Thursday, November 29, 2007

Murtha: Surge is Working

Well, it's just one quote, or a fragment of one; I'd like to see it in context. But for now I'll take the view that he remains fair-minded enough to read the evidence of his eyes even when it contradicts partisan needs.

"I think the 'surge' is working," the Democrat said in a videoconference from his Johnstown office, describing the president's decision to commit more than 20,000 additional combat troops this year. But the Iraqis "have got to take care of themselves."

Violence has dropped significantly in recent months, but Mr. Murtha said he was most encouraged by changes in the once-volatile Anbar province, where locals have started working closely with U.S. forces to isolate insurgents linked to Al Qaeda.

He's right, and the surge is only part of the reason for the turn-around in Anbar. It was a secondary, but important reason: It allowed the good guys to hold what they had cleared.

And for a picture of how that is working I particularly recommend Michael J. Totten's latest reporting from Fallujah:

“The biggest thing we've got going for us is the surge,” said Lieutenant Edwards. “You've probably read about it or heard about it on television.”

“Yeah,” I said and laughed. I witnessed and covered the surge myself in July and August.

“Has it helped us?” he said. “Extremely. What we can do is we can go in, knock out the enemy forces, and still leave forces there to remain and hold security down. We can then take our own forces, develop the Iraqi forces so that they can hold their own spot, then we can move to another one.”

The Marines have an extra 1,000 troops in the Fallujah area this year, but they aren't in the city. There are far fewer Marines here now than there were.

“We went from having 3,000 Marines in the city last year to down around 300 now,” the lieutenant said. “Maybe 250.”

“So you didn't surge Marines into the city,” I said.

“No,” he said. “We surged Marines around Fallujah. We either capture and kill AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq], or they move out. If we don't kill or capture them, they move somewhere else. They avoid Fallujah now like it's the plague.”

“Even though there are only a tenth as many Marines?” I said. “Are they afraid of the Iraqis?”

“They're afraid of the Iraqis,” he said. “That's what's holding this place down. It's the citizens and the Iraqi forces. We're here as an overwatch in case something happens, but they're holding their own. They're holding their own security in the sense that if you fail, you fail your family and you fail your tribe. That's humiliating for them, and it is not going to happen.”

Which ought to give some heart to Murtha, if he wants it. The Iraqis are taking care of it themselves, though the central government seems to be the biggest stumbling block, and that will take some time to sort out. But, as another friend who has been in and out of Iraq over the past five years reported privately to me recently, the Iraqi army finally is coming along. From a reasonable distance, my friend assured me, you now no longer can instantly tell they're not the U.S. Army.