Changes in Anbar, Afghanistan Good Signs, Chairman Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 22, 2007 Changes in Iraq’s Anbar province and the failure of the Taliban spring offensive in Afghanistan are good signs, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during an interview today on his way home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
During his flight home, Marine Gen. Peter Pace spoke about his trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq he took part in a series of meetings with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Navy Adm. William J. Fallon, the commander of U.S. Central Command; Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq; and Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq.
Gates, Pace and Fallon arrived in Baghdad on April 19. A total of 12 helicopters airlifted the party to Fallujah for briefings with Marines about the situation in Anbar province then back to Baghdad for meetings at Camp Victory.
On April 20, the U.S. leaders, including U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, met with Iraqi leaders, including President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Defense Minister Abd al-Qadir al-Mufriji. At the conclusion of that meeting, Gates flew back to Washington, and Pace went on to Afghanistan.
Pace said the meeting with U.S. and Iraqi leaders was tremendously helpful to him. He said civilian and military leaders in Baghdad were able to give the secretary and him the ground truth in Iraq, and Gates and he were able to give U.S. leaders in Iraq what the ground truth is in Washington.
The general said the meetings were a chance for American leaders to examine the way ahead in Iraq, “the opportunities for decisions, and the kind of things we’re looking for when we make those decisions.”
Leaders in Iraq often use video teleconferencing, but face-to-face discussions are sometimes the only way to conduct business, Pace said. “You don’t get the interruptions and discussions that add flavor and tone to the discussion,” he said. “It’s a conversation, and you key off each others’ thoughts as it unfolds.”
The meetings helped the chairman put things in perspective, he said. “It will help me as I think through the recommendations I make to the president and the secretary of defense,” he said.
Pace said he was truly impressed with changes in Anbar province. The last time he was in the region, al Qaeda in Iraq plagued the province. Since then, the people of the province and local sheikhs have had enough of al Qaeda’s violence, and they have decided to back the Iraqi government. “Things turned around, and it’s looking hopeful there,” Pace said.
Baghdad presents more of a mixed picture. Pace said he is encouraged that sectarian violence is down, but bombings -- most likely by al Qaeda trying to reignite sectarian strife -- are taking a terrible toll.
He said the lessons of Anbar could hold true for the rest of Iraq. “In Baghdad, when Sunni and Shiia are tired of killing each other, Baghdad can turn around pretty quickly,” he said. “Down south, when Shiia are tired of killing Shiia, that can turn around quickly, too.”
Pace was last in Afghanistan three months ago, as Afghan, U.S., NATO and coalition leaders were struggling to counter the expected Taliban offensive. Those plans worked, as the Taliban have been unable to launch any concerted effort. The turnaround was the result of many factors, including U.S. commanders in Afghanistan telling Gates that they needed another U.S. brigade. “The extra brigade … was able to be in position for the traditional start of the spring campaign,” Pace said. “This gave the initiative to us, and the Taliban had to respond to our moves.”
Other factors also contributed, including Pakistani cooperation along the border, NATO’s increasing presence, and the increasing capabilities of the Afghan security forces.
In the country’s capital, Kabul, Pace met with President Hamid Karzai and was briefed by Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Gen. Bismullah Khan, the Afghan chief of defense. The briefing was in the Afghan national military command center. The center connects all the Afghan corps and brigades. It also connects via video teleconference with the Afghan National Police headquarters.
Pace also visited the Kabul Military Training Center. “Other than language, you could have been at the NCO course or the computer course in an American military school,” he said. “It speaks volumes about the nascent NCO corps and producing leaders long-term.”
The Afghan units are ethnically mixed, national units. When they are ordered to go into an area, they do so and fight well, the general said. “Our troops like having them with them,” he said. “There are a lot of positive things on the military side. With continued emphasis by others on the governance and economic side, it’s looking good (in Afghanistan).”
Pace said he spoke to a number of U.S. troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. During the trip, his senior enlisted advisor, Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, traveled to forward operating bases and spoke to many more. “Not one of the troops complained about the extensions,” Pace said. “Some asked questions, but no one complained about it. They understood what the rules were. I was impressed by what they didn’t ask, and the sergeant major was soliciting comments from them. They understand that this was what we had to do.”
Military personnel in both Iraq and Afghanistan value interagency cooperation, Pace said. “They get it,” he said. “They know there is no purely military solution in either country. Security is needed in order to provide governance and economic development.”
He said the questions from troops of all levels about the interagency process showed a true understanding of its importance. “There is a maturity of thought and understanding of the environment,” he said.
Pace also met yesterday with the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, U.S. Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill. The chairman said he had a good talk with McNeill, which helps in planning moves ahead in Afghanistan.