A front page Washington Post story today by Thomas Ricks, “Anbar Picture Grows Clearer, and Bleaker,” revealed that a classified Marine intelligence report says we can’t defeat the insurgency aided by Al Qaeda in Western Iraq.
Ricks quotes the author of the report, Col. Peter Devlin, as writing, “although it is likely that attack levels have peaked, the steady rise in attacks from mid-2003 to 2006 indicates a clear failure to defeat the insurgency in al-Anbar.”
While I do not dispute Ricks’ reporting of the report or its contents (I confirmed the existence of the report by Marine officials in writing), I do challenge the importance or need to report this classified information as it serves as a boost for the enemy we are currently fighting at this moment. It is likely that there are Marines on patrol in Anbar right now who are facing snipers and roadside bombs and the home team enemy just scored a touchdown in the goal of breaking the American will.
It is important to realize in the war against Al Qaeda that negative headlines that influence American foreign policy are as critical as bullets and bombs in Fallujah and Ramadi.
Here is what Marine Lt Col. Bryan Salas in Anbar wrote to me today in response to the article:
We can win – but as the report says we can’t win with just military power, we need the economic and political powers to engage as well.
There are many military tactical victories that we achieve on a daily basis in terms of freedom of maneuver or where we need to go in this country. At the end of the day, until we're able to make those comparable accomplishments in terms of the government, the economics, and the political infrastructure -- until those things change, until those long-term effects are realized, then trying to solve the insurgency out here is going to be problematic.
The assessment is unvarnished. They're frank, they're candid, and intended to be a tool for the commanders and the staff to try to get an assessment and make judgments about what is happening and what we are going to do in the future.
There are a number of points that are laid out in that assessment. But at the end of the day, we can be as militarily successful as we need to be, but until we can hit on those other lines- economics, governance, transition: those are going to be decisive at the end of the day.
Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors are out here to win. We win battles everyday in Anbar. However any long-term victory against the insurgency must be accomplished along with the Iraqis. This is our main mission. While we are developing their capacity we continue to fight the insurgency.
And Marines always fight to win.
To say we are doing anything less is disingenuous and dishonors the service of the men and women here, both Iraqi and Coalition.
I think it is fair to say that there is no universal agreement on the fight in Anbar. And it will be interesting to see if the mission there begins to change. But the Marines that I was with in Fallujah do not believe that they are fighting a lost battle – at least not yet.
I can be reached for questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.