Kimberly Kagan has an article in the Weekly Standard entitled "How they did it: executing the winning strategy in Iraq" which is the military history of the Surge. Every history is at heart the story of a journey. The destination in this case, the goal of strategy was simple: "the goal became to secure Iraq's population from violence in order to allow civic and political progress." From the outset it was a politico-military strategy which recognized two essential truths. First, there was no purely military solution to the problems in Iraq. Second -- and less frequently emphasized -- there was no purely political solution either. Unless security by military action could be provided from terrorist gangs, intent on establishing an "Islamic State of Iraq" or sparking a civil war, no political progress could take hold.
Kagan describes the mechanics of the road trip: "how" the destination was reached. The foundation of success was an adequacy of forces. Although the Surge did not provide a very large reinforcement, it provided enough to move on to the offensive. Like an arm wrestling contest, the reinforcement provided a chance to go "over the top". Petraeus and Odierno began a process of bootstrapping: starting by clearing an initial area of enemy and consolidating it, Coalition forces progressively moved onto the next. In the process they acquired a gathering operational and political momentum. Success bred success; the uncommitted got off the fence, enemy sympathizers were dismayed. Like a huge freight train whose hardest job is to overcome inertia the operation slowly left the platform but steadily gathered speed. The Surge was under way.
Like the familiar computer bootstrapping operation the operational challenge was to fire things up in the right sequence. Kagan provides a narrative of events which implicitly reveals howthe coalition decided to proceed. Baghdad was the political center of gravity, not simply for Iraq but international opinion. The capital was staked swept. The surrounding areas were cleared. Enemy logistical lines into it were severed. The campaign raged round the capital city.
... the Baghdad Security Plan ... Commanders positioned the other three additional brigades in Baghdad's "belts," the networks of roadways, rivers, and other lines of communication within a 30-mile radius of the capital. ...
Northeast of Baghdad, almost 10,000 U.S. and Iraqi forces surrounded Baquba and blocked the escape routes from the city along the Diyala River valley on June 18. U.S. forces south of Baghdad conducted clearing operations from north to south along the Tigris River valley, focusing first on the al Qaeda sanctuary in Arab Jabour on June 15. ...
But if the insurgents believed the speculation that the Surge was a limited offensive aimed at momentarily easing the situation in Baghdad, they were wrong. Without skipping a beat the Coalition swept North. Anbar was the next target. As the tribes were rising against al-Qaeda the Coalition simultaneously began picking apart its structure and logistical support. "U.S. forces in August increased the tempo of attacks on al Qaeda in Balad and Samarra. These cities were important to al Qaeda's ability to project force into Anbar." Kagan's narrative shows how familiar types of military operations played a role in the politico-military offensive. The enemy, never the disembodied, evanescent force portrayed in the media, still needed training areas, lines of communication, ammunition dumps, etc to continue combat. Those were purposefully attacked. The following paragraph shows the interplay between combat operations and the goal of achieving a secure environment for the ordinary Iraqi.
U.S. and Iraqi forces cleared 50 villages in the Diyala River valley during the middle of August, many of which al Qaeda had occupied as recently as April. This large operation prevented al Qaeda from reinfiltrating into Diyala from the Hamrin Ridge. U.S. forces cleared the city of Muqdadiya, at the junction of the Diyala and Hamrin Lake, in a follow-on operation in mid-October. They established a new forward operating base near Muqdadiya, so that they could control the Diyala from Baquba to Hamrin Lake with Iraqi assistance.
The enemy, by now alive to the danger, attempted to counterattack. But they had left it too late. Earlier US action had denied them the ability to pick and choose their moment and compelled them to engage in conventional ripostes simply to maintain their operational viability. But in this type of combat they no hope of succeeding at all.
