How Anbar Awakened

If you’re interested in the actual operational details of how Anbar was Awakened, this Military Review article (.pdf) (via Phil Carter) is worth a read. It’s an account by Col. Sean MacFarland, commander of the Army brigade credited with implementing the tactical approach that culminated in the Awakening, and Maj. Niel Smith, one of his company commanders, and to my mind it demonstrates how resourcefulness and initiative remain fundamental American assets. Significantly, Col. MacFarland’s approach pre-dates the Surge, and seems to confirm Lt. Col. Gian Gentile’s assertion in a WPR interview that COIN tactics had been applied as early as 2006. What also struck me was that Col. MacFarland implemented his proto-Awakening strategy in the aftermath of the Battle of Fallujah, probably the high-water mark of failed American tactical operations in post-invasion Iraq.

Two things, inextricably related, remain to be seen about the Awakening approach, namely whether it will prove durable, and how it fits into a broader national strategy of knitting together Iraq’s moving parts. They both fall beyond the authors’ scope of analysis. For the time being, it still seems like the old joke about the French intellectual applies: Presented with a functioning example, he replies, “Sure, it works in practice. But does it work in theory?”

So far we have used the past year to recover from our initial missteps in Iraq to arrive at a variety of regional working models. That’s necessary but not sufficient for a successful outcome. The biggest question market, a sovereign Iraqi state, remains a theory.