Thursday, January 10, 2008
What's significant about Diyala in particular, in addition to everything Matthew Yglesias mentions, is that it's also the first area that the Surge drawdown impacted. Back in November, the Pentagon announced that it would be bringing 3000 troops stationed in Diyala home, with the province being added to the bailiwick of a brigade operating near Baghdad:
Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, will not be replaced by a new unit when they leave the ethnically and religiously mixed province north of Baghdad by January, U.S. military officials said.
Instead, troops from the larger 4th Striker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, located near Baghdad, will take over the area...
Here's how the Armed Forces Press Service described the move:
The redeployment of the brigade shows the coalition's confidence in Iraqi security forces and reflects the overall improved security in the country, Smith said. The brigade -- based in Diyala province -- will not leave a vacuum in the province.
"We do not intend to give back our hard-fought ground," Smith said. "Repositioning of coalition and Iraqi security forces will ensure that overall force levels and combat capability levels in Diyala will be tailored to meet emerging threats."
And consistent with the script, as recently as three weeks ago, the second-in-command in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, was expressing his confidence that the troop reduction would not jeopardize security gains.
But oddly enough, in a DoD press briefing that coincided with Odierno's pronouncement, reporters asked Maj. Gen Richard Sherlock about reports they'd gotten from commanders in Diyala that they needed more troops, in particular to deal with the flow off insurgents from Baghdad. At one point they specifically questioned the wisdom of beginning the drawdown in the very region that seemed to be serving as a refuge for insurgents fleeing the Surge in Baghdad. Sherlock basically dodged the question, but not before he'd dropped this pearl:
The other thing they'll find different about those areas now, rather than three years ago, is that the people are much less willing to put up with the kind of brutal attacks that those groups bring on the people.
Of course, by all accounts, the insurgents, which as usual have been dubbed Al Qaeda in Iraq, were nowhere to be found when this week's operation -- a closely guarded secret, especially from the Iraqi troops in which we have so much confidence -- was launched, leaving the sneaking suspicion that maybe they enjoy more popular support than the General was letting on.
All of which is to say that there's nothing surprising about all of this. To the contrary, it was foreseen as soon as it was announced. Whether or not it develops into a major fiasco remains to be seen. It could be that the security situation holds. But if it doesn't, no one can say there weren't any warning signs.