The Blog

The Art of Counterinsurgency

3:09 PM, Jan 11, 2007 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Lt. Gen. David Petraeus will soon assume command of U.S. forces in Iraq. Petraeus was previously responsible for Mosul and northern Iraq following the conclusion of major combat operations and is now at the forefront of the Army's search for an effective counterinsurgency strategy. He recently authored the latest Army field manual for counterinsurgency operations, which you can download here (10MB+ PDF), and is widely regarded as one of the Army's leading intellectuals.

Not to long ago, a WEEKLY STANDARD intern authored an exceptional profile of Petraeus for the DAILY STANDARD. You can read the piece in its entirety here, but I've pulled some of the highlights out below:

MANY YEARS AGO, Battalion Commander David Petraeus found himself lying on a field in Fort Campbell, Kentucky--dying. A rifleman had tripped during a training exercise, accidentally firing an M-16 round which had blown through the right side of Petraeus's chest and ripped out of his back. It wasn't supposed to end like this. Petraeus was supposed to jump to the world's hotspots, bravely commanding his soldiers in wartime or the uneasy peace that followed. He was meant to be among that small brotherhood of Army officers who had joined the battered United States Army in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War. He aimed to redesign the Army with the lessons of Vietnam in mind, to force it to recognize the importance of winning the "hearts and minds" of local citizens, and the necessity of being able to rebuild war zones as well as destroy them. A fiercely driven man, Petraeus willed himself to survive until surgeons were able to reach him. A decade later, Petraeus's physical and mental toughness would be one of his most important qualities as he embarked on the biggest challenge of his career: the reconstruction of Northern Iraq.

On Petraeus's work in northern Iraq:

Petraeus also gave his soldiers great authority--and the funding--to initiate civil works projects. Many of these were the basic tasks normally performed by local government. Petraeus said, "Some of our guys had studied politics 101; they reminded us that all politics is local." At a recent talk at Georgetown University, Petraeus clicked through slides showing the programs his soldiers had created, such as Operation Easy Rider, which painted lines down the center of roads, and Operation Pit Stop, which repaired gas stations. Soldiers went out to repair potholes and clean up trash in neighborhoods, working with Iraqis on a daily basis. Petraeus ordered posters hung in every barracks asking, "What Have You Done To Win Iraqi Hearts and Minds Today?"

And on training Iraqi forces:

THE ABILITY TO PROVIDE basic security will be critical to a fledgling Iraqi government, and Petraeus has devoted considerable resources to the creation of an Iraqi police force. By the time Petraeus left Northern Iraq, his soldiers had trained 20,000 police and security officers. Iraqis now patrol the borders with Syria and Turkey, protect ammo dumps, and escort truck convoys. "They guarded my headquarters . . . they lived with us, [and] they ate in our mess hall." Petraeus said. The police have shown improvement with time and training. "They were shot at; they shot back," Petraeus said. "Some of them were killed. We honored them just as we did our own soldiers, with memorial ceremonies, [and] payments to their families."

Petraeus certainly appears to be the right man for the job.