Addendum: Patterico has researched the LA Times article quoted at the end of this post and confirmed much of what I suspected was going on. The direct link to Patterico’s excellent Fisking is here.

The situation in Ramadi has concerned me for some time. The US has seemed unable or unwilling to crush this last stronghold of Sunni resistance in Anbar province. Michael Fumento, in a report for the Weekly Standard has this to say about Ramadi.

Ramadi actually has many advantages over Fallujah for the enemy. With about 400,000 residents, it provides almost twice the population to hide among. Fallujah has a significant Shiite population; Ramadi is almost purely Sunni. And Ramadi has shorter supply lines to foreign terrorists, equipment, and cash from Syria and Jordan to the west. Once the foreign terrorists reach Ramadi, they can use it as a way station to other Sunni areas throughout the country or simply stop there and take up residence.

I have followed the battle for Ramadi closely and it has been a long hard struggle that has cost many casualties. IEDs have been the big killer and there has been an intense war between US and insurgent snipers. I have wondered repeatedly if another all out attack like that in Fallujah was being considered. Fumento found an interesting answer to that question when he returned to Ramadi in October of this year after a six month absence:

Shortly after my last trip, the situation had deteriorated to a point where there was much discussion prompted largely by false Los Angeles Times articles from correspondents reporting from the remoteness and comfort of a Baghdad hotel and from Washington of a Fallujah-style attack on Ramadi. But this was never in the cards, being neither desirable nor possible.

It turns out that US forces have employed a different strategy. Instead of operating from a few large bases in and around the city, they have spread their forces out into small FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) with smaller still COPs (Combat Operation Posts) squeezing the insurgents into smaller and smaller areas. Both the number of attacks and particularly their size has fallen. Fumento reports that attacks have fallen from 20 to 15 per day, but more significantly their size has fallen from 15-20 attackers to 1 and 2 attackers. Fumento explains the strategy

Historically, successful counterinsurgency efforts have involved pacifying areas by plopping small garrisons with interlocking communications into enemy territory and sending out patrols to gather information and engage the enemy. Perhaps the most famous example of such garrison use was that of King Edward I of England (yes, the guy who had Braveheart drawn and quartered), who used castles to consolidate his hold on a conquered but restive Wales. More recently U.S. Army Special Forces established Civilian Irregular Defense Group camps in South Vietnam, manned primarily by indigenous tribes or South Vietnamese with a core of Special Forces soldiers. Such camps are considered one of the most effective strategies of that war. Certainly they were far more useful than the “search and destroy” missions sent out from huge base camps.

The military refers to COP use as “the inkblot strategy.” One dot spreads into a bigger spot. Further, the troops are practically forced to work with the locals. That means building up networks of indigenous people who know the terrain, culture, and other people better than any forces even one from the same country but another province ever could. This also allows for more direct contact between the leader of the military force and the local leadership. All of this creates a force multiplier. Since the Bush administration appears unlikely to increase troop strength significantly, this ability to make better use of troops without weakening the forward operating bases from which they’re drawn is vital.

Fumento goes on to point out that another big advantage is that operating from COPs cuts down the amount of travelling that needs to be done and with it exposure to IED attack. He concludes by putting Ramadi in the larger perspective of Baghdad and the wider war.

Ramadi is not Baghdad, with its roiling sectarian violence and militias. As we’ve come to learn, Iraq probably cannot find peace until those militias are disbanded and suppressed. But neither will it find peace if the insurgents and terrorists of the Sunni strongholds like Ramadi continue to ply their trade; and despite the media focus on sectarian killings in October, Sunni insurgents still accounted for more than 80 percent of American military deaths in Iraq that month.

Put it all together the Forward Observation Bases, new Combat Operation Posts, new Observation Posts, tribal cooperation, ever more Iraqi army and police, better intelligence, and public works projects. There’s no “stay the course” strategy here; the course changes as necessary and it’s continually changed for the better. I believe we are winning the Battle of Ramadi. And if the enemy can be beaten here, he can be beaten anywhere.

Is all this just a heavily spun positive story from a reporter that supports the war? Looking for other reports of the situation brings confirmation from UK Times embedded reporter Martin Fletcher here:

Inside the heavily fortified Abu Faraj police station, just north of Ramadi, the recruits all said that they had been too frightened to join before. Right now almost all the tribes are fighting the terrorists the women, the children and even the dogs are fighting them, said Major Saidey Saleh, the station commander and former Saddam army officer who bears the scars of four al-Qaeda bullet wounds in his right thigh. At the same time Colonel MacFarland, who arrived in Ramadi fresh from pacifying the much smaller town of TallAfar near the Syrian border, has abandoned his predecessors policy of merely surrounding the city. He has instead adopted an aggressive inkblot strategy of seizing and securing key points within it then radiating outwards.

