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February 16, 2006
Another Success Story

The Washington Post has an excellent article on the adaptations made by the US military to gain ground against the insurgencies in Iraq. Unfortunately placed on page A14, this in-depth look at the adjustments made by the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tall Afar shows that the US military has conducted thoughtful analysis of their successes and failures and continue to adapt tactics and strategies as a result:

The last time the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment served in Iraq, in 2003-04, its performance was judged mediocre, with a series of abuse cases growing out of its tour of duty in Anbar province.

But its second tour in Iraq has been very different, according to specialists in the difficult art of conducting a counterinsurgency campaign -- fighting a guerrilla war but also trying to win over the population and elements of the enemy. Such campaigns are distinct from the kind of war most U.S. commanders have spent decades preparing to fight.

In the last nine months, the regiment has focused on breaking the insurgents' hold on Tall Afar, a town of 290,000. Their operations here "will serve as a case study in classic counterinsurgency, the way it is supposed to be done," said Terry Daly, a retired intelligence officer specializing in the subject.

U.S. military experts conducting an internal review of the three dozen major U.S. brigades, battalions and similar units operating in Iraq in 2005 privately concluded that of all those units, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment performed the best at counterinsurgency, according to a source familiar with the review's findings.

So what changed? The unit commander, Colonel H.R. McMaster, changed the focus of the unit from simply fighting all comers to integrating a "hearts and minds" strategy to win the trust of ordinary Iraqis. He trained the unit in Arabic, Iraqi history, and customs in order to change their presence from menacing to respectful. He met with local tribal and civic leaders, even those sympathetic to the insurgency, and listened to their concerns. The 3rd ACR brought Iraqi soldiers into their operations and encouraged more to join them. Mostly they changed their tactics to confound the insurgents by taking advice from the local leaders.

When the time finally came to retake Tall Afar from the lunatics, they found that they had already captured most of them in the preparation phase. McMaster devised new battle tactics to flush out the rest without exposing American and Iraqi soldiers to IEDs unnecessarily. The result? Tall Afar's liberation came at a far lower price in both US and Iraqi lives and assets.

Read the entire article. Thomas Ricks' effort should not get lost on A14.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 16, 2006 7:02 AM

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