Washington, D.C. – The potentates on the Potomac have been so busy ranting about an imminent financial "catastrophe," dissecting Sarah Palin's debate debut and prognosticating John McCain's political demise that other news — particularly about the war being waged against radical Islam — has been hard to find.
Here are some facts about the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan that haven't captured the attention of our so-called mainstream media:
First, and most importantly, the campaign in Mesopotamia is all but won. This week the 2nd Battalion 9th Marines arrived in Al Anbar Province — once the bloodiest place on the planet — to assume the mission of honing the skills of Iraqi forces who now have responsibility for security in the largest of Iraq's 18 provinces. Iraqis — instead of Americans — are now conducting most combat operations against Al Qaeda remnants and Shiite militias throughout the country.
Second, despite predictions that "it couldn't be done," the Maliki government has announced plans for provincial elections before year-end. The Iraqis are also completing an oil-revenue sharing plan and are quietly concluding a Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S. on the disposition of American troops. Though Iranian interference in Iraq's internal affairs continues, U.S. and Iraqi Special Operations Forces have been quietly rolling up terror networks set up by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
General Ray Odierno, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, demurs from describing the current situation a "victory" because bloodshed still occurs. This week Sunni suicide bombers in Salahidin Province and Baghdad killed 28 and wounded more than 30 Shiite worshipers celebrating Eid — the end of their Ramadan fast. Rather than pushing the country toward "civil-war," events like these have increasingly alienated insurgent groups from the civilian population. Despite these attacks, violence is at a four-year low. Though widely unreported, U.S. military and diplomatic officials express quiet confidence that Iraq is well on its way to becoming our closest ally in a part of the world where we need reliable friends.
There is also good news from Afghanistan that is generally ignored by our political and media elites in their efforts to find only gloom and doom in the campaign against a resurgent Taliban and the remnants of Al Qaeda. On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, reported that this year, 30 aid workers have been killed, 92 were kidnapped and 22 World Food Program convoys have been attacked. On Wednesday, President Bush met with General David McKiernan, the senior U.S. military commander in Afghanistan. Both men acknowledged the current spike in violence in Afghanistan precipitated by cross-border activity from Pakistan and Iran. Though they also observed that there have been improvements in health care, education and transportation, press reports of the meeting emphasized that 2008 has been the bloodiest year for U.S. troops since 2001.
General McKiernan made clear that he needs more troops, military hardware and reconstruction aid "as quickly as possible" in order to prosecute an effective winter campaign against a "surge" in foreign terrorists that includes Pakistanis, Chechens, Saudis, Uzbeks and Europeans. It is a point we made repeatedly in our FOX News Channel reports from Afghanistan in August and September.
We also noted that relying on our "NATO partners" — the consequence of a United Nations resolution — has not worked. Today there are 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan — but only 20,000 of them are under direct U.S. operational control. The rest report to NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) — 31,000 personnel from 39 other countries. With the exception of the British and Canadians, most ISAF troops have so many "national caveats" on how and where they can be employed that they are effectively non-combatants.
Unlike Mesopotamia, where U.S. troops have trained and equipped more than 400,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces since 2003, the Afghan National Army and Police — supposedly advised and outfitted by ISAF — still number fewer than 60,000. None of this is good news — but it is about to change.
General David Petraeus has ordered Central Command to quietly review the disposition of U.S. forces in his theater and — equally important — NATO roles and missions in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of the September 20, Marriott Hotel suicide bombing in Islamabad, the Pakistani government is renewing efforts to reign in Islamic radicals. Last week, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak urged creation of a combined Afghan, Pakistani, U.S. security force for the porous, mountainous and largely ungoverned Afghan-Pakistani border region where 10-15,000 Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents have havens. Pakistan's new President Zardari apparently likes the idea — as do U.S. commanders in the field.
Meanwhile, Baitullah Mehsud, titular head of the Taliban in Pakistan, is dead and the Pakistani Army is prosecuting a successful campaign against Al Qaeda militants in Bajour Agency in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Area. Though Defense Secretary Robert Gates predicts that it will be "springtime" before an additional 10,000 U.S. troops will arrive in Afghanistan, General McKiernan has already received some of the aviation assets he needs to support his planned winter offensive.
In their constant effort to paint a dismal picture of the war, the masters of our media failed to report all this. Perhaps they will do better next week.
Oliver North hosts War Stories on FOX News Channel and is the author of the new best-seller, "American Heroes: In The War Against Radical Islam." He has just returned from assignment in Afghanistan.