In Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch’s estimation, the much-debated “surge” of forces in Iraq was an unequivocal success.
The surge included the 3rd Infantry Division under Lynch’s command, and two brigades of the division are now home with another making its return from Iraq now.
“Clearly, it worked,” Lynch said of the surge Friday morning. “The progress is undeniable.”
Task Force Marne, which operated under Lynch’s command and included elements of most of the division, was tasked to block accelerants into Baghdad, secure the population and defeat sectarian violence.
“You cannot deny the progress,” Lynch said. ‘By the time we left, Baghdad was experiencing fewer attacks than the majority of the country. We clearly secured the population and we did defeat sectarian violence.”
Of the 26 million Iraqis, there are about 5,000 insurgents in the country and the sectarian violence that threatened to rip the fragile nation apart a year ago has been quelled, according to Lynch.
“The Iraqi people are educated, are dedicated, are passionate, are focused people who truly want to improve the lives of themselves and their children,” he said.
What helped was basing the soldiers among the population and the creation of the Sons of Iraq program, leading to what has been called the “Anbar awakening.”
“The people of Iraq are the solution,” he said. “They are not the problem. They’d ask two questions — ‘are you staying?’ and when they were convinced you were staying, they would ask, ‘how can we help?’ And then they worked to secure the population.
“The people of Iraq want what we want. They want freedom from fear. They want to be able to send their kids to school, they want to have a job, they want to be able to go to a market. The people of Iraq got so tired of the violence, so tired of the intimidation and the aggravation, they said, ‘enough’s enough.’”
Lynch illustrated the progress based on Sen. John McCain’s most recent visit to the 3rd Infantry Division. Lynch took Sen. McCain, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on a tour of Iskandariyah.
“Iskandariyah was the worst place in our battle space as soon as we got there. The Sunni and Shia communities were constantly killing each other,” Lynch said. “I was able to take Sen. McCain, Sen. Lieberman and Sen. Graham through there without body armor and without Kevlar.
“They saw a thriving market, they saw a town council, they saw a local government that had been established, they saw people who were employed, they saw progress.”
Successful counterinsurgency operations historically have taken nine years, Lynch said, the U.S. has been in Iraq for five years. He said visitors to the division, no matter how skeptical they were about the progress in Iraq before their journey, left less skeptical.
“They weren’t totally optimistic (when they left),” he said. “Now, things take a while in Iraq. You don’t go from tyranny to democracy overnight. It’s going to take a while. But we’ve got to let it happen.”
When he left Iraq in June, Lynch said he saw no indications of any sectarian violence between the Sunnis and the Shi’a.
“It’s not about Sunnis fighting Shi’a, and Shi’a fighting Sunnis anymore. Now it’s all about violence,” he said. “I tell my soldiers the best thing to do to prepare for a deployment to Iraq is to watch the sixth season of ‘The Sopranos.’ It’s all Mafioso-type violence. A lot of it is criminally motivated.”
Lynch said the number of attacks decreased dramatically during his time in Iraq.
“We were being attacked viciously 25 times a day when we got there,” he said. “It was constant combat operations. When we left, it was less than twice a day.”
The coalition forces also have been able to stop Al-Qaeda from making Iraq a base to foment and export terrorism across the globe, Lynch said. He didn’t want to go so far as to say Al-Qaeda in Iraq was defeated, but it is on the ropes, he said.
“Task Force Marne was renowned as those folks who made a difference, and I was proud to serve with all the soldiers under my command,” he said.
In two weeks, Lynch will bid farewell to Coastal Georgia. It’s where his home has been for the last two years, even if he spent nearly three-fourths of that time for a second tour of duty in Iraq.
Lynch thanked the families and friends of the 3rd ID for their patience and support during the division’s third deployment to Iraq in the last five years.
“The Coastal Georgia community is the most caring, most compassionate, most concerned community I have ever seen,” he said.