As the director of an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran's organization, I follow the headlines from Iraq very closely. So, it's always news to me when there is little news from Iraq…at least from the mainstream media.
Over the last few weeks, with the exception of the unfortunate Blackwater story, headlines from Iraq have been few and far between.
Why is this the case? There must be a reason. And I believe the reason is rooted both in what has happened and what has not.
Two weeks ago, at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, al Qaeda declared that it would escalate attacks and specifically target leaders who were cooperating with Iraqi security forces. (This strategy, in and of itself, is a sign that al Qaeda fears the growing strength of Sunni tribal cooperation). But instead of escalating attacks, the U.S. military reports that violence across Iraq during Ramadan dropped by 40 percent compared to last year. In addition, mass-casualty producing, spectacular attacks -- long a hallmark of al Qaeda -- have occurred with far less frequency.
This is not to say they cannot still deliver such attacks, but the new U.S. strategy has crippled them. Don't just take my word for it; listen to the latest al Qaeda "martyr," Abu Osama al-Tunisi. In a handwritten note found at the site of his death, the al Qaeda in Iraq No. 2 wrote, "I have been surrounded…for two and a half months because the road has been closed by the Apostate, and there is no other way," he added, "We are so desperate for your help." The words of this high-ranking al Qaeda member speak volumes, and underscore the now undeniable counter-narrative happening in Iraq.
While the mainstream media reports on roadside bombs and missed benchmarks, American soldiers -- along with Iraqi security forces -- continue to make great security gains (which are the necessary pre-condition for real political progress).
As for what has not happened, there is a number that may or may not make headlines tomorrow: 62. This is the number of American combat deaths in September, and happens to be the lowest since August of last year. And while this number is still too high, it is nonetheless relevant. Despite a counter-insurgency strategy that makes U.S. troops more "vulnerable," American deaths have dropped. American troops have moved off of large, secure bases and into small security stations throughout the country -- yet American deaths, after a spike from April to June, have begun to drop.
Why? Because when Americans protect the population from al Qaeda attacks and Iranian-baked militias -- and hunt down those responsible for sectarian violence -- they gain the trust of locals and thereby gain access to intelligence. And this intelligence -- as any soldier or Marine infantryman will tell you -- is the crown jewel of counter-insurgency. Intelligence, and the ability to decipher between civilians and combatants, allows Americans and Iraqi security forces to go on the offensive. So, while seemingly more exposed, they are actually empowered and protected.
This is good news -- and the kind of news that everyone following the Iraq war debate should know. But I'm satisfied with silence, because the sounds of silent progress in Iraq will eventually overcome the steady drumbeat of defeat here at home.
Unless Congress surrenders first…
By Pete Hegseth
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online