When Gen. David Petraeus took over as multinational forces commander in Iraq in 2007, many top American military leaders knew a major strategy change was needed.
Iraq was in the throes of a Civil War between Sunni and Shiite elements, and al-Qaida was trying to impose draconian controls, according to Linda Robinson, author of a book about Petraeus.
“By the end of 2006, it was clear there was going to be a change,” Robinson said during an appearance in front of nearly 100 people Tuesday night at Kansas University’s Dole Institute of Politics.
Robinson, currently an author in residence at the Merrill Center for Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, wrote “Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq.”
She discussed Petraeus and the war during a discussion with Bill Lacy, Dole Institute director.
Petraeus, who had already served two tours in Iraq, led the effort that rewrote the Army’s counterinsurgency manual while he was the commander at Fort Leavenworth.
Methods in the manual were instituted when he took over command in Iraq.
When he got to Iraq, he formed a strategic group to study the causes of Iraqi conflicts and determine what could be done, Robinson said.
“He’s willing to adjust course,” Robinson said about Petraeus. “He’s built a brain trust wherever he’s always gone.”
The U.S. counterinsurgency plan included getting battalion commanders to mix with Iraqi community leaders and placed companies and platoons into neighborhood outposts, Robinson said. Blast walls were built around some neighborhoods to protect civilians from car bombs.
“This was an extraordinary thing. It had never been done before,” she said.
The new strategy worked. Sunni insurgents by the tens of thousands began working with the U.S.
Robinson, who reported on national security and international issues for U.S. News & World Report and was senior editor at Foreign Affairs Magazine, sees the military role in Iraq now as peacekeeping and developing a more professional Iraqi force.
“It’s not a military challenge now, it’s a political one,” she said. “What we have now is the opportunity to bring this to a soft landing.”