A top Army engineer back home from Iraq says the United States is making progress there, though he says "it’s still very fragile".
Colonel Dan Grey serves as Chief of Staff, US Army Maneuver Support Center and Fort Leonard Wood. Grey briefed reporters at Fort Wood on his experience in Iraq. He said a change of strategy turned a faltering mission into a successful one.
"It was all about securing the population where they sleep," Grey told reporters.
Prior to that, according to Grey, US military couldn’t get intelligence from everyday Iraqis, because al-Qaeda threatened to wipe out the entire family of anyone who snitched on them. Americans and coalition forces would be successful in chasing al-Qaeda from a city and then leave for another. The terrorists would simply return after the military left, intimidated the populace and re-establish themselves. The military now will secure a city and leave personnel behind for protection as it moves on to another. Iraqi security forces also are gaining their footing and providing security, according to Grey.
Secure in the military presence with a growing confidence in their own government, Iraqis began to turn. They began to provide the intelligence needed to inflict real harm on al-Qaeda, and the military began rooting them out of key Iraqi cities. Violence fell. The number of deaths dropped.
"It’s a very good news story," Grey said, "Now, I will tell you, it’s still very fragile. I’m not telling you we won the war, because it’s very far from it."
Grey returned from Iraq in February. In Iraq, Grey served as the Engineer Director of the Multi-National Corps. Engineers were vital to the new strategy. They would establish a joint security station used by Coalition and Iraqi military or an outpost for Coalition forces that would move the military from large bases into the population. Grey said that dictated the pace. He compared it to General Douglas MacArthur’s successful island hoping campaign in World War II.
Grey emphasized the fragile nature of progress in Iraq, "There’s a keen sensitivity that we haven’t won this yet, but it is going in the right direction. We need to continue doing what we’re doing, but be cautious about it."
Grey says the tactic in Iraq has changed from winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis to getting the Iraqis to trust each other and build their own government. Eighteen American soldiers died in May, the lowest total of the war. In comparison, 126 soldiers died in May of last year.