Monday, October 8, 2007

SEMPER FIDELIS - What's REALLY Happening in Iraq?

Major General (Sel) John Kelly was a recent guest speaker at the San Diego Military Advisory Council networking breakfast. Here are some of his remarks about what’s happening in Iraq.

"I left Iraq three years ago last month. I returned a week ago after a two week visit of getting the lay of the land for my upcoming deployment. It is still a dangerous and foreboding land, but what I experienced personally was amazing and remarkable--we are winning, we are really winning. No one told me to say that, I saw it for myself. The higher command in Baghdad told us four years ago when we first took responsibility for the Al Anbar not to worry about victory, as no one--military or civilian--thought it possible. That thirty years from now when the rest of Iraq was a functioning democracy, Al Anbar would still be a festering cancer within...

Our success, so we were told, would be in containing violence, not defeating the Al Qaeda and other foreign born terrorists that were deeply entrenched in the Province. The reality is that today the incidents of attack in Al Anbar--mostly by Al Qaeda--are down by over 80% in the last six months--that translates to dozens and dozens every day then, to perhaps three or four today. Since the spring, local inhabitants and their sheik leadership are now joined with us at the shoulder in fighting the extremists that plague their country. Three weeks ago, I went to a gathering of sheiks from the Province outside of Ramadi that numbered over 300 of the most influential men in the west. Three years ago, my entire days and nights were devoted to tracking many of these same men down, and capturing or killing them, which is exactly what they were trying to do to me. However, by relentless pursuit by a bunch of fearless 19-year-olds with guns who never flinched or gave an inch, they have seen the light and know AQ can't win against such men. By staying in the fight and remaining true to our word and our honor, AQ today can't spend more than a few hours in Fallujah, Ramadi, or the Al Anbar in general, without being ID'd by the locals and killed by the increasingly competent Iraqi Army, or by Marines.

That's the way it is today in this war, but it is also the way it has been since the birth of our nation. Since our Declaration of Independence, 42 million Americans have claimed the honor of having served the nation in its military forces. Since that time, over a million have lost their lives serving the colors, with millions more wounded. Since George Washington first took command of the Continentals besieging Boston, America's warriors have stepped forward and endured horrors unimaginable to most Americans and saw it all with their young eyes so that those safe at home would never have to. With all this service and loss of life, we as Americans can be proud of the kind of people we are, as we have never retained a square foot of any country we have defeated. We possess no empire. No man or woman calls us master, as we have never subjugated any society. On the contrary, billions across the planet--and billions more yet unborn--are today free and increasingly prosperous because America took a stand; but it has always fallen on the shoulders of our soldiers, sailors, airmen Coast Guardsmen, and Marines that the task fell to...and they have never wavered.

The reality was that when many in this room grew up, and I know I am showing my age here, we were surrounded by men, real men, who had gladly worn the country's cloth in wars against fascism and communism. The earliest memories we had as kids back then were of comic books and paperbacks that honored the sacrifices of the super heroes of those conflicts. It was a time when little boys could play guns and weren't considered at risk to be psychopaths. To stand up when the national anthem was played or say the pledge of allegiance and a prayer to any God you worshiped before school, wasn't considered offensive to the sensitivities of the nation's self-proclaimed intellectual elite. Places like Guadalcanal, Coral Sea, Normandy, Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir, and Hue City were real to us then, and we knew without thinking that we owed the nation a debt.

We live in a very different world today. Today, Memorial and Veteran's Day are more about a day off to take advantage of the big sales at the malls, or fighting the traffic to get a long weekend at the seashore. But we should not forget that as we stand here today we are at war, and a new Greatest Generation is fighting a merciless enemy on our behalf in the terrible heat of Iraq and mountains of Afghanistan.

Like it or not America is engaged in--and winning--a war today against an enemy that is savage, offers no quarter [and] whose only objectives are to either kill every one of us here in our homeland, or enslave us with a sick form of extremism that serves no God or purpose that rational men and women can ever understand. Given the opportunity to do another 9/11, our vicious enemy would do it today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter. In addition to killing thousands of innocent victims that day, they also killed hundreds of heroes: police, firefighters, and first responders of every sort that were not victims in their deaths, but the first fallen warriors of this generation's war. Given nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons--and the experts bet they will get them--these extremists would use these terror weapons against our cities, and smile. The best way to fight them is somewhere else...for whatever reason, they want to destroy our way of life. I thank God we still have enough, just enough, young people in America today willing to take up the fight and defend us all.
Our enemy is on a 100-year campaign to victory and believes without question that he is winning. We, on the other hand, look out two years at best and seem to be wavering and looking for a way to rationalize our way out. The problem is our enemy is not willing to let us go. Regardless of how much we wish this bad dream would go away, he will stay with us until he hurts us so badly we surrender, or we kill him first. To him this is not about jobs, economic opportunity, or solving social problems in the Middle East. It is about way of life, about every man's and every woman's worth and equality in the eyes of the law, about the God given rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He doesn't believe in these cherished concepts--we do. Our positions are irreconcilable.

The good news is our service members are as good today as their fathers were in Vietnam and their grandfathers were in Korea and World War II. In my two tours in Iraq as an infantry officer with the 1st Marine Division, I never saw an American hesitate, or do anything other than lean into the fire and with no apparent fear of death or injury take the fight to our enemies. They also know whose shoulders they stand on and would die before anyone of them shamed any veteran of any service, living or dead.

You should see them. They have a look in their eye and a way of walking that marks them as warriors as good as any that have ever marched to the guns, but they are not born killers. They are, on the contrary, good and decent youngsters mostly from the neighborhoods of our cities, and small towns across America. Almost all are from "salt of the earth" working class homes, and, more often than not, are the sons and daughters of cops and firemen, factory workers and farmers. Kids who once delivered your papers, stocked shelves in the grocery store, played Little League, and served Mass on Sunday morning. They were athletes, as well as "couch potatoes," drove their cars and motorcycles too fast, and blasted their music a bit louder than they should. They are ordinary young people, performing remarkable acts of bravery and selfless acts of devotion to a cause bigger than themselves. They could have done something more self-serving, but chose to serve knowing full well Iraq and Afghanistan was in their future.

America's Armed Forces today know the price of being the finest men and women this nation has to offer, and pay it they do everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over 4100 in all services have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, over a thousand of this number Marines, and Sailors serving with Marines - our precious Docs. And the sacrifice continues as Americans have gone to God since we all went to bed last night and slept free and protected. Their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, wives and husbands, aunts, uncles, cousins and fianc├ęs have only just learned of their deaths and begun to deal with the unimaginable pain that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Thousands more have suffered wounds since it all started, but like firefighters and cops who fall protecting us here in America, they are not victims as they knew what they were about and were doing what they wanted to do.

Rest assured, my fellow citizens, the nation you are a part of, this young experiment in democracy called 'America' that started just over two centuries ago, will forever remain the 'land of the free and home of the brave' so long as we never run out of tough young Americans willing to look beyond their own self interest and comfortable lives and go into the darkest and most dangerous places on earth to hunt down, and kill, those who would do us harm."

Semper Fidelis