Meanwhile, U.S. forces in August increased the tempo of attacks on al Qaeda in Balad and Samarra. These cities were important to al Qaeda's ability to project force into Anbar. Al Qaeda launched its failed June expedition to recapture Ramadi from this area, which likewise served as a base for the September 13 assassination of Sheikh Sattar Abu Risha. Thirty masked al Qaeda gunmen attempted to overrun a U.S. observation post in Samarra in late August, presumably to regain control over a safe haven or line of communication. They failed.
Somewhere alone the line Petraeus and Odierno had changed the rules of the game. The al-Qaeda were now dancing to an American tune and there was no winning on that ballroom. Then Petraeus speeded up the music. Having swept north American forces rounded and worked South of Baghdad. What made this ferocious tempo possible was a revolution in "maintenance operations". In the past US forces had relied exclusively on Iraqi Army and police forces to hold what had been cleared. That had often failed, forcing American troops to repeatedly clear areas they had swept. But now the coalition decided it would bring new partners into the mix: tribal leaders and citizen groups.
Holding terrain is troop-intensive, and it requires offensive as well as defensive operations. In past years, U.S. forces relied almost exclusively on Iraqi security forces to preserve gains after clearing operations, because of lack of troops and because of the focus on a rapid transition to Iraqis. U.S. forces in 2007 likewise relied on their partner units in the Iraqi army and Iraqi police, and the greater number of Iraqi and American troops meant that more soldiers were available to hold terrain. The cooperation of Iraqi citizens, serving as interim and regular police, increased the ability of all forces to hold terrain.
The rejection of al Qaeda by the Ramadi sheikhs in late 2006 has been widely reported. General Petraeus transformed the tribal movement in Anbar into a national phenomenon supportive of government institutions. U.S. commanders fostered grassroots movements throughout Iraq, methodically negotiating security agreements with local officials, tribes, and former insurgent leaders. They thus achieved one of the major objectives of the counterinsurgency strategy by reconciling much of the Sunni population with the government.
The operational effect of this revolution in "maintenance operations" was twofold. First it vastly increased the number of US troops available for operations. One of the major sources of manpower for the Surge was in fact the economy of force made possible by tribal and citizen partnerships. US troops were free to "move on" and hammer al-Qaeda, relieved of the necessity to hold what had been cleared. The second effect was to make a rapid tempo of operations possible. Coalition forces were able to go on a continuous offensive, often in several places at once. This pace overwhelmed the ability of al-Qaeda to react and adapt. They were being hit faster than they could block; faster even than they could see the punches coming.
But the Sunni extremist groups were not the only enemy. There were the Shia terrorist groups, some of whom were trained and directed from Teheran who had to be dealt with. Quickly shifting to this second front, the Coalition moved against them while it had the momentum.
As the imminent threat from al Qaeda receded, U.S. forces waged an aggressive campaign against Iranian-backed secret cells and extreme elements of Moktada al-Sadr's militia, the Jaysh al-Mahdi. Coalition and Iraqi Special Forces captured and interrogated secret cell leaders throughout Iraq...
...prompted Moktada al-Sadr to issue a statement once again requesting that militia members loyal to him lay down their arms. U.S. and Iraqi forces continued to target rogue elements of the militia that did not respond to Sadr's request throughout September and October.
Although Iraq is far from completely secure, Kagan clearly believes that some sort of victory has been achieved. Time has been bought to build up a stable Iraq. Whether diplomats and politicians can make use of that chance is a challenge still to be met. Kagan writes:
The theater-wide offensives were meant to buy time for the government of Iraq to develop the institutions of governance. The fragmentation of Al Qaeda in Iraq, extremist militias, and secret cells has only just happened. The opportunity to negotiate a political settlement now belongs to the government of Iraq. It is too soon to know what the Iraqis will do. But clearly, this skillful military operation has created new realities on the ground. With violence falling sharply, Iraqis are no longer mobilizing for full-scale civil war, as they were at the end of 2006. Whether the political developments that were always the ultimate objective of the surge can be brought to fruition remains to be seen.