Helped by the flood of new recruits he has already established a chain of 19 COPs and police stations designed to curtail the terrorists freedom of movement within Ramadi. Previously, he said, the US military controlled just one road into the city and had to fight its way up and down that.

I certainly have read reports of that ‘one road’ – Route Michigan – several times. The Times article really catches the critical importance of the change of heart by the Anbar tribes in the battle against al Qaeda. Anbar is a self governing tribal area and getting the support – 70% is claimed – of the tribes against al Qaeda and other insurgents has been critical in the struggle for Ramadi. These are the people who live there and have always controlled the area and getting them to support the government as opposed to those who support one form of totalitarianism or another is precisely what the US is trying to do.

Reading a third report dated November 19th about Ramadi by Bill Roggio of the Fourth Rail, another interesting negative reference to the Los Angeles Times times caught my attention:

In Ramadi, the flashpoint of the Sunni insurgency in Anbar province, and arguably the most dangerous city in Iraq outside of Baghdad, Iraqi and U.S. forces conducted two large raids over the past week. On November 13 and 14, U.S. forces killed 11 insurgents in 3 separate incidents. The insurgents were emplacing roadside bombs and were engaged with tank and small arms fire. An American soldier that was in the engagement confirms the report, and notes three soldiers were wounded, one seriously, in an IED strike on a Bradley fighting vehicle. He also notes the Los Angeles Times report of civilian casualties is boilerplate insurgent propaganda.

I’ve reproduced the entire first part of the LA Times article by Times staff writer Solomon Moore below:

BAGHDAD A U.S. airstrike in the restive town of Ramadi killed at least 30 people, including women and children, witnesses said Tuesday.

The aerial attack, which took place late Monday, brought the number of violent deaths reported in Iraq on Tuesday to at least 91, according to military sources and witnesses.

Dr. Barakt Mansi, a Ramadi physician, said many of the bodies arriving at the city’s morgue Monday night and Tuesday morning were shattered and charred. Another physician, who identified himself only as Dr. Kamal, said some died because of delays created by American roadblocks and heavy fighting.

“It was difficult for us to reach the location because the Americans cordoned off the area,” he said. “This increased the number of the dead some of the injured could have been evacuated and kept alive.”

U.S. military officials had no immediate comment on an airstrike in Ramadi. The military released a statement announcing that American troops in Ramadi killed 11 alleged insurgents in a series of attacks that appeared to be unrelated to an airstrike.

A Times correspondent in Ramadi said at least 15 homes were pulverized by aerial bombardment and families could be seen digging through the ruins with shovels and bare hands. Other families attempted to leave Ramadi on foot or gathered at the city hospital, where a passionate crowd called out “Allahu akbar!” or God is great, in unison.

“National reconciliation is a fiasco!” cried one bereaved relative.

Referring to a local Sunni Arab anti-insurgent group, another relative complained that “the Committee of Salvation is useless.”

“They are calling for peace when it is time for jihad,” the relative said.

I believe Roggio is not currently embedded in Ramadi and it is unclear whether Moore is in Baghdad or LA. Both claim sources in Ramadi. Roggio a US soldier, the LA Times just references a ‘reporter’. An Iraqi stringer? American correspondent embedded there? Probably not the latter or he would be named. Color me suspicious. There may indeed have been an air strike, but this version sounds like it is another victory for the enemy in the information war. Is this just another case of an Iraqi stringer working for the insurgents and telling an anti war paper what they want to hear? It may well be that such an air attack did take place with results similar to those reported. Still, it isn’t clear who was killed or why or even if such an attack took place at all since the military doesn’t mention it and an American soldier dismisses it as propaganda. What is clear is the lack of strategic context provided by the LA Times and the heaping up of assertions and quotes that promote a negative view of the battle in Ramadi. Here is what I think to be a more honest report of what actually happens when reporters try to get quotes from Iraqis in Ramadi from Fumento’s article:

I asked one of the north Ramadi farmers through the translator if he thinks Ramadi is getting safer. He starts out with a few complaints, such as lack of water from the Euphrates for his fields because of rationing, and then tells me: “But safety is 100 percent better now that the Americans have come along.” Baloney. Things got a lot more dangerous when we first came along. They may or may not be safer now than a year ago, but this guy isn’t going to tell me. None of them will tell me.

Like Europeans who learned to listen to the radio stations of the various combatants and make educated guesses about what was actually happening on the ground I have learned to listen to the different voices in the mainstream and alternative media. What’s happening in Ramadi? Well the battle is still going on and it isn’t over yet. The 70% pro government loyalty of the Anbar tribes will evaporate overnight if the US looks like pulling out prematurely. On the other hand the charge that the LA Times is a paper ‘where seldom is heard an encouraging word.’ looks a like a charge that will stick for a long time.

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