For a veteran of the fighting there—and proponent of the counterinsurgency strategy that provided a chance for the country to stabilize—watching the recent unraveling of Iraq has been disheartening but not surprising.
My unit arrived in Anbar province in September of 2003, as the Sunni population there began to support in earnest an insurgency against the American occupation of the country. Young soldiers were killed by snipers and roadside bombs as their officers struggled to understand the political climate in which the fighting was taking place. We left after a hard year that cost the lives of 22 fine young men but accomplished little on the ground. A captain made coffee mugs that proclaimed sourly, “we were winning when I left”.
I returned to a Pentagon that was in denial, but I found a few who believed that a new strategy of building Iraqi forces to take over the fight could eventually succeed. We struggled to provide trainers and equipment and to find ways to partner with our Iraqi comrades but managed to succeed in the nick of time, pulling Iraq into a possible win. That was the surge.