either lying or crazy — and the heroes we cover are neither. They are simply very tenacious and brave. I'm blessed to be able to let them tell their courageous stories.
4. Do you believe there has been progress in Iraq?
Progress in Iraq is undeniable. On our last trip out there in December I went to Iraqi villages and spoke to Iraqis who were very optimistic about their future. They have started community programs based on “the awakening” in Anbar throughout the country. The vast majority of the Iraqi people in Iraq are fed up with the violence — and are now stepping up to take charge of their own security and destiny. Just a few weeks ago we walked without flak jackets or helmets on streets where we used to get shot at constantly.
5. What do you feel still needs to be done there before there is stability and peace?
Both peace and stability are coming — along with a dramatically improved economy. The Iraqi military and police continue to improve. Al Qaeda and the Shiite militias are on the run. That's because we proved with “the surge” that we weren't going to abandon Iraq to terror.
We have documented the improvements in the competence and capabilities of Iraqi security forces. Terror groups no longer want to face them in a gunfight. The only weapons that the terrorists have left are suicide bombers and IEDs. On our last trip we spent time with the Hillah police swat unit and the Iraqi special operations forces. These brave Iraqis are feared by terrorists and admired by their countrymen.
Success in Iraq will depend on whether we will keep our commitment to a democratically elected Iraqi government — and continue to deter interference in Iraq's internal affairs from their neighbors.
6. Do you have any funny stories from Iraq? What do the soldiers there do to relax or have a good time?
Keeping up with a 20 year old soldier or marine while wearing a 50-pound flak jacket and helmet is a constant source of amusement to these young Americans. So, too, is watching me go “live” on our little satellite transponder with “helmet hair!”
In their brief moments not on duty, the troops do what many young adults do back at home - they go to the gym, watch DVDs from home, send e-mails to their families. Most of their time however is spent preparing for the next mission.
7. What are some of the stories from Iraq that Americans don't hear enough about?
Here are some inconvenient facts we never hear from the so-called mainstream media:
• More than 1.6 million Americans have served in uniform in Iraq, all part of our all-volunteer military — brightest, best educated, trained and equipped armed force ever fielded by any nation.
• Despite a perception that our armed forces are stretched beyond breaking point, reenlistments — the best barometer of troop morale — have never been higher, and every service is exceeding its recruiting goals.
• Iraq's security forces, widely depicted as ineffective, have grown by more than 100,000 in the past year and have now assumed full responsibility for nine of 18 provinces.
• In the last 12 months, the Iraqis have opened 13 new training facilities.
• The Iraqi military now has 134 active combat and spec ops battalions with nearly 647,000 Iraqi volunteers in uniform.
• We first reported on the “Al Anbar awakening” in December 2006. Since then the “sons of Iraq” movement has crossed the Sunni-Shia sectarian divide, and now has 91,000 members. Result: attacks against Iraqi civilians and coalition forces have dropped by more than 70 percent since last summer.
• Since 2004: More than 4,000 civil reconstruction projects — including 325 electrical distribution centers and 320 water treatment facilities — have been completed.
• More than 3,000 schools and 75 hospitals, clinics and healthcare facilities have been renovated or built from the ground up. Nearly 3,200 primary health care providers and physicians have been trained.
• There are now more than 100 privately owned radio stations, 31 television stations and 600 newspapers published in Iraq — a nation just slightly larger than California.
• In February 2008, crude oil production exceeded 2.4 million barrels per day. This year the Iraqi economy is projected to grow by 7 percent.
8. What do the troops in Iraq think of the media's handling of the war there?
Fortunately, most of the troops in Iraq are too busy doing their jobs to pay attention to what the mainstream media is saying. They work 18-20 hours a day, get a few hours of sleep, some hot chow and then start over. They know they are winning. That's why the re-enlistment rate is higher than it has ever been.
9. What are some of the challenges the soldiers' families face while their loved ones are stationed in Iraq?
The troops I talk to in Iraq say that their mission is easier than the task their spouses and families face back at home. The soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and marines in Iraq miss birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, holidays and many times the birth of their children, but the spouses at home have to keep their families functioning all by themselves. During my time in the United States Marine Corps I was overseas and missed more family events than I care to remember. Our family stayed together because of my wife, Betsy.
10. You've done episodes about many wars, from WWII to Vietnam; how is this war different from previous wars America has been involved in?
We have a smaller wartime military than at any time since before World War I. Everyone serving today is a volunteer in the brightest, best educated, most highly trained and equipped military force ever fielded by any nation. The weapons and equipment they use in this war are remarkably sophisticated, requiring very bright troops to operate and maintain them. They are confronting a fanatical enemy that has only one precedent — the Japanese who brutally murdered civilians and prisoners of war and launched kamikaze and banzai attacks during World War II.
Our troops overseas have new technology — cell phones and the Internet — to stay connected with home, but they write far fewer letters. Those of us who cover this war have instant satellite communications, so “breaking news” can be sent straight from the battlefield.
Have something else you want Ollie to answer? E-mail him NOW!
Oliver North hosts "War Stories — Iraq: Five Years in the Fight For Freedom " a chronicle of courage, commitment and sacrifice on the FOX News Channel, Sunday, March 23 at 8:00 pm EDT.
Lt Col Oliver L. North (ret.) serves as host of the Fox News Channel documentary series "War Stories with Oliver North." From 1983 to 1986, he served as the U.S. government's counterterrorism coordinator on the National Security Council staff. North is the founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization providing college scholarships to the children of military personnel killed in the line of duty and author of the new nationwide bestseller, "Counterfeit Lies," a novel about how Iran is acquiring nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them. Click here for more information on Oliver North.