THE FIGHT WE ARE IN NOW
Capt. Neil Hollenbeck declines to secondguess whether America should have invaded Iraq. What he will say is this: “The reason we invaded Iraq to begin with and the reason we’re fighting now are different. We’re fighting different enemies now.“ He pauses to think. “The threat we’re fighting now is instability and terrorism.” Another pause. “The fight that we are in now is not one of our choosing. It’s just one we’re choosing not to walk away from.” Questions of winning and losing are above his rank
he adds, although he thinks a stable Iraq, with a government that can grow into its responsibilities, is “obtainable.”
That’s why he’s here, hunting down the last Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters in the rural Arab Jabour district south of Baghdad. Hollenbeck and his troops live in an abandoned farmhouse with no running water or electricity, only a generator to run their rádios and a light or two. He doesn’t mind roughing it; that’s part of the strategy. The main thing is to protect the people: you have to live among them, not on heavily fortified bases, as Gen. David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency manual says. When the book first came out, Hollenbeck was at Fort Benning, taking classes in conventional warfare between deployments to Iraq. He remembers how good it felt to read something that actually applied to the unconventional conflict he had seen in Iraq.
In these croplands and orchards along the Tigris, the war is less about good and evil than about managing ambiguities (although the “wanted” list at the farmhouse is headed “Bad Dudes”). “As a counterinsurgent, you’re winning when more and more of the people in the middle are leaning to you.” Hollenbeck’s father, an Army Ranger officer, saw close-up how Vietnam turned into a disaster. Compared to that war, Iraq these days is looking good.
(NEWSWEEK, MARCH, 2008)
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