Helicopter Rides are More Fun in the Daylight

 This is the last one for today.  There are two more new entries below. 

We flew from Asad to Al Qaim, which is up river near the Syrian border.  I am much happier today because I see some real progress and places where we can do some good.

I met with the colonel of the Marines in Al Qaim.   In one hour I learned more about a successful counter insurgency than I learned in years.  I will not go into details but he explained you have to clear, hold and build.  A couple years ago, we were hunkered down on big bases.   The insurgents were intimidating the local population.  Things were bad.  The insurgents and Al Qaida, however, managed to annoy the the local people.  One of the big tribes, the Abu Mahal, decided they had enough and started to fight back.   Unfortunately others sat on the fence.  The insurgents were better armed and they were winning. 

Then the tribal leaders asked the Marines for help.  Together they pushed the bad guys out.  Success lead to confidence; more tribes joined in.  Young men started to join the police and Iraqi army.  Pretty soon the bad guys were in the desert eating dirt, with snakes & scorpions their only friends.  Although they can still cause damage, make life unpleasant & dangerous sometimes and fire the odd angry shot, they have not had the initiative since.  The colonel showed me a map of how it had played out. The colors changed.  It is the ink blot idea of spreading security, each month, more territory in the hands of friends.  The Marines are working with local Iraqi army units and police and soon they can give some of the places entirely back to them.  They can defend those places and some of our Marines can come home.

We are in the building stage now.  The Marines, Army Corp of Engineers and Seabees are helping put things in order.  So are members of my PRT.  I am proud of the work they have done and what I will (I hope) do.

We met the mayor of the region.  He was very smart and friendly.  You can see him and his guys, along with the colonel and my predecessor.  I was impressed by their level of professional competence as well as their obvious affection for the colonel.  The mayor hopes to visit him in California and their daughters are pen pals.

We flew back that afternoon.  The ride was uneventful except when they shot off some flares.  I heard pop-pop-pop and thought it was shooting – at us.  Just flairs shot off by the flight crew.  As for the ride, take a look at the picture up top, which is worth 1000 of my words.  There I am below.  Sorry for the blur.