More evidence that the surge is working, ahead of General Petraeus's report to Congress next month.
First, U.S. commanders in Iraq say the number of "high-profile" Al Qaida attacks have dropped by almost 50% since the surge began earlier this year. Military officials tell USA Today that the number of large scale attacks--hitting such facilities as mosques, markets and other "soft targets," aimed at producing mass casualties--have declined, from an average of 130 a month in March, to around 70 in July.
The decline reflects a clear shift on the battlefield:
Military officers say the decline reflects progress in damaging al-Qaida’s networks in Iraq. The military has launched offensives around Baghdad aimed at al-Qaida sanctuaries and bases.
“The enemy had the initiative and the momentum in ’06,” said retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, a chief architect of the increase in troop levels and mentor to Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. “We’ve got it now.”
Keane spoke from Iraq.
The effectiveness of coalition attacks has been enhanced through better intelligence. One former brigade commander in Iraq reports a dramatic increase in tips from Iraqi civilians, which often provide the location of insurgents, or their IEDs.
Army Colonel Ralph Baker, now assigned to the Pentagon, says that U.S. troops now get 23,000 tips a month from ordinary Iraqis, four times the number of a year ago. Improvements in the security situation make it easier for Iraqis to provide information to the Americans, with less fear of retribution from Al Qaida.
Officers interviewed by USA Today cautioned that Al Qaida retains the ability to carry out "sensational" attacks, and noted continuing problems with Shiite militias, armed by Iran. The number of explosively-formed penetrator (EFP) attacks increased to 35 in July, compared to a monthly average of 23 between March and June. The EFPs are provided by the Iranians, and employed by Shiite factions, allowing them to target even heavily armored vehicles.
But the article fails to mention that the surge will (likely) achieve similar results with the Shiites. With Al Qaida in retreat--and a mountain of new intelligence--U.S. commanders can devote more resources to the Shia "problem" and their Iranian support network. Last week's highly-publicized strike in Sadr City targeted a Shia/Iranian EFT cell, resulting in the deaths of 32 terrorists. We also learned last week that "Mookie" al-Sadr has high-tailed it to Iran (again), suggesting that Shia militants--and their leaders--are feeling the heat.
Make no mistake: the battle for Iraq is far from over. But the tide of battle has clearly shifted, creating problems for Al Qaida and its allies, various Shiite militant factions, and members of the American left, who long ago cast their lot with a U.S. military defeat in Iraq.