Sunday, July 08, 2007

Perspective: The U.S. goes it alone in Salman Pak

Above: A soldier with 10th Mountain Division walks along a road during a patrol in Salman Pak in April.

U.S. soldiers in night-vision goggles piled out of a Chinook helicopter under a wide, orange moon. They crawled through mud along canals south of Baghdad, then stormed a chicken farm that the U.S. military believed doubled as a car bomb factory.

But something was missing: Iraqi partners.

The Iraqi army has yet to deploy a single soldier on this 380-square-mile swath, where the U.S. military is waging an offensive to dislodge al-Qaida fighters from marshlands along the Tigris River.

In Tuesday’s predawn raid, the lack of Iraqi backup meant a frustrating outcome for U.S. forces. When suspects fled, there was no Iraqi cordon to catch them.

But more broadly, it illustrated a key weakness in the new U.S. counterinsurgency strategy of "clear, hold, rebuild." American commanders say the "hold" phase relies on Iraqi forces’ ability to move into cleared areas and keep insurgents in check once the U.S. draws down its troop levels.

But areas such as Salman Pak - once an enclave for Saddam Hussein’s favored officials - reinforce the accusations that the Iraqi military is still a long way from meeting U.S. expectations.

Read the rest at the Columbia Tribune