The war I knew was infinitely more complex, contradictory and elusive than the one described in the network news broadcasts or envisioned in the new field manual. When I finally left Baquba, the violent capital of Iraq’s Diyala Province, I found myself questioning many aspects of our mission and our accomplishments, both in a personal search for meaning and a quest to gather lessons that might help those soldiers who will follow me.
We learned that counterinsurgency cannot be conducted from afar.
But did we make a difference?
In theory, security should have improved with the development of capable Iraqi Army and police units. That did not happen. This is the central paradox of the Iraq war in fall 2006.
This paradox raises fundamental questions about the wisdom and efficacy of our strategy, which is to “stand up” Iraqi security forces so we can “stand down” American forces. Put simply, this plan is a blueprint for withdrawal, not for victory. Improving the Iraqi Army and police is necessary to prevail in Iraq; it is not sufficient.
Counterinsurgency is more like an election than a military operation.